Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Greasing the Skids of the Breakdown

I've been dwelling on socionomics for quite some time now.  We are trying to use that model to get a feel for what we'll face as over two centuries of optimism and progress get unwound over the next generation or so. There are other tools in my toolkit that I have neglected to discuss in quite some time. With the markets unraveling before our eyes, it is time to revisit another model that you should familiarize yourself with: megapolitics.

Megapolitics is a phrase revived by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg in their books Blood in the Streets, The Great Reckoning and The Sovereign Individual.  Of the three, The Sovereign Individual is most relevant to our current needs and well worth adding it to your bookshelf.

The very short version of the basic thesis of megapolitics is that technology, especially the technology of violence, drives how large states can grow, how much input citizens have in those governing structures and what changes to expect when technology shifts the balance between offense and defense.

The same technologies that allowed the West to colonize Africa and sweep opponents from the field in battlegrounds across the world would lead to the breakdown of those empires as the technologies spread.  A machine gun can wreak havoc on tribal opponents armed with spears or flintlocks, allowing for the conquest of tribes and empires that had lasted for millenia.  Those same machine guns (and radios, and later social media connections), in the hands of "rebels" all of a sudden made empire an expensive proposition.  Increase the ability for small groups to mount an effective offense (adding guidance systems to missiles, roadside bombs, the "flattening" of the globe and the enabling of small groups to finance their activities via gray or black markets, etc.), add in the "mental software" of open source insurgency theory and you have a recipe for the collapse of large state structures, or at the very least the "hollowing out" of countries as well as the means to mount effective armed resistance to "invaders" of various stripes.

In an era of positive mood bias, the dark extremes of this technology are generally ignored or glossed over.  As we move into an era of anger and violence, the logic of the microchip - whether in a computer or smartphone that allows some individuals to be productive any place on the globe or whether mated to an explosive in the form of guided missile or controlled bomb - we could quickly see the "Kosovo-isation" of many parts of the globe, where grievances long-supressed get worked out in low-intensity wars that could go on for years.  Mix this with the "need" for governments to raise revenues in an age of austerity and you can see where this could go.

I suggest you trek over to the library and check out a copy of The Sovereign Individual or purchase a copy at your bookseller of choice.  We will be covering topics such as the one below more and more as we watch the old system disintegrate around us and the language that Davidson and Rees-Mogg have used to describe their thesis will come in handy:

Iraq Militants Brag: We’ve Got Robotic Weapons, Too
By Noah Shachtman, Wired Danger Room
U.S. forces used a combination of spy drones and bomb-handling robots to help beat back Iraq’s insurgents. Now, those militants have a warning for those American troops still remaining in Iraq: We’ve got robots, too.

In a slick new online video just released by the Ansar al-Islam extremist group, kafiya-clad engineers brag about their skill and designing and making weapons of their own. They show off homemade silencers, fire custom-built rockets, and solder their own circuit boards.

But the climax to the nearly four-minute clip comes when the camera focuses on a car driving in the desert; there’s no one inside the vehicle. Then a tripod-mounted machine gun fires off a few rounds; there are no fingers on the trigger. The car and the gun are remotely-operated — crudely robotic...

We've been living this technological revolution for many decades.  Time to pay the piper.  While we will focus on the breakdown aspects in the coming years, my read of this trend is actually quite optimistic.  We just have to survive the transition crisis...

2 comments:

David said...

We civilians probably grossly underestimate the destructive power now being wielded by both state militaries and 4th gen warriors.

I recall my dismay reading about the modern RPG's now pictured in every news rag story on war zones, and how they could even be set to air-burst above adversaries, killing indirectly at a mile away. This referred to the ubiquitous Russian version, not the space age wonders of death fielded by the US Army.

We're one innovation from cornering the ferocious animal that is the nation-state military power, and we know what cornered animals do.

I doubt U.S. citizens imagine what it might be like to be on the wrong end of the military hardware they built and paid for. Was it Lenin who said that the capitalist would sell him the rope he used to hang the capitalists?

What fools are humans, to hand such murderous power to what Hayek called scum ("in a democracy the scum rises to the top.")

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