Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Power of Attention

We are a naturally short-sighted species, as are brains are easily distracted by shiny things and seeking immediate gratification. As such, many of us feel power when we command the attention of others, for good or for ill. The sensationalistic news often seeks out the most dramatic stories, which an inspire copycats. From serial killers to mass murderers to terrorists to petty criminals, infamy is a common motivator.

Other times, it can be a positive force. Whistleblowers, protestors, and activists can rise to power from a single example. Corruption and incompetence often backfire in the faces of those who fear scrutiny. While the Internet seems to be moving towards encryption, cameras and other technologies can also allow the corrupt to be spied upon. The protector caste is held accountable when they are on record.

At the same time, the idea of privacy is instinctively appealing. Politicians are quick to notice this. I imagine a civil libertarian movement could only strengthen as Millennials grow to voting age and the Terror State wanes. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A Handful of Dust

"I will show you fear in a handful of dust." -T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land"

A recent technology shows a way of (relatively) non-invasively modifying brain. Imagine if microparticles were manufactured and covered in proteins that allow it to bypass the blood brain barrier after consuming it orally. Couple that with a hat-mounted transducer, and you'd possibly have a way to zap the pain and pleasure centers of the brain (amongst other ones). From there, Pavlovian conditioning could turn one into a nearly zombie-like servant. What could possibly go wrong? 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Cascades of Failure

The malaise in the air is not merely constrained to one side of the Atlantic. Writer Charles Stross has similar feelings in the UK. While the conspiracy sites and cranks have been at it for decades, they do inadvertently provide a venue for certain types of news before the mainstream media diverts them to the masses. Things like the NDAA, LIBOR scandal, surveillance, and other stories all filtered through the alternative media before the mainstream one picked it up.

Imagine the headlines if it did: Centuries of legal tradition abolished! Democracy in death throes! Republics turning into hollow counterparts of themselves. (And so on.) Even if they did, however, there is a fundamental thing that many of the conspiracy sites miss (such as the unwittingly hilarious Alex Jones show): this is a systemic decline. The various scandals are just the symptoms of a larger issue, systemic decline and cascading failure. Attempts to fix the system from within often amount to putting a bandage on a terminal cancer patient. 

Resource depletion, escapism in all its forms (such as utopian wishing and dystopian nihilism), wars, unrest, and the like are stirring this up. There is no single mastermind behind it. There are a small clade of professional parasites that benefit from the ride down (police state shills, plutocrats, neocons, investment bankers, lawyers, lobbyists), but locking them up would be largely symbolic. A better approach could be to invest in what comes next: relocalized production of food, energy, and manufacture. Networked communities largely leaving each other on their own (but still assisting each other), rather than nation-states (although smaller nations, city-states, and microstates make economic/political sense).

It is not the end of the world, despite what the dying Boomers think. As the world economy flies off the rails, the answer is not to double down on failed policies. It is to step back, and focus on what truly matters: home, friends, and building a place welcoming to both. It is not the Apocalypse, but Ragnarok. A new world awaits on the other side.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Process of Perversion

Continuing with last week's theme of regulatory capture, I mused on the process itself. A robust institution may maintain several failsafes in case of abuse. In a free society, this often comes in the form of transparency from the public and press. The judicial and legal branches (in theory) act as ways to ensure the social contract. Security forces exist to enforce the laws of the land and protect citizens. These institutions essentially go mad, as catabolism wracks the system. We live in such a time where most of these had failed. The security system has become an end, rather than a means of defense. In an age of enforced frailty, the best defense is resilience, and opting out whenever one can.