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Revisiting My Forecasts on Afghanistan, the Pandemic, and Technological Disruption

(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Occasionally it is good to look back at old Belmont Club posts to see what held up. Being a pundit is actually quite easy. The trick is to write the obvious, not the clever.

The Ten Ships, May 2010: On the bankruptcy of fighting a “war of necessity” in Afghanistan. “For all of its defects, the campaign in Iraq was at least in the right place: at the locus of oil, ideology, and brutal regimes that are the Middle East. Ideally, the campaign in Iraq would have sent a wave of democratization through the area, undermined the attraction of radical Islam, provided a base from which to physically control oil if necessary. That the campaign failed to attain many of its objectives should not obscure the fact that its objectives were valid. It made far more strategic sense than fighting tribesmen in Afghanistan. Ideology, rogue regimes, and energy are the three entities that have replaced the “ten ships” of 70 years ago. The means through which these three entities should be engaged ought to be the subject of reasoned debate, whether by military, economic, or technological means. But the vital nature of these objectives ought not to be. Neutralize the intellectual appeal of radical Islam, topple the rogue regimes, and ease Western dependence on oil and you win the war. Yet their centrality, and even their existence, is what the politicians constantly deny.”

Living With the Limits of Our New Clerisy’s Knowledge  June 2021: “Clerico-experts have knowledge, often partial knowledge, but they do not have certainty. That is no fault of theirs, just a byproduct of human limits, but certainty is what governments and anxious masses crave in a time of anxiety, something they often unjustifiably pretend they have. Our expert is not an oracle he ‘is a bureaucrat, albeit a highly technical one.’ In the coming years, the new clerisy will come forward with even more global solutions, endorsing trillion-dollar multidecade proposals in the fields of climate engineering, genetic alteration, and artificial intelligence. In each case, the public will be asked to trust the science—to put all our eggs in the expert basket.”

Suddenly, Neither Liberty nor Civilization Is Assured April 2020:  “The two biggest uncertainties about the post-COVID-19 world are whether any privacy will survive and whether China or the United States will dominate. With regards to the first, the Guardian rhetorically asks whether you would trade the total loss of your privacy for safety from the coronavirus, even if it meant entering a “cybergulag.” That’s what Russia is planning to do and China already did. As the City Journal put it, perhaps the only way out of the lockdowns is to voluntarily submit to 24×7 electronic tracking.”

The Long Civil War September 2019: “Both sides are so numerically matched than even a progressive win in 2020 is unlikely to prove any more game-ending than the Brexit referendum or Trump’s 2016 election. The persistence of protests in Hong Kong shows how difficult it is for even the Chinese Communist Party to impose its will upon stubborn millions. This suggests that the current Cold Civil War is more likely to resemble a Cold Cold War in duration. Whether Trump wins or loses in 2020; whether Britain exits the European Union on October 31, 2019, the struggle will go on until technological and historical developments hand down the verdict. God, or if you prefer, Reality makes the rules. We just have to play by them.”

It’s Easier to Track One Man Through His Cellphone Than a 110,000-Ton Aircraft Carrier May 2019: “It turns out that people have been sending out tracking beacons for years. Google has “been tracking the location of almost every Android device owner for over a decade,” according to ZDNet. By contrast, a naval vessel operating under complete emissions control has a better chance of remaining undetected in the vastness of the sea than a man in a Western city so long as it remains out of visual range of the enemy. One of the 21st century’s paradoxes is that it is easier to track one man through his cellphone than locate a 110,000-ton aircraft carrier that is electronically silent.”

The Problem of Sex Nov 2017:

Suddenly a strange thing happened. The increased opportunities for sexual interaction promised by ‘60s prophets, rather than kicking off an endless party, raised the curtain on a darker prospect. The ’60s chant “if it feels good, do it” gave way to a new, more fearful phrase: rape culture. “Rape culture,” warned one university department, “is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. … Most women and girls live in fear of rape.”

What happened?

What the sexual prophets had forgotten to anticipate was the re-emergence of the sex problem. The forces that institutions had successfully contained for centuries were on the loose again. Without new control systems, these primal urges unexpectedly re-emerged as the sexual assault tidal wave sweeping through Hollywood, the media and politics without any easy solution in sight. The challenge, as Douglas Murray intuited, was to find a new way to solve the sex problem without littering society with legal minefields. Without some way of establishing the ground rules between men and women, sex threatened to become a battleground rather than an avenue for human relationships; a dirty word rather than a bridge to the future of mankind.

The Return of Magic August 2017: “Can the common man cope with the esoteric? Two hundred years ago the average person probably understood virtually everything he encountered in daily life. Today the average person is surrounded by objects far more complex than the Apollo 11 guidance computer. Under those circumstances, as help desk workers all over the world will attest, technical ignorance is the rule rather than the exception.”

Modern smart devices are purposely designed to be operated, even by an idiot. Technology has allowed the burden of intelligence to be shifted away from the user to the machine. As a result people routinely use tools they barely understand implicitly believing they will work. It works but there’s a danger. As Arthur C. Clarke famously observed, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. In our high-technology present, an increasing percentage of the global population must relate to their world in terms of magic.

Books: Consciousness and the Universe: Quantum Physics, Evolution, Brain & Mind. Is consciousness an epiphenomenal happenstance of this particular universe? Or does the very concept of a universe depend upon its presence? Does consciousness merely perceive reality, or does reality depend upon it? Did consciousness simply emerge as an effect of evolution? Or was it, in some sense, always “out there” in the world?