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The Battle Between Information and Chaos

"On empty altars demons dwell." Ernst Junger

Russia is acquiring an empire of chaos.  According to the New York Times, "Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, brought in Russian mercenaries in January to help shore up his rule against nationwide protests. And last spring, five sub-Saharan African countries — Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania — appealed to Moscow to help their overtaxed militaries and security services combat the Islamic State and Al Qaeda." It's part of the Kremlin's burgeoning network of failing states around the world.

Moscow and its private military contractors are arming some of the region’s weakest governments and backing the continent’s autocratic rulers,” said Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “This engagement threatens to exacerbate current conflict zones.”

Trouble is turning a handsome profit for the Kremlin, which John Bolton says “continues to sell arms and energy in exchange for votes at the United Nations — votes that keep strongmen in power, undermine peace and security and run counter to the best interests of the African people.”

The empire of chaos was not created by accident. The Gatestone Institute suggests the old Cold War adversaries are back in the Third World, no longer aiming at revolution, but markets and resources. But Russia at least may be intent on exporting chaos to the West. "In both Latin America and Africa  ... Russia has been less involved in the race for natural resources, but its increased visibility, especially in our hemisphere, [is] part and parcel of Putin's efforts to reassert Russia's presence as in Cold War days."

Nowhere is U.S.-Russian rivalry more visible than Bolivarian Venezuela, where the Russians have recently landed advisers to bolster Maduro. "The U.S. and Russia are locked in a battle for influence over crisis-stricken Venezuela," reported CNBC. From Russia's POV, things might be better if they were worse. It is no longer a struggle between Communism and Capitalism but chaos versus "zones of order."

Tom Friedman writing in the New York Times believes entropy has now become a major weapon. It can take the form of displaced persons or weaponized information. The physical challenge of desperate human multitudes is easy to understand. It is the obvious weapon.

That will be a big challenge for the next president because the mass migrations of people away from these disorderly and failing states to zones of order, which is what is driving the current U.S. and European border crises, are not going away. ... “The number of people taken into custody along the Mexico border jumped an additional 31 percent last month as an unprecedented mass migration of families from Central America pushes unauthorized crossings to the highest levels in a decade, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures. ... The system is well beyond capacity and remains at a breaking point.” ...

The threat of bad information is more subtle. ISIS and 9/11 showed that "super-empowered small groups and individuals" could be as disruptive as millions of refugees if given "incredibly powerful, cheap, small tools — for cyberwarfare, election hacking and financial hacking — into the hands of small units ... so they can have outsize impacts through deep fake, deep surveillance, deep cyber theft... and all three have weaponized the new technology, hacking the U.S. and Europe and, in the case of Russia, even interfering with an American election.”

Just how lethal these weapons can be is expressed in two words: collusion or hoax.

Friedman thinks the demise of the Global World undermined the joint effort of great states “to try to manage state failure and the technological tsunami, the three revisionists [Russia, China, U.S.] are making them worse”. But whether it was ever in the Kremlin's interest to promote order is doubtful.  Their line of business has been turning to chaos since the transition to capitalism. The destructive forces unleashed by the Arab Spring may have given them an idea; it demonstrated the potential of entropy as a weapon. "Russia and Iran took the lead in devastating Syria, producing a flood of refugees that has, among other things, destabilized Europe." At some point, the Kremlin may have made the conscious decision to become the capital of entropy.

Who is on the side of order -- or even if there is one -- is a harder question to answer.  Is it the EU, Trump, or even China? While Trump has focused on barriers to protect the "zones of order" and the human tide -- even threatening to "seal off the United States border with Mexico" -- it is the progressives who have focused on barring "weaponized" social media and ideas.

News organizations fear an invasion from Twitter.  ABC News reported that "with the end of the special counsel's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 race for the White House, election security experts are wondering whether the U.S. is doing enough to fend off an attack on the 2020 contest."

