Plato and object-oriented programming as guides to the political zeitgeist
Such a perfect analysis & metaphor written so well... I teach college composition and OSR courses contextualized for Cybersecurity, Applied A.I. and Drone (aka Transnational threats) and you have created the perfect 3rd week reading for it. TY and the subscription price more than earned.
Excellent piece. I agree with most of your takeaways, but one line struck me:
> Israel, where faith in institutions survives
You mention that corporations are the last functional institution most Americans encounter. I agree with this, but, outside the military and religion, I don't think Americans have really ever experienced functional non-business institutions in the way we talk about them today (political machines like Tammany Hall were arguably extremely functional institutions, but I don't think they'd count in today's parlance). The history of America seems mostly defined by its lack of institutions, allowing (or forcing, depending on your point of view) for the ambitious to just do the job that needed to be done, for better or worse. The other defining feature seems to be that America has _always_ been bad at building large scale institutions. The crowning achievement of Hamilton (who was more interested in building state capacity than any still influential founder) was a central bank, which barely outlasted some of his peers (followed by a century of banking panics). There was arguably a brief respite during WWII and the Cold War, though much of those effective institutions were either military or primarily private (and people like my grandfather, whose ranch in central Washington was simply appropriated for Manhattan Project testing might disagree about the positive impact of this time of briefly "effective" institutions).
The striking thing to me, as I read more and more American history, is that the secularization of much of America (I'm one of those secularized Americans, by the way) removed the institution that actually tried to solve the problems that we now ask our governments to address (but expect them to fail at): religion, and the community fostered by it.
You’re echoing Martin Gurri here. I finished his book and loved it, but I think he’s wrong about networks being unable to create. Bitcoin (pause for the audience to roll its eyes) is a great example of how networks can enable people to say “yes” to a vision of the future. Humans have never collaborated at the scale of bitcoin without some hierarchy.
As for what this future enables, I imagine that projects like the EU, US and China likely to fail, but their constituent states are operating at scales that are still workable. Solid money prevents much of bad state behavior and will lead to states competing to be more competent business environments.
Oh, and I expect that cave of illusions will get even more elaborate and insane. The algorithms are all in their infancy in terms of what they can do, and despite this infantile level of technology (as viewed from inside the sausages factory) they are still incredible at holding attention. I expect that to get worse, so the future will be even more prosperous and safe than the present, but it will seem even scarier to people who chose that kind of fantasy.
One of my favorite pieces you've done! The "opting out of reality" part is what troubles me the most... we can only run from reality for so long before (as you said), it catches up with us and we have to pay the price. What that price is, I don't know - but the longer we wait to face reality, the more painful it will be.
Finally another tech article.
I came across The Pull Request while you were not writing about tech. It was great. Then you commented that you would be returning to tech. I was not looking forward to that. Then you write this. Sir, this is the best pieces of writing I have read in years. Plato? Object-oriented programming? I don't know much about you, but if no one told you that you had a gift, they were not paying attention. I encourage you to find the place in you that produced this, tap into it and let the next piece flow out of you. Awesome work!
Minor point: I appreciate your weaving in passages from classic books and classical thinkers. Makes it more of a 3D intellectual experience.
Separately, the worthwhile economist Niall Ferguson wrote, in his highly illuminating The Square and the Tower (2019 maybe?), how power structures throughout history have been a series of hierarchies (I.e., the tower) collapsing into networks (the square) and re-forming into new hierarchies. He postulates that we’re closer to the 16th century now than we are to the 20th, which was the height of hierarchical power (with Stalin as the apex), due to the internet and social media having collapsed those hierarchies into networks, much as the Gutenberg printing press did at that time. He dutifully details the realities of both scenarios.
I know this is perilous territory, but if history does indeed rhyme, it would be fun to hear your strategic insight into where “this” is all going. Given your tech background, which is the new variable in this ancient cycle, how about you give it a go, and take a grounded, thought through WAG at where the world will be in 50 years ( just about after I’ll have been returned to the ether).
I know asks for predictions can be annoying, but I and many others think that this point we get the problems (more or less). What if you went sci fi and showed us where we could be, and, even more interesting, what our current and future practical and moral predicaments might be?
After all, everyone *loved* The Twilight Zone.