Super-Quickie post — I’m friends with Ugo Bardi, recently emeritus professor from the University of Florence, Italy. Like me, Ugo is fascinated by long-form history, holobionts, and larger transparadigmatic connections. Ugo is crazy-prolific — a real rock star. One of these days we might write a book together. He just finished editing a compilation noting the anniversary of one of the first systems thinking books — Limits to Growth, called LTG II. I contributed a chapter on multi-perspectival thinking.
Ugo’s comment on my last blog post on Dune, jet engines and psychopaths —
“The Dune characters are Medieval minds operating in a high-tech environment. Exactly as our leaders today.”
Boy, does that make sense. If you don’t believe, watch any House or Senate hearing on technology. It will blow your mind.
One of the things I beat my drum on and on about is the idea that information rests in various, well-defined structures in our mind, and that the brain uses this canonical set for whatever comes its way. Virtually none of it involves the top-level information, at least structurally. And those structures come from deep-seated relational patterns that are defined in how we know each other. “As we relate, so we think” is the tagline of this blog.
What that means is that your brain may encode your understanding of a jet engine in much the same form as it encodes information on how you perceive an organization or movement like Black Lives Matter (BLM). This is deeply counterintuitive for people. We’re used to thinking that somehow our brains, when they were born, or through the process of a traditional education, had slots for the different types of information, and then some kind of environmental stimuli or degree program created the actual way we think. “Oh, you have a degree in engineering” is one that I hear quite often. “So therefore you must be big-picture rational.” If they only realized how many rational and irrational engineers I’ve known over the course of my life, they’d understand why that was a total crock.
It’s not that education doesn’t matter at all. It does, to some extent, give us fragmented tools that we can combine into narratives that may prove useful. But it’s really about personal development that gives us the ability to either be able to trans-paradigmatically associate different things we know. Construct similes. Or something like that.
Once you really cement the notion that relational patterns and their practice open the gateway to understanding complexity, you rapidly descend into a World of Pain when you’re listening to various stories, ostensibly written for one’s amusement. I recently listened to Frank Herbert’s masterpiece ‘Dune’ with my Audible account, and then, lo and behold, the movie came out six months ago. For those unfamiliar with the plot, it’s a classic intersection of competition between two royal houses, one virtuous, one not so much, over the control of the stuff/drug needed to dope up on to achieve interstellar travel. Getting dropped into the mix is a tribal society (the Fremen) who mostly stay on the run from the two houses. Yeah, the plot is more complicated, and I really did enjoy both the audio version and the movie.
But if you practice the principles laid out on this blog, the biggest question you’ve got to have is this:
“How did these nitwits build a spaceship in the first place?”
There is essentially no way that a monarchy as described by Herbert could do much of anything save build castles and stab each other in the back. We have our own histories to show that this is what monarchies do. And it’s even worse when you let 16 year olds run the show, which is inevitably where you trend to when you set up these types of BS genetic succession schemes. Barbara Tuchman’s exquisite book, A Distant Mirror,that profiles all the maundering of nobles that went on during the 14th century — even before nation-states were really a thing.
But ALL paradigmatic shifts require “out-of-the-box”, or better said, out of the knowledge hierarchy encoded by experts. This is the hard thing to accept. Whole societies didn’t even consider the wheel as a viable paradigm for transportation. The Incas sure didn’t have it. Nor the Aztecs, save on small toys. It just didn’t occur to them to combine such a device with a road network, which they did have.
But here’s the crux. If a concept, regardless of how complex/complicated it is, has persisted for a long enough time, people will fundamentally take the complexity contained in it for granted. The device will get integrated into use, with little or no regard to the complexity inherent in the object, that had to first be developed, a la Conway’s Law, by an organization embodying that complexity.
So, though it is highly unlikely, a society like the one portrayed in Dune could indeed exist, as long as it followed the social physics of the v-Meme that it primarily embodied, with technology inherited from quite a long time ago. That interstellar Spice drive could have been invented, through a combination of lots of different v-Meme organizations (you’ve got telepaths and all sorts of potentially magical, but also super-evolved modes — think of the Bene Gesserit) who just happen to exist in that point in time, in the universe of Dune’s DEEP past, with technology that seems complex to us, and is potentially impenetrable to those in their current space. But in the process of development, as well as the obvious devolutionary decline of government and people, that the system boundaries of that technology are so robust that it just doesn’t matter. Dune, in the present, means you take some drugs and fly to another planet. Easy peasy.
I think this must be what Elon Musk, intuitively, has in mind when he talks about windows for spacefaring civilizations. He rightly intuits that this may be the only time humans can really aspire to get off the planet, and I agree with him. There needs to be a happy intersection of many factors, including our own evolution from biological origins, to the necessary networked complexity to build a starship, as well as the resources to do so. And that includes energy.
Elon musing on the fate of life
Short version — it’s complex. It gets invented because mapping the complexity of the time and knowledge resources happens to coincide with the social evolution of the society and its people at a particular time in their development. Then 10,000 years pass, and we societally and empathetically devolve. But the tech. is so solid, with hard system boundaries, that it simply doesn’t require a more complex society to use it. It’s plug and play. And humans being humans, encode managing the boundary conditions for that technology without really knowing what the hell is inside.
This is the whole theme of the 1970 movie Beneath the Planet of the Apes – a nightmarish sci-fi flick (at least to a ten-year-old boy) in the Planet of the Apes series that results in the destruction of Earth. In the movie are a group of telekinetic mutant humans that surround the Omega weapon, a bomb that they don’t quite know is a bomb. They’re responsible for Integrated Bomb Management, or safekeeping, or something.
What’s wild about this paradigm is it’s actually memetically accurate. The mutants have no idea about the tech. inside the bomb that might destroy the world. They just know that it can. And true to memetic form, they’ve organized themselves into a rigid mutant priesthood/hierarchy, working on tweaking the boundary conditions to keep the bomb in tip-top shape. Which they do.
In hindsight, I’ve been to more than one oil refinery that essentially runs on this principle. Folks aren’t super dialed in on the exact chemical process inside the different processing columns and such. That was worked out in the relatively distant past. But they absolutely possess extremely sophisticated knowledge on moving around the various set points on the outside of the system to effect appropriate tweaks to product quality.
A more relevant example might be jet engine technology. IMHO, there is probably no better example of a technology hitting up against the edge of physics like a modern jet engine. These things operate at the edge of theoretical thermodynamic efficiency, and consist of over 25K individual manufactured parts. Yet these same engines, encapsulated inside the boundary of the engine nacelle and body, are used around the world in environments ranging from futuristic to primitive. China is busy developing passenger planes for the world market. Yet they simply can’t compete globally with Boeing or Airbus, because they have yet to develop a competitor to an engine like the Rolls Royce UltraFan engine, or one of the many GE models. They don’t have the empathetic social structure in their development environments to innovate such a device.
Yet here is the point. You can have all sorts of complex technology on the inside and absolutely need a super-complex and sophisticated organization to create it the first time. But as time goes on, the engine (or whatever) gets a boundary wrapped around the outside of it. Fuel and air goes in, and thrust goes out the back. And you have to make sure it’s nailed to the wing, or it will come flying off, big time. So the Chinese can build airliners, at least for their home market, and buy the engines from the outside. They won’t be as good as a Boeing or Airbus aircraft. But they still fly.
So the information structure for the engine, in the MEMETIC system, as they use it, is actually pretty simple. The compaction process works the same, as I’ve discussed in the past, as a definite integral, where you take this super-complex function and boil it down to a scalar — a single number. You can’t reconstruct all the complicated stuff inside the engine without an equivalent social network to tell you what goes where. But the average — the thrust going out the back is all you really need.
The more interesting, connected topic for all of this, especially in the context of Dune, is that you had a whole galaxy of planets and stars who went through a dramatic DEVOLUTIONARY process of governance, where instead of developing and evolving social systems that optimized personal agency, and distributed decision making, went backward. And as we’ve discussed before, devolutionary leadership must be relationally disruptive — breaking different levels of agency and relational classifications– in order to get things back to the age of kings and queens. Certainly, that type of leadership can be sophisticated. Dune does an exquisite job of telling a story of battling royal houses, and magical space witches, and their various machinations. But it cannot be evolutionary, save in a magical sense. Which is why the character of Paul Atreides exists. He is an interdimensional “chosen one” that can unite everyone above all the ridiculous nonsense these people, that actually have the ability to careen through space, perpetrate. In a physical sense, it’s impossible to imagine them fighting for anything real, other than chronic status assertion. Once you’re at that level of technological mastery, physical needs are just not relevant. Except maybe a swimming pool. But fight they do.
So now let’s bridge this into the world of ideas, memetically. In stagnant social systems, people will co-opt and potentially resurrect ideas, just like those jet engines with closed boundaries, or a starship’s Spice navigation system, that are so tried-and-true in both input, effect, and output, and use these for whatever relationally disruptive modalities they desire.
Your brain probably isn’t overfond of mapping a complicated theory of race relations with the same (or really, meta-same) complicatedness of a jet engine. But as you remove the various ground wires from either knowledge construction — in racism, it might be actually dealing with folks you interact with and their actual sorrows, or in the case of jet engines it might be knowing the exact composition of the titanium allow needed to make the rotor blades on the inside — the result is the same. You’ve got this piece of constructed knowledge, and it ends up as a tool you can use. You know the surface configuration, and roughly what it does. I guarantee you that you don’t think of the metallurgical content of a hammer head when you drive a nail to hang a picture on your wall.
And if you’re a psychopath, with relational disruption on your mind, you’re far more likely to attach to a tried-and-true powerful idea, or mental model, that has somehow gotten distorted through history, but has shown it has the power for emotional manipulation, than you are to explain a complex truth.
And here’s the thing. As history fades, and those with actual grounding experiences die off, if your society doesn’t do a good job of coding ambiguity and grounding in its primary cultural myths, then you lay yourself open to those extremely superficial interpretations. As long as air and fuel go in the front, and exhaust comes out of the back, it will be good enough for the relational disruptor’s goals.
You might look around at many of our political debates that seek to drive us apart and ask if the above analysis applies. I’d argue, of course, that it does. We use weaponized, simplified myths of diversity for whatever our egocentric desire du jour might be. With regards to race, I grew up in a segregated community with actual, intentional violence directed toward African-Americans. I still argue that racism is somewhat of a problem in this society. But it is not the same as the very real racism I grew up with. It is positively dwarfed by economic disparities in a privatized society that runs on money, and trauma if that money is not present. Black folks are poor, and that has profound consequences for attempting to lift people out of poverty, and crime.
One can easily generalize to all the various mental models used to drive us, as a society, apart. If there’s any consolation in understanding, well, this piece is it.
As we wrap up here, let me be explicit about the point made.
It takes lots of time, experience, and folks arranged in the correct social system to generate for the first time all sorts of complex mental/tech models.
The only difference between the larger meta-process required, between social system manifestations and physical manifestations, is that one is demonstrable in the social sphere, and one in the physical sphere. Both are products of social systems and their interactions.
As time goes on, if there is no innovation, or information brought in from the outside to change their structure, the boundaries of either of these phenomena become “how” they are known.
