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After the smash

After several ominous rumbles outside the tower the individual creaks have finally merged into a continuous roar. Brexit, the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the crumbling of the Iran deal, America quitting UNESCO, Trump dismantling Obamacare, consular withdrawal from Cuba, the pullout from the Paris accord -- these have piled on so fast they've acquired the character of a single collective event. Now the fall of Hollywood has followed like the inevitable comedic boulder right on Wile E. Coyote's head at the bottom of the gulch. Are we still in Kansas anymore?

It's becoming increasingly hard to believe the world can return to the status quo ante, even if Trump is impeached.  It's too far gone.  A whole landscape has vanished seemingly overnight going from the post-Cold War to the post-post Cold War; from a post-Modernist culture to post-everything in the blink of an eye.  Even the political scene is unrecognizable.  The Republican party is in shambles; the Democrats in disarray.

It is as if a demolition crew has cleared a site leaving only a vacant lot.  Some ask "when are the builders due?" Others more ominously ask "when are the zombies due?"

Nobody quite knows whether a new shopping mall or a giant haunted house will rise next. The "world" is still digging itself out of the rubble, picking itself up from the smash, alert for any more avalanches.  As Nietzsche put it: the comprehension of the biggest events requires a delay. "Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard."

Yet some conjectures about what comes next can be made even at this early stage. The past will continue but differently. The intertwining of nations will surge on driven by improvements in transportation and communication but it will no longer be tightly controlled by the old "world institutions".  UNESCO may be one of the first post-1945 institutions to implode, it will not be the last.  Gramsci marched right through the institutions and clear off the cliff on the other side with the buildings tumbling after him. The established secular church of the Western left has fallen; it is now just another religion, like Christianity, Buddhism or Islam. Its special status as the high priesthood of the quasi-scientific Future is gone.

In security affairs the old East-West game payoff matrix has been replaced by a multidimensional array of new players many of them sub-national, some of them unknown.  The big wild card is technology. Disruptive technological change and new modes of warfare associated with them have upset the old calculus. North Korea, Iran are not outlier threats but leading indicators of the changed dynamic.  They are the first samples of a new threat coming onstream.

There will be danger -- perhaps immense perils -- associated with this paradigm shift. Yet the danger may have even been greater had the population not risked adapting.  For one thing it might have been trapped in the Tower now fallen to dust. What is manifest is the gods have fallen, leaving many institutions rudderless. The Left spent decades replacing traditional myths and social sanctions with their own structures only to see these fall to ruin.

Some social commentators have noted a mood of disillusionment. "Millennials report depression in higher numbers than any previous generation", up to one in five.  People appear to be tuning out of politicized "comedy", sports and entertainment, exhausted by the public frenzy. It's a direct consequence of the fall of the Narrative. The irony is having given people apps to order pizza, Tinder date or a cab within minutes we have yet to create an app that gives them a reason to live, where the starveling depression-raised Greatest Generation could find it in themselves to cross a fire-swept beach in hope.

But inside that escape is the logic of time-out. Flight has always been one of several survival mechanisms available to civilization. Humanity flees inward when faced with the unknown until it has figured out what to do. Tuning out is powered by the same rationale that drives sandboxing in computer science, the need for an isolated space to test out new ideas and fresh code without having to contaminate it with malware or have it spill out uncontrollably.

The ultimate limit to globalization could be the need to preserve "sandboxes" within the planetary memory space. In our strange new world of upheaval, privacy (without which sandboxing is infeasible) and freedom may prove the most crucial quantity of all. The Narrative died from lack of it. Perhaps when they write the engineering postmortem for the great and fallen 20th century Tower of Babel it will read "collapsed from groupthink."

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