Listen to the song Ordain And Establish on SoundCloud
'The Surveillance State not only grows inexorably, but so does the secrecy and unaccountability behind which it functions.' - Glenn Greenwald
This song deals with the ominous and often outright dangerous developments having to do with our civil liberties. Warrantless wiretapping, abuse of National Security Letters, torture, black sites, extraordinary rendition, and indefinite detentions have moved us from an ostensible beacon of liberty in the world to a deeply paranoid and abusive state with a shrinking respect for Constitutional protections - the core values that define this country. Though some give and take is always expected, and often necessary when dealing with the difficult issue of security, we can not, and should not toss away everything that makes this country what it is in our attempt to achieve complete safety, as complete safety is never attainable.
NOTE: fuller explanation and references forthcoming
The law must be stable but must never stand still
This is not what he meant
This is not what he meant
Modest and incremental
Our fears a kaleidoscope
No probable cause
Lost due process
The legislative equivalent of breaking and entering
Ominous free pass
Our source values hijacked
It's the return of
the letter of the signet
Signed, sealed, choked
The rebirth of Vincennes
The eye in the sky has shifted, now trained on us
Appalling autoantonym -
(just) how would a PATRIOT Act?
Losing the lessons of history
Ashcroftian dystopia now made manifest
Opaque, impenetrable one way mirror
The eye in the sky has become the eye on the flag
Do we really deserve
either of the two?
Necessity is the plea of tyrants
for every infringement on human liberty
Perhaps it should be titled “how to survive in an early post-apocalyptic zombie-infested wasteland”, with chapters like “collaborative consumption” guiding the way to how to divvy up scarce provisions and “unprepared” showing the disconnectedness and naivete of a formerly sheltered set of people (and how quickly the naivete dissipates when said people are thrust headlong intro reality.) In many ways, the rise of disaster fiction dovetails nicely with the follies and problems of our age. Originally created as a critique of mindless consumer capitalism, zombie survival-horror as a genre perhaps is now more apt as both a warning for those who have yet to experience this new world first-hand, and set of training videos for surviving it. Both the resurgence of these genres and the creation of this book, in retrospect, now seem to have been inevitable.
The book deals with a many issues related to our “New New Economy” (and I recommend that everyone read the original “The New Job Security” book, which I read back in the early 2000s. It turned out to be prescient quite quickly.) “Share or Die” deserves a lot of credit for putting personal stories and names to things that have been studied and detailed in the broad strokes, via discussions of policies like deregulation, downsizing, offshoring, outsourcing, widespread automation, and upper-income-bracket tax cuts; ballooning student debt, and the associated peonage of its debtors, as well as the fact that degrees have gone from proof of competence to the most basic of HR filters; short-lived traditions like “jobs for life” gone, and at-will employment treated the way you’d expect based on the label; the shrinking or disappearance of health benefits, our lack of universal health care, or paid leave; the dog-eat-dog economy where the dogs are getting hungrier as the opportunities shrink with each passing day; and a landscape which differs from the rosy ”you can do anything if you only try” meritocratic fairytales pushed by our institutions, policymakers, teachers, and many others who grew up in an era (post WWII to Reagan) where standards of living seemed like they’d rise forever and opportunity for everyone seemed ever-present, and never-ending.
The book offers many ideas for coping – a few of which are worth entertaining – but are mostly just the ideas of people grasping for something, anything that will deliver us from this predicament. Unfortunately, the vast majority of ideas will not serve most people very well, or for very long. In this way, the ineffectiveness, indifference, or complete absence of societal institutions present in virtually every piece of zombie (and related disaster genres) fiction look like extremely fitting metaphors for our government, corporations, and charities. From the false promises of the “governments” of “Survivors” and “Threads” to their complete absence in “The Walking Dead” or “28 days later“, these pieces of fiction illustrate quite well the plight of those under 40, and increasingly, those over it, today. Those genres also shows what happens as the supplies run out, the crazy ideas which seemed to have a hope of working (the book) stop doing so, and the nerves are well past the frayed stage.
Share Or Die is an excellent, ground-level snapshot of our new age. An age without useful answers (only the same answers that have failed us for a long time), and without the promise of prosperity returning anytime soon. An age which, to someone transported here from only two or three decades ago, would seem like a radically futuristic place (and it many ways it is.) The powerful devices in our hands, the always-connectedness, the truly instant communications, self-driving cars, the nascent “cyborging” of humanity, the medical advances, and a great many other wonderful things. It also looks like those other futures – the ones with the walled fortresses, and black seas; poverty; despair; wealth concentration; a growing underclass; social unrest and outright rebellions; rising political divisions; and a widespread lack of trust of just about everything.
