It may now sound ridiculous, but Nikita Khrushchev once told America “we will bury you” and Washington believed him. For years the intelligence community thought the U.S.S.R. was on the verge of overtaking the U.S. as the world’s largest economy before the Soviets unexpectedly collapsed. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s book, Secrecy: the American Experience, tries to explain how such a tremendous intelligence misjudgment could take place.
The Gaither report … was forwarded to the president just weeks after the … launching of Sputnik. … The conclusions were stark to the point of startling … ‘The GNP of the USSR is now more than 1/3 that of the US and is increasing half again as fast’ … The intelligence community accepted and ‘improved the assessment of the Gaither commission. … [The] report remained Top Secret until 1973. But of course it had leaked well before then … to … the New York Times.
The illusion lasted so long because it was founded on a secret report that gave it credibility. Once the narrative had been established, it remained fundamentally unchallenged until nearly the end of the Cold War. “Sovietologists … trained to rely on the same general assumptions and data, had engaged in ‘group think’ … [until] in 1985, Rowen circulated a paper to senior officials in the Reagan administration … that actual Soviet economic growth was close to zero.”
There is a lot of unclassified baloney as well. The American Enterprise Institute compiled a list of 18 predictions made around the time of Earth Day in 1970 which forecast that the world should have ended by now.
Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” …
“Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born,” wrote Paul Ehrlich in a 1969 essay titled “Eco-Catastrophe! “By… some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” …
Kenneth Watt warned about a pending Ice Age in a speech. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” he declared. “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”
Unlike narratives rooted in secret, estimates of this sort derive most of their authority from virtue. Their legitimacy comes from noble intentions, from pleas to save the planet. The falsity of those 1970 predictions is inconsequential. Today there are many more successor predictions and insofar as their adherents are concerned, all of them are true.
Recently Piers Corbyn criticized his brother, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, for giving credence to Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl visiting the UK to express support for the ongoing Extinction Rebellion protests in London. “Since its launch last year, members have shut bridges, poured buckets of fake blood outside Downing Street, blockaded the BBC and stripped semi-naked in Parliament,” and glued themselves to buildings to force governments to adopt climate change policies.
Jeremy Corbyn’s brother today branded environmental activist Greta Thunberg an ‘ignorant brainwashed child’ who is being ‘abused by manipulative adults’. Piers Corbyn, 72, a climate change denier who runs forecasting firm WeatherAction, said the 16-year-old who is visiting Britain from her native Sweden is ‘wrong’ … ‘Listening to an ignorant brainwashed child is deranged.
‘I am an actual scientist of physics, meteorology, astrophysics and climate and say Greta Thunberg is wrong and suffers mental abuse by manipulative adults.’ … Piers called protestors who glued themselves to his brother’s house ‘deranged’ … Piers, who is the Labour leader’s older brother, believes that accepted science on man made climate change is a ‘cover up’ that exists to push up fuel prices.
Though Piers Corbyn may not realize it is precisely because Greta Thunberg is a child that she is irrefutable. Physics, meteorology, astrophysics are incommensurable to arguments based on victimhood or innocence. They are apples and oranges. “These competing paradigms lack a common measure, because they use different concepts and methods to address different problems, limiting communication across the revolutionary divide,” hence, incommensurable in the words of Thomas Kuhn.
Arguments founded on secret knowledge and virtue have the special advantage of being where critics cannot touch them. They are in a separate dimension beyond falsification until a paradigm shift — another of Kuhn’s concepts — overthrows them at the very end.
A paradigm shift is often the result of scientists working at the fringe of that paradigm, performing research that most other researchers feel is a little misguided, or a dead end. … Kuhn believed that paradigm shifts are instigated by accumulated evidence within a paradigm – “anomalies” – that are not adequately supported by current theories. When these anomalies can no longer be ignored, the shift can be quick and total.
This explains why officialdom found it so hard to anticipate the fall of the Soviet Union; the old paradigm was in the way. Then a new paradigm took hold and the U.S.S.R.’s successor state, Russia, would be an American partner for peace. This seamlessly superseded the old outlook as smoothly as global warming displaced the New Ice Age of Earth Day despite a distinctly unfriendly Kremlin.
