Our Fragile Civilization

Mark Steyn argued that exclusively blaming the other political side for your troubles can provide false comfort. When everything is falling apart the problem is probably bigger than any one point of view. "The point about civilizational collapse is that it's a civilization that's collapsing, not merely your political arrangements." Take the ransomware attacks which paralyzed Britain's national health service which forced the cancellation of operations and other medical treatments. "A global cyberattack leveraging hacking tools widely believed by researchers to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency hit international shipper FedEx, disrupted Britain’s health system and infected computers in dozens of other countries on Friday."  Everybody was affected.  It didn't matter how you voted.

The incident revealed at least ten NHS trusts still relied on the Windows XP.  The instrusion allegedly relied on NSA tools stolen during the Obama administration from a contractor. "According to one source, that includes more than 75 percent of the hacking tools belonging to the Tailored Access Operations. TAO is an elite hacking unit that develops and deploys some of the world's most sophisticated software exploits."

An unnamed US official told the paper that Martin allegedly hoarded more than 75 percent of the TAO's library of hacking tools. It's hard to envision a scenario under which a theft of that much classified material by a single individual would be possible.

When Shadow Brokers appeared in October, it published hundreds of TAO-developed exploits, including one that, for years, had exploited what was then a critical unknown vulnerability in a widely used firewall sold by Cisco Systems. Last month, the person or group said it was shutting down in a post that dumped 61 Windows-formatted binary files. Whether Martin was somehow involved with Shadow Brokers or was a compulsive hoarder working alone, the events underscore serious security lapses inside the NSA.

It was a long time coming.  The defection of Edward Snowden, the Office of Personnel Management data breach and the now infamous Hillary hacks all predated Trump though the vulnerabilities will probably continue under him. The list of commercial data breaches is also stunningly long. "It is estimated that in 2015 alone, 707 million records were exposed as a result of data breaches". These suggest that too many of our systems may be built on rotten props or false assumptions. The ice looked solid enough until the weight of civilization stepped on it and things fell through.

One of the weaknesses of the anti-Trump resistance is their inability to address the factors which brought the current administration into existence.  Too many think it's all about one man.  This may explain why the Resistance to the Resistance has been surprisingly hard to push off the Hill and why Bernie Sanders is the most popular Democratic politician in America.  The key insight into the problem is that people didn't vote for Trump but against Hillary, PC, and the ending of their world. Charles Sykes in New York Times noted this element of sheer reaction. "Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters don’t have to defend his specific actions as long as they make liberal heads explode".

A hundred years ago the liberal project seemed easily attainable. "I have seen the future and it works," wrote Lincoln Steffens, yet it's proved surprisingly hard to close the sale. The reason why the masses should reject such a brilliant vision were hard to explain.  Despite Leftist fears their foes were never more than a coalition of amateurs with no particular ideology.  The alt-right didn't even know it was alt-right until they were properly analyzed and labeled.

So why can't such a stupid, ignorant and incompetent bunch be seen off?  That must be what troubles the Resistance. The scariest possibility is they are up against complexity itself, fighting a reality that refuses subordination to a narrative.  The world is hard to control, even when you dominate all the media outlets.  Jurassic Park was Michael Crichton's parable warning against trying to linearly control complex systems. In history Marx may be fictions's equilvalent of John Hammond.  “God creates dinosaurs, God kills dinosaurs, God creates man, man kills God, man brings back dinosaurs,” might explain the banging on globalism's door when there should be nobody there.

The liberal project wanted the global world.  Maybe they didn't understand what came with it.

The problem may be not with liberal compassion but its eschatology: the Great State at the End of History was their paradise on earth. Progressives built a great state at huge expense and sacrifice, yet now as they approach the Throne in final triumph they are dismayed to see it occupied by Trump! "Tis' witchcraft," said some.  "Tis' Russian hacking," said still others.   But the words  'any government big enough to give you everything you want take everything you have' never came to mind. Perhaps the real reason for the surprise is our old friend complexity. The liberal project really thought they could control the complex world when it's all you can do to control parts of it.

What globalism forgot is that system complexity doesn't just expand linearly; potential interactions can increase exponentially.  As they tore down borders and plugged stuff into whatsis and whosis things not only got more complicated than the Masters anticipated they got more complex than they could imagine.  The late Michael Crichton knew this would happen.  He wrote an essay that should be required reading in any graduate school of public policy describing the Park Services failed attempt to manage Yellowstone.

As the story unfolds, it becomes impossible to overlook the cold truth that when it comes to managing 2.2 million acres of wilderness, nobody since the Indians has had the faintest idea how to do it. And nobody asked the Indians, because the Indians managed the land very intrusively. The Indians started fires, burned trees and grasses, hunted the large animals, elk and moose, to the edge of extinction. White men refused to follow that practice, and made things worse.

They couldn't even manage a park.  How could they control the world?  Which brings us back to the subject of civilizational collapse and runaway hacking.  What makes the pubic think governments which run Windows XP and lose secrets can manage Climate, which is as complex as a human organism? Perhaps we have to relearn humility and restore loose coupling between objects. Otherwise the reactive effects will ripple through "unexpectedly". But of course no one will listen, just as in the Jurassic Park movies.  It'll be full speed ahead and 'hold muh beer'.

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Books:

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, Author Robert D. Kaplan builds on the insights, discoveries, and theories of great geographers and geopolitical thinkers to look back at critical pivots in history and then to look forward at the evolving global scene. The result is an interpretation of the next cycle of conflict throughout Eurasia and a future that can be understood in the context of temperature, land allotment, and other physical certainties. To those who suggest that globalism will trump geography, this book shows how timeless truths and natural facts can help prevent this century’s looming cataclysms.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan. The book tells the story of the dust storms that terrorized America's High Plains in the darkest years of the Great Depression and the people that held on: their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black blizzards, crop failure, and the deaths of loved ones.

The No-Fuss Bread Machine Cookbook: Hands-Off Recipes for Perfect Homemade Bread, by Michelle Anderson. Finally, a bread machine cookbook that shows you how to use your bread machine for its intended purpose ― convenience! This is the first and only collection of truly easy, hassle-free recipes that give you delicious homemade loaves of bread every time, with more than 150 recipes using easy-to-find ingredients and minimal work.

Modern Prometheus: Editing the Human Genome with Crispr-Cas9, by Jim Kozubek. Would you change your genes if you could? As we confront the 'industrial revolution of the genome', the recent discoveries of Crispr-Cas9 technologies are offering, for the first time, cheap and effective methods for editing the human genome. Tracing events across a fifty-year period, from the first gene splicing techniques to the present day, Kozubek weaves together the fascinating stories of many of the scientists involved in the development of gene editing technology, demystifies how the technology really works and provides thought-provoking reflections on the 'commodification' of life.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your 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, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific

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