Saturday, August 26, 2006

What Shock is Enough?

Tigerhawk asked the question: What will it take to militarize the West?

Whoa. … That’s a real porcupine, that one. I noticed that no one in the comments section was actually answering the question, and for a very good reason. The premises and implications are much more interesting, although the actual question is not without its charm.

Are We Ready?

First of all, we see the implication that our current state of readiness does not satisfy the definitional requirements, in the Tigerhawk mind, of militarization. It is true that we are not prepared to confront the Cold War Soviet Army as it pours through the Fulda Gap, at least not in the same way. Please note that the Red Army no longer shows the same bellicosity that it did in the fifties. Our state of readiness with respect to the People’s Republic of China is, admittedly, a matter of debate. Thomas Barnett, at least, does not see a modern PRC threat, but it could be and has been argued that the threat is not being adequately addressed. Is this what Tigerhawk is talking about? What conceivable threat is there on this planet that could challenge our military as it stands today? I think we all know what he is thinking. He is looking at the Muslim World and counting heads. One billion Muslims against a mere 300 million Americans, weak, unprotected, soft Americans, not to mention the fifth column in the Heartland.

Americans did not show themselves to be inadequate to the task in World War II. We may have started out soft, unprepared and maybe undernourished, but we prevailed, and IMO, we could have prevailed alone if it had been necessary. The longer we waited, however, the worse it would have been. OK, as Tigerhawk implies in his question, there was Pearl Harbor, which bolted us out of our self-absorbed torpor. If it hadn’t been for that, would we have ever confronted the evil in time? The fundamental time limitation was the Bomb, which Hitler might have built. We, meaning the government, didn’t really understand that limitation until the war had already started. The People didn’t know about it until Hiroshima. Would we have acted differently if we had?

If not for Pearl Harbor, what would it have taken for us to militarize the West in those days? We should question the premise. In fact, we were already doing a lot, especially for Britain. We should have done it sooner, but we were already making war by proxy. We had already started drafting soldiers of our own. We had already started marching them up and down with wooden rifles, and we were already producing real guns as fast as we could. In short, the people in charge were taking appropriate, if inadequate, action. Pearl Harbor was a shock, but it wasn’t really a surprise. My point is that we are in the habit of being ready.

I had an old friend, long dead I’m afraid, who claimed he was working as an Army officer in Louisiana with General Patton some time before the War. He was perfecting a technique of attacking an enemy line with tanks under deliberate friendly artillery fire. The idea was that the suppressing fire would cause fewer casualties than the Germans could if they were allowed to approach the tanks. My friend explained that they gamed with sacks of white powder rather than real shells. (He also claimed that the concept was his idea and Patton stole it without credit.) The point being, we knew the nature of the battle that was coming, we knew who the enemy was and we were planning for that war.

OK, are we as tough today as we were then? Military types have always been inclined to pooh-pooh the qualities of today’s young soldiers. I’m sure a similar tale is inscribed on a pyramid somewhere. My father was an officer in WWII, and I remember his descriptions of the conscripts. Even if he were exaggerating, our young civilians would have to make much better soldiers than those guys. They are, today, healthier, stronger, smarter and better educated by far. If nothing else, they know what war is about. They have watched a hundred war movies and played paintball and videogames since they were two. I know they can’t track a boar through the woods, but they have played on the streets in some tough neighborhoods. Watching the performance of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think our young people are plenty tough enough.

I know our leaders seem like a gaggle of dunderheads, but they have in fact been making appropriate and more than adequate preparations. What worried Eisenhower was the extravagance of these preparations and the associated corruption. We have been preparing for dozens of different wars in the abstract. We have developed whole sciences out of strategy, logistics and communications, not to mention hardware. We outspend the rest of the world by some multiple that I don’t really care to know precisely. Bad things happen in the government. People are sloppy, corrupt, self-ambitious and stupid, but people have not been sitting on their hands.

I’m sad to say that we do not have universal conscription, like the Swiss and the Israelis, but take heart in this. The reason a nation wins wars rests in the power of its economy, not in the size of its Army. We beat the Nazis with factories more than guns. If I have any worries about the readiness of our military today, it has to do with the rough treatment that our economy has received at the hands of a Republican administration and our continuing foolish dependence on oil.

Do We Need More Military?