This process of boundary solidification allows them to be processed by people of lower development. You don’t have to know how to invent something in order to use it. You just have to be able to identify with its superficial function.
Especially in the social sphere, the level of societal evolution can be quite low to allow an established mental model to be weaponized.
This is highly likely in stagnant social systems, where experienced actors seeking power and control rise to the top, and become expert in pushing societal buttons with particular mental models.
We might think about all of these things and how they actually affect progress in our own evolution of our societies, and be aware of when we’re being played. Otherwise, we’ll be back on Dune, identifying with the House of Atreides, or the House of Harkonnen. Mores the pity.
I’ve been putting off writing about the abortion debate, recently re-fired up by the premature release of a drafted decision from Justice Samuel Alito, and apparently very politically timed as Democrats’ November prospects. It’s not clear to me that anything can turn around the disaster that the Democrats have created with regards to their electoral chances. But if there is one thing, it’s this issue. So, clever political theater, or honest concerns, you get to decide.
I want to state at the start of this that I am very much supportive of the outcome of Roe v. Wade, and women’s ability to control their reproductive futures. At the same time, I also look at a lot of this debate as a huge spin in decentralizing a country that has obviously gotten too big for the two primary factors that make countries and their identities. Those are actual population of that country, as well as the personal/empathetic development level of that country. I’ve said this in other posts — but the reality is that a given country, with a given diversity of people, requires a certain amount of information, with a certain amount of robust complexity, in order to function. That information comes in the form of national identity, shared history, and a whole laundry list of other items. Feel free to add anything in a friendly fashion in the comments.
But the root of all that is how a given society, on average, allows relational formation — whether relationships are externally defined and titular, or independently generated by the individual, and data-driven. This one dichotomy drives the thought process of nations, and I’ve argued that is the core element, statistically distributed of course, of how a country processes information. I’ve been pretty alone out here advocating for this (it is life in The Matrix, and most folks don’t realize we’re even in The Matrix) but I’ve gotten some strong support in Joe Henrich’s latest book, The WEIRDest people in the World. Joe is the chair of anthropology at Harvard, so if you’re in the first, externally defined relational camp, you can read/listen to his book, if your brain is having a hard time accepting the arguments made on this blog. For a scholarly book, it’s actually a great ‘car listen’ as well.
COVID served as a particularly opportunistic moment in history for the Externally Defined Relational folks to get a jump on the other v-Memes. I’ve written about this extensively as well, and as is the typical case with what is truly a Memetic War, that the particular side took advantage of it, and are still, even at this late date in the pandemic, going full bore against the more profound empathetic development forces. Relational disruption, and social distancing, be it with masks, vaccine mandates and passports, or arrows on the grocery store floor, are stock in trade, and trust me on this one — at this late date, are being wielded only by those remaining with either social phobias, or psychopaths. It is weaponized empathy — connection for me, but not for thee — that has allowed all this. Feel sorry for grandma, but not for kids shut out of school. Nor especially for folks with special needs. But I digress.
It hardly needs to be stated, but in the standard dichotomy of Left and Right, the Left favors COVID restrictions, which inherently violate bodily autonomy of an entire population, while the Right has waved the anti-abortion flag, and advocated forcible violation of bodily autonomy of women. Roe only concerned restrictions on abortion before 24 weeks of gestation, and was labeled a “right to privacy” — meaning that until 24 weeks, at least to me, it was within a woman’s purview that her pregnancy was only hers to know about. It really didn’t cover what I would consider (and others as well) a basic human right for a woman to control her body. FWIW, the government has never granted a true right to bodily autonomy ever (skip the ridiculous criminal arguments, please) to any citizen, and that’s problematic in and of itself. So Roe has been a weak decision, for a long time.
And Alito said that in his draft decision, which at this time we must remember is potentially apocryphal. Alito’s basic argument was “this is a weak decision, these folks have had a long time to pass a piece of legislation on a national level, and they haven’t, so let’s send it back to the states to decide, who seem more than happy to provide legislative definition.” Of course, what I just stated is somewhat simplistic, and those that really are into the complexity of the issue can dig down to find whatever devolution or sophistication they want. That’s not the point of this piece.
And so we see that further memetic devolution of a country too large to maintain nuance on one of the hot-button issues of our time.
One of the things I hope to provide with this piece is some perspective on the deep memetic “why” people will argue what they will argue, and while it may seem inconsistent, it actually is not. So now we need to talk a bit about information coherence and the why/how people generate worldviews.
The issue of abortion, because it is about the fundamental origin of human life, starts down in the bottom of the v-Meme stack — at the Survival v-Meme and Tribal v-Meme level. From a knowledge creation perspective, that means the decisions regarding whether to carry or abort a fetus are extremely visceral to the party involved. If you are a poor, young woman, you very well may be looking at a profound survival crisis if you have a child. You’re not really worrying about larger moral issues, or even issues of law. You either want the baby, or not. And in a culture that is profoundly hostile to young, single women having babies (look at the amount of child care at most universities that’s easily available for that demographic — not much) you’re going to likely want an abortion.
That happens across the board. I was just reading a piece in MedPage Today that said 1 in 6 female medical students had gotten an abortion. That is stunning, and tells you the extent of Survival v-Meme thinking about abortion. You know having a baby will certainly end your pursuit of a medical degree. Wild.
Tribal v-Meme concerns are up next — deep mythic structures that reside in all of our brains, and are based on cultural values and familial and religious beliefs. None of these things are to-the-point rational, grounded in immediate circumstance. They are long-time, multiple perspective-aggregated, with deep buried roots that translate into simplified narratives for people to use and guide their thinking. And so the expectation that one has a particular myth (abortion is bad and should be banned) should somehow be coherent with another myth (vaccination for COVID is good, and in support of the larger population) is a foolish one. The brain at the Tribal level just doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t NEED to resolve that conflict any more than it needs to resolve a myth to eat beef, but not shrimp. And because it’s rooted so deeply in folks’ limbic system, if that’s where their point of convergence is located, well, good luck. It’s down on the Old God level. And those Old Gods are hardly easy to dislodge.
Moving up to the next two v-Meme levels — Authority and Legalism — there is also no change in response to discordance. A couple of points are in order, though. Authority at a larger social level cares not one whit for any sense of bodily autonomy someone might claim. What that means is either Authority ignores the pregnancy, its consequences, or its termination, or that Authority believes that the social system under its control is threatened with losing its homeostasis. Though resistance to abortion has no race, or particular color, the reality is that regardless of all that, nor popular opinion, poor, white and evangelical people in this country feel profoundly threatened. They feel profoundly threatened for reasons that the Left refuses to even give a basic head nod to, which of course feeds back into the way they view the world. Social systems thrive on homeostasis, and it’s not hard to see the collapse of the middle class in this country would make many in that demographic group come out on the abortion issue.
Once again, no higher coherence in principles is needed. Worse, the knowledge structures available to even discuss this are fundamentally dichotomous in nature. “Abortion is wrong” or “abortion is a sin.” It’s either/or. And lest the liberal Lefties reading this feel some smug satisfaction of sticking to poor white people, the debate on the Left not surprisingly occupies that same knowledge structure. All you have to do is see the various protests where people are saying, prematurely, that Alito’s opinion “bans” abortion in any case, are falling victim to the same dichotomous thinking meta-structure that their opposition is embracing. It’s absolutely nuts to watch, once you realize you’re in The Matrix. Alito asked for a devolution of authority to a smaller sub-population that he deemed more representative. I’ll discuss the Death of Geography a little more below.
It’s really only once we pop above the Trust Boundary, into the Performance v-Meme and Communitarian v-Meme, that the knowledge structures even permit any nuance in discussion. Should an individual have a certain HUMAN right (as opposed to a civil right) to control their outcomes? This argument does get made, but not often, in the cacophony of voices on the abortion issue. And even one click up, in the Communitarian v-Meme, where we look at multiple voices and perspectives for nuance due to all the things that happen in a population (such as severe birth defects, or anencephalic fetuses) we finally have the more complex knowledge structures available to have a more complex discussion, with fractal optimization for a variety of circumstances. But there are simply not enough people evolved at that level to even carry the discussion. And so inevitably, we get a variety of situations, seen monolithically from the lower v-Memes (remember — you can only process information at the level that you’ve evolved to — meaning you’re looking over your head attempting to understand a more complex problem.) It’s just wrong or right.
What that does is turn very individual, low probability events into ‘Partial Birth Abortion’ or other dichotomous situations. The individual tragedy simply doesn’t matter in the larger aggregate. It’s like taking a complex bimodal probability distribution, and saying it’s represented by one number that’s an average. Large scale empathetic connection would yield the relational networks, and number of experiences so people might have given examples, and replacement stories for people to hold on to. But in case you’re wondering why there’s such a rapid dismissal of exceptions, even for rape or incest, which do have the potential to be rooted deep in Tribal v-Meme reaction, well here you go.
It’s not until we get into the Second Tier — where the conscious mind starts to dominate, that we even have the ability to have the profound consequential thinking on a societal/global level, to have the debate. The Global Systemic v-Meme (Yellow) says we ought to be able to arrange all these lower level knowledge structures in a way that preserves individual rights, as well as some right of a developed fetus to life (remember that Roe only covers the issue up to 24 weeks) . But now we’re really into sinking virality of any knowledge structures to propagate and elevate the debate. I’ve seen all sorts of guesses for how many Yellow v-Meme operators are out there, and they’re all in the 1-2% of the population. Good luck with spreading those ideas.
And then, at the top — Global Holistic/Turquoise — it’s not even worth discussing. Less than 1% of the population is going to have a true Guiding Principles perspective on all this, that incorporates all the inherent trade-offs (including for the planet), that might give a truly optimized range of social attractors.
So what happens is the force on the entire system for Roe is really around what Alito did. I’m not saying that Alito was particularly wise in what he did. He’s been famous for being a conservative justice since the day he took the bench. But the emergent forces on his profoundly Legalistic perspective are toward devolution of authority. And emergence will out — because that dude is low empathy (is any group of people more bubbled up than SCOTUS justices? Did you hear the nonsense out of Sotomayor’s and Breyer’s mouths regarding vaccine mandates? ) in a bubble of diamond. I think there may be some grounding validity that is going on in all their thinking — reviewing the consequences of a given decision, and the trauma that will likely ensue in a nation that really doesn’t need any more division right now. But the Legalistic v-Meme they occupy only allows very limited consequentiality — in their case, it’s “We do this, and the states will then get to do that, and it’s not our responsibility because we executed our duties ethically. It’s not our problem if people riot in the streets.” But they’re not stupid people either.
Meanwhile, the devolutionary Left is having a first-class fit, and will throw everything against the wall, every slur and insult, in the public sphere. The Republicans, outside of most of the coastal states (there are exceptions) have neglected both the needs and the voices of the entire flyover states in this country. It’s not like the champions who have emerged in those states are true champions of the health and wellbeing in their populations either. Please. But the Ds have made it far easier for the nihilists in the Republican party to seize control. When you devolve people through the combination of poverty, and arbitrary government programs, you create vast potential for entire populations to operate down in pure Mythical/Tribal thinking.
