What Can I Say?

At the moment I must confess to being almost utterly exhausted, for some reason, by news and events. It’s not for lack of material to comment on: the Western polity is disintegrating, our nuclear fleet is steaming toward North Korea, there’s a mad killer on the loose, and that’s just the stuff above the fold — but none of it seems surprising, or even terribly interesting anymore. Frankly I’m having a hard time thinking of anything to say about it that I haven’t already said, or that hasn’t been said many times over by others. What’s happening is simply what anyone who’s been paying attention will have expected to happen, for explicable (and, by now, well-explicated) reasons.

What we can count on from this point forward is acceleration. I’ve written before about the similarities between the human world-system and the behavior of gas particles in a shrinking container: as the average distance between particles decreases, the pressure and temperature go up. That distance, in the human world, is now falling toward zero, and reactions that would have happened very slowly, if at all, in a cooler and more spacious world are now happening faster than we can comprehend, or adjust to. (The pace of this change has been increasing for centuries, but the acceleration was slow at first. It is slow no longer.)

As I wrote in 2013:

As the temperature and pressure continue to increase, what will happen? It seems likely that there will be increasing chaos in the human world, as systems and structures designed for a larger, cooler, slower world can no longer keep up with the pace of change. In universities, students majoring in technical fields find that much of what they’ve been taught is out of date even before they graduate. Governments struggle to control and regulate technology that is already obsolete by the time new laws come into effect. Centralized, detailed governance at the scale of large nation-states is too large, too inertial to keep up with the rate of change; we may soon see such political entities breaking apart under the increasing heat and pressure…

In short, the smaller and hotter the world is — in other words, the more likely it becomes that any two “particles” will impinge on each other in a given time — the more volatile, reactive, unstable, and “twitchy” it becomes. As volatility and the rate of change increase, it becomes more and more difficult for systems and institutions that operate at a constant pace — the legislative processes of large democracies, for example — to respond effectively to innovations and crises.

So! – here we are. (And if you think things are moving fast now, just wait a little.)

I’ll add this:

As the accelerating impingement of the horizontal present becomes overwhelming in human lives, it becomes harder and harder for any ordinary person to think about anything else. The past seems too irrelevant, the future too unstable and unpredictable, to give much thought to either. The effect of this narrowing presentism is that faith in institutions and traditions erodes, as these essential structures, which till now have been the framework and scaffolding of every culture and society, lose their necessary foundation: the reassuring solidity of extension in time. And as stabilizing structures crumble, chaos increases.

What has happened so far was predictable — but what will happen after a few more years of this acceleration is not. It is probably right to say, as many have said, that we are very rapidly approaching some sort of Singularity, with conditions so novel that the laws that have channeled history to this point may well no longer apply. One thing to keep in mind also is that linear extrapolations at any point of an exponentially rising curve will always underestimate the future Y value of the function. Things are going to come faster than you think.

So: with all this in mind, I find myself with less and less to say about the kaleidoscopic details, about the news of the week, about the gathering whirlwind of social debris flying past my window. I am more inclined simply to stand, as best I can, well back.

The focus may be a little different here, and posts perhaps less frequent, for a bit.

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23 Comments

  1. Whitewall says

    I know what you mean. Everyone is watching the Middle East and Korea and worrying. Many others are watching western Europe and denying what they see. Creeping up from the back pages is South America and the unfolding tragedy of Venezuela. This unrest is spilling over her borders as citizens are at wits end over their political classes. Change are coming down there.

    Here in the US, we are living with the toxic legacy of the Obama years. For decades I told people about what I encountered throughout Latin America and what it could be like here if things went sideways. Everyone responded that “that can’t happen here”. I warned them decades ago.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink
  2. bob sykes says

    The true Singularity will be nuclear war (imminent now) and the collapse of the modern world into barbarism and civil war.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 8:09 am | Permalink
  3. Captain Tripps says

    At moments like this I like to step back and take a bit of perspective. Our ancestors probably experienced similar moments, when events seemed to come swirling at you all at once like a blizzard. I put myself in the shoes of an average citizen in one of the Great Powers at the end of July 1914. One day you’re off to the factory, out on the farm, baking the day’s stock of bread for sale, repairing someone’s shoes, and 96-120 hours later, you’re marching up to the front where the guns are roaring. If you’re a Frenchman, in about 21-28 days, you’ve lost 250,000 of your countrymen, 70,000 of them dead. Europeans had no frame of reference for the titanic bloodbath they found themselves in. Yet, they eventually adjusted, grimly, to the reality around them. I just pray we won’t have it so bloody, but my experience with my fellow man leaves me gloomy.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 8:31 am | Permalink
  4. Whitewall says

    Captain Tripps, I know what you mean. I’m not gloomy, just resigned to the coming “turning”. Old ideologies are playing out their string and new ones are unsure. People will eventually ask What Works, What Used to Work?