The second premise in Tiger Hawk’s question is that we need to improve our military in order to withstand the onslaught of the madmen of the Middle East. This idea is absurd. For one thing, with the exception of Iran and Syria, these countries are our allies! The governments of Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are just as uncomfortable with the lunatics in their midsts as we are. They are all living on the brink of chaos, but we are helping them hold it together and they are helping us. Iraq and Afghanistan require constant attention, and will require attention for many years to come, but only because of the objectives of the operation and the rules of engagement. These battles have been won, though perhaps not as neatly as we would like. The only place, the only place, we can lose them is in the living rooms of America. The financial cost is very high, but we can afford it (or we could if politicians had the guts to raise taxes). The cost in lives is painful but light when viewed with some historical perspective. The cost in military capacity is, as far as I can tell, non-existent.

Think about it. While we have been fighting in Iraq non-stop, we have been improving everything that gets sent over there, building better barracks, better armor, better medical facilities. Am I wrong? We helped out in a big way in Indonesia during the tsunami crisis in Indonesia and sent, I don’t know, was it hundreds of helicopters to Pakistan after the big earthquake in Kashmir – not to mention the supplies themselves. These were logistical triumphs. We were there firstest with the mostest at four places on the far side of the world, and we had sufficient resources to monitor N. Korea, persuade the PRC to stay out of Taiwan and man the biergartens in Germany. Contrary to the urban legend, we also had a strong and competent military response in the aftermath of Katrina. Did you know that somebody is dealing with the pirates off of Somalia and in the Malacca Straits? Who do you suppose that is?

I believe that, depending on the rules of engagement, we also have the military capacity to do whatever we want to Iran. That’s the point. We don’t have the desire to do anything to Iran. We want to do something for Iran, which is a more complicated problem, just as it is in Iraq and Afghanistan. Addressing our problems with the current government of Iran requires us, once again, to adjust the thinking in the living rooms of America. The President’s hands are tied at the present time. Americans, frankly, trust the Mullahs more than the Bushes, and that is the concern that motivates Tigerhawk’s question. Most people are not particularly afraid of Iranian nukes because 1) they don’t believe it, and 2) we lived with the Soviet’s nukes for a long time. People are, however, afraid of our own government because, time and time again, it deceives us and tries to circumscribe our freedoms.

Is There a Threat?

The People of the US are truly in charge. But their judgment is poor and our representatives know it. The two reasons that the government deceives us and hides its actions are 1) to do the right thing and 2) to do the wrong thing. The right thing is, unfortunately, preparing for war. The wrong thing is the usual nonsense about lining pockets and earmarks. Does the wrong thing involve massive conspiracies that run over decades? I say hogwash again. The government is disperse, inept and lethargic. The Press is invasive and energetic. Secrets have a half-life measured in minutes unless they are plainly justified. Guys like the junior senator from Wisconsin are aberrations. But even there, think about what he was doing. He was representing a significant sentiment of the American People. Our government is not the problem.

What is the right thing with regard to so-called Islamic fascism? First of all, let me assure you that I think the threat is very real. I think that most of us, at least on the liberal side, underestimate the extent of the threat drastically.

Some see our own country as the bigger threat. This is based, for the most part, on historical misinterpretations of US actions in the past. These misinterpretations stem fromthe secretive nature of the Cold War and the residue of liberal myopia toward the evils of World Communism. Another issue is the liberal suspicion of bias and reactionary scheming. We see racism, sexism and challenges to the Bill of Rights behind every tree. We see Big Money interests behind every door in Washington. This is all, well almost all, hypersensitive reactions to the chronic patterns of government. Today, whenever a politician is caught in a crime, it is almost always penny-ante chiseling, sex and drugs, or questionable campaign finance activities. Power trips are the coin of the realm, but guys like J. Edgar Hoover and McCarthy are rare, and Nixon’s crime was just a juggling act to cover up the aforementioned campaign finance activities. Even he wanted to do the right thing. The paranoid scenarios about Bushhitlerchimp parceling out Iraqi oil rights to his Big Oil buddies contain no truth. Wag the Dog is only a movie. Impotence is the big problem with our government.

In fact, radical Islam is a highly contagious memeplex. It has the dangerous glimmer of religious madness, madness that has conquered the world in the past. We think we are above this today because we, in the US and Europe, have such strong countermemes. Naziism and Communism were similar memeplexes. I don’t have to tell you how dangerous they were. Christianity has been the same, but is now partial to civilized norms. Contrary to our contented assumption of homogenous goodwill, however, we actually have so many different radical groups in the United States that they almost cancel each other out – not that they don’t keep the FBI busy. It has always been this way. We are constantly juggling with live coals, but never catching fire.

Islam, however, has breached our shores without suffering our history. The countermemes are not yet in place. There are large populations in Western countries that have no loyalty to the West. There are many more whose first loyalty is to Islam. I, personally, don’t like this at all, but it is really nothing new. We have Amish and Hutterites and Hasidics and, presumably, polygamist Mormons who feel the same way. We also have terror groups who use violence to further their goals, such as white supremacists, PETA activists, Earth Firsters, anti-abortion extremists and homophobics with poor impulse control. So why is radical Islam any different?