We can see the signals of this in the plethora of conspiracy theories propagated across the heartland. The idea that all those conspiracy theories are necessarily wrong, either, is another flaw of the Left. When you lose your job, and the property in your possession in your hometown is worthless, moving to a richer state is extremely difficult, if not impossible. One of the pieces of advice I give my own students, who will go on to become successful engineers, is to think geographically where you want to settle. It is easy to go down from a rich area to a poor one. But making the reverse trip will be difficult.
The other thing that fuels all this is something that I’ve written about extensively — the Death of Geography. What that means is that people in given states, and economic zones in the country, now, through the Internet, have memetic access to the best and finest propaganda across the United States. Much is made about Russian or even Chinese bots spreading disinformation. I’ve always looked at this as ridiculous. We have plenty of homegrown seeds, as well as fertile ground. And as we continue to neglect the economic prosperity of most of our country, all we’re doing is seeding the wind. And the more you stoke Survival v-Meme fears, coupled with powerful moral myths regarding being anti-abortion, you should expect people to want more babies. Intrinsically, people understand that population is power. You’re really having to battle Agent Smith in this scenario to convince anyone otherwise.
And here is the other problem — it maintains the myth that somehow even states are monolithically representative in their beliefs. Southern states are conservative, northern states are liberal. Considering the electoral differences in most of these states, such geographic labeling does not capture the true opinion diversity that rests side-by-side in geography, but is clearly delineated through the memetics. That leaves a whole lot of people in any Red or Blue state unhappy with whatever decision comes out. They can find their tribe online. And they do.
As with all our problems, including the one regarding abortion, the answer is a development of empathy in our society. But we’re not even close to having a discussion around what really is causing us to think the way we do. This blog post may go viral, and get read a couple thousand times. But that’s it. And all that lecturing I gave above about virality above applies to my work as well.
I’ll close with why I feel the way I do. It’s not a long argument. Who gets hurt by abortion laws that don’t respect women’s bodily autonomy? Poor people. Rich daughters will have nothing to worry about — they will receive abortions because their parents will insure they do. And I honestly think that some of this will be ameliorated from the situation 50 years ago, when Roe was originally decided. New abortion pills like mifepristone are now available that were not in the ’70s, and these are easily mail-ordered, just like Viagra. If you’re stuck in a state where abortion is unavailable, due to the tremendous demand for abortion, you can get one mailed to you. And a quick look at the stats on abortion show that most indeed happen in the first trimester. I’m just not receptive to the argument that life begins at conception. If that’s true, then whole lines of birth control would have to be banned. I leave it to the reader to understand the hormonal changes that birth control promotes, that prevents attachment of the zygote to the uterine wall.
But we can’t evolve as a society until we realize that on our little Spaceship here, everyone has to come along. And that is what is so heartbreaking about all of this.
In the Land Where Misery Can Never End, a.k.a. the USA, a few days ago, the infernal transportation mandate was struck down by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle struck down the mandate as “arbitrary and capricious” — the legal standard that must be met in order for a halt (as opposed to some kind of on-the-fly amendment) for federally imposed action. The “arbitrary and capricious” action is an especially high bar for anyone suing the government to meet. Why? Because the federal government and the first line of the court system operate on the principle of Sovereign Immunity — “the king can do no wrong” — and you can only sue the federal government basically with its consent. No federal official, for example, can be held responsible for damages caused by their decisions, nor are they accountable to the public.
But there are grounds (the federal consent thing) where you can sue. I know, because I’ve been part of teams of individuals who have done it, and won. I’m not so bad at legal strategy, but it’s still an eye-opener. Essentially, especially at the first level of the federal court system — District Court — the judge listens to you, then the agency experts, and if it’s Round One, bangs the gavel and sends you packing. Because, as we all know, federal officials never lie when on the stand, and if they say “no harm, no foul” well, it is.
This is crazy-making at its finest, but having done this numerous times in the mid- to late-90s over environmental law, well, let’s just say it’s not my first rodeo. But most people are surprised. If you really want to overturn a federal rule-making, odds are you’re going to have to go up at least to the Federal Appeals Court level, which will then not allow any new evidence added to the record, but at least will look at the evidence of whatever you packed the case file with. So, as you’re busy losing at Round One at the District Court level, you really have to be looking upward to picking yourself up off the floor, wiping your bloody nose, pondering your empty pocketbook (it costs at least $10K, likely more just to lose in Round One, and then there is all the work to apply to the Court of Appeals) and getting back on the bull.
If there’s anything to recommend it, at least the federal system is only partially packed with incompetents. You think the federal system is bad until you end up in state court. But I digress.
At any rate, Judge Mizelle, whom everyone is pointing out is not ABA certified (she’s basically too young and not enough experience — 12 years), and a Trump appointee, listened to the evidence and decided that the CDC had run a shitty rule making process (they had) and had arbitrarily excluded certain groups from masking (2 year olds and people with disabilities) and threw the whole thing out. I read the decision, but obviously didn’t go through the case file. Still, considering the nonsense of the whole masking debacle, I’m not surprised. I don’t know what the CDC might base a winning case on, because all of this is so crazy. Or rather, driven by the structural memetics, which you can read about here. We’re in the Matrix with this one.
The liberal media made much hullaballoo over the fact that Mizelle was a Trump appointee (a Tribal v-Meme play), and new on the bench. But the case wasn’t really particularly complex. It was a procedural decision (just FYI — when you beat the feds, it’s almost always on procedure because when it comes to the facts, they get their experts up there to lie) but that’s not that surprising. What IS more surprising that Mizelle didn’t take on face value the CDC’s testimony, and cancelled the masking order. That’s gutsy for Level One (see explanation above) but it also must mean that the case the CDC put on was especially rancid. Federal judges serve for life, but they ALL hate to be overturned by a higher court. Something about status in court-land.
And it constrains them. Memory fails me for the specifics, but I did get to witness Judge Edward Lodge, a long-time Boise Cascade supporter, actually rule in favor of some of our US Forest Service lawsuits. That’s how big a shit sandwich these judges view getting overturned is.
As I write this, the DOJ will appeal, but not ask for an injunction, though also, as I write this, the CDC is asking them to in order to preserve their authority. This argument is actually bullshit. What the CDC wants is the authority to stick people back in masks; not just maintain their general authority. That’s how bad they suck, and that’s also how strong the memetics are.
Masking on airplanes is driving hard on the concept of Elite Risk Minimization. It IS true that mask wearing has been lifted pretty much across the nation, and all but the socially phobic and OCD sufferers have given up on wearing them. Most of the students in the classroom building I teach in don’t wear them. Of course, a good hunk of the professors I see when I peer in the window ARE, which is a damning indictment of the university as anything resembling an enlightened place. But it’s also true that for the most part, people were already “empathy bubbled” up. And folks were only associating who they wanted to associate with. The only place really left with the unwashed masses, quite literally yearning to breathe free, was public transportation. Well, and university classrooms. Professors really do view students as the unwashed masses. Go to any faculty meeting — but I digress (again). (Just FYI — faculty meetings are the source of endless jokes once you leave them. Inside them is another matter.)
So you’ve got a memetic Double Whammy going on here. If you’re stuck on an airplane, odds are high they’re all strangers to you. And if you’re really unaware that you’re in the Matrix, and have already closed your identity inside your in-group as those in your out-group are unclean, well, you’re really screwed on an airplane. You’re going to join the Mile High Club, but not in a fun way. You actually have to site in close proximity to people you don’t know. And those people might be eating pretzels. Or nursing their Bloody Mary. With their mask off. Just FYI, I don’t even dangle mine around my ear.
The other part of that Double Whammy is that you’ve got an organization — the CDC– run by a bunch of empathy-disordered narcissists with OCD who can’t even countenance losing control. There’s a phenomenon that’s really poorly understood in play here called ‘narcissistic rage’. When someone with a personality disorder (you’d be amazed how many quiet people have something called Avoidant Personality Disorder) is actually challenged, if they’re not in an external system where those constraints are pre-defined, you’ll see Silent Sally totally go apeshit on you. You might have thought the best thing to do with these kinds of bullies is to stand up to them. And you may HAVE TO.
But the way they deal with that is to double down on the rage-driven crazy. It’s something to watch. And I have. But those stories will have to wait. The only thing that’s worse about calling one of them out to their face is to have them sue you. Uh, once again — that story will have to wait. But suffice it to say that they are very good at manipulating the judicial system. Because, well, they’re good at using positive mental models in the context of human shields for their psychopathy. Think weaponized empathy. You come in with a nuanced, sophisticated, but well-crafted argument. They come in and declare you Satan. It’s even odds if the judge believes you or them.
And hey — it’s really a Triple Whammy. The last part of the memetic v-Meme craziness is that minorities, memetically, are literally caught in the middle. Most minority communities are far more v-Meme Authoritarian than white communities, for a variety of reasons. Most are poorer, save Asians, which also have a cultural bias toward masks, though this is overstated by the white folks with OCD looking to grasp onto any straw that links to racial sublimation and that white folks suck. The others (Hispanics, African Americans) are uniformly poorer, and that stronger family structure has severe drawbacks if you’re attempting to navigate a hazy information environment. You listen to your mother, or you’ll get a whooping. Couple that with yet another double whammy of previous betrayal by white authority (think the Tuskegee experiments) and false dichotomies (mask and vaccine equivalence) and when you have to choose between protection, one from getting something injected in your body, and the other just putting a piece of cloth on your face, you’ll go for the cloth. It’s something that you can control.
So those are the three v-memetic tripwires in the whole transportation masking nightmare.
Close proximity by elites with the Unclean.
Demand for more power-and-control from the social-phobic CDC and academic epidemiologists.
Fear from minority communities stuck between a rock and a hard place, belief-wise, between vaccines and masks.
The general public, however, continues to hate masks, regardless of the nonsense bullshit the media produces. I just read a story about a poll that said that 56% of Americans still want masking on planes. At the same time, something like 22% of the people polled (1085 samples) never flew. It just got more crazy from there. I have some sympathy for the pollsters. Cell phones have completely wrecked their random sampling methodologies, and I can’t believe that they’re not selling apples on the street yet. But Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, after all the experts and pollsters lined up to declare Hillary the winner by a landslide, should give any reasonable person pause.
But who we’re up against is not a group of “reasonable people.” At this point in the game, it’s plain to see that the remaining real maskers are trauma victims of the liberal media, or a stack of people with phobias and personality disorders. And there is the grounding validity touchstone of all the videos inside airplanes showing what people did when they could take off their masks.
Virtually all of them sure as hell took them off, over and over. The flight attendants and the passengers literally screamed with joy. Yes, there were a couple of shrinking holdouts — of course there would be. But the rest of us are tired of the bully game. You want to wear a face diaper while you’re on a plane? Please. But, Bitch, please, stop holding yourself up as some virtuous idiot. You’re not preventing disease. And you’ve just lost your control on making the rest of us suffer for your paranoia.
One final note — it’s not the Republicans that need to forfeit polling and get off Twitter. It’s the Democrats. Any D that wants to believe that poll — a legacy media tool at best — and ignore the fact that the public really hates all the nonsense NPIs is really asking for the end of their party. And Twitter, where I spend far too much time whiling away the hours coming up with somewhat witty shitposts, is the worst government policy, self-reinforcing empathy bubble on the planet. Listen, D strategists — no one in the real world even knows who Rochelle Walensky is.