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  5. Billw says

    Malcolm, I had that feeling long ago, which is why I started posting less until I finally terminated my blog. Unfortunately this is becoming the time when Bill V’s Owl of Minerva is appropriate thinking. We who see it coming and have for a while are marginalized while those who don’t have all the power. (I don’t mean to be elitist and say we should be in control. I’d just like for us to be listened to a bit.)

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    CT,

    Our ancestors probably experienced similar moments, when events seemed to come swirling at you all at once like a blizzard. I put myself in the shoes of an average citizen in one of the Great Powers at the end of July 1914.

    Yes, I think about this often. It’s important not to yield to the same sort of presentism I’ve described above, and of course there have been eras of tremendous upheaval throughout human history.

    What distinguishes this era, however, are the acceleration of tempo, and the shrinking of the world — the bringing of every node of the human system into immediate, and potentially continuous, contact with every other. Both of these are due to exponentially advancing technology.

    If you listen to the evangelists, this exponential advance — both in individual fields and the consilience between them — puts us on the cusp of a golden age of abundance, ease, and personal power. But our power now advances far beyond our wisdom and our foresight — and our human nature, forged in a very different evolutionary context and slow to adapt, is suddenly to be tested in a radically new and different environment for which it may not be adequately equipped.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  7. Captain Tripps says

    Whitewall, agree. I am not naturally pessimistic in my general disposition; I tend to look at the positive side. My cumulative experience and increasing understanding of human history has made me more of a realist; experience suggests we will experience some level of pain (how much is a big unknown, but we live in an era of weapons with tremendous killing power) as we transition through this period of change or reach singularity. My Christian soul weeps in advance for the innocent souls who will be caught in the vice through no better reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And for the potential that my progeny may be one of those.

    Malcolm, I agree. I started my reply in an effort to buck you up (really not needed as I see now), yet ended up closing my thought as a Debby Downer. :-)

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  8. “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the universe.” — Albert Einstein

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  9. nishiki says

    Quibble with the evolution statement by Malcolm:

    1. Greg Cochran’s “10,000 Year Explosion” says evolution is happening faster than you’d think

    2. This generation is experiencing a major purge of genes in: the hedonistic, the low sexual market value, and the less fertile

    3. CRISPR-style gene editing is coming up fast along with AI, how quickly we can identify adaptive genes for the accelero world is the question there

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    nishiki,

    I’ve read Cochran’s book. Evolution is certainly happening faster than we used to think, but not so fast as to make huge changes, widely distributed in the population, in a generation or two.

    Editing and re-engineering of human genes, of course, is another matter altogether, and a game-changer.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  11. random observer says

    Wow.

    That certainly caught the zeitgeist for me. And not in a happy way.

    Please do not decide to absent yourself from commentary too much, but I appreciate and share your feeling.

    For me it has taken the shape of an increasing sense that the world and its values, and my country’s values, left me behind quickly over the past few years. I’m sure it has been longer but the tipping point was sudden and recent. I haven’t felt so alien before in this life. I feel like some Roman low-level clerk might have felt circa 425 or so. Not quite sure what is coming. Or maybe a middle-aged Austrian bureaucrat confronting the 1920s.

    I have put it down to the rapidly accelerating leftism [to be a bit colloquial] of the world and my country in particular, to the sudden total dominance of the language of discourse that dominated only the campus when I was an undergrad, if that, and my increased sense of having been passed by in general. But it isn’t wholly politics, or just politics. Technology, pop culture, social relations, art, music, and politics are all wrapped up in ways I can’t quite fathom.

    Even I have felt myself getting more radical in my thinking in response and try to bring myself up short from time to time.

    Age and personal health issues, life choices and so forth are a part of it for me and I am sure for others, but even so I’ve lived through a lot of change already [born 1970, but still…]. This time seems different.

    I don’t necessarily see hope for whatever most closely resembles my “side” in the politics, and I’m not sure what the pros and cons are anymore for the other stuff.

    Although [YMMV] this year I watched the Vienna New Year concert on PBS for the first time in a couple of years. Julie Andrews managed to get in a message about social justice and diversity that pissed me off for a second, as would a small pile of dung on the floor of the palace, but the concert was still an ornament of old civilization and I felt better about things for a couple of hours. I went and ordered dvds of about 6 previous ones going back to the late 80s.

    Increasingly, I think of my youth as another planet and have to find ways of alluding to that that do not arouse the commissars. I have commented here about how nice it was to be young and interested in the music when classical music, music retail, and digital recording experienced a mutually supporting boom in the late 80s and early 90s. I sometimes cite things like that with a wistful tone befitting the grandson of an archduke. [I wish. Those guys are still rich and powerful.]

    Although I can see ways in which I would have been on the other side and my ‘side’ now is not the cosmopolitan imperial side either, the laments of the Austro-Hungarian upper and middle classes after 1918 for the civilization they had lost do reach me. Whether that’s the perspective of Roth or Zweig or that of Admiral Horthy for that matter.

    Anyway. One rambles. Please stick around. Yours is one of my goto sites and one that doesn’t reinforce my more negative opinions at that. But I certainly am not demanding your comment on every daily trifle either.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink
  12. random observer says

    I would like to endorse Captain Tripps’ comments – both the terror of the 1914 analogy and the sort of grim hopefulness that we will endure as we did then.

    It was worth raising just how sudden and shocking 1914 was – the worst casualties with few exceptions were in the open field battles of the first months of the war, and on peoples mobilized just that suddenly from the last golden summer of the world.

    I share the Captain’s fears and would like to share that portion of hope.

    I suppose it’s selfish to also fear that at [just?] 46 and having wasted the best years I am now too old to have much of an impact or to adjust well. I never was the most tech-savvy or the most up to date in culture, behavior, or expectations, but I didn’t expect to be irrelevant so fast. I saw ‘Going in Style’ this weekend and identified with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin more than I expected to. Those guys are at least my parents’ age.

    Sorry. Getting morbid here. It is, nonetheless, sunny today in my city in the Northern Post-National Zone and Resource Extraction District. And there are birds at last.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    Thanks for those thoughtful remarks, RO.

    As long as we draw breath, we never know with certainty what sort of an impact we might yet have.

    At the very least, how we adjust is always up to us.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  14. I was born to Jewish parents in Nazi-occupied Poland. Being twice random observer’s age, I feel entitled to (at least) the sort of mixed emotions he alludes to in his above comments. I agree there isn’t much one individual can possibly do to stem the tide of Leftist stupidity (as well as far-right intransigence) in the face of runaway destructive powers.

    My personal response to our present-day malaise is, therefore, akin to Lichtenberg’s:

    “That one can convince one’s opponents with printed reasons, I have not believed since the year 1764. It is not for that purpose that I have taken up my pen, but rather merely to annoy them, and to give strength and courage to those on our side, and to make it known to the others that they have not convinced us.” — G.C. Lichtenberg (1742 – 1799)

    I believe it is still worth doing, if for no other reason than to reduce the feeling of helplessness in the mix.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  15. JK says

    Illegitimi non carborundum.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  16. Oops; not quite twice random’s age (I was thinking he said 36, not 46).

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  17. Whitewall says

    JK! Speak English…or something :)

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says

    Not to worry, JK – the bastards aren’t grinding me down.

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink
  19. JK says

    Here Whitewall;

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stilwell

    Posted April 18, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink
  20. nishiki says

    Thanks for the reply, Malcolm.

    I’m young, 30. There’s a number of us on Twitter and elsewhere that are excited for any possibility of the chaos and confusion we get to see before we go. It’s exciting. Unfortunate for those with a traditionalist ideal in their heads, but fortunate if you want to leave it all behind.

    Lots of strange things could flip the left/right divide on its head. Nick Land’s “Hyper-Racism” post is a good example

    http://www.xenosystems.net/hyper-racism/

    And if the possibility is there, I’m going to bankroll my childrens’ designer babies.

    Posted April 19, 2017 at 12:32 am | Permalink
  21. Whitewall says

    Nishiki…”There’s a number of us on Twitter and elsewhere that are excited for any possibility of the chaos and confusion we get to see before we go. It’s exciting.”

    Quite a statement there. Are you sure?

    Posted April 19, 2017 at 6:59 am | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    nishiki,

    I’m young, 30. There’s a number of us on Twitter and elsewhere that are excited for any possibility of the chaos and confusion we get to see before we go.

    As your elder, I must caution you about this.

    Posted April 19, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  23. random observer says

    Further interesting stuff.

    I have seen the Lichtenberg quote before but did not remember the source. Thanks for that, TheBigHenry.

    I feel better today. Just a tad. Oddly, it’s raining yet again. Go figure. We have had a delayed and very wet spring up here.

    Illegitimi non carborundum was one of my dad’s favourite lines when I was growing up. No idea if he knew its source or the Stilwell connection.

    Admire nishiki’s enthusiasm. That is a needed spirit at every age and in every age. I hope I can contribute.

    But I appreciate our host’s cautionary note all too well, and more than I did at 30. Change is hard and terrible more often than not, even if you like the endpoint. I lack the skills of a prepper, but even if I had them I wouldn’t look forward to Armageddon. Too much I value in history and culture could be lost. Even if Armageddon is only political and social and not so much physical, the end will not be clear and any outcome will be in play.

    I don’t have family to leave behind, so I sometimes fondly imagine watching it all fall. But it would be terrible and terrifying and not just for me personally.

    But I digress. I really do feel much better today… Have a medical appointment this afternoon that might change that. But so far, much better.

    Posted April 19, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink