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Networks and hierarchies, secrets and disclosure, power and privacy

One of the problems in writing commentary is the old frameworks have fallen down and many of the standard prisms through which pundits formerly viewed the scene have fogged up. Though the mist cannot be entirely dispelled it is possible to describe the the biggest shapes looming in the murk.

Social networks have damaged the uniparty hierarchies in Washington to where sham game between the Generals and the Trotters is over.  Despite their past history of conflict avoidance there are now two distinct "sides" in mute hostility trying to beat each other. Both are strongly clustered, bound together with agendas of grievance, each suspecting the other of trying to conquer it.

Neither is much willing to listen to the other side.  The old centrist figures who could act as links between viewpoints and serve starting points for deals have diminished in stature.  Europe is struggling with economic stagnation and radical demographic change as migrants flood in. The resulting tensions have not only raised fears of a fascist revival, it has called into question the post-war European Big Government consensus. America is divided.  For the first time observers are truly worried about a civil war. "Japan will not escape the socio-economic collapse of the US unscathed," one article warned. The old Western order is manifestly going through a crisis. What's left is a world with no apparent ideological center of gravity (at least not the old ones) as each region struggles with its own particular challenges.

Russia, fighting an adverse economic and demographic trends, is desperately trying to remain relevant but unlikely with its diminishing resources to succeed. But unlike Europe, Russia has wagered on the continuing utility of "hard power" in a world where economic and technological are deemed to have supplanted it. Europe has abandoned hard power. "The reality is the European Union cannot protect Europe by itself,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said.  The other entrant into the hard power game is China. China is returning to authoritarianism on the back of a burgeoning economy.  Unlike Europe it is determined to have hard power and money, too. Xi Jinping, in removing term limits on his office, has effectively declared himself the strongman of China.  The Emperor has returned and is marching west on the Silk Road.

Yet despite this apparent breakdown in world order everything seems just fine. Nobody in the post-WW2 world apparently wants to risk the real material and technological progress of the last 70 years.  There is no appetite for cross border war, nor any desire to endanger world trade or communications networks. Governments, even aggressive ones, seem content to let technical and economic progress continue.  While regional strongmen may pursue limited aggression they rapidly lose legitimacy if they pose an overt threat to global networks.  There is an appetite for limited war, but not general conflagration.  This prompted Steven Pinker to observe that things have never been better,  a situation neither Brexit, nor Trump nor the so-called Eastern European illiberalism seems to have modified.  Pinker says: