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.
I’ve been wanting to write about bioweapons for a while — partially because I know a modest amount about the whole disarmament process, through working with the nonproliferation community for as long as I have, and partially because it is so (pathologically) interesting. Regarding nonproliferation, I’ve worked with the scientists at PNNL on many a design project involving my students, and some need that they might have when they travel overseas to someplace like Kazakhstan to assure compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and their monitoring of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The treaty has been, in my opinion, one of the most successful of all the global treaties, with really only a couple of notable failures — Pakistan and North Korea being among them. That’s not the point of this piece — and you can read all about it on the Wikipedia page.
The question many people are likely asking is “why bioweapons?” And if they know much about any of this, then it’s got to be paired with the question “why now?” Indeed. But the problem with discussing anything that’s relevant about bioweapons is that the minute someone like myself brings it up, then we run into what I call “Disqualifying Narrative” problems. Certainly the idea of a super-bug brings up all sorts of accusations of conspiracy thinking, because so little of it seems to make sense, on the surface. Couple that with the fact that most people can’t even conceive how you might release a SuperBug into the world — it’s not like a missile with a button that you hit and then the missile flies to its target (a potential, but not likely distribution mechanism for bioweapons) — and you get sorted into the kook category pretty quickly.
And supposedly, we actually have an international treaty basically banning bioweapons, called the Biological Weapons Convention, (BWC) created in 1975, and no one wants to discuss the issue. But the BWC is really not in the same classification of security as the various treaties dedicated to nuclear disarmament. The same institutional structure for inspection is not there. Nuclear weapons are, at some level, relatively easy to inspect for — radiation leaves signatures everywhere, and the equipment is relatively standardized if you want to enrich to the point where you can make a bomb.
But bioweapons are different. Sure — to handle them safely, one has to conform to the various Biosafety Level protections . This is a great Wikipedia page because it shows where all the labs ostensibly are — and I can tell you that more than a few of the hardcore facilities have been left off the list. The real problem is that any biological experimentation lab that might be used for germ research can easily be converted into a biological weapons lab relatively quickly. And of course, the real problem with inspection, that the reverse is true. Just shovel a couple of trays of smallpox into the autoclave, and bye-bye incriminating specimens.
The problem is that those labs are everywhere. China alleges, for example, that Ukraine has upwards of 25 biological research stations that could potentially be bioweapons labs. Who even knows how many hidden facilities are extant in China — talk about pot calling the kettle black. And scientists are going to science — there is simply not an overriding moral conscience in the scientific community against any type of weapons research. If there’s money, it’s going to get done.
But why would anyone want them in the first place? When these treaties were signed and developed back in the mid 1970s, a whole host of genetic technologies only existed in science fiction novels. I don’t claim to be an expert on tools like CRISPR, which allows direct gene editing. More information at the Wikipedia page. The thing about CRISPR is that it does not require tons of money, nor large infrastructure, like what you have to have to enrich uranium or create plutonium. I’d argue it’s a little more than what you’d put in the kitchen sink, but definitely possible for use on a small scale.
So they’re cheap. And as we continue to figure out lasting patterns in the biological coding that creates us all, we can expect more acts of miracles and wonder, as well more heinous acts that have the potential to threaten our survival.
Sorta. The real problem with any gene editing process is probably not in our various attempts at creation. The real problem is with unintended consequences downstream — the whole metacognitive deal. We are still likely some distance from creating intentionally a SuperBug that could wipe out humanity. Why? Because we have some 500 million years of evolutionary gene editing (including a couple of mass extinctions) that have decisively show that multicellular organisms have extreme advantages over their single-celled counterparts. Our own immune systems are multi-layer stacks of amazing tech, refined over the literal eons. That’s been one of the wildest aspects to me of the whole COVID paranoia nightmare — believing that a piece of cloth, and eliminating an entire human function (exhaling) could possibly pro-salutary. It requires a certain level of extreme hubris that we have witnessed from the epidemiological and medical communities that is literally mind-blowing. That’s where the Black Swan swims.
Back to the central question — why would a country want biological weapons in the first place? The answer is in the memetics, embedded in the power dynamics of nations. One of the true epiphanies I had was when I was invited to a large role-playing game on nuclear disarmament at PNNL. Run by Ambassador Tom Graham, one of the senior negotiators in all of our disarmament treaties. At the beginning of the exercise, the Ambassador said something to the effect of “Never forget that all nations are hegemons. They remain supremely interested in only themselves, and assuming otherwise will lead to incorrect negotiation practice.” No more Mister Nice Guy. Because they never were.
That means that all Power rivalries are always dominated by Authoritarian dynamics — whoever is the stronger, who can take the most damage, will prevail. All that seems relatively obvious, of course. But what that really means in a unipolar world, where the United States, with some help from its various alliance partners, has been the big kid on the block for at least the last 30 years, is there are a lot of frustrated actors.
And here’s the rub. That’s not likely to change any time soon. Without some technology that reverses the most incredible social technology of our time — the modern aircraft carrier — everyone else is literally incapacitated. Nuclear weapons are only a game changer in the large sense, that their use will drive any nation-state down into the Survival v-Meme, where maximal aggregate neuroplasticity makes everyone shy away from nuclear confrontation.
And they do this, even with small pariah states like North Korea. Get a nuke, and it’s pretty much guaranteed if you want to remain an outlaw nation, even the US will let you. Even if it involves letting your own people starve.
But just because nuclear weapons have been (sorta) moved off the table does not mean that the collapsed egocentric desires of nations have been banished. The memetics of nation-states simply doesn’t permit that. What it means is that nations, even if they possess nuclear weapons, will move for acquisition of other weapons that permit maneuvering in negotiation with more powerful opponents. And since the US has basically taken conventional weapons off the table, that leaves nations like China searching for real alternatives to pushing the nuclear button. Enter bioweapons stage right.
Everything I’ve read has led me to believe, with high confidence, that COVID was a bioweapon, as well as an accidental lab release. There’s simply too much information embedded in proposals like the Ecohealth Alliance’s request to DARPA (the original, which is tough reading is here). What’s so crazy to me is that even investigative outlets like The Intercept lack the institutional knowledge that DARPA’s rejection of the proposal, and subsequent funding by Tony Fauci’s NIAID organization was likely a diversion — not a rejection — and the US would have likely had many reasons for having observers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China. If you’re a reader of this blog, the statistics are that you’re a smart person. THINK about it. We are counting on people who must have difficulty patting their head and rubbing their tummy at the same time to investigate one of the most important stories of our time.
What kind of bioweapon was it? You might watch this video and decide for yourself. I’ve sponsored this young reporter for a number of years. His main asset? He is sharp, of course. But most importantly, he is absolutely fluent in reading and writing Mandarin. I asked my wife (she’s native Taiwanese) to check the statements made, where basically members of the People’s Republic Army admitted that they have been conducting research with the intent to infect groups of individuals with different racial and ethnic profiles from Han Chinese.
The problem with all this is not the veracity of the content. I actually trust the reportage in the piece, and the various connections (like purchase of genotyping companies is easy enough to run down.) The problem that it is outside the Overton Window of acceptability regarding the culpability of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in doing this kind of work. In the USA, though we constantly argue that our government is not representative of American intents and interests, we are unwilling to understand nor apply the same leniency toward our interpretation of Chinese people. We do not differentiate between the Chinese people and the CCP, which is sad.
But the CCP, even being charitable, is as I stated above, its own hegemon, headed by an extremely Authoritarian autocrat, with an active propaganda machine very much interested in “leaning into” Americans’ predilection on recasting every controversial conversation into one regarding race and ethnicity. So while the Chinese is certainly conducting bioweapons research at the Wuhan Institute, the CCP can play the race card if any individual like myself attempts to call them out on it — even if their own members of the PRA talk about it. That’s how embarrassingly ignorant and easily manipulable we are. We are literally woke dopes.
In order to understand why the CCP would be interested in bioweapons, though, we need to understand the CCP’s own hegemonic intentions. With the US military basically enjoying a conventional weapons dominant position across the world, China’s own imperial ambitions have been channeled into other “soft power” public angles — like the Belt and Road initiative.
And these are not such a bad idea from a Chinese perspective. But it still doesn’t provide, at least with respect to dealing with their main adversary — the US. And it’s more complicated than that. The US, as China’s main trading partner, is vital for the CCP in keeping its burgeoning middle class in jobs. They mess with us too much, and there’s an economic collapse IN CHINA in the offing.
That’s what makes bioweapons so attractive. The CCP develops the bioweapons, and holds at the same time, the antidote. (For those wondering how this might work, look at the lag between the release of the COVID genome, and the first blueprints for the vaccine.) The USA does something like prevent a Chinese occupation of Taiwan. So the CCP, through some technology for viral dispersal like cloud seeding, spreads a virus over an area that limits involvement from exactly that overwhelming conventional military force that might prevent them from fulfilling their ambitions. And if we back off, they give us the antidote (or vaccine). They achieve their goals.
And no nukes are involved. China simply couldn’t afford any detonation of nukes on their homeland — a modest-sized Chinese city runs around 5 million people, and there are a lot of them. What would happen with even one city, or 5 million Chinese people on the move after a nuclear detonation? But with bioweapons? They occupy the exact niche needed for a lesser hegemon to exert pressure on a greater one. Would we risk nuclear war if all our troops simply got sick during a Chinese territorial acquisition? I don’t think so.
And now maybe we can get a glimpse into why Ukraine would host so many potential bioweapons labs on its soil. I’ve read through the various construction documents for these facilities, all funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. They’re bland documents, save for who footed the bill. If you wanted to hide intent, the least you could is get the USDA or something to fund the facilities. Here is Victoria Nuland basically admitting to the whole deal, while then attempting to pin the blame on the Russians.
It’s stunning how stupid they are, in assuming that there aren’t people who exist who can see through their absolute bullshit. The problem is that people like Victoria Nuland is the one setting policy, while I’m just a professor writing on a modestly read blog.
The main thing is that we can now meaningfully string together the Authoritarian v-Meme strategies that would argue for bioweapons. You have a nation-state, threatened not so much by nuclear weapons, but by a vastly superior conventional army, looking to deter invasion, or execute an action that might involve armed conflict to achieve some local goal. Nukes won’t really help except in an extreme survival situation — nuclear weapons are really less-than-worthless because of their game-ending potential.
But tailored bioweapons? Maybe not such a bad idea. You can get a leg up in the power hierarchy on the bad dude at the top.
The problem with all of this, even from a strategic standpoint, is that a conjured up bioweapon with ultimate performance is far from being engineered. Any weapons program involves dozens of iterations, with tests, and those tests inevitably fail. Missiles are launched hundreds of times, exploding on the pad, or halfway to their target, before one gets the kind of reliability that generates the photo ad copy for the International Defence Exhibition & Conference, or IDEX, held in Abu Dhabi, or Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) in London.
But bioweapons are even more problematic. You can shoot a missile and realize that it worked, or didn’t, and don’t have to worry much about follow-up. How exactly that might work with bioweapons doesn’t fit into my imagination — well, without the introduction of intentional crimes against humanity. There are only so many Syrian Golden Hamsters (the COVID animal model currently preferred) to infect.
And then there are other “problems” (said intentionally euphemistically.) Any group of scientists seeking a more realistic release environment, as Peter Daszak and Ecohealth Alliance did when they proposed (and likely had partially executed) spraying bats with SARS-Cov-2 in caves in Yunnan, inherently run the risk of broader release. Bats fly — even if the researchers were “sure” there couldn’t be zoonotic transfer. Who knows what could happen? Or rather, in the case of COVID, what did happen. And then blame it on the poors running the adjacent wet market.
It gets worse. For any problem we might have with unexploded ordinance (UXO) or leftover depleted uranium, viruses are incomprehensibly more dangerous. Viruses mutate, in strange and unpredictable ways. So a virus only designed (and that’s the right word) to kill white folks and spare people of Asian descent, might mutate and backfire and create a generalized pandemic. We may even be seeing this now, with the waves of COVID sweeping the Asian nations. Finally, the mutation got to the point where any preferential infectious behavior toward the target audience was finally mutated out. We can’t really know — but once again, it is far from a conspiracy. It’s just the laws of viral physics playing out.
Which, as I said above, have vast metacognitive risks. We just can’t know what we don’t know. And in lower v-Meme societies, unfortunately, like most of the hegemons the good Ambassador talked about above, our sense of unintended consequences doesn’t even realistically exist. That’s what a lack of development can do — have us engineer our own destruction, and we won’t even know it. And in any reflective history (if there’s anyone around to do the reflecting) we likely will say it was something that “just happened.” It’s bonkers.
So, is it an unrealistic conspiracy, or some kind of escape hatch for Putin (I am absolutely sure the Russians are running a large bioweapons program, so don’t start with that ‘Putin apologist’ nonsense) to say that they were invading Ukraine because of bioweapons? Hardly. And would the US have a motive for sponsoring that kind of work? What could be better to deter Russia? Having Ukraine join NATO? Are you kidding? Hegemons love to let other folks do their dirty work. That’s the beauty of the collapsed egocentric personality type. And then cry “victim”, of course. Go back and watch that Victoria Nuland video again.
And here’s another memetic subtext. We, as a society, can’t even HAVE a meaningful conversation about bioweapons. COVID has shown us that. The media will pounce, and out the Overton Window I’ll go. OBVIOUSLY a conspiracy theory. Except, of course, it’s not at all. And considering how many civil/military applications we’ve been told can exist side-by-side, even writing this is a disqualifying narrative. Especially because no red string or bread crumbs are involved.
It boggles my mind how insane the mainstream press is. Just exactly WHAT do they think happens in labs like this? And what will happen to the status of science in a society that continues to permit this kind of behavior?
What is the long game for a society that counts on this level of end-of-the-world gaslighting to conduct its politics?
As usual, I’ll end this piece with my usual call for greater empathy and its accompanying sister, thought complexity. And I’m usually an optimist. But here, the smart bet is on our millions of years of evolutionary adaptation to protect us from our own mendacity and stupidity. It might be the way to bet. But it’s embarrassing.
Like probably most people in the world right now, I’m horrified by the current situation in Ukraine. It’s March 5, and the Russians have laid the basis for seizing the eastern part of Ukraine — from Kyiv on over. It’s especially personal for me, as my son’s start-up has a small division in that country, and I’ve spent a good hunk of last week monitoring the refugee situation. The weather on the Polish border is around 10º F at night, and people are standing in lines for 24-36 hours to cross. Our friends are still camped in an underground parking garage in Kyiv, and there is nothing that is good about the situation, nor their ability to get to Ukraine’s active borders to the west. There is no gas anywhere, the Ukrainian military is forcibly conscripting all males between 18-60, and even if they had gas, there’s a strong possibility that our 38 year old friend would be given a machine gun and sent to fight.
Some countries are attempting to do all the can to help the refugee population. Over 600K Ukrainians have already crossed into Poland. Once across the Polish border, things get markedly better quickly. Volunteers are swarming there, on the other side as well, to mainly take the women and children, help them get to a train station, and give them some food before shipping them off to Warsaw, where they will be put up in a makeshift shelter, often a school gymnasium. Their fate is unknown, as the war is just beginning. There is a large Ukrainian community in Poland, and many Ukrainian men/laborers are going back in the other direction (I heard an estimation of 80K men) to join the Ukrainian defense forces.
In spite of such on-the-ground heroism by ordinary people, there is little that the US can, or even should do, outside of humanitarian efforts to ease the suffering, as well as diplomatic efforts to stop the war. This piece by Arta Moeini , a fellow Iranian diaspora member, sums up far more eloquently on how I view all of this. No matter how noble the cause is perceived, we are really at yet another dead end-end game for global elites that respects no individual, common person. And this one has the potential of ending the world in nuclear fire. Putin has already threatened as much.
The fact that Putin would even threaten such a thing, in the context of a nagging border war, speaks volumes of how elites memetically view the world. Putin apparently suffers from COVID paranoia, and this shows exactly what happens when you isolate yourself from the world for two years, with a handful of yes-men, running a large government through whatever the Russian equivalent of ZOOM is on large TV screens. You lose your mind.
And if you think our elites are somehow better, one of the most telling points of history in all this is the fact that the press is mawkishly calling this something like “the run-up to WW3” or something. Like they’re rooting for it. But the real lack of history is that WWIII really already happened in central Africa during the ’90s. I’ve seen estimates of some 6 million people killed in that one. And the fact that this last conflict is not even mentioned, while a border war alternately went hot and cold on the Ukrainian border since 2014, shows once again the press corps, ever the mouths of the elites, need not only a history lesson, but a re-education on what they’re actually mouthing, and who they’re supporting. The easy go-to explanation for dismissal of African carnage might be racism, and certainly that might have something to do with it. But I think it’s more likely that central Africa, in spite of its economic importance, just doesn’t matter when it comes to status. Those darker races all just look the same.
There are better sources on the current war, and surface-level motivations than this blog, and the piece by Moeini is a good start, as well as the website Unherd in general. But from a memetic perspective, it’s instrumental to consider how Russian elites have historically operated, and if we can learn anything about elites in general that we can apply to potential US and NATO responses.
For that, it’s instrumental to look at the campaigns of the Russian nobility in the Caucasus in the mid-19th century. The Caucasus were just about as far from St. Petersburg as anywhere that mattered, where the Russian nobility sat most of the century. The land on the ground in the Caucasus was governed (and this would be a very loose use of the term indeed) by a charismatic warrior named Imam Shamil. Called ‘The Lion of Dagestan’, Shamil ran a truly itinerant civil war against the Russian Army, issued from the Russian heartland about 1800 miles away. They were accompanied by certain numbers of Don River Cossacks, redirected south with the intent of settling the plains at the foot of the Caucasus mountains. The army would march south, and basically get slaughtered as the soldiers would wage war on the Avar tribesmen, who would then flee up into the giant old-growth beeches that lined the flanks of the mountains themselves.
The story’s so crazy (and I love big old-growth trees so much) I had half-heartedly planned both a visit and an environmental campaign to designate protected areas in Georgia and Armenia. My ardor somewhat faded for the usual reasons — lack of funding and time away from my family — as well as the more unconventional. Operating in the Caucasus in the 2000s also involved dealing with an almost industrial kidnapping threat, and you had to carry a ton of insurance because of the seeming inevitability of that outcome. The perpetrators weren’t particularly interested in killing you. But there was a strong cultural precedent. Even to this day, it’s considered fair game if a man kidnaps his future wife, regardless of whether she wants to go or not.
But back to Shamil. The war with Shamil’s Avars was mostly conducted by the Russian Army chasing the Avars up into the beeches, which were (and supposedly are still) enormous. The Army would get slaughtered and then retreated. It all see-sawed back and forth until the Cossacks burned and chopped down the forest — an ending befitting a fantasy story by J.R.R. Tolkien. After a quarter century of resistance, Shamil was captured in 1859, and taken to St. Petersburg for an audience with Tsar Alexander II. As an elite himself, he was not executed for his chronic guerrilla war. But his sons were inducted, and essentially converted, into the Russian Army, and reported transformed to the point that their father could not speak to them. Over time, he complained of the intense Baltic cold, though, and was put up in a house in Kyiv, where he lived out the rest of his days, with his own kidnapped wife, Ulykhanova, of Russian/Armenian heritage.
All of this is told in vivid detail in one of the best history books of the last century, The Sabres of Paradise, by my own dream-girl, Lesley Blanch. Blanch died at 103, in 2007, just before I discovered her book. She details the entire story of Shamil’s resistance, and the capture of his sons, in classic British post-colonial style.