Lastly, there appears to be another parallel in the book to those movies and shows. At some point a few of the characters come to a terrible realization: that no help is coming.
The politics of dissolution deals with the alienation and disillusionment with politics at all ends of the spectrum.
What’s the matter with Sci-Fi? Very interesting post by Charles Stross about the state of sci-fi what it says about the world. The fact that every day that things in our world resemble many tropes in sci-fi (intergovernmental computer espionage, unmanned aerial drones, automatic gunshot detection systems, and ubiquitous mobile computers, etc.) that only 20 years ago seemed impossible may have something to do with it.
With all the talk about a possible intervention in Syria, a re-read of Conditions of Successful Third-Party Intervention in Intrastate Conflicts seems appropriate.
This article gives a brief summary of the goals of Peter Diamandis, who has gone from creating the X prize to trying to fix the educational system. Certainly any good ideas in this area are welcome, but I think we need to understand just what the problems with “education”, particularly “higher education” are. Most of this will probably be old news to those who study the issue formally, but this will hopefully be helpful as a general framework for everyone else.
- The actual “learning” problem. Getting useful facts into the minds of people. The challenges around this one are fairly well-understood. People with differing levels of ability made need different amounts of background information. Different learning styles (visual, tactile, auditory, etc.) need to be accommodated. Things of that nature. The ultimate fix is obviously something like Matrix-style insta-learning, but until then smaller innovations are surely possible.
- The “credentialing” problem. How do we prove that an individual knows what they say they do (or think they do)? Plenty of schemes have been devised by organizations to gauge ability, with varying levels of success depending on the individual, organizations, methods, etc. Thankfully, the costs to being wrong are not nearly as bad as they are made out to be; picking the “wrong” candidate is not likely to be the downfall of any particular organization. The real issue is simply the value of the credential. As has become obvious, it’s used as a filtering mechanism since there are so many more people who need jobs than open positions. The “fix” here is to adjust society and culture to the idea that fewer people will work in the future, and that’s OK. A guaranteed income and universal health care will mean we can finally separate jobs from livelihoods. This has the added bonus of likely reducing competition for jobs, which will mean less wheat/chaff sorting will be necessary.
- The “funding” problem. Higher education is expensive. Debt is burdensome. All well known, and well understood issues. Thankfully, this one seems like the easiest to fix. Remote, online learning systems has made enormous progress (Khan Academy being the most prominent recent example.) We could have a central repository of lessons taught in different styles, and in different languages so that it’s highly accessible to different types of learners. What goes away in this equation is the need for huge numbers of teachers teaching the same subject over and over for years on end when a single repository of “best-in-class” lessons will do (not to mention physical campuses, classrooms, etc.) The lessons could of course be updated from time to time if new facts become available or the like, but by and large, everyone would draw from the same pool of instructional materials. This will help bring the cost of education way, way down. Free (for the student – public funding makes a great deal of sense here) higher education with this model becomes an extremely compelling prospect.
- The “networking” problem. The case has often been made that the real value of higher education is the ability to mix with others (in person) who will later become bosses, co-workers, company co-founders, vendors, customers, etc. along with easy idea exchange/serendipity enabling. Those who make this case rightly argue that “learning” is secondary (and could probably be handled with the methods outlined above) and that the real value with the current boots-on-campus system is that relationships and chance meetings. While I agree with the principle, this seems like something that is fairly easily replaced with trade shows, workshops, conventions, co-working spaces, networking events, and such. Boots-on-campus can be turned into boots-in-wherever-other-interested people are. There’s probably good business innovation opportunities for providing lists, search capabilities, targeted event hosting, the works.
- The “time” problem. Due to the way we learn currently (we really do need that insta-learning system), one thing is hard to reduce: time. It still takes a minimum amount of time to really learn the subjects that may be important to one’s career. While doing all this learning, you tend to not be making much (or any) money. Dedicated autodidacts who work (whom I count myself among) are likely the exceptions to this know this one well. It’s useful, important, even fun – but there’s no question about the time commitment on a daily basis. Those without a lot of discipline and a willingness to give up a lot of other things may find doing things this way impossible, even if someone else is footing the bill. If someone else isn’t footing the bill? Then you often have real problems. Work while in school? It’s the perfect recipe for burnout, and forgetting most of the things you learn. Live off your savings? A very bitter pill, often impossible. As we can see, this issue is tougher, but there are possibilities here. The very first one is full-funding for living costs (with all the expected means-testing and restrictions – things like no dependents, limits on how long you can attend, etc. to keep the system honest.) Combined with the far cheaper cost of education due to number four above, and this one could be workable.
Now that we have a framework for understanding the issues with higher education today, we can hopefully dig harder for solutions. It’s a multi-faceted problem, with each facet having a different level of difficulty, but none insurmountable. As for Mr. Diamandis and his quest, I’m looking forward to what he comes up with. It’s certainly a worthy goal.