The Russian reset was an attempt by the Obama administration to improve relations between the United States and Russia in 2009. Prior to the reset, US-Russia relations had been hurt by the 2008 Russo-Georgian diplomatic crisis in Ossetia and the Russo-Georgian War, leading to Immediate Response 2008 by the Bush administration.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney became an anomaly to the paradigm. The New York Times reported that “Mitt Romney’s recent declaration that Russia is America’s top geopolitical adversary drew raised eyebrows and worse from many Democrats, some Republicans and the Russians themselves, all of whom suggested that Mr. Romney was misguidedly stuck in a Cold War mindset.”
Four years later, it flipped again. Hillary Clinton’s loss created another paradigm shift almost overnight. The reset was instantly forgotten. Unnamed sources hinted that Putin had installed a stooge in the White House, that the Kremlin was controlling American elections. Talk show host Rachel Maddow built up a huge following depicting Putin’s hand in almost everything.
Romney went from clown to prophet in the blink of an eye. ABC News reported: “Mitt Romney finally gets credit years later for his warnings on Russia. … Madeleine Albright, who served as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state and supported President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, apologized to Romney, then Obama’s Republican opponent and now Utah’s junior senator, for her repeated criticism of his claim that Russia was the country’s ‘number one geopolitical foe,’ as he said during the campaign.” CNN published a frank mea culpa: “Romney was right about Russia“:
Just like that, Barack Obama weakened Mitt Romney and solidified his lead in a presidential contest that just a few weeks earlier had threatened to spin out of his control. In a line of attack that has assumed a mythology all its own, Obama early in his third prime time debate with Romney cut down the Republican nominee. …
“When you were asked, what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said ‘Russia.’ Not Al-Qaeda; you said Russia,” Obama charged. “And, the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” …
And so there’s a new appreciation for Romney among a previously skeptical political press corps. Some Democrats have even apologized for mocking and ignoring Romney’s assertion that Moscow is the biggest geopolitical threat to US interests.
One reason the Mueller report is so disturbing is that it represents yet another zig. By failing to find collusion between Russia and Trump, it threatens to shift the paradigm yet again. Next thing you know it will be Hillary who was colluding with the Russians. Such dizzying changes undermine the reputation for steadiness among Washington’s thought leaders. Matt Taibbi notes that “the inability to face the enormity of the last few years of errors will cost the news media its credibility, even with blue-state audiences.”
You know what was fake news? Most of the Russiagate story. There was no Trump-Russia conspiracy, that thing we just spent three years chasing. The Mueller Report is crystal clear on this. He didn’t just “fail to establish” evidence of crime. His report is full of incredibly damning passages, like one about Russian officialdom’s efforts to reach the Trump campaign after the election: “They appeared not to have preexisting contacts and struggled to connect with senior officials around the President-Elect.”
Not only was there no “collusion,” the two camps didn’t even have each others’ phone numbers!
We used to regard predictive power as a proxy for the truth. But credibility survives falsification if it is founded on speculation from unnamed sources or the heart-rending plea of a victim wronged. The press will always be selling something for us to believe. And both sides of the political divide will believe. About the only thing one can safely say is whatever actually happens will be a genuine surprise.
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Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles, by Bernard Cornwell. This book, published to coincide with the battle’s bicentennial in 2015, is a riveting nonfiction chronicle of Napoleon’s last stand. Through quotes from the letters and diaries of Emperor Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, and the ordinary officers and soldiers, Cornwell brings to life how it actually felt to fight those famous battles — as well as the moments of amazing bravery on both sides that left the actual outcome hanging in the balance until the bitter end.
The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam, by Martin Windrow. Published in 2004. Much-acclaimed first new account of the battle since the 1970s, and the most complete account to date, incorporating much new material from French and Vietnamese sources, including veteran interviews. In December 1953, French paratroopers, who had been searching for the elusive Vietnamese army, were quickly isolated by them and forced to retreat into their jungle base – a small place called Dien Bien Phu. The Vietnamese besieged the French base for five long and desperate months. Eventually, the French were utterly depleted and withdrew in defeat, the first defeat of modern Western forces by an Asian guerrilla army.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear. This book offers a proven framework for improving everyday.
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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.