Belmont Club

A Lethal Mutation

Not that simple (Photo by Erik McGregor) *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***(Sipa via AP Images)

Innovation is one of the most destabilizing forces in the world today. Cheap Chinese inflatable boats have made mass African migration across the Med to Europe possible. “The European Union has imposed limits on the export of inflatable boats to Libya in a bid to make it harder for smugglers to send refugees and migrants to Europe … a move which would, in theory, affect China where many are manufactured.” Brussels has declared war on Chinese PVC rafts, but it’s not clear they will win. A “China Factory Price Rubber Boat, Small Fishing Boat,Inflatable PVC Boat” sells on Alibaba for as little as $300. They are now so cheap even Africans can afford them — which has unintended consequences.

The telecommunications revolution had the same effect.  The breakthroughs which spawned text messaging, email, Skype and social media also made “Lone Wolf” terrorism possible.  The Internet, like the Chinese rubber boat, made the remote recruitment strategy of ISIS economic.  It would have been impractical in the late 80s when long distance calls averaged 30 cents a minute.

Less obvious but equally consequential is the proliferation of surveillance technology.  Samantha Power and Ben Rhodes are reportedly coming under scrutiny for spying on political opponents using the national security machinery.  Suddenly Loretta Lynch’s airport chat with Bill Clinton isn’t so secret any more.  The leak network which allowed officials of one administration to expose their rivals now allows those same rivals to repay them in their own coin.

The warning “be careful what you wish for” should have been uppermost in the minds of the globalists.  Their proud creation, like Frankenstein’s monster, is turning out to be more unpredictable than they thought. Open borders let in not only cheap labor but ISIS terror teams; they allow entry to those even illegal aliens wanted excluded.  Even MS-13 certainly hopes the Border Patrol can keep their arch-enemy, La Sombra Negra, out of the “safe” USA. La Sombra Negra is so terrifying they are even part of the Walking Dead universe.

MS-13 doesn’t fear prison, President Trump or even death. But there is one thing that scares the hell out of tattooed members of the murderous Central American gang: La Sombra Negra.

Spanish for “The Black Shadow,” La Sombra Negra is a mysterious paramilitary organization that is part death squad, part vigilante group, and dedicated to responding in extreme kind to MS-13’s ruthlessness. MS-13 members captured by La Somba Negra purportedly have been sexually tortured and dismembered before being dispatched with a bullet, their bodies left to be discovered by family or fellow gang members.

Why should Central American killers be unthinkable when Putin’s death squads are already part of the Washington DC scene? CNN’s Fareed Zakaria recently succumbed to a moment of self-doubt about the perfectibility of the global world. “The election of Donald Trump is really a kind of class rebellion against people like us,” Zakaria said on CNN. “You know, educated professionals who live in cities, who have, you know, cosmopolitan views about a lot of things. And I think there’s a whole part of America that is sick and tired of being told what to do by this, you know, over-educated professional elite that Hillary Clinton in many ways perfectly represented.”

Sick and tired, especially when the elite ideology of cosmopolitanism appears to be failing in major ways.  The term cosmopolitan continued to spike after Stephen Miller used it to beat CNN’s Jim Acosta over the head during a press briefing.

Acosta: This whole notion, they have to learn English before they get to the United States—are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?

Miller: Jim, actually, I have to honestly say: I am shocked at your statement, that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree, that in your mind—this is an amazing moment—that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hard-working immigrants from all over the world. Jim, have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English outside of Great Britain and Australia? Is that your personal experience?

Miller used cosmopolitan wrongly, as shorthand to describe the nostrums elites “know for sure that just ain’t so” instead of the usual sense of “well travelled, knowing, aware”.  Yet everyone knew what Miller meant.  The idea that in this world of surprises the one thing still in surplus was official certitude.  It is a confidence underlined by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring of “Democratic pollster Joel Benenson, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama and the chief strategist to Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign, as a consultant” to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.  Why hire the man who got it wrong unless you’re sure the error was a fluke?

Obama himself, in a fascinating 2016 interview with Wired, still expressed confidence in “international norms, protocols, and verification mechanisms”; that a “regulatory structure” would allow government husband society through the current period of  disruption.  Only once like Zakaria, did Obama experience a moment of vacillation in the interview.  “Increasingly,” he added pensively, “I find myself looking to medicine and thinking about viruses, antibodies.” He went on to wonder aloud:

Let me start with what I think is the more immediate concern—it’s a solvable problem in this category of specialized AI, and we have to be mindful of it. If you’ve got a computer that can play Go, a pretty complicated game with a lot of variations, then developing an algorithm that lets you maximize profits on the New York Stock Exchange is probably within sight. And if one person or organization got there first, they could bring down the stock market pretty quickly, or at least they could raise questions about the integrity of the financial markets.

Then there could be an algorithm that said, “Go penetrate the nuclear codes and figure out how to launch some missiles.” If that’s its only job, if it’s self-teaching and it’s just a really effective algorithm, then you’ve got problems. I think my directive to my national security team is, don’t worry as much yet about machines taking over the world. Worry about the capacity of either nonstate actors or hostile actors to penetrate systems, and in that sense it is not conceptually different than a lot of the cybersecurity work we’re doing. It just means that we’re gonna have to be better, because those who might deploy these systems are going to be a lot better now.

But there he stopped, where cosmopolitanism held him back.  Curiously it was Noam Chomsky who suspected that the game was up for the Tower of Babel.  His doubts, like Obama’s, were rooted in biology.  In a speech  delivered at UNC Chapel Hill in 2010 — before Trump — Chomsky admitted it was unlikely government would never get a grip on runaway complexity.  Technology was increasing unpredictability in human systems faster than any Five Year Plan could cope with it. Chomsky laid out his gloomy logic.

an interesting debate that took place some years ago between Carl Sagan, the well-known astrophysicist, and Ernst Mayr, the grand old man of American biology. They were debating the possibility of finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. And Sagan, speaking from the point of view of an astrophysicist, pointed out that there are innumerable planets just like ours. There is no reason they shouldn’t have developed intelligent life. Mayr, from the point of view of a biologist, argued that it’s very unlikely that we’ll find any. And his reason was, he said, we have exactly one example: Earth. …

And what he basically argued is that intelligence is a kind of lethal mutation. … if you take a look at biological success … the organisms that do quite well are those that mutate very quickly, like bacteria … But as you go up the scale of what we call intelligence, they are less and less successful. By the time you get to mammals, there are very few of them as compared with, say, insects. By the time you get to humans, the origin of humans may be 100,000 years ago, there is a very small group …

we’re now in a situation where we can decide whether Mayr was right [about whether] human intelligence is indeed a lethal mutation. Maybe some humans will survive, but it will be scattered and nothing like a decent existence, and we’ll take a lot of the rest of the living world along with us.  So is anything going to be done about it? The prospects are not very auspicious.

The old man understood at last that man was not necessarily in control.  This is not to say that the Chinese rubber boat will defeat the mighty EU or that social media will generate complexity far faster than it can be tamed by “international norms, protocols, and verification mechanisms”, but it is a possibility.  Perhaps even a probability.  The world order is reeling from the exponential jump in gnarliness brought about by globalization and technological revolution. It’s obvious that government is already a step behind.  What the cultural elite regards as bigotry is in large part an atavistic fear of chaos that the uneducated in their simplicity perceive far more clearly than Zakaria’s cosmopolitan elect.

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The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency , by Chris Whipple. The book offers an essential portrait of the toughest job in Washington. Through extensive, intimate interviews with all seventeen living chiefs and two former presidents, Whipple pulls back the curtain on this unique fraternity and revises our understanding of presidential history.

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