One of the things inevitably framed in any military conquest is the idea of economic plunder. Yet the Tsars showed there was little of this by going to war in the Caucasus — in conflicts that continue almost to this day. The desire was classic memetic power-and-control. Ensconced in their opulent palaces, with all the riches of their time, they had little economic motivation to pursue a war in the mountains far to the south. And yet they did — sending tens of thousands of Russian peasants marching to a certain death over a distance that was often greater than 1800 miles. One can see how perhaps this fact alone shows the manipulability of a large peasant class. And at the same time, it very likely was one of the seeds of trauma, and large-scale dissatisfaction that would become the Romanov family’s great undoing in the the 20th. There was no rational reason for Russia’s elite class to pursue essentially endless war in the Caucasus, other than their need for bragging rights in their time with other elites.
But that was enough.
If there’s a lesson for us now in the USA, just as the Russian elites had no problem sending peasants off to die, for no good reason, there is no rational reason for us to follow this historical example and send our own troops off to fight on the latest Slavic battlefield, all the while risking literally the end of the world if we do so. The only reason that exists is that our current crop of global elites need to posture to each other, with the latest round of acceptable virtue signaling.
And these conflicts we are intruding into are old. If we understand the conflict in the Caucasus as potentially being close to 2000 years old, when Turkic and Rus tribesmen battled over grazing areas in central Asia, then we can also look at the 1000 year-old war between the Rus and the Ukrainians in much the same framework.
As of this writing, Joe Biden, the US President, has committed to defying any call for direct military action by the US or NATO in the current round of the Ukrainian war, which really started back in 2014 with the conflict over the Crimea. After the COVID follies, still being driven as of this writing by Elite Risk Minimization, it appears, especially in the press, that the elites are really hunting for another casus belli, and at some level, the exigencies of empire, buried in the memetics of The Matrix around these issues, still loom strong. Here’s hoping we pass through.
I’m having a number of thoughts this morning that I think are important enough to get down, and not getting nearly enough (well, how about NO circulation) in the information dynamics of our society. I’ve written about the death of geography due to social media and the Internet as an organizing principle in society here, and the fact that geography gave us something resembling a statistically independent distribution of opinions. And that was a GOOD thing.
One thought I had not had was that distribution of opinions from physical geography was also likely to provide more grounding validity — or rather, searching for deeper truths, driven by our own data collection, outside our backyards. You tended to pay more attention to the world if the physical world mattered – a fancy way of saying if you could actually see and hear it. And while the changes with COVID certainly accelerated all this (think of the cocooning of the Pajama Class through services like Door Dash) it had been 30 years in coming. Due to things like the wage gap, and overwork, and disconnection from your neighbors, geography had already been dying a slow death in the context of our own minds.
And that’s a full spectrum assault on even things you might not like. If you even attempt to think how a service like 4chan or 8chan of the Dark Web, with its reprehensible content, was forced to physically locate in a backwater in the Philippines, one can see how the see-saw of the world is going. Geography is losing.
And when physical geography starts losing, this becomes increasingly problematic from a very visceral perspective. Humans are meant to live with, and see each other. It’s a physicality that is inescapable, at least from the perspective of human mental health. Our current set of proxies (from telephony to ZOOM) are unable to stimulate the cerebral cortex in anything but the smallest role-playing way. Robin Dunbar’s famous number says 150 +/- people (not discriminating in between empathy-derived relational types — externally defined vs. data-driven) and he’s probably right. But what happens when that number of meaningful relationships drops below that number? Do we all become virtual actors sequestered in memetic survival bands, scattered across the world? There are days, at least for me, that it seems that way. The people I exchange meaningful information and ideas with are in Montana, North Carolina, Sweden, and Italy. None of them (yet) are really connected to any of my network except through me.
What gets increasingly fascinating is how the whole COVID pandemic played into the death of geography, and the various tools that were used to accelerate the entire system toward control of the elites. Of course, there’s the obvious monetary energetic argument — a couple of trillion dollars got transferred out of the local small business bunch into operations like Amazon. And once you realize that human connection is important, then you can understand how absolutely ineffective mask mandates became a key component of that acceleration. We had been offering the inherent death of physicality with the Internet, and the statistical binning of opinions through the Pareto-like mechanisms I’ve discussed in this piece. But for psychopathic elites, it wasn’t enough. Masks themselves, as well as social distancing, are yet another attempt at destruction of geography. Masked faces are also anonymous faces, and the human brain loses another avenue to ground its own actions with empathy for others. The channel is blocked. And when that channel is blocked, especially with the gaslighting that has characterized all avenues of the pandemic, all sorts of magical thinking can ensue — like your children being the assassins of their grandparents. That meta-kind of magical thinking didn’t end well for the Aztecs, who believed people had to have their hearts cut out for the sun to come up, and it won’t end well for us either.
On a larger sociopolitical scale, we can see the actions of elites furthering this destructive path against human agency. As imperfect as the concept of Westphalian states may be (the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648), they are the source of shared national identity even here in the 21st century. Russia’s total invasion of Ukraine is both a dim view of the future, while at the same time being a throwback of 100 years. Had Putin ordered the annexation alone of the Donbas, filled primarily with people of native Russian descent, it might have firmed up the old ethnocentric order, and been shown as a calculated move on his part for both security and territorial expansion.
Defying battleground logic, Putin went for the whole enchilada and invaded Kyiv, with the intent of dissolution of Ukrainian identity. But instead of that happening, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy showed up on the Internet, clad in personal battle armor — a very physical presence indeed — as well as a suit, urging both arming oneself with a machine gun, and the creation of more social media, including TikTok videos about the situation in the Ukraine. Geography is dead until it isn’t — but how the merger can and will happen is still very much up for grabs.
I’ve been having some interesting conversations, with some very interesting people regarding increasing local sovereignty, focused on individual rights. The idea is that increasing local sovereignty, especially with respect to geographically local infrastructure, could serve as an empathy development ladder for local communities, instead of seeing flight of capital out of communities through larger forces.
I like it. It’s a good idea, and an attempt to claw back the destruction of geography as an organizing principle. Sooner or later, infrastructure has to have a physical layer, and as such, be buried in the ground, or something. One might also classify local food sourcing efforts as in the same category, if not quite the same meta-category. We buy food from farmers’ markets, and attempt to support those individuals contributing to the local health benefit. But it’s pretty limited. There’s only a small amount of land held in shared ownership (which is likely a good thing) and all these paths forward depend on evolving groups of communities toward planes of higher social development and responsibility. Or before long, you still end up with Montgomery Burns owning the local nuclear power plant.
As of today, against my own intuitive bias, Kyiv holds strong against the Russian invasion. There’s tons to say about how, if we were put in the same situation, immersed in the culture of individual disempowerment we are in the U.S., we might not expect the same outcomes as seen by Ukraine’s ferocious defense of their homeland. There’s a whole stack of things to write about there, including how progressive evolutionary ideas, like the empowerment of women, have been flipped on its head and used for endless attacks against others outside the liberal establishment. I think it’s important to recognize those, though, for the relationally disruptive strategies that they are. Whether we throw the baby out with the bathwater is still up in the air. The short hot take on the Ukraine situation is that independent agency and an empowered citizenship is holding its own against a much larger, conscripted servant army.
