But Words Can Never Harm Me
I've just finished another pamphlet titled the War of the Words, available as ever on Amazon. It tries to show that the crisis gripping the world seems so unreal because it is substantially an information crisis. It's there but we can't feel it the way one did World War 2 or during other conflicts of the past. That's because the international system virtualized conflict, money and now politics to a degree never before in history.
Conflict was substantially reduced to an exchange of signals during the Cold War. Nixon, by finally untethering money from anything tangible, took the last step toward making it a database entry. Now politics has been virtualized in the Narrative by which the system "prints" legitimacy and binds the other two pillars to itself like glue.
The modern structure of legitimacy is very powerful. So powerful that it is a temptation to abuse.
The question of whether the Narrative would be used for Good or for Ill did not arise at first. Like power in every form, the Narrative presented itself as an opportunity for virtue. Like the poisoned benefices distributed by Tolkien’s fictional “Lord of the Gifts”, who was Sauron in disguise, the Narrative dangled the prospect of improvement in exchange for seemingly trifling cruelties. At the outset its agenda was not to benefit the political elites but to deliver a “nudge” – in the words of Cass Sunstein – to mankind and trick them into making the world a better place.
No single person sits down and writes ‘the Narrative’. Rather, it writes itself through a process whereby a variety of political actors negotiate the agreed storyline. It begins as ‘consensus truth’ but under the influence of political temptation it soon becomes the ‘consensus lie’.
The Narrative today is both our ruler and our enemy. We may love it or hate it, but never be unaware of it. I also describe the possibility of an anti-Narrative ... "not an opposition narrative, another storyline only of a rival kind or another new fiction designed to supplant the old. A genuine anti-Narrative is a completely different animal. It is meant to find the truth for comparative survival advantage."
As I write in the pamphlet:
Because the current crisis is an information problem, conflicts of the near future will primarily take the form of information fights within countries, not the traditional warfare between nation-states of the last century. The Cold War showed that modern weapons were too powerful to be used on a very large scale because they destroyed the very objects they were used to obtain. Therefore conflict itself will be largely virtualized.
It will be a battle of narratives, or alternatively a struggle between the Narrative and the Anti-narrative.
To avoid self-destruction the contest will be over the control of information. The Edward Snowden scandal, involving “a former technical contractor for the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who leaked details of several top-secret U.S. and British government mass surveillance programs to the press” shows the extent to which this struggle has already taken this form.
The object of such information battles will not be for the physical possession of conquered lands guarded by giant industrial-age armies but for the control of data, technology and the tokens we call money.
The beginnings of this process are already in evidence and it is gathering steam. Video camera surveillance, extended perhaps through worn appliances like Google Glasses, will become ubiquitous. Hate speech codes will severely restrict political speech, little of which will go unmonitored. The widespread use of email, telephone and intercepts will make communications privacy largely extinct. The regulation, not only of firearms but of any potentially threatening object such as fertilizer, electronic fuses or pressure cookers, will increase.
The pamphlet is not really meant as an "answer book" but as an additional way of looking at the complex crisis we're facing, one that is almost ghostly in character. And that is the element that needs emphasis. The ghostly can hurt you.
For a long time we have been conditioned to believe that "what is intangible can't hurt you". But information, working through instrumentalities, changes that rule. Many of the instrumentalities that surround us are really neutral in themselves, waiting to be filled by purposeful information. It is the information, not the things, of which we should increasingly beware.
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It is tempting to think of the Narrative as a deliberate conspiracy. But at heart it is just data corruption. It's losing track of the truth. Recently the White House put out these talking points on Valerie Jarrett:
The magic of Valerie is her intellect and her heart. She is an incredibly kind, caring and thoughtful person with a unique ability to pinpoint the voiceless and shine a light on them and the issues they and the President care about with the ultimate goal of making a difference in people’s lives."
They really believe this sh**. It's not a put on.
About a year ago, Peter Beinart wrote in the Daily Beast, "Egypt Policy Shows How Well Obama Has Managed America’s Decline". He was not writing tongue in cheek. He was really delirious with happiness that things were going so well.
Barry Rubin argues some in the administration actually believe that if you fight political Islamism, it will only make them mean. Now you may laugh at this statement. But cry at this one: they actually believe this stuff. Sincerely. Hand on heart.
They've bought their own narrative. It's no longer some cunning Commies playing to the useful fools. These may be true believers drinking their own Kool-Aid. The Daily Mail reports we should be shocked to learn that Osama bin Laden (described by the Pakistani inquiry as a victim) wore cowboy hats to escape detection and that "Dr. Shakeel Afridi, now imprisoned in Pakistan for helping the U.S., wasn't arrested for three weeks following the raid, allowing the CIA time to help him escape if U.S. officials had wanted to help him."
My guess is that many are no longer shocked at public policy insanity and that is the really shocking thing.
Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of
information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small