It is different because some of the core values of the religion are antithetical to western ideals. It is different because the Islamic population in the West is no longer small and is growing fast. The interface is under tremendous stress. It is different because it is new to us. It is new and attractive, it is new and frightening, and its tendencies are not completely understood. Muslims, whether immigrant or not, find the West to be new and confusing and threatening as well. The money and values of the West, and the prominent decorative aspects of our civilization, are squeezing out traditions that have been very resistant to change. We, in the West, have already been through those changes, with comparable resentment, but the changing is largely complete.

So, Islam is not comfortable with us. Its discomfort is conducive to the spread of Radical Islam, which is different than all our other ideological enemies today. It is a committed, passionate, devious and intelligent enemy. We, on the other hand, are still mostly indifferent to this enemy, not caring, not believing, not respecting, all this despite 911. This is precisely what Tigerhawk is talking about. If 911 didn’t wake us up, what will? He sees that we have not yet made the kind of commitment that Pearl Harbor engendered.

How Should We Respond?

We are presently seeing concerted efforts to have the Secretary of Defense fired. Everyone from Joe Lieberman to John McCain is calling for it. Leftish Democrats would like to see him shot. Yet it is this same individual who has given us the clearest summation of the threat. We can kill a hundred terrorists a day but get nowhere if the Madrassas are pumping out a thousand. So what do we think he’s doing about it? And what should he be doing about it?

I have discovered, in my random walk around the Internet, that the Left gives me very little insight into the conduct of the War. There is a lot of accusation, but very little illumination, heavy on the diatribes. There are some individuals, members of the military analysis genre of blogs, who consistently surprise and educate me. Many of the accusations from the Left turn out to be baseless. Much of the speculation of the other group turns out to be true, at least as far as I am able to evaluate it. The fact that I am still learning from the one group, but not the other, leads me to believe that there is a great deal of hidden strategy yet to be learned. In other words, the Government is not showing all its cards. It has plans. It has strategies. It understands thereal root causes and is taking steps to address them. These actions may be expensive and may not be. They may involve building hospitals in Sudan or training bumblebees to locate minefields or writing inspirational songs in Farsi. I don’t know what the steps are. I have confidence that something is being done. I hope it doesn’t involve invading Cambodia and leaving the Khmer Rouge in charge, but I trust the Administration to make wise decisions.

So what should our response be? It should be to let the President, no, help the President to do his job. Encourage him to pursue the policy he had laid out in the Bush Doctine. He’s no genius, but he has some pretty bright people working for him. If he has the elbowroom he will make the right choices, choose the right weapons, make credible threats and impose painful punishments. If he has the support, he will do the right thing. Remember. Like it or not, we elected a President. If he doesn’t have the authority to do his job, we have no government at all. I think we need one about now.

But Iraq, you say, is not Radical Islam. Fair enough. It was, however, a fascist state. For me, that is reason enough to have it overthrown. Bush would never have done it without 911. He looked at the Middle East and saw a thousand more 911s in the making. What to do?

Iraq was actually a bulwark against radical Islam. Saddam flirted with it, but he only let it out for his own purposes. His cynical group had no interest in such things. His rules of engagement were such that these fanatics were no threat to him. But Bush was repulsed by the future he saw over there. Eternal repression, limitless cruelty. The only hope he could see for the Arabs was for us to share our vision, to give them the understanding of what is possible, to show them the way out of the choice between fascist tyranny and the consequences of religious absolutism. Our way is a better way. Denying that is after the 20th century is not rational, and failure to intervene in Iraq was almost morally unjustifiable. It was not a hard decision to turn it into a project, a demonstration project. We are going to turn Iraq into a modern democracy that will be characterized by liberty and tolerance. Or at least, we are going to turn it into a place than can eventually mold itself into such a paragon.

So, What Will It Take to Militarize the West?

Let us rephrase the question thusly: What will it take for the peoples of the West to truly recognize the threat of Radical Islam and to allow appropriate action to be taken? I think that’s what Tigerhawk really should be asking. Because, what does military development really mean in such asymmetrical warfare? What does it mean in the Hobbesian world of Iraq? What actions correspond to mobilization when there are no targets? And how can we respond when we don’t know what the outcome will be? We don’t even know what the desired outcome could be. So how do we know we even need to respond?

There are lots of people trying to clarify these issues, but willful partisan blindness keeps us from settling on consensus policies.

Here’s how it’s going to be settled, and Tigerhawk knows it. There will be further incidents. Despite the best efforts of our government agencies, some dramatic and tragic event will take place. Our defense is persistent, but their offense is more so. When they get so many shots on goal, they will eventually score, and somebody’s death will serve as an irrefutable message, a clarification of implacable intent. It could be Salmon Rushdie or Bruce Willis. It could be children in a grade school as it was in Chechnya. It could be a nuclear power plant or the Golden Gate. Something will happen. And if it doesn’t do the job, then something else will happen. Eventually we will get the message that these people do not want to be our friends.

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At Saturday, August 26, 2006 2:23:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

That's a big topic with chaotic underpinnings.

I like the way you've laid out your thoughts and hopes in response to the question of militarization of the west. I hope things turn out the way you project. At least the succession of events you foresee will mean that humanity is still muddling along, other pressing global issues notwithstanding.

At risk of going off topic, it's the accumulation of other global issues that leads me to a hopelessness and resignation in which islamic radicalism is just a sideshow.

I think you give government more credit for wisdom and foresight than it deserves. I'm not able to trust it. If wisdom and foresight were chracteristics of our government then things would be much different today than we find them. To list just a few in no particular order:
o - there would be an orderly and rational guest worker program and effective border control
o - there would be no prohibition industry and the drug problem would be far less costly is fiscal and societal terms
o - we would cultivate the friendship of other nations instead of bullying our way around the globe
o - we would have meaningful application of capital punishment
o - we'd have recognized Jimmy Carter's moral equivalent of war and acted accordingly
o - we might have a better electoral system
o - we might be thinking about the consequences of steady growth instead of anticipating exploitation of the polar regions, the demise of the Amazon and accelerated fouling of the atmosphere
o - we might not have already lost most of the large fish in the oceans
o - and so on and so on

I can't seem to treat of any one of these in isolation. It's not that radical islam, say, has anthing necessarily to do with environmental depredation. Anthing, that is, aside from the root cause: too many humans pushing far beyond the conditions they evolved for.

Maybe I should stop here. I'm appraching the question of at what point genocide becomes rational, necessary and even moral. Maybe some other day. Instead, I'm asking myself if I shouldn't just delete this comment rather than pollute your blog with my negativity.

What would you have done?

At Monday, August 28, 2006 7:26:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Steve, I really appreciate the fact that you responded to my post. I was struggling with it for a week. I felt that it was disconnected, unclear and vulnerable to misinterpretation. I posted it mostly to get it out of the hopper. Your response, far from being off topic, addresses precisely the issues that need to be expressed.

The government is indeed inadequate to the tasks before it. That is the most important fact we need to understand. But it does have the virtue of being a legitimate, democratically elected government. The main reason that it does not address the problems appropriately is because of stupidity on the part of the public and lack of trust in the government.

People say that benign dictatorship is the best form of government, thinking about the good emperors of Rome, I suppose. The problem is that dictatorship is the end of an "electoral" process designed to find an individual most capable of imposing order. This is not really a good thing. Our government, on the other hand, is the end product of a process that chooses those who are most capable of appeasing the greatest number of citizens. Not a good thing either. Dictators do it by maximum force against dissenters as well as bread and circuses for the masses. Democratic governments do it by diversion, smoke and mirrors, deception, and by creating the best policy that is politically possible.

Now, let us decide that we can no longer afford the best of the politically possible policies. We have discovered, at least those who are interested in the outcome rather than the process, that many wrong choices are obviously being made and enforced by our government. These choices are often choices that nobody wants. They are not even compromises. I'm thinking about the continual deficit spending, the dependence on foreign oil, the drug war, corporate welfare, destruction of the Commons, whatever.

Having made the decision that we must have the best policies rather than the possible, what should we do. Well, we have to determine what it is about good policies that make them politically impossible. The answer seems to be that the government does not have the capacity to explain why policies are good. Since the people, dispersed, have a limited capacity to understand complex issues, small interest blocs can sabotage any government effort by creating simplistic memes that counter any complex reasoning. Since the people do not trust the government, there is no way to work around this problem. Bush has done so on Iraq by brute force alone, but his capacity to act is shrinking. Political capital is a real thing. It is the length of rope you have earned before the public pulls you up short. A wrong word, an unfortunate event, a clever political cartoon, all can shorten that rope.

So what happens if the govt. initiates a sensible policy? All the parasites begin jumping in. OK they say, you are going to build a levee for New Orleans, then you've got to build a bridge for me. Then the money gets placed in the hands of people who have been elected for a big smile rather than accounting skills.

