A Further Note On Technology

In which I remain cynically skeptical of the science fetishists, Star Trek daydreamers, and other sciento-triumphalists who claim that Techno-Utopia is coming our way, any old time now.

I call bullshit.

In fact, let us take what could broadly be called digitalization – the entirety of computers, the internet, cell phones, consumer electronics; basically, anything you could reasonably expect to find inside a Best Buy – and for a moment call it an outlier and set it aside.

So other than that, just how much technological progress have we really made in the past 50 years? I’m talking mainly about things that directly affect people’s lives, not abstract “We have a much better understanding of subatomic particles” sorts of things.

For example: A modern 787 is a fine aircraft indeed, and much more refined than the 707 one might have flown in in 1962. But the advances are mostly just that – refinements. The 787 is more efficient, more aerodynamic, quieter, and easier to maintain. But it doesn’t fly significantly higher than the 707, or significantly faster. It’s not significantly more comfortable or really significantly safer, and, at that, most of the safety improvements come from better crew training. Most passengers even today flying from, say, New York to Paris, really wouldn’t notice at all if you swapped out a 707 for their 787, except for wondering where the in-flight entertainment system went.

The 707 went into airline service in 1957. Think of the difference between it and airplanes 50 years before, in 1907. And then 50 years hence, in 2007.

Drones make big news, but have been practical since the late 50s. The new ones are a lot better, but much of the improvement has been made possibly by Digital Revolution tech.

Automobiles are a similar story. The last very major interface change was automatic transmission, which appeared around the same time the 707 did. Yes, I know – Google’s self-driving car. But that’s the fruits of digitalization – thus why it’s Google, an internet company, that’s at the forefront of it. Other than that? Refinements, yes – modern cars are safer, more efficient, more reliable, and last longer than those of 1962. But they perform their core functions basically no better, and don’t do a lot more than the cars of 50 years ago did. A friend still owns the Ford Falcon he bought in 1961, which still runs, and sometimes when we go off on a day’s adventuring we take the Falcon. Our day doesn’t go any differently – better or worse either way – than if we took his 2007 Corolla.

Trains? High-speed rail has been around quite a while now. The first Shinkansen opened up just in time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Navigation? GPS, but the basic idea was developed with LORAN – GPS satellites are basically just LORAN stations in orbit – which was operational in the 60s (an old acquaintance recalls dropping bombs on North Vietnam through an overcast layer based on LORAN signals).

Non-digital household stuff? I think the last major advance was probably the microwave oven, which appeared around 40 years ago, or maybe the air conditioner, that would have appeared just a bit earlier. Other than that, think: If you cleared all the Digital Revolution stuff out of your house, how would it really look much significantly different from one you might see in 1962?

Medicine? We have better treatments, sure, and the likes of MRI machines are wonders (though arguably also digital) – but when was the last time we cured a really major disease? I mean a big one, and totally cured it? Maybe smallpox, around 40 years ago? Cancer recovery rates have held more or less steady since the early 70s. Again, a little more progress on some forms. I’m not arguing that there haven’t been advancements, but as with the other stuff, it’s been slow, steady refinements instead of huge leaps.

Materials science? Again, I’m not saying there haven’t been advancements. But the last big one was carbon fiber, which has been around for maybe 30 years, and the last civilization-transforming one was plastics, around 50 years ago.

Architecture? No mile-high skyscrapers yet. Burj Khalifa is largely a publicity stunt – the top floors of the spire count in its height, but are too small to inhabit. Other than that, buildings are not much taller than the generation of skyscrapers we built 40 years ago – the likes of the WTC and the Sears Tower.

Energy? Fusion still doesn’t work. Solar and high-tech alternatives still aren’t efficient enough. Wind is as old as mankind, as is hydroelectric. Nuclear is more refined, but the basic idea is late-40s tech. Other than that, we’re still taking flammable stuff we dig out of the ground and shoving it into furnaces to generate power.

Weapons? No laser guns yet. Still slugthrowers and grenades, mostly. The RPG is 50 year old tech. Air and armor have been around since WWI. Smart bombs date to the tail end of Vietnam, after the Air Force demanded better bombs in the wake of the losses they took trying to drop the Dragon’s Jaw Bridge. An “IED” is just an old school boobytrap hooked up to a cell phone. Other than that, refinements.