As a lifelong Democrat, I want the party to get back to what it used to support — working class people and environmental protection. But have it your way, New Wave D strategists. It’s just gonna be Armageddon in November. And then we’re gonna really be left with the nihilists.
As I write this on April 10, China is in the middle of locking down its largest city — Shanghai — with no end in sight. And it’s not an American-style lockdown. As some COVID has continued to spread, the lockdown, which started out as a more traditional Chinese city lockdown (people confined to an apartment complex, or smaller geographic area) has turned into an apartment-by-apartment lockdown, with volunteers as distribution personnel for food to each apartment.
Disregarding the social cruelty of all of this, as well as the pet extermination campaigns that are now taking place in many Chinese cities, this is logistically a huge undertaking. News coming out of China indicates that, according to the CCP, the local level of bureaucrats are too soft, and as a result, the central government in Beijing is sending military and police forces from other provinces to enforce the lockdown. Though many people around the world may view it as such, China is not monolithic. Each province has its own identity, and often its own dialect of Mandarin, somewhat incomprehensible to others in other provinces. And equally relevant, is labor and domestic mobility is severely reduced inside China. The government has long avoided unconstrained mass migration into its cities with de facto “citizenship” of an individual where they live. What that means is that if you are from, let’s say Guangxi province, without a work permit and ID card, you cannot legally work in Beijing, nor can your children go to school there.
The effects of these policies are hard to appreciate — but they come to the surface in times like this. Shanghai is truly a prosperous, almost-Western city (I’ve spent a couple of weeks there myself) and if you are in districts like the French Secession inside Shanghai, it’s just one step away from being in Europe. My impressions on roaming around on the extensive mass transit system was that it was a cheap version of New York City.
But I’ve also slept on dirt floors in the mountains of SW China. And the differences are dramatic. If you think that the resentment of military personnel now tasked to enforce the lockdown in Shanghai aren’t resulting in increased violence toward Shanghai residents, you’re just not getting the rage that a real income/world gap generates inside a country. It’s Cultural Revolution 2.0. If you get sent to one of China’s quarantine centers, the odds are good they’ll separate you from your children. And then kill your dog. That goes without saying. How it is being done by divisions of troops and police sent by Xi Jinping, who already felt the bitter envy of being somewhat left behind by the mercantile class, whose very symbol is Shanghai, must be pathologically breathtaking to watch. And if you think there isn’t internal CCP politics driving this, you’d also be wrong. Xi is using this to take out his more evolved rivals.
Recent reportage says that the enforcers have stopped separating kids from their parents. But it is simply impossible to know if this is true. Any negative media spread on Weibo or WeiXin (WeChat), the Chinese version of Facebook combined with a news source and texting, is very quickly taken down. But a nation equipped with some uncountable number of video phones will leak negative video, which then will get captured and spread outside the Great Firewall. Cats in net bags, kids separated from parents, and dogs executed on camera — all the innocents a healthy society loves and protects — are fair game.
What’s wild is that most Western leftists are amazingly silent on observations of the effects of this very Real Lockdown. The voice of a profound number of our own epidemiologists about Zero Covid was always “well, we would have stopped COVID if we had a REAL lockdown.” But it’s never “just a mask” or “just 2 weeks.” Thinking about this (as we do on this blog) cross- paradigmatically, it’s one thing to build a rocket. It’s quite another to build a factory that builds rockets. And that’s what we’ve seen with COVID policy. It’s not just a mask. It’s a system that then enforces mask use, and forced vaccinations, regardless of their efficacy, with the incumbent organs of state and bureaucracies to make sure it gets done. It’s never “just” a lockdown.
It might give one a fun chill to read about such dystopian behavior in a science fiction novel — look at the popularity of The Hunger Games or the Handmaid’s Tale. It’s quite another to see such a process, executed at the street level, with all the detail of bullying, harassment and fear that manifesting Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder on a societal level, that such mandates enfranchise. Go read about the various Axis II personality disorders in the DSM-5. Then think about what might that mean when a society acts that way. That’s the whole fractalization thing I go on about. Scales repeat on scales, and the end is societal destruction.
Here’s the deep tragedy. China had made such encouraging progress moving past the Cultural Revolution from the late ’60s and early ’70s. My guess is that this will set back Chinese society at least 20 years. And that’s if they stop the craziness this year, which is highly unlikely. I’ve read some predictions that this could continue for another ten years. If there’s any perverse silver lining in all of this, it’s highly unlikely, with China using its army, the People’s Republic Army, to persecute its own people, that they will invade Taiwan any time soon. Stay tuned.
There is something resembling a reliable feed coming out of China, sanitized for public consumption, about the plight of the middle class. These are people that can afford delivery of groceries, and other essentials. Their stories are ones of chronic shortages. People in the middle class eat out often in China, and you can be sure there is not equivalent ‘prepper’ culture. People had to be caught with empty cupboards. China has a poorly supported cold chain — people don’t eat frozen food or vegetables, for a variety of reasons. Why eat frozen when you can get it fresh?
But now they can’t get it fresh. And the inefficient bureaucracy that runs China is now running that massive challenge of food distribution to INDIVIDUAL APARTMENTS. It’s utterly mind-boggling. And if it’s that bad for the middle-class, what about all their undocumented workers? You still have to pay for your groceries. But how is an illegal worker supposed to even access the system of food? The mind reels.