For those that follow me a little more closely — good news on my own Ukraine front. My son’s company runs a division in Kyiv, and everyone there is safe and sound.
I promise to write a little more about Ukraine and the war in a couple of days. I read about military affairs extensively, and have known about the corruption in the Russian army since forever. But it’s still fascinating to watch my own mind in believing that they would have wiped the floor with the Ukes in the first three days. Which didn’t happen. How we all are influenced by outside bias and both real information, and propaganda, is just fascinating — even those of us who believe we stand above the fray. We’re all in the Matrix, whether we like it or not.
I watched the new Netflix documentary last night, Downfall: The Case Against Boeing . Full disclosure — I am an aerospace geek, and actually an aerospace engineer and professor. So there’s not much I didn’t know about the MCAS debacle that killed some 346 people in two separate airplane crashes. For those that don’t know the details about the 737MAX, and the addition of the automatic control system, initially hidden from the pilot and co-pilot in order to dodge extra simulation training, the documentary is a good start.
And just so you know, there is a lot of information left out that would likely only be of interest to a specialist, in either aerospace or memetics. The MCAS software was actually originally outsourced to India, and this is NOT to point a finger at an entire subcontinent. But the fact that the decision made in the US to send this thing to an Indian software job shop is also part of the problem. It would require deeper investigation to be sure, but my hunch is that in a more authoritarian culture, there would be no pushback to Boeing from the idea that the pilots should not be allowed agency in a crisis. The key thing you’ll walk from the documentary is how the emergency autopilot system was originally hidden from all pilots. So once it started going haywire, there was really nothing any pilot could do to stop the plane from engaging in the runaway behavior that caused both planes to crash.
And I’ll also ‘fess up. I work with Boeing, and have a ton of students at all levels in that company. So it’s hard to write about what’s happening to friends, who largely are not responsible for any of this.
Where the responsibility does lie was covered by me back in May, 2016, when I wrote about Boeing’s relocation to Chicago. Back then, it was James McNerney in charge for most of my observational period, though Dennis Muilenburg had shown up on the heels of McNerney’s retirement in July 2015. Much had been said, after McNerney’s chiefly financially driven takeover of Boeing, was that returning the leadership position of Boeing to someone like Muilenburg, who was a real “engineer”, would somehow remediate the problems that were showing up technically at Boeing.
Readers of this blog know that job title has little to do with empathy development level, and being CEO at Boeing was no different. In fact, the real change, as the documentary notes, had occurred with the acquisition of McDonnell Douglas by Boeing back in 1995. The nearest analogy I can come up with what happened when Boeing, a largely community-based and communitarian company (almost all of its facilities used to be based in the Puget Sound region) bought out McDonnell Douglas, chiefly a very authority-driven defense contractor was the same as what happened in the movie ‘Alien’, where the eponymous monster planted an egg in a crew member that later came gorily busting out of one of the crew members and attempting to kill everyone in the ship.
Building commercial aircraft inherently demands a high empathy structure organization, one with long organizational memory. Why? The part count in a modern-day jetliner can approach 3 million parts. And all those parts must work together, reliably, on basically a daily basis. No company is making any money if a plane is on the ground. So, absent regular maintenance cycles, that plane needs to be in the air almost constantly. And considering that those same planes are often flying over open water, or Greenland, it’s a zero-tolerance exercise. You can’t even count on small failures not ending catastrophically.
This is NOT the same as building military aircraft. Military aircraft are optimized for certain aspects of high performance, with frequent thorough maintenance cycles. Fly something like an F-22 for over eight hours, and it’s back in the shop for something. It’s just not the same game.
That means that any organization even wanting to get in the game of civil aviation has to have robust, duplex, high fidelity information transfer systems, both in design and operation. Or bad things happen. Such an organization is not going to do well in the face of Wall Street stock price games. And Boeing is the bellwether of how this is true.
There’s a whole post to be written about how many of our high-powered institutions have essentially been captured by the empathy-disordered, and I will get around to writing it. But this is not solely limited to the aerospace world. One can see similar relationally disruptive individuals, like Dr. Tony Fauci, displaying classic gaslighting behavior, and then immediately demanding actions in line with his brain wiring. Things like lockdowns, vaccine mandates, and masks are inherently relationally disruptive, on the same meta-platform as squelching of dissent in the Boeing Company, that led to catastrophic failures in design, that then led to loss of life.
But if there is a takeaway, it’s considering how relational disruptors got into those positions in the first place. All display a collapsed egocentricism — a focus on self-benefit, be it money, power or fame. Secondly, all support relationally disruptive policies, all justified in some kind of low-responsibility mode of public display. Watching the Netflix special, you can watch Muilenburg in the Congressional hearing, in a room packed with loved ones of the crash victims, nary shedding a tear, nor offering anything remotely like a confession or sign of remorse. Hardly different from Tony Fauci, yelling at Rand Paul about how COVID didn’t come from a lab, when he himself knew that he had been funding the very work that, at a minimum, led to the path to COVID, all the while declaring himself the truth itself.
And while it’s interesting to all of us, to out the larger villains in our societal dramas, what’s more interesting is understanding how these people ended up in those power positions at all. Muilenburg’s path is somewhat more opaque, though it is pretty clear he spent no time in any of the civilian aviation tracks. All his chops were gained along the path of Boeing’s defense business, where constant slippage of deadlines would require a certain mendacity and emotional aloofness to continue sucking down taxpayer dollars for programs far over budget and under performance. Fauci started his public career in the AIDS days, and there are videos I’ve watched of him telling the various news outlets that AIDS could be spread to family members just through association with homosexuals. Talk about relational disruption.
But I’d also argue that the reason for those people being there in the first place is because of our own lack of empathy development in the larger population. We as a society have no good models for fingering relational disruptors in the first place. In fact, even in light of obvious empathy-disordered behaviors like child masking in schools, most of the population says nothing. People like Muilenburg and Fauci can fit in far too easily, by telling convenient lies and reaping the benefits of their constant prevarication. And far too many people, even among the educated literati, are so lacking in their own development and self awareness that they believe them.
Are these problems due to one person? Or are they, as I maintain, a systems problem that emergently creates these types of issues in both product and policy? Considering that the Boeing 777X is having, if not similar problems, then similar meta-problems with its flight control systems, we’ve got a much larger problem — especially as complexity increases. We’re starting to see that these low empathy systems cannot produce products to satisfy our needs as we move into the future.