Since the 2016 race, Facebook, Google and other internet giants have thrown millions of dollars, tens of thousands of people and what they say are their best technical efforts to identify misinformation, illegal political manipulation and hate that proliferate on their digital platforms. ...

In the online battle, Facebook has been regularly disclosing that it has blocked accounts, pages and groups engaged in unauthorized activity that could undermine democracy in the U.S. and elsewhere. Of particular concern are European Parliament elections set for May.

Many of these accounts have been linked with Russia, but some were connected to Iran and other countries, a sign that Russia's recipe for election meddling may be spreading around the world.

One unknown for 2020 will be how President Donald Trump responds to attempts to interfere. During the 2016 campaign, Trump was more prone to welcome help from Russia than to condemn it, encouraging it at one point to find Hillary Clinton's deleted emails.

Who are all these walls designed to stop?  Why, chaos, of course. The Guardian noted, "the president’s threat to close the border with Mexico [has] potentially severe consequences for the US economy."  But the costs to barring ideas are even higher in terms of personal liberty and the free exchange of ideas.  Damien Cave writing in the New York Times gives us a preview of what stopping "weaponized" ideas is.

What if live-streaming required a government permit, and videos could only be broadcast online after a seven-second delay? What if Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were treated like traditional publishers, expected to vet every post, comment and image before they reached the public? Or like Boeing or Toyota, held responsible for the safety of their products and the harm they cause?

Imagine what the Internet would look like if tech executives could be jailed for failing to censor hate and violence.

These are the kinds of proposals under discussion in Australia and New Zealand as politicians in both nations move to address popular outrage over the massacre this month of 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The gunman, believed to be an Australian white nationalist, distributed a manifesto online before streaming part of the mass shootings on Facebook.

But which ideas must be stopped? Do the memes promoting the fear of collusion, global warming, or self-identifying gender belong to the "zone of order" or are they part of the empire of chaos? Did "collusion" originate on the Trump side or the Hillary camp? Doubtless, opinion will be divided. The only way to preserve the diversity of ideas is for each group to preserve its internal processes while interacting with other groups in a competitive manner that preserves overall peace. This requires a fine balance between privacy and freedom of speech that institutions are struggling to define.

The hope is that one day the program will halt and spit out an answer.  But all it is is a hope.  All we can do is take the risk. It may not be long until societies are componentized into well-defined groupings separated by interfaces roughly defined by the Fourth, First and Second Amendments. But first, they have to realize componentization is the thing to do.  Just as developers can only build larger systems by shielding components behind standard protocols so that they can interact with dissimilars, so too may politicians discover the key to rebuilding the global world is creating interfaces of the right kind against the emperors of chaos.  The second decade of the 21st century is shaping up to be a battle between information and chaos.  But it may be some time before the public realizes what is happening.

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Books:

Liquid Rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives, by Mark Miodownik. We all know that without water we couldn’t survive, and that sometimes a cup of coffee or a glass of wine feels just as vital. But do we really understand how much we rely on liquids, or the destructive power they hold? This book offers readers a fascinating tour of these formless substances, told through the language of molecules, droplets, heartbeats, and ocean waves.

Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea: The Daring Capture of the U-505, by Daniel V. Gallery. In his memoir, Gallery explains how he led Task Group 21.12 in the battle against the U-Boat threat, in particular the capture of the U505 off the coast of Africa. He was the first American officer to capture an enemy warship since the War of 1812, thus giving the US Navy the codebooks, Enigma machine and other secret materials found on board that critically assisted the Allied codebreakers to win the war.

From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds, by Daniel C. Dennett. An exploration of evolutionary thinking, building on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a process of cultural evolution. Dennett explains that a crucial shift occurred When humans developed the ability to share memes, or ways of doing things not based in genetic instinct, with language turbocharging this interplay. Competition among memes ― a form of natural selection ― produced thinking tools so well-designed that they gave us the power to design our own memes.

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living, by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. A daily devotional for wisdom and living a better life.

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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.