An aside: Autodidacticism in today’s world. For many careers, this has become a necessity. You’re required to keep up with all the latest research, trends, tools, and a variety of other things that make you current. Sure, having a solid foundation helps, but is no longer enough (I’d argue it hasn’t been enough for a long time.) You’re required to learn every day to keep up. Some may find this distasteful, even abhorrent, but I believe it’s the reality today, and as the speed of progress increases, will only become more pronounced. Again, a guaranteed basic income would mean that the pressure to do this for those who aren’t equipped for it (or just hate it) would go away. Self-starters would be rewarded without others winding up homeless. This solution seems more obvious every single day. It also means that for those left competing, things would get far more meritocratic. It’s a win all around.
The DHS has a “binder” of keywords that they are using to monitor social networks for potential threats; these keywords just happen to be perfect for (often humorous) band names of this type. After reading through them, I put this tool together based on it to add a bit of levity to the subject of mass domestic surveillance. It's available here:
More info about the subject:
A perennial topic on many music forums, with way too many definitions that are far too complicated or specific, so let's define what Industrial is now: Industrial has become a Supergenre, like Rock. It does not have one distinct sound, only elements which definite it very, very broadly. Mostly dark, Often harsh, Largely electronic. That captures many things some would not consider Industrial, but is a lot more useful in practical terms. Once you think of it as a supergenre, it becomes much simpler to conceptualize all the different subgenres. Like with Rock, it serves as a broad identifier of a sound, without attempting to shoehorn it into a particular version.
Rock encompasses everything from The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, to Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden, to REM, to U2 and Radiohead. All Rock, but covering many different eras and different sounds, but with a recognizable thread. So has it become with Industrial. From Throbbing Gristle to Psychic TV, from Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly, Ministry, to KMFDM, from Test Department, Merzbow to Converter, from Hocico, Die Sektor, to Grendel, from X Marks The Pedwalk to Icon of Coil. Different sounds, different decades, but with a recognizable underpinning that runs through all of them.
Thought of this way, many things not considered Industrial come under its rubric: Drum 'n Bass, Dubstep, even traditional Techno of various kinds, not to mention myriad experimental, electronic, noise projects along with a plethora of TV show, video game, and movie scores (shows like MI-5 being a great modern example.) It leaves us with a sense of consistency and way to think about and more easily get a handle on a variety of music styles without getting bogged down in genre soup.
This is an old topic, but at this point in its history, has become worth revisiting. Like Rock, Industrial has reached a new stage in its life, where it has broadened to encompass a large amount of music it may never have been associated with, but it's long past time that it got a new treatment, if only briefly, like in this post.
A very interesting overview of the current state of imprisonment in America, along with recent data on crime prevention. Though I don't agree with all of it, it does have some excellent insights like "Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry." Well worth a read:
It's obvious to many, but is worth stating just for the record.
- Consistent data isn't necessarily easy to come by. There's TONS of data about markets, but the way people react to a certain set of policies can vary with culture, time, zeitgeist, etc.
- People don't always make rational (in the "most likely to help achieve their ultimate goals" sense) economic choices. This makes generalizing difficult.
- There are potentially long lag times between when a policy is enacted and its effects. Policies are also subject to change - and can be changed before the results of the policy are seen. This is another thing that makes getting good data difficult.
- There are many Economists who aren't necessarily using real empirical data or anything resembling the scientific method to decide what principles "work" or are "good"; these Economists have made assumptions about human behavior first, then decided on their principles rather than using actual non-anecdotal data.
If we accept, for the sake of argument, that economics is really 90% mass psychology, 10% math, then isn’t a large part of the issue that many of its professional practitioners have tried to understand problems though a lens where those percentages are reversed? There is perhaps kind of bias that causes many of these people to only see the world using neat models, and discount that what economics is really about trying to understand (once you get beyond the simple cases where said models and standard ideas about incentives work):
what people do and want to do; how many of them do it; and for how long, modified by:
1) geopolitical events
2) the zeitgeist
3) culture (and subculture)
People may go into the field with a love of numbers and an interest in money; what we may really need, however, are people who care about understanding human behavior as it pertains to resources and power within and between societies. A “sociology for money”, as it were.
