We are told that the Internet is forever. The global system today is already so vast and complex that no one can map it, and no one knows what comprises all of its processors (aka bit shifters) and data storage repositories (aka bit buckets). So we can think of entries like these as being squirreled away in some bucket(s) somewhere, perhaps purposely archived, but most certainly forgotten. And then in some distant future a sentient sapience may come upon it accidentally or in the process of researching the happenings and attitudes of ancient times. In that spirit, I send them greetings from this last great century of Man.
Today the world is tightly interconnected. By this I mean that for those who pay attention, a significant event in one part of the world can be quickly known by everyone in the world. And this goes also for most of the not so significant happenings. What we have called western civilization is in retreat – its cultures, values, mores, and beliefs rapidly and compliantly transforming as more aggressive civilizations, once great then declined, are reasserting themselves. In the ‘west’ wholesale dumbth (q.v.) is the new modus vivendi.
America’s Great Experiment is on the verge of massive failure. Everywhere we look, ‘Can Man govern himself?’ is answered in the negative. We are beyond the tipping point in the sense that the normal correctives of governance that restored stability in the past are now inoperative, and if the legacy of the Founders’ ideas are to be restored, it will be through a yet to be determined catharsis. And the more likely result of such a catharsis will not be a restoration but a fundamental transformation, already an adopted objective of many who still call themselves Americans.
The throngs who actively cheer or quietly acquiesce to a centrally planned collectivist future share a bewildered view of what is now happening around them. In the large, America’s citizenry is beyond the reach of reasoned discussion because our educational system has systematically excised the tools of critical thought from the minds of two successive generations, replacing such formerly taught tools with a relatively small collection of politically correct populist slogans that require no higher than brain stem processing. The record of this cognitive catastrophe has been documented over the last four decades by our National Center for Educational Statistics under the Department of Education (see the much renamed embarrassment currently labeled ‘National Assessment of Adult Literacy’).
Today we are in what a miniscule fraction of our population recognizes as the pre-Singularity years. Those of us in that cohort strongly believe that we are on the verge of an emerging machine super-intelligence that will change (or perhaps terminate) human history. In the preamble to such a Singularity event, our technology is advancing in a pell mell fashion on many fronts. The most visible effects of this advance are the worldwide displacements of human labor by capital that commands the development, acquisition, and emplacement of smart machines to do the former work of humans, and, more importantly, new work now critical to our societies that humans cannot do.
But a more important focus is on the loss of jobs that humans can do, especially those like sewing garments in which humans have excelled. Today most of such labor is expended in Asian sweatshops offering jobs which lift the poor and hopeless to a steady income, perhaps the first in their lives. But that is not for long, for robots have been encroaching on those sweat shops and manufactories for the last several years. And now we hear of a breakthrough wherein a British university has announced the development of a robot that can do the most difficult of the operations – sew two loose, irregularly shaped pieces of cloth together with speed and precision which human seamstresses cannot match. The warning bells are already sounding in Bangladesh, possibly the poorest of the Asians making clothes for the world.
Today Bangladeshi manufacturers are replacing their higher paid humans with machines that pattern, cut, and transport clothing pieces to human seamstresses. Given their expressed interest in robot seamstresses, tomorrow they will replace the remaining humans in short order. Of interest will be the reaction of the west’s collectivists who have decried Asian sweatshop working conditions. Now all of those working conditions will go out the window along with the work. But few expect the displaced workers to take quietly to their new redundancy. There will be a resurgence of luddite riots in such countries with industries that for a few years offered the hope of steady work for cheap labor, and then were forced to withdraw it as technology advanced yet again.
The Asian manufacturers will enjoy very short celebrations as they automate. Unless they are located near the source of their raw materials, there will be every reason to remove the manufacturing nearer to the sales and consumption locales of their finished products. In America some are already dancing in the street that manufacturing that departed forty years ago is coming back home. Note that I said ‘manufacturing’ and not ‘manufacturing jobs’. Even though the dollar value of manufacturing has been increasing, its fraction of GDP has been flat for the last fifty years. And during this interval manufacturing jobs have decreased from 25% of the non-farm workforce to less than 10%.