Spaceflight? We’ve arguably gone backwards. The new Mars rovers are nice, but we’ve been sending robots to Mars since 1976. Yes, the new one is better – it will last longer, gather more data, send back better pictures, etc. But the last man to walk on another planet – which was just our own moon – came back 40 years ago. We don’t even have our Shuttle anymore.

If you looked at the difference between the years 1900 and 1960, there was a huge amount of change in how people lived their daily lives that was due to technological advancement in areas like the ones I talked about above. But if you set aside what has admittedly been a huge amount of advancement in one single area – digitalization – the difference due to technology between how we live our daily lives now and how people 40 or 50 years ago lived their daily lives is fairly minimal. In other areas there have been advancements, yes, but again, mostly just refinements of things that worked, and actually already worked pretty well, back then.

The point of all this is, a lot of people think that there will be just as much technological advancement in the next 100 years as there was in the last 100 years. I disagree. I think that if we look at the tremendous spurt of technological advancement in the 100 years, that that pace of change can’t and won’t continue. It’s going to plateau out at some point. And, in fact, if you put aside advancement in one single area as an outlier, it basically already has.

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Predictions: 100 Year Range

A new year; and what does the future hold? Hard to say. But, to paraphrase the economist Gerald Celente, current trends create future events. Thus, here is my own humble attempt at predictions for the next 100 years.

Before I start, I feel the need to make a disclaimer: Predicting that something will happen is not the same thing as calling for it to happen or hoping that it will happen. Many of the things I see coming are things I’m not happy about.

So, in no particular order:

History books downloaded in 100 years will say of the Cold War that the United States and the Soviet Union unleashed on each other the most destructive weapons known to mankind: weaponized mass culture. The Soviets attacked the United States with Cultural Marxism and radical egalitarianism, and the United States attacked the Soviets with mass consumerism and radical individualism. Though the Soviet Union fell first, the United States – and indeed the west as a whole – was mortally wounded, and only managed to limp along another 30 years or so before suffering a similar fate.

The high-water mark of world leftism will occur in the next 20-25 years or so. In this, I include democracy. I’d guess that we’re actually probably reaching Peak Democracy right about now.

Related: Osama bin Laden was definitely right about one thing – if people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they instinctively like the strong horse. Americans are convinced that the worldwide spread of the “American way” – liberal secular democratic capitalism, or, put another way, all that stuff that Francis Fukuyama assured us would be around for centuries in The End Of History – was because of the self-evident goodness and rightness of these ideas. In fact, mostly it was due to a combination of American coercion and people’s natural tendency to want to emulate successful people or institutions: to be like the strong horse. As American wealth and power declines, other nations will drift away from the “American way”. If the horse isn’t strong anymore, why continue to emulate it?

The emblematic forms of government in the 20th century were these: during the first half, democracy and fascism, during the second half, democracy and Communism. The emblematic form of government of the 21st century will be an authoritarianism that retains a few trappings of democracy. To give it a name that might help describe it, one might call it Putinism. Keep in mind, I’m describing a form of government, not an ideology – there can be right-Putinism, centro-Putinism, (e.g the trope namer), left-Putinism (e.g. Chavez), Islamo-Putinism (e.g. Erdogan), what have you.

America will have this form of government by mid-century, or perhaps just a bit later. The current American government – an ostensible democracy, but with a corporatist bureaucracy that actually runs things behind the scenes – will falter as the economy does, and eventually fail. Our Putin will be a military man, perhaps active-duty, or perhaps not long retired when he assumes power. A country that worships its military as much as Americans do will eventually, inevitably, be ruled by it.

A historical note, for some perspective. After the Roman Republic fell, what came next was far more like Putinism than it was a one-man show of a dictatorship. Yes, Augustus held the real power, but remember that even he dared not call himself a king – the term “emperor”, imperator in Latin, means “general” – and dared not formally dissolve the Senate. These things didn’t happen until centuries later – there are records of the Roman Senate meeting until Justinian’s time. The Romans were a proud people who didn’t like thinking of themselves as subjects of a king, but as citizens of a republic. Augustus was a practical man – there was a tacit, unspoken agreement by which he agreed to humor the Romans by keeping up a paper-thin fiction of a continuing republic, and they agreed to not notice that a paper-thin fiction was all that it was.

There’s a reason I’m reminding Americans of this.

In America, a slow, steady, but inexorable decline. No 1929-like crash; just slow and steady. Living standards will fall more. College enrollments will drop. People will live as extended families more. 30 and still living at home is already not unusual. It will become normal… expected. 40, married, and still living at home will not be unusual.

