News — At The Edge — 7/29

A curious mix of articles this week that include issues related to memes, politics, science and the military.

If the thesis in the thought-provoking article about memes is correct, our ability to work together as a society or civilization is in serious jeopardy.

Political issues speak to how we, as a society, are trying to make sense of our socioeconomic situation. Science issue points to a geoengineering dilemma in resolving climate change.

The military article reflects a Pentagon study about the accelerating decline of U.S. influence in the world and how the military expects to respond. But the proposed response could exacerbate the situation.

Finally, released a new article of mine on Medium this week titled, The Future by Default

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Thought-Provoking Issue –

The Virial Theorem -

“The word ’meme’ denotes a rapidly spreading idea, behavior, or concept…[originally] to explain…natural selection on cultural information…[but] someone under twenty-five…[thinks] photos of celebrities, babies, and kittens, overlaid with somewhat humorous text.

Memes spread only as rapidly as they can reproduce…[so] vast majority of memes are now digital, and…crowded out its social and evolutionary meaning….Net bots…[and] Internet viruses…reproduce on their own…[like] high-frequency stock trading programs can crash the market in seconds.

Any interaction between systems that store and process information will cause that information to spread; and some [faster]….By definition, viral information propagates at an accelerating rate, driving stable systems unstable….

At bottom, all physical systems register and process information….[In] the universe, information tends to spread at an accelerating rate….called the virial theorem….Accelerating flows of information are a fundamental part of the universe: we can’t escape them….

Information that reproduces itself twice in a second wins out over information that only reproduces once a second. In the digital memes…competition leads to a race to the bottom. Subtlety, intricacy, and nuance take longer to appreciate, and so add crucial seconds to…meme reproduction process, leading to a dominance of dumb and dumber.

Any constraint that puts information at a disadvantage in reproducing…[will] lose out in the meme-race. Truth is such a constraint. Fake news can propagate more rapidly…because it is unconstrained by reality….

[Similarly] cancerous cells can propagate faster than correct genetic information because cancer cells need not respond to the regulatory signals sent to them by the body.

[Chaos] is defined by the explosive growth and spread of random information….Accelerating flows of digital information have reduced memes to kitten photos….When memes propagate so rapidly they lose their meaning, watch out!” https://www.edge.org/response-detail/27222

Political Issues –

In the 21st century, all roads appear to lead to universal basic income. –

“The idea of unconditionally providing all citizens an income floor sufficient for existence — a basic income — looks to be at the intersection of an unstoppable congruence of…accelerating automation, growing inequality, the fragmentation of work….

Technology is…allowing us all to do more with less…[yet] means less paid work, but as long as income is coupled to work, that also means less ability to purchase what is being produced….Without that change, automation eats its own demand…because robots [do not buy]….

[T]he working class has…exhausted all its options…after decades of entirely stagnant wage growth. Credit cards…Home refinancing…College educations are no longer the way out….[While] inequality between nations has decreased…inequality within nations has increased. Movements like Occupy Wall Street were only the beginning….There is a growing sense that the game is rigged….

[Although] recent invention…[in] the Industrial Revolution, jobs were for decades synonymous with careers…[with] benefits through that employer….[Now] it’s part-time, or temporary, or contractual, or freelance, or gig labor…[and] requires a new safety net…decoupled from jobs…[that] allows for work transitions without friction….

[Sharing economy] will increasingly do work at no cost and consume that which has no cost. Wikipedia is the classic example…[and] represents a clear and present danger to ‘earning a living’….Technological unemployment, rising inequality, the transformation of work, the sharing economy…can only go so far before something gives.

Income must be decoupled from work and provided unconditionally [or]… be dragged down by our own unwillingness to evolve….

Somewhere along the way we lost the ability to picture a better future and invent it together….Our goal should always be to create a better future…. Evidence-based policies over politics…not party…not authority…[just] what works….

[UBI] worked well in Alaska since 1982…[and] people themselves know…what’s better for them than anyone else…[and] we are all far more creative than we give each other credit for….Basic income is an idea that free market supporters like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek supported.” https://medium.com/economicsecproj/in-the-21st-century-all-roads-appear-to-lead-to-universal-basic-income-d0f56d47999c

The power of populists: When elites appear ineffective, voters give radicals a chance -

“It is tempting to dismiss the rise of radicalism as an inevitable after-effect of the global financial crisis…[and] vote shares of extreme parties, particularly on the right [do]…increase in the years after a crisis….