Why does that diversion of funds occur? Yeah, Yeah. Politicians are crooks, but the real reason is that we, the Public, aren't watching. We don't know where to watch. We don't know what to look for. Somebody does though -- persons X, Y and Z. Why aren't they in charge of looking? Well, because person A, B, and C (Army Corps, Brown and Chertov maybe?) were promoted over those folks. So, why did that happen? Everybody says self-interest, political connections, deceit and personality. Yes that's true too, but why does that matter. Once again because we aren't watching and because we can't watch and because we just aren't smart enough alone, and because nobody would listen anyway.

Now we're getting closer to the real problem that needs to be fixed.

At Wednesday, August 30, 2006 3:39:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Well, I'm glad you didn't find my negative comment offensive.

If I understood your reply correctly, the problem that needs to be fixed has to do with people's inattention, and capacity for attention. We need to be watching what goes on, but we don't, in part because we can't. Yes? To that I might add that people with various vested interests do their best to distract us, but that would probably just a small part of the problem.

One of the blogs I read regularly is by a smart guy in the public health field. (Anybody can claim anything on the internet, of course, but I looked around a bit and am pretty sure this guy is what he says he is.) His blog, Stayin' Alive, is one of my regular stops. In today's post he mentions changes that were brought about in various fields while he was a youngster, to which his first commenter replies that things have to get a lot worse before they can get better, that back then things must have been relatively worse, and that back then there was the draft to grease the skids, to amplify the worseness if you will. I'm paraphrasing but that's the gist of it, I think.

I wish I'd kept a copy of a cartoon I saw some time back. A guy in a white coat is looking at a blueprint for an enormously complex space vehicle. In the center somewhere is an empty box with the words, "Star Drive Goes Here". I'm afraid that's where we are. All kinds of people have all kinds of good ideas and intentions, but we don't even know how to spec the star drive.

I've been in trouble with my family in the past over my negativity (which I think of as realism, of course). My Mother loved Man of La Mancha, especially the song "To Dream the Impossible Dream". She felt strongly that tilting at windmills was more honorable than not tilting at them. She was very idealistic that way. She was a gentle soul and people loved her. I'm not wired that way. I think that sometimes tilting at windmills is harmful.

I have to go right now, so I'll just try to tie this together later on. If anything jumps out at you in the meantime, please go ahead, but, do you see a star drive or the possibility of one?

At Thursday, August 31, 2006 12:09:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Yes, I do see a stardrive, which is why I keep posting. Unfortunately, I'm the only one to whom it is obviously a stardrive. Others see it as a child's toy perhaps, with arbitrarily unusual fixtures.

Many of my posts are addressing the concept from different angles. What I hope for is that other folks will spontaneously arrive at a similar conclusion. It would be even better if they came up with an alternative and superior model, which they might not do if I gave them the specific plans.

One thing I try to do is point out what is wrong and right with the current model. These issues are widely recognized, but people shrug them off with fatalism, a disfunctional attitude.

Don Quixote was an admirable madman. I admire him, but I hope not to be him. For me, as I have mentioned before, the person to emulate is Chuck Yeager, as portrayed in The Right Stuff. IMO, Apollo 13 tells another inspirational story comparable to our present set of predicaments. The engineers were the real heros of that tale. Al Gore, despite his failings, apparently comes from the Yeager mold. I admire him as well. He's doing a wonderful job, but he's only doing the straightforward, appeal to the people approach.

I have failings of my own and none of Gore's strengths, so I need to go after the problem in different ways, the best ways I can come up with for now.

The crux of my thinking is that the current governmental mechanism is prevented, by natural system failings, from implementing ascertainably correct policies. You and I know that the Drug War is a bust, that Global Warming is real, and that cigarettes are bad for you. Most people either understand these sorts of issues, or could understand them if they were hooked in correctly. Why can't they find consensus? Members of my own family doubt the Theory of Evolution. Since this is such a big part of my mental life, it shocks me. I can't convince them, and they can't be convinced because they are hooked into an incomplete, semi-detached, corrupted deferrence network. How can we change the interfaces to make the six degrees of separation work for us?

At Thursday, August 31, 2006 5:52:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I think you'd keep posting, JJ, even if you didn't see a star drive, because you enjoy the exercise. Am I wrong?

> Why can't they find consensus?
> ... they can't be convinced
> because they are hooked into
> an incomplete, semi-detached,
> corrupted deferrence network.
> How can we change the interfaces
> to make the six degrees of
> separation work for us?

Six degrees or a thousand, I don't know. I used to think that the flattening and acceleration of memeflow (I hate that word but it seems to work) that the Internet presents would bring us nearer to what I think you might be driving at. For the past couple of years, though, I've been thinking (and seeing, I think) that Cas Sunstein was right in worrying that it might actually lead the other way through facilitation of the Daily Me, in which the internet experience is egocentric and one becomes insulated from views other than those one wants.