Have you ever gone through an economic bad patch and looked back on money you blew on extravagances in better times with a combination of disbelief that you wasted good money on that shit and pointless but painful reflection on what you could do with that same amount of money now? In 2050, that’s how Americans will look back on Iraq and Afghanistan: “We spent that money – on democracy in Iraq? What the hell were we thinking?”

Debt defaults. Lots of debt defaults.

Less travel, including driving. More communication online instead. Not entirely by choice.

By the second half of the century, the urbanization and suburbanization of the 20th will start reversing. Jim Kunstler has this right: the suburbs are an anthropological dead end. People will start moving back to small cities, and the country. Many among the white collar and technical classes will find that broadband internet will provide them with a way to work from a home office in a house in a small town in Indiana basically just as well as they could from a cubicle in Manhattan or Palo Alto.

Race problems will get worse. When the government can’t send checks to the ghetto anymore, expect riots. Big, bad, bloody riots. Quietly, many whites – nowadays, even those who aren’t toothless rednecks – start to express an end to their patience. Those in the ghetto may have an occasion or two to find out that urban neighborhoods can be fairly easily sealed off, and that food doesn’t just magically appear on Safeway shelves.

Black vs. white may be bad. Black vs. brown has the potential to be far worse. When government checks stop coming and there’s keen competition for even the shittiest of jobs, things will likely get ugly. Prosperity can paper over a lot of problems; poor, desperate men circle the wagons, and think of taking care of their own.

The only thing that may mitigate this is that as America gets poorer, the illegal immigration problem is likely to be increasingly self-correcting.

Eventually breakup: maybe into individual states, maybe into regions. But not for a while – probably not in the next century. Maybe at the very tail end.

When China can rely on selling to its own people instead of us, expect them to cut us loose. This should be right around the time that a new world reserve currency finally takes hold. That’s when things will get really bad. Both are in-process, and getting to a rather advanced stage.

Brain drain: As America declines, its cognitive elite will decamp to Asia. Think: the drain of highly educated Russians out to other countries in the 1990s. In 2060, the Americatowns in Shanghai, Singapore, and Bangkok will be a rocking place to spend a Saturday night.

Something called the Chinese Communist Party will rule China for the foreseeable future, though exactly how much, and in what ways, they’ll continue to resemble anything genuinely Communist is debatable. Yes, I know that in many ways they already don’t. But they’re likely to resemble it even less.

China will have a good century, but will falter towards the end of the 21st or the beginning of the 22nd. The 19th century was the British Century, the 20th the American Century, the 21st is the Chinese Century, I don’t know whose the 22nd century will be. Maybe nobody. Maybe we’ll just get a dark age.

The focus of history will start facing towards the global south.

Islam. Lots of Islam. All over the place. Not so much in the western hemisphere, but Africa, Europe, Asia… lots of Islam.

As Japan comes to understand that it can’t rely on America for its defense anymore, it will start to rearm in earnest. Soon, the atomic bombings of 1945 will fade out of living memory. Japan will acquire its own nuclear weapons by mid-century.

Israel will not be a going concern by century’s end.

North Korea will not be a going concern in 20 years. Whether it will implode, or explode, I can’t say.

The European Union will not be a going concern in ten years. Maybe sooner. Maybe much sooner.

Europe has spent 60 years as the world’s biggest open-air amusement park for American and British tourists. That’s just about over. Europe is going to become a not-very-fun place. By the latter half of the century, expect a lot of Putinism, and that’s the best-case scenario. Outright fascism is more than likely in spots.

The average religious makeup of a European nation by mid-century: A third each atheist, Muslim, and Christian. Plus or minus maybe ten percent or so in any direction. Remember, this is an average. Some countries will be disproportionate in one or another direction. The Christians will be far less numerous than in years past, but will gradually become more strident and vocal. A Christian religious revival by century’s end, but the growth will come out of atheism’s share – the percentage of Muslims won’t budge. Europe will have a large Islamic plurality for the foreseeable future.

The dizzying pace of technological change in the computer/internet/mobile field will taper off. I’m not asserting that it will stop completely, just that it will be lots of evolution and not that much more revolution. This particular explosion of innovation of the last 25 years or so has produced just about all the really big new inventions that it’s going to. From here on, it’s growth and refinement – better stuff, cheaper, and more ubiquitous, but few surprises.