However, productivity has continued its slow but measured pace upward without much increase in the average wage of the workers. All this to the consternation and amazement of our economists who may be the most attended and overrated profession in our society. The explanation stares them in the face, but is unacceptable to many of them because they ignore the real impact of technology acceleration AND the intrusive bumbling hand of our growing government (more here).
In the interval, the collectivists have won the culture wars. Many of our high school graduates cannot read their diplomas, know literally nothing about the world around them, least of all how our government in constituted and functions under the US Constitution. Their knowledge base consists of a few disparate slogans about the environment, racial discrimination, the evils of capitalism, and an almost pathogenic sensitivity to new ideas. A small fraction of them are prepared for a four-year college, and almost all of them have to go through remedial courses to teach them what they should have learned in junior high school.
In college these young people encounter a cadre of professors steeped in the politically correct manners and means to play into their ignorant and sensitive charges. The less prepared teachers today encounter students who will complain bitterly and report them to the administration if they are exposed to thoughts that they claim will ‘trigger’ reactions that may tarnish their preconceived view of what a fulfilling and accommodating life should be. The situation today has gotten so out of hand that even liberal professors are scouring their course contents so as to pre-emptively remove materials and references to works that may trigger career threatening reactions in their coddled young charges (more here). And, of course, the little darlings know all this, which takes an additional toll from an education that is supposed to prepare students for life in the real world.
In essence, the current state of wholesale national dumbth and demand for a secure life from an ever larger government says to many people that the liberals are victors in the War for the Soul of America (2015) as recently argued by University of Illinois historian Andrew Hartman. Dr Hartman contrasts our country today with the former “normative America” which was “an inchoate group of assumptions and aspirations shared by millions of Americans during the postwar years. Normative America prized individual merit, delayed gratification, social mobility and other values that middle-class whites recognized as their own” – values that preferred men as breadwinners and women as homemakers, sexual discretion, and faith in God and American exceptionalism.
Hartman joins many social observers of all political stripes in assigning the 1960s as the beginning of the culture wars and the Götterdämmerung of Normative America. The defeat of Normative America was overseen by US Presidents from both parties, but its real energy was sustained by years of federal liberal leadership and social programs issuing from a Democrat led Congress. So now we are beyond the tipping point with national authors like Charles Murray (By the People, 2015) educating readers to how we got here, and laying out a schema for a non-violent revolution at the grass roots level to remake the federal government.
And in that same vein others are asking where do we go from here - what strategy should we fashion and follow into our future? Ian Bremmer, political scientist and global risk strategist at Time, offers answers in his Superpower: Three choices for America’s role in the world (2015). We can become “Independent America” and withdraw as the world’s policeman, minding our own affairs as we minimize our military and concentrate on developing our internal potential. Or “Moneyball America” is our second choice wherein we develop our military and fight terrorism as an equal with a contingent of the willing while wheeling and dealing on the international scene to serve our economic and political interests. Everyone else in our alliance will be doing the same – sort of ‘one for all, and all for one’.
Finally, we may choose to become the “Indispensible America” and make an all-in commitment to international leadership because only we have the means to institute global power balance and create a stable environment for international trade. In short, we will remain the world’s sheriff and become more so to “promote and protect” American values globally. One critic and columnist has asked why can’t we pick and assemble various aspects from Column A and Column B and … . Our federal government meanwhile keeps its own counsel, telling neither its citizens nor its allies what our intent or direction should be. (more here)
The problem with all those thoughts are that most of these pundits – but not all; see Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies - don’t acknowledge the systemic changes occurring during these pre-Singularity years and the approaching tsunami of the Singularity itself. I write this during a period in which the United States has demonstrated itself to be ineffective in reviving itself from a self-inflicted recession/depression, and continues to be a feckless global player while our enemies are queueing up to change the world order as my fellow Americans indulge themselves in their immediate pursuit of bread and circuses.