More than anything else, it shows the profound failures of authoritarian systems to provide for the well-being of the entire populace. There is a large subset of Americans that somehow believe that Authoritarianism might give them a stable, prosperous society, and that such a v-Meme will champion over more egalitarian societies in both the short and long run. Even though this experiment has been run over and over (think WWII and the vapid propaganda of the invincible Nazis, or the Stalinists) with the Authoritarian side losing horribly, and along the way, perpetrating appalling atrocities, people still cling to it.
But the informatics just don’t work — Authoritarianism, besides being morally repugnant, invites information corruption (and personal corruption as well) up and down the hierarchical stack. It can’t, and doesn’t work. Distributed agents (read that as agency-based humans) have inherent error-correcting modes that keep large organizations informationally solvent. All that is off the table in Shanghai. It will get far worse before it gets better. And it’s all self-inflicted (or sorta – note divisions in China above). None of this will end well. It remains to be seen if the CCP can self-arrest before either a.) mass riots, or b.) mass starvation. So much depends on the length of the COVID virus season. Short enough — the CCP can declare victory with its methods. But if it drags out, even a couple of extra weeks, watch out. Humans have to eat. And hungry humans are angry humans. My poorly informed guess is that these waves last about six-eight weeks. We’re, right now, only halfway there.
I’m not a religious man — but I will pray for the citizens of Shanghai.
What’s absolutely infuriating, though, is the silence of the Western media, and those self-same experts constantly quoted on why we should do this to our own citizenry. I’m Twitter pals with Jay Bhattacharya, one of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, and piqued by a given Tweet of his on Shanghai, I decided to investigate how OUR media is covering the crisis in Shanghai. Below is a series of screenshots taken yesterday, April 9, off the major media outlets’ front pages. The answer is ‘not at all.’ I mean literally. Here you go.
I checked out a variety of pages of MSM sites. Nothing. And whenever you see such a uniformity of lack of coverage, it doesn’t mean conspiracy. Really, folks — these people couldn’t coordinate putting together a piece of IKEA furniture.
But what it does mean is that larger memetic principles are at play, that inherently forces emergent coordination. In this piece, I’ve discussed how the larger press basically courts authority uber alles. There is an additional factor playing in all of this — the press also mirrors what it thinks its readership is aware of, or potentially cares about. More clicks.
Which is why even sources like The Epoch Times, the Falun Gong alternate publication, in English, that is very critical of the Chinese government, due to their historic persecution of that religion/cult, only had one entry on the whole English front page. I asked my wife to look at both the English and Chinese version. Indeed, the Chinese version had far more coverage. But the US version? Almost crickets.
So we’re looking at a perfect storm of both a perceived empathy bubble of the Western nations regarding what actually happens in China, along with an groveling desire of the Western press to not offend, nor alter the narrative about what’s happening in China. The elites of all countries still largely favor lockdowns, and extreme COVID measures (forced vax, vax passports, etc.) — only recently have various countries lifted, for example, the mask requirement on airplanes. And there are still places in the US — most notably, New York City, where masking of toddlers in day care is still taking place. The last thing the elites want to do is take off the table the ability to impose arbitrary, wholesale restrictions on the populace. And lockdowns and masks are the hill that they know they have to die on.
How absurd can it get? Tom Frieden is a former head of the CDC. In the Tweet below, he is citing an article about airplane masking, using the authority of one of the biggest of the COVID grifters — Eric Feigl Ding, a half-baked nutritionist and now heralded COVID ‘expert’ from around the world. The mind simply reels.
What’s wild is that while that is the lede about staff shortages for EasyJet, a Swiss airline that dropped restrictions, also includes quotes from United and American saying they’re having NO problems, as well as British Airways. If this isn’t a former CDC Director promoting disinformation, I don’t know what other proof will convince you. At what level do we hold these people responsible for clicking through and reading the material they cite? Or we realize they have profound pathologies that allow them to be used as weapons against the general public?
Memetic alignment is the reason for this craziness — like brains think alike, with the values they’re programmed with. How that works is covered throughout this blog. And there are, at this point, no easy answers. People like Frieden have already disqualified themselves as serious scientists, or voices on COVID. And they’re so deep in The Matrix they can’t even see their hunt for information, false or otherwise, that will soothe their brain with its confirmation bias.
From Shanghai, to the ridiculous continuation of airplane masking, what we’re seeing is that there is no way that the global elites will give up their tools of choice for social control, regardless of efficacy. These are things that they plan on trotting out again. But now, in Shanghai, we’ve run the large-scale experiment. And it is death-dealing. It is time for every freedom-loving citizen in every country to start calling this out, now. Because they’re in The Matrix. It is Memetic War. And if we stay passive, they intend to do this to us in the fall.
I’ll close with a nod to Chinese history. During the Great Leap Forward, an unmitigated disaster that led to the starvation of somewhere between 15-55 million famine deaths. The trauma inflicted during that period led directly to the Cultural Revolution. Pathologically interestingly enough, running concurrently as part of the Great Leap Forward, was the Four Pests campaign. The Four Pests campaign involved killing all the sparrows in China, which led to insect population explosions that drove the famine.
There is no question in my mind that people in Shanghai, especially the unregistered, will be facing famine in the near future. I see them, and I hope you do as well. But the triggers that drive human famine are also there. When the government starts killing innocent animals, it’s a prelude. There’s a video circulating of cats in bags, mostly unconscious, and on their way to certain execution.
It’s the canary, or sparrow, in the coal mine. Any government that is capable of doing that, as well as large-scale separation of children from parents, is basically capable of doing anything. There’s little we can do for Shanghai. But now is the time to demand accountability inside our own expert communities. Before it is truly too late.
PS — I’ve written a longish post on bioweapons. COVID was/is a failed bioweapon. Look at the havoc all this is causing. It is time for all of us to call out, across the world, for a meaningful ban of all of this. Now.
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.