I read an article a couple of months back about a day not too far off (assuming scientific and technical advances continue on their accelerating way) when a person's brain will be subject to enhancement by, say, injection of gazillions of nanothings that go to the brain and, shazam, you're a lot smarter. When I try to think about what the first enhanced ones might then do, the main thought I get is "Watch out below!"

Maybe I just lack imagination, but I don't see the star drive emerging from the Internet, and it doesn't seem particularly useful to count on future scientific developments. Am I even close to what you have in mind? I think maybe you're being too subtle for me.

I enjoyed The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, and admire guys like Chuck Yeager, too, but I'm not sure I would agree that there's a parallel there with today's set of predicaments. Today's predicaments require more than straightforward technical solutions (however challenging). I like the way Hardin termed what seems to be needed today: a fundamental extension in morality.

I think we may differ on fatalism. You write that fatalism is a disfunctional attitude, whereas I'd allow for resignation as a reasonable response to one's honest assessment of a situation. I don't think Pianka, for instance, is being fatalistic; I think he's resigned to what he sees ahead. Valid distinction?

At Monday, September 04, 2006 1:11:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Getting smarter individually is not going to help us at all. If we want to make our bodies stronger, do we try to make our cells grow larger?

The marginal rate of return on the increased horsepower for the cognition engine has peaked long since, and we may actually be backing off a bit. I am suspicious of the Singularity concept. Actual mental performance is a product of many things, especially the social environment, and besides, mental performance is not the area where we are lacking. The catalytic power of leadership should prove to you that EQ trumps IQ in most situations.

We in the US, wisely, do not trust leadership anyway, and we have done everything in our power to design a system that controls its impact. Unfortunately, that leaves us with a least-common-denominator approach to problem solving. Only the simple memes can rule, because the People impose the outcome.

Good leaders have integrated worldviews with multi-faceted approaches to multiple goals. In the US, single-minded interest groups or self-interested individuals can often sabotage such sophisticated strategies because our communal self is so inadequate. We are stupid together.

We are stupid together because we rely on stupid, but eloquent people to inform us. When we hear others applaud we want to applaud as well. The span of control is so wide that our leaders have no time for us, and we get only highly processed responses to our questions -- not to mention the fact that there are shills in the audience.

The Internet is helping because there are long-term relationships among common interest peers who share complex thoughts. Deference sequences are shared efficiently through hyperlinks. You quote Pianka; I quote you; someone quotes me (I hope). Each stage is a pro/con critique summarizing and evaluating thoughts flowing outward from Pianka, presumably in many directions, hopefully adding value and personal applicability. OTOH, the Internet hurts because there are still personality cults, gurus and dittoheads.

Personally, I do think it boils down to an engineering problem -- modification of the structures and process of governance. That's what the Founders did, and I think we understand enough now that we can improve the whole system.

Fatalism is merely linking into a random, zero-feedback deference network. Que sera, sera. Resignation is the emotional privilege of someone who has fought long and hard, trying everything possible, only to fail. I do not think Pianka favors either approach. If he were truly resigned he would not be taking these big risks. He is still chipping away at the glass mountain of stupidity.

You may be right that my motives are not so straightforward as I sometimes pretend. Sometimes I'm just filling the page, fretting about nonsense, trying to relate or just trying to understand things. Mostly, though, I'm trying to persuade and teach. I do what I can, where I am, with what I have. I am bold enough to hope that it will make a difference.

At Monday, September 04, 2006 12:47:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I guess I still don't really fathom what you have in mind in the way of a star drive, JJ. What you write makes sense to me in its parts - I agree that EQ trumps IQ, least-common-denominator problem solving and so on.

(Incidentally, regarding your comment about how we are stupid together, one of my favorite movie lines is from Men In Black: "A person is smart. People are stupid." Good flick if you've not seen it.)

I hope my comment didn't come across as a criticism of your motives. No no no. I should have added a smiley after saying you enjoy the exercise (which I think you do). As for hoping it makes a difference, hear hear, me too.

You write about the Internet helping by enabling long-term links among people sharing complex thoughts. Yes, and I was a bit hasty in my earlier comment. I think Sunstein is right, but he's talking about something different from the possible emergence of some new property out of the complex, interconnected system that the Internet comprises. Emergent properties can be real enough (mind out of brain, invisible hand out of economy, who knows what all else) so it doesn't seem outlandish to think about some sort of global brain function emerging out of the relatively new complex interconnectedness of humans via (and with) machines. ?? My problem is that it's one of those future developments that I don't want to count on (at least on the global scale, and I don't yet see evidence of such a thing in present pockets of high connectivity).