Growth, however, is the important thing. William Gibson said that the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Evenly distributing it will be where most of the action will be in the tech scene of the latter 2/3 of the 21st century. By mid-century, you’ll have to be starvation-level poor, a desert hermit, a maximum-security prisoner, or a child under ten to not own a smartphone that gives you very comprehensive internet access. And I’m talking globally, not just in the First World.

Ain’t nobody going to Mars anytime soon.

No significant return of monarchism over the 100-200 year future timeframe. That will take 300-500 years. Over that timeframe, Putinism will very gradually shed its democratic trappings, until finally, as Justinian did, the Putins will simply drop the charade and call themselves kings.

That’s what comes to mind for now. We shall see how well these predictions hold up.

Who Are Your Influences?

As Jimmy Rabbitte asked… and which you may wish to know.

Strong influences on my thoughts – at least the ones you will find here – include Bruce Charlton, Roy Masters, John Derbyshire, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Yoshiki Tanaka, Pat Buchanan, Lew Rockwell, Julius Evola, Jim Kunstler, Adam Curry, Epictetus, David Goldman, William S. Lind, E. Michael Jones, Anton LaVey, Dan Carlin, and most especially, the indispensable Fred Reed, whose thoughts on our age are perhaps the wisest, and most biting, you will find anywhere.

The above should by no means be taken to mean that I necessarily agree with 100% of the ideas of the above-listed men, but that I owe each a debt of gratitude for imparting their ideas to me, and, by doing so, allowing me to hone my own ideas.

Introibo Ad Altare Dei

This project started when I read an article about Aung San Suu Kyi, a woman described in the press as a “pro-democracy activist”. She seems by all accounts to be a genuinely admirable woman, who has put herself in no small amount of personal peril by opposing what appears to be a very nasty and repressive government in her home country. For this, she deserves real praise, however, if her answer to a terrible government is more democracy, I believe that she is seriously wrongheaded. In fact, democracy – by which I mean any system of popular sovereignty, including the vaunted representative republics of the west – is a dangerous, awful form of government; corrosive to tradition, faith, and decency, a seedbed for libertinism and insolvency, and ultimately doomed to degeneration and collapse. It is perhaps not the worst system of government ever devised (that honor belongs to the execrable, and thankfully mostly-abandoned system of Communism), but it is not far behind at all, and any flippant defense that “it’s the worst, except for all the others” is thoughtless, unexamined nonsense. Furthermore, democracy is, I am sorry to tell Mrs. Kyi, no guarantee of liberty (which is, I believe, what she actually wants in her country), and the conflation of voting with liberty, much less with good government, is the great fraud of our time – which, considering that we live in an age of fraud, is quite an accomplishment.

My ideas are not ones that in any sense easily mappable to the current political landscape. What the “right” seems to be these days confounds me; what the “left” is horrifies me. I am a reactionary; a traditionalist – I have seen what almost everyone on the “right” has not; that democracy is inherently leftist and irreligious. The longer it exists, the further towards the left and away from God and tradition it goes. There is no fixing or reforming that fact. There is no amount of voting for this or that party, or candidate, which will fix it. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature, and the problem with the “right” is that they have not yet woken up to the stark and inescapable truth: you can have your God, your culture, and your traditions (and economic solvency while we’re at it, though that’s another story), or you can have democracy. But you can’t have both. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to make a choice.

I have, and so I am that rarest of voices; an anti-democracy activist. This isn’t a joke, or a “troll”, it’s not a “Modest Proposal”-type satire or a Colbert-style hipster mockery of these ideas. It is simply the truth.

And if not democracy, what then? All government is a necessary evil, but of all of the available choices, I agree with Hans-Hermann Hoppe that monarchy is generally the least worst of them – though whether an absolute hereditary monarchy is really the best system is a subject for some valid debate. I retain a certain fondness for a Venetian-style monarch, elected from among an aristocracy and beholden to several competing centers of power in civil life, all of which he must strive to keep satisfied.

But really, if there’s anything my time on Planet Earth has shown me, it’s that if one values good government and a stable, virtuous civil society, almost anything is preferable to democracy.

That said, I do not plan to start with my complete case against democracy. This space will contain my thoughts on all manner of subjects relating to, as Count Evola might say, “life among the ruins”. Some postings will be long and complicated, others short and sweet; some will be in rapid succession, and others may have longish spaces between them. If it pleases you, I will be happy; but I write it only for myself, because I must.

Let the activism begin!