Because planes must obey the laws of physics — and part of those laws is the social physics of their creators. And like it or not — they’re the law.
Hands down, my favorite recent podcast has to be Fall of Civilizations, put together by Paul M. M. Cooper. The episodes don’t come out that often (seems like he got rolling, but it turned into a twice-yearly deal) but they are just amazing. It’s almost like each one is a little book, or novella. And Paul has one of the dulcet, melancholy voices that’s perfectly evocative for his subject matter. I’ve listened to almost all of them, and each one is deeply insightful, and goes far to synthesize with the status quo on why things in a given empire fell apart.
Which is why the subject matter is so relevant today. In the U.S., we seem to be seized up with the idea that somehow our problems, as well as our opposition, are unique, or at least some incarnation of the devil. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are largely in the throes of a large scale revolution in human social dynamics, caused by the shift of timescales brought on by the Internet. As I discussed in this piece, what is truly new is the downshift of geography and proximity as the primary informational organizational principle in our society, due to the Internet. And the primary problems we face are NOT what the mainstream media would tell you — mis- and disinformation. So much of their critique is the fact that the reins of social control are slipping from their hands. The old playbook just doesn’t work.
And then there is the fact that the press is also memetically limited in how they tell their stories. Most of the current MSM seems to be innumerate as well — so the tools, agency and insight necessary to tell stories about how populations are moving around are beyond them. That’s why we get a story about one individual in a nation of 330 million people that’s supposed to move us to tears, as well as reinforce whatever the dominant narrative is. It happens on the Left and Right — and nothing could be more iconic than the ‘Q’ narrative. Most people, if confronted, would have no idea what the actual story is around ‘Q’ — and certainly it hasn’t changed anything by a microscopic fraction of actual politics. Yet extremes on both the Right and the Left are invested in the very idea, even though it’s far from representative of anything resembling a coherent social movement. And so it is amplified, by both supporters and detractors, mostly to show the other side is awful. I’ve written about this extensively here.
A nation that occupies so much of its collective mind with wild stories and superstition is not demonstrating memetically robust behavior, needless to say. And one of the worst exemplars, especially during the COVID pandemic, has been the behavior of our university system, who have elevated large groups of experts that mostly bully, but also manifest social phobia on a large scale about a virus that really certainly doesn’t affect their main demographic — students — at all, and really isn’t a big threat to its workforce either. It is true we have older faculty members, but if we would follow the script of the Great Barrington Declaration, we could manage that as well. Focus resources on the vulnerable. Sigh…
But the screaming and caterwauling across the academy does not bode well for long-term support by the public of the larger academic enterprise. You’d literally have to live under a rock to miss the direction of most of the dialogue, on sites like Twitter and elsewhere. Those in the laptop/ZOOM class intend to stay home and not do their jobs in person as long as they possibly can, while supported by “essential workers” who bring them food and goods from literally across the planet. Master/slave model, anyone?
And they’ll call those of us speaking out against the madness that’s driving this — the application of the various Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) all sorts of names, while denying the actual population’s needs, and conducting experiments that show the false efficacy of empathy disrupting interventions like masks. This goes as far as large ensembles of experiments on animal models like Syrian Golden Hamsters as proof that masks work. Even though they don’t. Clever minds (and academics are clever) can always pull something out of their hip pocket to justify their beliefs.
But it doesn’t stop what Scott Galloway, marketing prof. at NYU has called the “fist of stone coming for academia’s glass chin.” That punch will land.
That’s why it’s useful to consider things like Fall of Civilizations and the historical lessons of what happens when that fist does land.
And for that we might consider what happened in an empire I certainly did not know about — the Songhai Empire. The Songhai occupied a large part of West Africa, including the Niger River and environs, from about 1430-1592. The Wikipedia entry is not nearly as interesting nor detail-filled as Paul’s work, and I highly recommend the podcast. The major cities of the Songhai were the trading center of Gao, as well as the intellectual center of Timbuktu, known for its historic libraries full of African history. Timbuktu was a city of scholars, in many ways iconic and ahead of its time.
But when the empire came apart, and degenerated into smaller city-states, because of the development of the African/American slave trade, the locals rounded up the scholars and sold them into slavery. Cooper particularly notes this, without much reason. But I suspect (and this is my bias) it happened because the scholars were supported by the empire, and had alternately, as with the COVID majority crowd, sided with the elites in generating bullshit philosophy that did not help the people. And so when their time came — when the larger imperial mantle had vanished — the common folks knew what to do with those self-ordained elites. Off on a slave ship to a sugar plantation in the West Indies they went. You don’t sell into slavery people that are out there, helping everyone.
But there’s another part to the story — an earlier chapter involving one of the Emperors of the Songhai, Sunni Ali. Sunni Ali has a decidedly mixed picture in the history of the Songhai, alternately being praised by some as the greatest emperor (this is in the historical record) and founder of the empire, as well as being a cruel psychopath that really had it in for the scholarly community, which was centered around the city and libraries of Timbuktu. Sunni Ali invaded Timbuktu something like five times. The first time, Cooper details, and basically told all the scholars to leave the town by the following day, or he would put all the remainders to the sword. So most of the scholars packed their books and treasures, and hightailed it out of there. The thing about messing with scholars is we really can’t know the extent of Sunni Ali’s cruelty, because when you mess with people writing history, you’re not going to end up with a good look.
But there are still implications to read in between the lines. Let’s say Sunni Ali was indeed a psychopath. From other writing I’ve done on this blog, the percentage of psychopaths increase dramatically with a trauma-soaked society. Somehow, Sunni Ali got into his head, messed up though it may have been, that the scholars were the source of the problem. And once again, it’s a sign that walling yourself in your library, and likely producing philosophy that makes your patrons happy, is not the way to create reverence for your chosen passion. It becomes a numbers game about who’s going to knock on your door when the training wheels come off.
Modern scholars might reflect on their behavior during COVID, screaming for increased restrictions, for situations that never materialized, yet ended up projections of their own social phobias, and destroyed almost a whole arm of the economy. My advice has been simple — admit you’re wrong, and let’s get society going again. But that’s only recently being heeded, and the academic community is still largely on the wrong side of the science, and history on all of this.
Sword to the throat, or fist of stone to the glass chin, there’s a reason we have buried in our academic culture that commitment, in the face of adversity, to the real truth, as well as the public good. It’s a survival mechanism. And the fact that we have largely failed in that public mission with COVID does not bode well. I’d like to think there’s still time to get on the right side of both truth and history. But that time is running out — and just because academia controls the press now doesn’t mean people have no way of knowing their real, lived truth.
As I type this post, one of the momentous events of the COVID years is underway. It is hard to know the exact number, but over 70,000 trucks from across Canada are either driving to Ottawa, or already there, in protest of the endless mandates destroying people’s lives by the various federal and provincial agencies regarding management of the COVID pandemic.