Let me ask you... At one point you said you wished we trusted our leaders more. At another point you mentioned that mistrust of leaders is wise and the reason for our system of checks and balances (notwithstanding the down side of the lowest-common-denominator solutions and so on). Elsewhere you bring up single-interest groups and individuals who, along with shills in the audience, can sabotage the common good because of communal inadequacy. Presumably the engineering approach somehow deals with these issues. So the question I'm try to get at here is basically Do you advocate a diminution in liberty by some means? Should glib hacks be shut down? Ultimately, are you advocating revolution? (Smiley on that last one.)

This is tough stuff.

At Wednesday, September 06, 2006 11:04:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I guess I'm providing advice on two levels. First, today's situation: We have a very poorly constructed government, but it's the one we have. If we abuse it for pure political reasons, then we have virtually no government, or no dynamic government, only gridlock and the status quo rule of law. Elections have theoretically decided who's in charge. Rather than sandbagging them, we should be doing our best to help them.

Be honest, we don't know what's happening. Neither does the Administration, but at least they have a better shot at it. I can tell you the general outline, but it's always the same. Here it is: The Administration is doing its best as its officers see it, but it is terribly hampered by partisan sandbagging and special interest scheming and propaganda. The public gradually goes sour because of this process.

The Administration does not have access to our best and brightest people. The reasons are 1) they are on the other side, 2) they are perceived as being on the other side, 3) they cannot be trusted with a secret, 4) they are journalists and cannot shut up, 5) they are not linked into any of the networks that the Administration knows about, 6) the Administration is pursuing pre-set goals using partisan infighting methodology, and consequently do not have the luxury of soliciting advice, and 7) the Administration never has the luxury of telling the truth if they want to get anything done.

This access problem is one of the disfunctional aspects of our government. Nevertheless, it could be improved if the smartest people humbled themselves a little and offered their help in a spirit of allegiance to an elected leader. That would be before the fact rather than taking potshots afterward.

The second level of advice I am offering is how to modify the current system of governance to improve it. A prerequisite for this would be an explanation of the core, algorithmic problems with the government. Suffice it to say that the gap between the people and the government actors is too wide and all the channels of communication have inadequate bandwidth. These problems are ruthlessly exploited by both self-interested parties and by people who passionately hold contrary opinions (necessarily uninformed).

So how do we all get onto the same page? 1) We need to build integrated deference networks that will allow substantial memechunks to be traded honestly, and will allow us to interpolate trust where information cannot be shared. 2) We need to position knowledgeable people in the right place to do a better job of watching. No one should be allowed to manipulate the process without observers who recognize what's happening. 3) We need to relegate authority up the ladder with much greater firmness.

I believe that these objectives can be met through organizational means. I also think that democracy will be enhanced rather than diminished. People don't really understand what makes democracy work. California referendum votes are the exact opposite of what we need.

I have suggested that investment clubs represent organizations that we can learn from. I think we should think about the effectiveness of church organizations, the pros and cons of military organization, the functioning of revolutionary cells. The US does not need a revolution, however. We have so much we cannot afford to lose. Bad as it is, our system is historically the best on offer. Part of that is just our sheer wealth, but it is also tradition, a well-structured memeplex, and an algorithmic electoral system.

At Thursday, September 07, 2006 10:13:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Summarizing to make sure I get it right...

The first level has to do with government's lack of access to the best and brightest, for which you list several reasons (to which I might add the sacrifice of privacy, and income and there are probably others). To counter this we would appeal to the altruistic and patriotic senses of the best and brightest. Yes?

The second level deals with structural aspects of the problem, and a start would be to have everyone understand the core nature of the problem, and to lessen the distance between the governors and the governed, the better to get everyone on the same page.

To this end you list three things we need to do (the basis for which seems to me to already exist but in disfunctional states).

The first one seems to be approximated by political parties (except for the honesty and trust part).

The second could fall to AG's, SEC's, GAO's and so on, insulated somehow from the parties.

I'm not sure I followed the third action. Do you mean to give those on high more authority, or to make it easier to take them down (or something else entirely)? I suppose there could be some system where the ones on high are able to have their secret prisons if that's what they think it will take, but if they lose the confidence of the nation it should be easier to remove them. I can't quite imagine it, but is that close?

My problem is that I still don't see a star drive, just knowledge that we need one to deliver certain outcomes. That could just be my negative outlook, I suppose. What sort of reactions have you received from others?

Regarding the first prescription, I think the star drive might need to eliminate the two party system in favor of real alternative parties. Democrats and Republicans have things arranged so that third parties don't stand a chance, and loyalty is to the party over the nation. Again, maybe that's just my negativity again, but it's my perception.

