Friday, May 18, 2012

I ran across "The Gonzo Futurist Manifesto" via one of those odd stumbles that happen on the web while digging for something completely different.  Normally I would shy away from anything with the "gonzo" label on it.  One guy did gonzo, and he's dead.  But I'm glad I made an exception this time.  Justin Pickard looks like an interesting guy.

It's thought-provoking and worth your time as we continue to tip-toe along the edge of the plunge into What Comes Next...

From The Gonzo Futurist:

...In 2012, then, things reach a head. The world spins faster, accruing whole orders of complexity as the American Empire crumbles into a decidedly more interesting new world order. After twenty, fifty, or five-hundred years of globalisation (depending), we stumble across the threshold of (dis)integration, watch the Mayans emerge from their hole in the sky, and find out what we’ve won: transcendence or oblivion.

Well, that’s the scheduled broadcast. The looming reality is a lot less binary. In postnormal times, the world has both centrifugal and centripetal tendencies: transcendence and collapse; integration and fragmentation. History didn’t end with Fukuyama. Collapse contains the fractal seeds of transcendence. Things come together as they fall apart. Ours is not the flat world of Thomas Friedman, but the ‘unevenly-distributed’ future of William Gibson. It has contours...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Change is Coming

Another long pause between posts.  These long levitation periods often leave me with little to say.  I don't trade them well and I am emotionally biased to believe the market should "see" how ugly the underlying fundamentals are and get back into the Bear Market business (knowing that socionomics has a lot to say about the true nature of cause and effect).  Add that combination of waiting for the next shoe to drop to a busy schedule and all of a sudden its been several weeks since I've tried to thrash out a post.  Oh well, that all changed when I finally tackled a stack of non-critical mail the other day and pulled out the May copy of Popular Science.

Drones Again

I read through the May edition and came across an article that jolted me enough to get a post up.  It hits on a topic I think will help drive the dysfunction I expect to see all around us when the Bear returns - the massive difference between reality and what people have been programmed to believe are successful patterns of behavior.  It came up under the topic of drones and the changing face of war, but I think it applies much more broadly.

The Human Element
Why Drones Won't Be Taking Over Our Wars Anytime Soon
By C.J. Chivers
...Those who train for this kind of warfare know that no drone yet exists that could handle such a scenario. The drone would have to be alert to all of these factors, relay them to a remote pilot on the other side of the world, and make corrections in the time required to react. Missions like these will remain the work of the same classes of aircraft—and the pilots and weapon-systems officers who fly with them—who have been flying these missions for decades. With each design cycle, drones will no doubt be further integrated into the busy mix of a modern military air campaign and maybe, eventually, into missions over hostile airspace with anti-aircraft guns and enemy fighters. But humans will be up there with them, flying old-school pilot-on-the-ejection-seat flights and calling the shots. As that day perhaps draws near, the limits on where drones can fly will remain. The MiG that punched that Hermes 450 out of the sky laid out a fact unlikely to change soon. When the skies turned violent, all the Hermes could do, in the end, was watch—even its own fiery end...

We've thought a little about drone technology this year (see The Tilting of the Megapolitical Balance? from February), so I won't rehash it here, except to say again, it is a hobby you should take up.

I am not cheerleading for an end to manned combat aircraft.  Hell, I am of the Top Gun generation and was tracking towards landing a slot at the Air Force Academy before my crappy eyes DQ'd me from what I had hoped to do.

I am not arguing against the points Mr. Chivers makes in this article.  In fact, I regard him as precisely correct.  Precisely, as in, where the technology stands today, and assuming most major wars will involve big nation-state armed forces standing up against one another, slugging it out.

I do think this is an example of the type of thinking you absolutely have to be on guard for once we begin to replumb the depths of negative mood.  Being precisely correct will be a debilitating problem for a huge percentage of people once we hit that inflection point.

Mr. Chivers comes at this from a very standard and accepted view of large-scale conflict.  There are clear-cut "good guys" and "bad guys" in this framework.  Your nation-state (the good guys) has objectives and wishes to impose its will upon another nation-state or "terrorist group" (a.k.a. non-state actors) to achieve a political end.  All very Clausewitzian and all going down the drain.

What if drone technology is not going to be designed for the things Mr. Chivers worries about, such as close air support?  What if the technology is going to be focused on extremely local violence or surveillance?  What if the future of war and violence is going back to armed gangs and mafias, groups flitting about the feet of the giant nation-states, focused on extracting information and extortion money from individuals or communities?

And what if the governments that run these massively expensive fleets of aircraft he describes in his article wake up one morning to a disintegrated bond market and crashing tax revenues?  What happens to the money for training, fuel, and maintenance of these Top Guns? How many Generals and Admirals are contemplating this scenario?

If I can launch a drone swarm for under $10,000, have that swarm pursue and then assault an individual through sheer kinetic attacks (dropping from the sky at high speeds with nothing more than a jumped up knife, for instance), what good does a Fourth Generation fighter jet do for the victim?  Or what about the potential for constant surveillance by both governmental and non-governmental agencies?  What is a hot shot pilot going to do for me when the skies can be filled with cheap drones that monitor all communications and steal my credit card information?

I think Mr. Chivers is precisly correct, much in the way French military theorists were precisely correct when they planned and built the Maginot Line.  They built their systems and validated their actions by the assumptions they chose - assumptions based on a world that no longer existed (but they had not yet received the memo).

Other "Battlefields"

How many other aspects of modern life fit this for most people?  How many people have seriously considered events such as the following:  

  • The seizure of all assets held in IRA accounts and the replacement of those investment portfolios with special bonds "sold" by the government for that purpose.  This would be backed up by Congress upping the penalty for withdrawal to 100%.
  • The pullback of U.S. military forces from the vast majority of overseas bases.
  • Means testing for Social Security and Medicare
  • Local governmental bureaucracies requiring citizens to "donate" labor or pay a set tax to help with the upkeep of local facilities
  • Middle Income Individuals being subject to small-scale extortion or kidnapping threats
  • The use of private military contractors to secure public areas and prevent locals or media from investigating events in those areas such as hazardous materials releases and no ability by local law enforcement to oppose this
  • In the grips of a credit crisis, your debit card and credit cards no longer function, loans which you have regularly serviced are called in with no warning, and you are prevented from withdrawing more than $300 from your account in cash each month.

All of the events described above have happened in both the U.S. and other countries.  Not all have happened in the U.S. yet, but...

This is not meant to be an exercise in fear-mongering.  I just want to drive the point home that a lot of very smart people are very convinced that their "map" of the world "is" the True and Right map that will lead to success.  Whether that map includes a very expensive college degree and loads of student debt upon graduation, or whether that map includes trust in the U.S. Congress to protect individual interests above Corporate interests, you can expect those people to be very disappointed when the worm turns.  What will these people do when confronted with "impossible" situations?  What kinds of politics will arise from that ferment?

What kinds of opportunities for success will you be able to see that others, blinded by fear and anger at the crashing down of their "world," will miss?

Embrace what is to come.  Even if you've planned as well as you can, bad things can still reach out and hit you.  Be mindful of it, but don't lose it if your plan goes awry.  Who knows what kinds of crazy policies will be imposed from above, or what kinds of dysfunction will bubble up from below?  Just know that life will still go on, that much of life will still be enjoyable (though probably very different), and that you can still act while others are frozen.