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 In universities, students majoring in technical fields find that much of what they’ve been taught is out of date even before they graduate.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.