With a real multi-party system the second prescription might be more likely. Maybe the SEC would have prevented Enron if they hadn't been bled to death. Maybe the IRS could prevent some of the more scandalous tax scams via a simplified tax structure instead of one reflecting every little special moneyed interest. Maybe the GAO could bury the ONDCP and the DEA by rooting out that waste for all to see.

But what do I know?

Once again I have to go right now or my wife will bounce me off the floor. I'll think about this some more.

Cheers from Phoenix! sls

At Friday, September 08, 2006 4:07:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

You don't need to appeal to altruism. There are plenty of people out there who want to help. Appealing to patriotism is a bit sticky. Such appeals are seen as dangerous, partisan and ignorant. An appeal to patriotism is an implication that someone is being unpatriotic. People who care about politics love their country and feel that the "other side" does not.

What I'm saying is that people need to recognize that hounding the other party, whether done from patriotic motives or not, is counter-productive. When successful, it dramatically limits the amount of good that a government can do. It forces the Administration to become dogmatic and insular. It severs them from the benefits of shared consultation. The consequent result of unmitigated confrontation at the national level is, in the final assessment, unpatriotic without anyone intending such a thing.

My level one prescription is that we recognize what's happening and get over it. Get rid of people like Tom Delay. Encourage people like Joe Lieberman and John McCain, and even Ted Kennedy, people who are trying to bridge the differences rather than assert control. The book Fight Club Politics presents a viewpoint on this that I share.

My level two prescription is that we build structures deliberately designed to bridge the differences at a much lower level so that an emergent leadership has already internalized and reconciled the opposing positions. As an example, such things as "safe districts" would be anathema to such a philosophy.

Districts, per se, are entirely too large, though. We need to multiply the levels in an Electoral College fashion. Today, every state is probably more populated than the original thirteen colonies. Let's split every state into thirteen and each of them into multiple town halls comparable to the colonial times. Maybe then we can know who we're voting for and maybe then people like Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, etc., can move up the ladder, instead of ... well, you know.

Cheap tricks like underfunding the SEC and handcuffing the IRS could not be done if someone knowledgable were watching and reporting to the people. Unfortunately, the way things work today, nothing of substance and truth can be "reported" to the people in such a way that they can rely on it.

The thing about authority is that we need to be able to trust the people who lead us. Government cannot take effective action today. If the proposed action is in anyway counter-intuitive or opposed to any special interest, it cannot be executed. I am for individual liberty, but protections of that liberty are weak for the same reason that every other aspect of the government is weak. How can the government prevent identity theft if the telemarketers are determining the law of the land?

At Friday, September 08, 2006 5:04:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Reactions from others?... Well, let me put it this way. I used to talk about it with friends when I was in college. They all thought I was nuts, so I stopped talking about it. Now, it's been a while since I was in college and many of my ideas have changed, but my thoughts on this subject have only been confirmed. If it's an illusion, then it's congenital. Well, my wife agrees with me, I think, but she isn't really focused on saving the world. She says she wants to make a difference in people's lives one person at a time.

But once again, I believe we can reform government so that it becomes honest and effective. That should be worth doing. It can be done using the same algorithmic approach that the founding fathers adapted. I believe there are a lot of ways to approach it, a lot of ways to move toward it. I suppose I'm selling it more as a philosophy than a blueprint for now. I have learned that it's counter-productive to impose my specific vision. The essence is, maximize diversity at the individual level, capture compromises locally, minimize political distance, communicate along pathways of enhanced trust.

At Friday, September 08, 2006 5:14:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

The two-party system is not necessarily a problem. It allows people to differ dramatically while forcing them to compromise. Compromise is the power of our republic. It's making the compromises stick that causes problems.

It would be nice to have a parliamentary system, I suppose, to allow multiple parties to express themselves, but it makes the government too unstable, always under threat. In the US, third parties are generally destructive to the system and damaging to their own interests because they are specifically disavowing compromise.

At Saturday, September 09, 2006 4:14:00 PM, Blogger Steve said...

I don't know JJ. As usual you are more hopeful and optimistic than I am. I hope you are right and that my outlook is unjustified.

I'll have to check out Fight Club Politics (I see the author has a blog on Huffington Post - maybe I should add it to my list of regular stops), but so far I just fail to see the possibility of a Star Drive.

If you feel like it, maybe you could amplify a bit on an algorithmic approach that would counter and reverse what seems to be a tendency toward more and more polarization in the country. If it's true that the republicans know how to play while the democrats are learning, all I see is more polarization down the road.

It's almost as if we need a serious common enemy, or some calamity, to undo this trend. Maybe 9/11 was such an opportunity - squandered.


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