A response to: The Nation-State Reborn
Eventually we will probably have a global government. One language, one currency, immigration/emigration policies at parity, universal respect of human rights/civil liberties, "near-instant" transport, one system of labor and environmental laws, the works. That day, however, is a ways off. The Internet may be breaking down barriers, but not quickly enough or broadly enough to make this a reality in the next few decades. It will take time to have a global culture and consciousness, a belief in a shared set of values that people /actually/ agree on, rather than just pay lip service to. The "loyalty to real estate" that the ethicists referred to in the post decry perhaps should be considered an unfortunate relic of our tribalist past (It's an argument I'm highly sympathetic to.) An unfortunate, artificial barrier separating human beings from each other. That doesn't mean, however, that we can simply skip it or pretend it's going to disappear tomorrow. In a way, we really *need* their disdain of it; it serves to push the intellectual margin, even if we don't move towards the "ideal end game" anytime soon. We still need people thinking about it and preparing for it.
Those that are part of the "globetrotters" club get to experience this reality to a degree now. When they travel to another country, they meet others like themselves. Many may have similar interests, values, shared experiences and backgrounds (even if they come from different countries - they get to absorb the "culture" of the institutions they have been a part of - whether that be Harvard, Yale, or the IMF.) On top of that, they get to live life in whatever country that happen to be residing in or visiting in a very similar way. Just look at the "special zones" in various theocratic Middle Eastern countries that the diplomats, international business people, etc. stay in. You get to dress in a way you're accustomed to, drink, and socialize without interference from the national government. Tiny states-within-states.
All this perhaps gives us a preview of what a nation state-less future will be like. Combine this with superabundance and ultra-fast travel and we'll be on to the next stage of human society. A global one. A fair one. A barrier-less one. One where stereotypes about and hate towards humans goes away. Where we do not divide ourselves up based on how we look, where we were born, our what haplogroups we belong to.
Until that day comes, however, the nation state is the best we've got. We should figure out how to reboot it, reconfigure it, remake it, or whatever is necessary to make it work until we are actually able to reach that next stage of human society. I personally look forward to that day.
This article by Thomas Friedman makes a relatively new, but familiar-feeling argument. The Republican party needs to change. It's outmoded. It's conflicted. It's woefully inequiped to deal with today's realities. His criticisms couldn't be more correct. In our song A Graveyard of Elephants we offer some of the exact same arguments. He's correct as far as it goes.
Where his analysis begins to fall down is where he begins to argue that today's incarnations of Conservatisms can be salvaged. By and large, this is completely wrong. In today's America, which version of Conservatism is worth saving? Which one resonates? Which one are Americans moving toward? As Alan Wolfe so eloquently states "In this entrepreneurial, mobile, innovative, and individualistic country, conservatism was constantly on the defensive, aiming to preserve things--deference, reverence, and diffidence, to name three--that most Americans were anxious to shed." This is more true than ever.
Religious or "traditional family structure" conservatism? Religion is on the wane (recent controversies notwithstanding - study after study backs this one up.) America is becoming more secular and more accepting of LGBT rights. Birth control is used regularly. Abortion, though a perennial topic, still has broad support, and will eventually be made obsolete by better methods of birth control (permanent and side-effect free.) More people are living alone or co-habiting than ever before. Single parenthood is hardly the shocking subject it once was. Staying single for life, open marriage, non-hetero marriage, polyamory, being childfree, and various other non-traditional family/non-family structures have entered the mainstream lexicon and, while not necessarily popular, are gaining acceptance.
Market Fundamentalism, a kind of "Conservatism" *(with built in contradictions), but in its current incarnation allows massive wealth concentration and poverty? Being rejected across the board - even large percentages of Republicans have rejected our current levels of wealth inequality. From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, there's a rejection of this doctrine, even if some of the members of those movements don't always know it.
Other, lesser known Conservatisms will likely never be popular. Take Bioconservatism, for example. Cosmetic surgery is commonplace. We're replacing (and now growing!) limbs and organs and putting them on and inside people. How far are we from enhanced contact lenses (permanent, with AR overlays)? Implants which help us learn faster and remember more are likely to be as eagerly embraced as "smart drugs" are becoming in many circles.
So what's left for Conservatism? Only one thing really looks promising to defend: "Economic nationalism", which will mean putting America's economic growth and innovation first. This will of course mean shedding other kinds of Conservatism. Free Markets has money go wherever it's most likely to make a profit in the short term. If we're going to try to move to the next level, we'll need to take some of that "State Capitalist" medicine that China has been popping for a while. Technology investment, items with longer-term payoffs (or that may not turn a profit), 21st-century infrastructure/transportation development, initiatives for further city densification and all its attendant benefits (idea mixing, serendipity creation, etc.)
Friedman argues these things, but implies that we can do it by reinventing the Republican party - which may be true. Doing so, however, will mean jettisoning all of those Conservatisms in the process. It's Conservatism(s) against the world, and Conservatism which will need to be sacrificed.
We need big moves, big ideas, and an international, rather than domestic-focused competitive spirit. An ideology that puts American innovation at the forefront, and all the policies necessary to make that happen. That's the only kind of Conservatism left worth defending.