It is a protest, and there are quite a few videos of people cheering the truckers on as they drive Trans-Canada 1 and other routes into the capital city. But it is not just a protest. It is what we used to call in the old-growth wars, an “action”. And actions were not just meant to create media. Actions have actual consequences in the Real World. In the case of the truckers, it’s shutting off literal lifelines of food and necessary goods into people’s households across Canada. That’s an action.
Most people live in peaceful oblivion of the complexity and synchronization of supply chains that make life in our modern societies possible. And even though “supply chain” is the new buzzword, most institutionalized workers (academics and government) have absolutely no clue about how anything ends up on their doorstep.
Interestingly enough, I have extensive experience with the sufferings of people who have to worry about supply chains, as well as trucks. I’ve had at least a ten year old relationship with PACCAR, through my graduates, who have sponsored numerous successful projects in the Industrial Design Clinic. One of the services I offer when people sponsor my students’ work is a form of corporate psychotherapy. When I call, I get a rundown on whatever the crisis du jour is. Trust that I know the background details of every crisis Boeing has had in the last 20 years. Mum’s the word, though.
The trucking protest (as someone who has planned protests) is particularly interesting, in that it’s not just a protest. It’s a civil action, and it’s made possible by something that was far less common even 30 years ago. Large semi trucks almost all have sleepers, which are self-contained units that sit behind the cab, and are often directly connected to the cockpit of the truck. They’re a little tight, but you can live in them — which means you can go to the bathroom. This is critical. So when the truckers say they intend to stay as long as it takes to get restrictions repealed and back to normal, it’s not an idle threat.
On top of that, there is simply no way for government to clear trucks out of a space, like they might automobiles or protestors. And even if they could, they’d have to recruit wrecker drivers, who very likely don’t share the same affinity the government might wish for. I can’t imagine that they’d find too many willing hands.
What does it mean for the pajama class, as well as the appalling leadership of Canada, to operate in such an air of oblivion to this reality? An example is in order. Over Christmas, I visited my sons in Reno, NV for two weeks. During that time, a record-setting blizzard settled in on Donner Pass, the primary path over the Sierras on I-80. Reno is an island city on the other side, and basically all food for Reno comes in by truck from northern California. In four days, virtually all the perishables (vegetables and meat) were gone. You were only going to make it by eating Oreo cookies (there was still a fair amount of processed food garbage.) But it wouldn’t take more than a couple of days for that to be gone as well.
That means, quite literally, that people will run out of food — not just in Ottawa, but across Canada. It is the apex of Elite Risk Minimization to ignore the truckers’ righteous demands.
The fact that the people of Canada (or the US) might only dimly understand the role of trucking in our modern economy really doesn’t matter. A large-scale truckers’ strike like this serves as a profound moment of grounding validity, where people living in their own, incorrect version of reality are about to find out that regardless of their belief that the world needs to be organized around the notion of COVID prevention (a canard I’ve written about before, in various forms) are now facing collapse. Isolated systems, like our own governments, can delude themselves that they really understand societal risks, while refusing to realize that their actions are driven by their own inability to face their own cowardice about their own deaths, all they want. But as the bubble floats away from the absolute truth — in this case, that we have a complex system of supplying goods and services necessary for survival, and there are people vital to that system that you’ve elected to punish — once you get too far, you will see grounding failure and arcing between the bubble and reality.
This is where Canada is today.
I’ve been particularly moved by some of the videos I’ve seen on Twitter (and it’s tough to move me — trust me.) Truckers very peaceably laying down the law on the loss of jobs through enforced government mandates, about the risks of their profession, and how they worked through the beginnings of COVID when we really didn’t know if COVID was deadly across all age cohorts. At the same time, some of them brought up the dismissal of unvaccinated health care workers, who faced the same challenges, and now are facing dismissal as well. It is beyond ungrateful. It is a societal crime. And especially in the light of what vaccines can, and cannot do. We are now down to the only real benefit of vaccines is reducing severity of infection, with little effect on spread in populations.
I’ve also been fascinated throughout the pandemic by the mismatch of government response to the stated cultural values of a given country. Countries whose v-Meme sets align with the citizenry have seen little overt conflict over measures. This includes those more evolved Communitarian v-Meme countries, like Sweden and Denmark, as well as in darker venues like narcissistic Authoritarian v-Meme China, where people really are OK with welding their neighbors into their apartments.
The more interesting cases have been surprises. I couldn’t believe that Canada would continue their measures as long as they had. I’ve spent serious time in Canada, and it really is true that Canadians are more friendly and helpful than their southern neighbors. So I guess it should come as no surprise that the truckers would show up and do what they’re doing, and be supported. Canadian’s baseline Communitarianism has programmed a code of egalitarian treatment and action into their DeepOS Meme-NA.
Another pathologically fascinating aspect of this strike is how it’s showing, once again, how broken our own media systems in the U.S. are. I’m writing this on Sunday, Jan. 30 in the morning. Trudeau has been evacuated out of Ottawa (probably on a helicopter) to a “safe space” in the US. This is what fallen dictators do when they lose their country. He’s issued no public response as of 10:30 AM PST. But the only place I can really learn anything is on Twitter. This profound flex of blue-collar public power isn’t covered on MSNBC or CNN (and no, I’m not going to exhaustively scan all the liberal outlets — you can do that if you’re bored.) But even Fox News has weak coverage. Make no mistake — this is a Western civilization-changing moment. And as this piece summarizes, regardless of the outlet, the popular press is locked into courting authority — be it Left or Right. About ten years ago, I started seeing the disparagement of the concept of “populism” — which used to be promoted as a prosocial value in the media. That is obviously no longer true.
It’s also memetically fascinating that Trudeau has whispered nary a world (at least I can’t find anything) about this crisis in his own country. Trudeau is the son of the Canadian icon Pierre Trudeau, and is an extreme example of dynastic authority- and popularity-driven politics as one can find. As we are busy learning the the U.S., dynastic politics do not serve modern societies well at all, especially large complex ones, Trudeau is behaving in the current circumstance like any deposed king. He obviously does not have the strength of character to admit that he was wrong, nor wade into the crowd of truckers outside the Canadian Parliament and make peace. Instead, we are likely to see a long, drawn-out crisis on the scale of food depletion (the truckers have said they’re ready to stay for over two weeks, and trust me, that’s more than enough time to empty stores.) The fact that a leader would put the entire well-being of his country at risk over COVID policy is emblematic of his lack of integrity, as well as the compactness of the bubble of his public health policy advisors. As I write this, I am literally gasping.
Mark my words — this is a civilization-changing moment. It’s not time to pop popcorn, or any such icks. It is time to watch. And you better believe that all the other petty tyrants that lead the Free World are watching as well. As goes Trudeau and Canada, go their own necks. That’s grounding validity for you. It pushes those collective government brains down into maximum neuroplasticity that we find in Survival v-Meme situations. My guess is that there will be strong provincial pressure from the individual ministers to walk this one back. But it is simply impossible to know what exactly is happening real-time because of the corruption of the news media.
But needless to say, my prayers and hopes are with the truckers.
Though there are times I question my time spent on Twitter (the pandemic exacerbates this because of a lack of social connection, so the opportunity cost of time spent is low, and that’s not a good thing) I’ve also connected with some truly exceptional individuals.
One of these is K.C. Holliday — a yoga master (I’ve projected the role of instructor on her, but I am not sure this is true!) who posts some of the most insightful memetic Tweets on Twitter. Billing herself as an ex-historian, and a movement specialist, K.C.’s insights cut like a knife through the bullshit associated with the COVID meta-crisis. If you’re on Twitter, you should follow her. Her Twitter handle is: @KC__Holliday.
Just a couple of days ago, K.C. accurately summed up the economic restrictions that are being waged on select businesses as a war on the “Experience” economy. I kinda knew that, but this framing is powerful, and memetic. If you just want material things, they map into the low v-Meme space associated with the institutional class, that has basically begged for extended COVID restrictions. Dubbed the ‘pajama class’ in the semi-popular media, it’s easy to get what you want. A big brown truck will essentially bring it to you.
But if you want and need human connection — characteristic of the higher, more empathetically demanding v-Memes, that require some version of developed empathy — then things like gyms, restaurants, travel and other venues are what help you find meaning in life. And these are the places that are taking the biggest economic hit.
As I’ve talked before about masks, this is really a memetic war going on in the world right now. I’ve shilled Michael Lind’s work before (still love it) but this conflict is really a no holds barred cage match between externally defined relational modes, and independently generated friendships. The externally defined folks have really held the power-high ground, if not the moral one. And the measures they desire to propagate are fundamentally relationally destructive, and even if applied unevenly, help their memetic cause of social relational breakdown. The independently defined folks are finding their footing — but they’ve mostly been stuck on the top level of the societal debate, arguing with the psychopaths on the other side, instead of dismissing their concerns outright, and moving on to the real destruction of empathy. I will say this is changing, but it’s been a long time coming — at least in changing the messaging. I do think a lot of folks on the side of social evolution realized it early on, but were simply too nice to call out the relational disruptors. It’s Go Time, Team Reality. Hit ’em where they hurt. None of this at this point in history is normal.
I’ve said masks will be the last thing the institutional class will give up, precisely because they deliver the emergent, insidious destructive force that helps their side of the memetic war. And that group will use the threat of death, from COVID, or against their enemies (of which I am one) of social isolation in their home communities for those that speak out. This is more powerful than one might realize. I highly recommend reading this Wikipedia post about Coventry, England. There are historic precedents here.
What’s fascinating are the pivots the externally defined relational folks have been making recently. It makes me predict that child masking and isolation will also be one of the last things to go. At least in the short term, the externally defined relationship groups are losing the battle against restaurants, though they are holding the line with crazy masking in gyms, in various states, as well as making travel such a hassle that folks will be resistant to going.
I don’t believe any of this is conscious — I really do believe that most of this is emergent behavior. But the damage to children will be real. It will make some hunk of them fearful of social interaction in the future, and certainly delay the majority from appropriate social maturity right now. The fact that there are state governments going along with it, and not banning masks on kids in schools, is truly wild, considering the evidence from across the world that this intervention is profoundly unnecessary.
K.C. keeps calling it out incisively and boldly in her Twitter feed, along with the occasional post of some wild series of yoga poses. I find that also interesting in that what’s she’s demonstrating is also a high level of mind/body integration, which is also a characteristic of a high developed empathy personality.
So, keep it up, K.C. You, and your intellectual clarity are an inspiration. Once more into the breach, dear friend, once more…
As Yogi Berra said so succinctly, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
For those interested in understanding how important experience is in education and agency/empathy development, there is this longish piece I’ve written on this here. It’s one of my better ones, and built on my experience in the Design Clinic.
This piece was solid reasoning for the time – about asymptomatic spread. But no one really investigated rates of asymptomatic -> asymptomatic, so we were left only with the fear component. And we still have poor estimates of natural immunity. I’d give this, in hindsight, a C+.
This piece looks at rate dynamics of COVID vs. other viruses, and how COVID got the jump on the health care profession. History will likely show this piece as insightful for the containment stage of the pandemic (when it was written) but not good enough when COVID became widespread, and people started building immunity toward it without illness. B+
No apologies – good for the point in time it was written, but obviously incredibly wrong for the current level of knowledge. As hard as it may be to believe, we were struggling to get anyone to wear a mask that wasn’t of Asian descent. D+ for ignoring past research.
Still relevant and solid. But here’s the other point – hospitals didn’t fail. Some level of supply and demand, even in our messed up health care system, worked to create the right amount of capacity. B+
Deep-rooted value memes will dictate how societies react in crisis. This piece is not nearly as hard on China and its chronic gaslighting of everyone else as it should be, but considering when it was written, it shows the power of understanding societal values as coordination mechanisms. A-
Written at the beginning of interest in psychedelics as treatment for trauma. My thinking has evolved on this a bit – I can now see some mechanisms where psychedelics might really help reset folks who are messed up. But this piece is still solid.
This is a good one – showing how validity grounding, relational structures, and appropriate scaffolding of concepts and theories all matter in actually figuring out whether two data sets are connected. This piece was the start of a lot of my thinking on closed and open systems.
Understanding exactly why Malcolm Gladwell says 10K hours to mastery, and what knowledge structure it applies to is what this post is about. As well as attempting to re-explain all my other knowledge structure work, and why most larger hunks of knowledge can be reconstructed from a basis set of structures.
Attempting to understand and contextualize the numerous environmental crises happening in the Amazon and adjacent river systems, and figuring out who exactly is really causing the damage. A blend of dissection, as well as my own observations from visiting Brazil.
An intro to my empathetic leadership book, and a takedown of appealing, yet fundamentally authority-based thinking in the social sciences. If more social scientists read this post, and actually understood the implications (that most stuff in the social sciences is essentially made up and primed for confirmation bias) we might be able to fix that 50% irreproducibility rate in their journal articles.
In case anyone wants to hold up China as leading the way to a more empathetic world – well, read this post. And how things like the 36 Strategems are fundamentally antithetical to a just, complex world.
I realized that I was actually forgetting I had written on a lot of subjects in the past year, and have created this page as a compendium of those posts — as well as a descriptor of what you might find if you read them.