Rival theories blame…cultural insecurities prompted by demographic and social change….[Some] reckon that right-wing political success is built on a decline in the subjective social status of white men. Both economic hardship and relative improvements in the perceived status of other groups, such as women and racial minorities, seem to contribute to male insecurity…[yet] only a partial explanation…..

A third explanation… reckons that globalization…costs on vulnerable workers…[and] asymmetry produces a backlash…. Frustration with trade and financial integration often breeds left-wing populism, which feeds off class divisions in society…[while] immigration is seen as the source of disruption, right-wing populism, which exploits ethnic or religious divisions, is more common…..

These hypotheses are plausible (and compatible). But they are still incomplete. The rejection of established elites is perhaps the defining characteristic of a populist movement, yet what is not always clear is why mainstream parties should be so unresponsive….

[Maybe] cannot respond to supporters’ concerns because of their respect for institutional constraints…[or] unwillingness to break norms like repaying sovereign debt…[and] letting down voters…. Depressed turnout is an opportunity for political entrepreneurs…[who] promise to relieve the stresses caused by institutional constraints.

But the genre of populism depends on how turnout varies…. If right-wing voters (such as older men) are less prone to sit out elections, then a populist candidate is more likely to be right-wing….Populist policies vary as a result….

But a populist upswing propelled by unhappiness with established institutions raises an awkward question: if these institutions are worthwhile, why are people so frustrated by them?….[Likely] populists highlight the short-run advantages of wrecking institutions while downplaying the long-run consequences….[I]f politicians cannot satisfy disenchanted citizens while operating within established limits, then institution-smashing populists will soon be on the march again.” https://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21725298-when-elites-appear-ineffective-voters-give-radicals-chance-power

Science Issue –

Climate Change Is Here. It’s Time to Talk About Geoengineering -

“[If] everyone in the…world did their very best to cut emissions…[and] every country promised in their Paris pledges, it still wouldn’t keep the planet’s temperature from rising beyond…2˚ C higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution….

This raises the specter of geoengineering…a dirty word for many climate scientists…[because] meddling with nature doesn’t have the best track record…[so] world leaders need to come up with some rules…before desperation…forces humanity to do something it might [regret]….

Geoengineering strategies generally fall into two categories: removing carbon dioxide and reducing heat. The former problem has vexed researchers for years….Not likely to happen…..Heat reduction is currently more practical…either blocking the sun’s heat from coming into Earth’s atmosphere, or allowing more of Earth’s heat to radiate into space.

For blocking heat, sulfur injections are probably the most likely to work…[and] basic technology already exists..[but] cost around $20 billion [year]….[For] Earth shed more heat into space…have to seed the atmosphere with tiny particles like desert dust or pollen…[to] cause fewer, but larger ice crystals to form…‘[but] would be a similarly expensive….[Nobody] advocates employing either technology at the moment. Too many unknowns…[and] have to keep doing them for a very long time….

The biggest worry of all is that some desperate country, or group of countries, might decide to do some geoengineering all on their own….[Need] some kind of international dialogue…. Tweaking the global thermostat is going to require a lot of control, and nobody really knows how much will be too much. There is also the question of… what happens if one part of the world bears more of the geoengineering side effects….’If you stop quickly, the temperature will jump up to what it would have been, and that will be catastrophic.’” https://www.wired.com/story/lets-talk-geoengineering/

Military Issue –

Pentagon study declares American empire is ‘collapsing’ -

“[The] international order established after World War 2 is…’collapsing,’ leading the United States to lose its…‘primacy’ in world affairs. The solution proposed [is]…more surveillance, more propaganda (‘strategic manipulation of perceptions’) and more military expansionism….

U.S. power is in decline, international order is unravelling, and the authority of governments everywhere is crumbling…[and] U.S. now inhabits a dangerous, unpredictable…world, whose defining feature is ‘resistance to authority….[Danger] ‘Arab Spring’-style events…all over the world, potentially undermining trust in incumbent governments for the foreseeable future….

[The] global events will happen faster than DoD is currently equipped to handle [and]… can no longer count on the unassailable position of dominance….[But] all states and traditional political authority…under increasing pressure from endogenous and exogenous forces….

Russia and China, as well as smaller players like Iran and North Korea…pursuit of their own legitimate national interests is…undermining American dominance. Russia and China are…’revisionist forces’ who benefit from the U.S.-dominated international order, but…’seek a new distribution of power and authority commensurate with their emergence as legitimate rivals…[and] engaged in a deliberate program to demonstrate the limits of U.S. authority, will, reach, influence, and impact’….[Oddly] little substantiation in the document of how Russia and China pose a meaningful threat to American national security.

The chief challenge….through the use of ‘gray zone’ techniques, involving ‘means and methods…far short of unambiguous or open provocation and conflict’…[so] the U.S. itself should ‘go gray or go home’ to ensure U.S. influence….

[T]he threat from non-state forces [is]…hyper-connectivity and weaponization of information, disinformation, and dis­affection’… leading to the uncontrolled spread of information.

Pentagon faces the ‘inevitable elimination of secrecy and operational security[so] senior defense leaders should assume that all defense-related activity…[will] occur completely in the open from this point forward.

This information revolution…is leading to the ‘generalized…erosion or dissolution of traditional authority structures’…[so] populist civil unrest is likely…in Western homelands, including inside the United States…[so] unwise not to recognize that they will mutate, metastasize, and manifest differently over time.’

The U.S. [is]…especially vulnerable to the breakdown of ‘traditional authority structures…[as] increasingly exposed to…an erosion of security from individuals and small groups of motivated actors, leveraging the conflu­ence of hyperconnectivity, fear, and increased vulner­ability to sow disorder and uncertainty. This intensely disorienting and dislocating form of resistance to author­ity…can create effects that appear substantially out of proportion to the origin…or scale of the proximate hazard or threat’….

[T]he role of the US government [is]…fomenting such endemic distrust, through its own policies…[and] the most dangerous drivers…of civil unrest and mass destabilization…. are different categories of fact….

  • ’[F]act-free’, defined as information that undermines ‘objective truth’damaging to America’s global reputation.
  • ‘Fact-inconvenient’ information [is]…exposure of ‘details that, by implication, un­dermine legitimate authority and erode the relationships between governments and the governed’ — facts, for instance, that reveal how government policy is corrupt, incompetent or undemocratic.
  • ’Fact-perilous’ information refers basically to national security leaks from whistleblowers’….
  • ‘Fact-toxic’ information pertains to actual truths…‘exposed in the absence of context’, and…poison ‘important political discourse’…[and] most potent in triggering…civil unrest, because it ‘… fatally weakens foundational security…to trigger viral or contagious insecurity across or within borders and between or among peoples.’….

[Odd that] spread of ‘facts’ challenging the legitimacy of American empire is a major driver of its decline: not the actual behavior…which such facts point to….

[Pentagon’s] two solutions to the information threat.

  1. The first is to make better use of U.S. mass surveillance capabilities, which are…‘most sophisticated and inte­grated intelligence complex in world’…. Pentagon officials need to simply accept…American citizens, and…public opinion and perceptions will increasingly become battlefields’….
  2. expanding the U.S. military…[so] it can preserve ‘maximum freedom of action’, and…‘dictate or hold significant sway over outcomes in international disputes’….

[So] ‘defence’ is thus re-framed as the capacity…to get one’s way — anything [else]…[is] threat that deserves to be attacked…[in] this new era of ‘Persistent Conflict 2.0’…between US-led capitalist globalization, and anyone who resists it. And to win [needs]…consolidating the U.S. intelligence complex and using it more ruthlessly; intensifying mass surveillance and propaganda…[and] expanding U.S. military cloutto forestall or…reverse outright failure in the most critical regions’….

[This] amplify precisely the same policies that have contributed to the destabilization of U.S. power…[and] a breakdown in trust with governments since the 2008 financial collapse and the ensuing ongoing period of…economic failure….

A large body of data demonstrates that the escalating risks to U.S. power have come…from the very manner in which U.S. power has operated… as a direct consequence of deep-seated flaws in the structure, values and vision of that order….

[So] study’s conclusions are less a reflection of the actual state of the world, than of the way the Pentagon sees itself and the world[and]…utter inability to recognize…itself in systematically pursuing a wide range of policies over the last several decades which have contributed directly to the very instability it now wants to defend against….[A] monumental and convenient rejection of any sense of responsibility for what happens in the world….

What is needed instead is a systems-oriented approach based on evaluating not just the Pentagon’s internal beliefs…[but] independent scientific evidence…to test the extent to which those beliefs withstand rigorous scrutiny…[opening] the door to a very different scenario… rather than reinforcing the same stale failed strategies of the past….

DoD officials see anything which competes with or undermines American capitalism as a clear and present danger. But nothing put forward in this document will actually contribute to slowing the decline of U.S. power….As we move deeper into the ‘post-primacy’ era, the more meaningful question…[is] as the empire falls, lashing out in its death throes, what comes after?https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/pentagon-study-declares-american-empire-is-collapsing-746754cdaebf

Find more of my ideas on Medium at, A Passion to Evolve.
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Doc Huston