The Return of Magic

"Hear me out:" tweeted John Podhoretz after Hollywood announced the wrong winner at the award ceremonies. "What just happened on the Oscars was actually a profound sign of American institutional collapse."  Yet if it was going backward it was also going forward. The day after the Oscars Elon Musk announced SpaceX would fly two people to the moon next year, using a Dragon crew capsule and a Falcon heavy rocket. Musk would not identify the pair nor name the price they paid for the trip but said "I think they are entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here," adding "it's nobody from Hollywood."

The 21st century is turning out to be mix of incompetence and brilliance, high technology and primitivism, fastidiousness and brutality all coexisting side by side.  Nowhere is this incongruity more evident than on the Syrian battlefield.  Here Mad Max vehicles  piled high with garish blankets, Russian heavy machine guns and grill armor cages fight against a foe sworn to return the world to the 8th century while fighting with cell phones, radio-controlled bombs and modified consumer drones. The video below shows how ISIS is using drones to drop grenades on Iraqi troops in Mosul.  They might well do the same in Paris.

Consumer drones' limited payload makes them militarily insignificant unless they can be loaded with something more deadly than high explosive, a deficiency that otherwise primitive North Korea may amend by selling VX gas to selected customers. Then they will be a threat. Haaretz speculates the assassination of Kim Jong Un's half brother was "to showcase its stockpile of banned chemical weapons."  If ISIS wants to buy VX they will know which Korea to go to.

The NASA picture of a dark, unelectrified North Korea across from a brilliantly lit South Korea capture how the world in many places has evolved into juxtaposition between the primitive yet advanced and the sophisticated yet sheltered.  The patchwork of barbarism and civilization we often associate with ancient times has been recreated with even greater contrast in disturbingly exact detail.  The Daily Caller reports that "as Islamic State militants wage a relentless campaign against the cultural treasures of the Arab world, a single Benedictine monk is organizing efforts to preserve ancient manuscripts from destruction."

A new Hadrian's Wall divides a peninsula

And yet the barbarians are destroying the cultural artifacts of the past with modern weapons, like Conan with his enchanted belt. Like the storied days of yore, the 21st century is a landscape of sword and sorcery, a world at once crude and magical, ignorant and brilliant. If a drone attack ever takes place in the Third World there may be a public clamor for the provision of the American disruptor "ray" gun the public may have heard of from their cell phones. They, unlike the Kurds, may not able to understand that drones are man-made things vulnerable to small arms fire. Instead, they may believe that sorcery must oppose sorcery; for are not the drones a conjury? And what could avail them except more sorcery? Any sufficiently advanced technology, as Arthur C. Clarke once observed, is indistinguishable from magic.