An Unreal Existence

At the end of the 20th century people believed in the truth.  While they had several truths, -- liberalism, conservativism, classic Communism of the kind once espoused by Che Guevara and in places a naive form of apocalyptic Islam -- at least each believed the world's problems could be solved if their truth should triumph over the rest.

The clash of civilizations since September 11, 2001 has left every culture wounded and guilty in its own way.  Western civilization, dominant through the modern era appears to be destroying itself in self-hatred, literally choosing extinction.  "In 2015, all European Union countries had a sub-replacement fertility rate."  With the replacement fertility at 2.33, the average for the EU was 1.58. At the same time Islam was tearing itself apart in a global civil war while the United States was riven by discord.

No one seems to have the answers any more.  Technological warfare only seems to increase entropy rather than reduce it.  Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan are stories of one set of villains replacing another.  So many Black Swans have appeared that they are no longer novelties.  The old status quo faces the possibility that Brexit, Trump, Catalonia and the North Korean nuclear breakout far from being exceptions to the rule are harbingers of things to come.

What seems to have changed is our mental furniture though we don't quite understand how it happened. Globalization has allowed drastic mutations that biologist Ernst Mayr notes often originates "in a relatively small and isolated population" to propagate very rapidly into a new normal.  The new normal in Europe is depopulation, don't ask how because the periphery can now become the center with surprising speed.  The New York Times report that "major liberal donors, posing an insurgent challenge to some of the left’s most venerable institutions — and the Democratic Party itself" are no longer funding politicians like Hillary but the Resistance itself should come as no surprise.

“We’re in a disruptive period, and when we get through it, the progressive infrastructure landscape may look different,” said Gara LaMarche, president of the Democracy Alliance, a club of wealthy liberals who donate at least $200,000 a year to recommended groups.

The new variability is overwhelming the old political elite. As the World Wars and the Black Death demonstrated upheaval can produce wild mood swings in a populace. "The tremendous emotional shock [of the Black Death] ... created a state of ... depression and sometimes even panic" which turned people to fanaticism as others sought scapegoats for their troubles or lost themselves in a debauchery made famous by Poe's Masque of the Red Death and the wild abandon of Weimar.

The underlying disruption is creating a similar volatility today.  Currently we are obsessed with 71 genders but a nuclear or biological disaster can can flip decades of political correctness and deference to technology into their opposite. Considering all the freedoms and privacy the West has already given up to preserve the status quo the mantra "we can't let it change us" is mockingly ironic.  It is change, not changelessness which is characteristic of the present.

Perhaps the world is living through history's first information epidemic and like the medievals who fell to unseen pathogens we can scarcely understand the catastrophe befalling us.  Many are at a loss to explain entropy and anomie on a scale never seen before.  But we cannot respond effectively to chaos without realizing the threat is not merely physical but an information corruption challenge.

At least Hillary's call for more censorship on social media shows the old establishment is belatedly waking up to the informational nature of the threat without fully understanding it. “This is a new kind of Cold War — and it is just getting started,” Clinton said in a speech at Stanford University, using the language of 1945 to describe 2017.  Clinton seems to regard the machinery of manipulation per se as acceptable as long as it does not fall into the wrong hands and is probably counting on it to restore order.  She fails to see that manipulation itself -- the Narrative -- is the root problem and that the Narrative is likely to master her rather than the other way round.

Human sanity was long anchored in reality. Religions might have been flawed but they usually tried to explain things in the light of contemporary knowledge. Common people spent the greater part of their day in contact with society and family in a smartphone-free world that seems to be lost forever.  They were innoculated against much craziness. That world had a self-centering property that is now missing.

Today we have live in an environment where whole populations are immersed in an ocean of deliberate lies. People can believe anything -- and often do.  The Narrative is malware corroding our sense of humanity and reality.  Instead of increasing privacy so data miners cannot engage in the targeted lying which makes "fake news" so effective we decrease it the better to help the manipulators.  We've reached the point where having real human networks instead of social ones is slightly suspicious.  "Fear the man," we are told when pondering Steven Paddock, "with no digital footprint."

Perhaps humanity was better off with rival truths rather than rival lies. In retrospect the status quo got bitten by its own creation in 2016 after Putin wrested a surprising chunk of the Narrative from the Gatekeepers. But the politicians far from learning their lesson want the handlers to take a firmer grip on the snake instead of defanging it. It will bite them again and more venomously next time.

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Books:

Annihilation from Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations, by Fred Charles Ikle. In this eloquent and impassioned book, defense expert Fred Iklé predicts a revolution in national security that few strategists have grasped; fewer still are mindful of its historic roots. We are preoccupied with suicide bombers, jihadist terrorists, and rogue nations producing nuclear weapons, but these menaces are merely distant thunder that foretells the gathering storm.

The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All For the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II, by Gregory A. Freeman. This book is an account of Operation Halyard, the OSS mission to recover more than 500 American airmen shot down and trapped behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. While local Serbian peasants gave refuge to the soldiers while they waited for rescue, once the operation started, the risks were incredible. The starving Americans had to construct a landing strip large enough for C-47 cargo planes — without tools, without alerting the Germans, and without endangering the villagers. And the cargo planes had to make it through enemy airspace and back — without getting shot down themselves.

Tank: The Definitive Visual History of Armored Vehicles, by DK. A visual history of armored vehicles, from the early tanks of World War I to present-day models, created in association with the Smithsonian Institution. It combines comprehensive photographic spreads with in-depth histories of key manufacturers and specially commissioned visual tours of the most iconic examples of their groundbreaking firepower. With two exclusive prints of a 1940 M3A1 (Stuart) and a 1940 StuG III.

Strategy: A History, Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the world's leading authorities on war and international politics, captures the vast history of strategic thinking, from David's use of deception against Goliath, to the modern use of game theory in economics; from the surprisingly advanced strategy practiced in primate groups, to those of Achilles and Odysseus in The Iliad, of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, the great military innovations of Baron Henri de Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz, the insights into corporate strategy by Peter Drucker and Alfred Sloan, and the work of leading social scientists working on strategy today. He tackles the core issue at the heart of strategy - whether it is possible to manipulate and shape our environment rather than simply become the victim of forces beyond one's control - and emerges with a picture of strategy through time - and inherently unpredictable circumstances - that is fluid and flexible.

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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