I have five pieces of advice for my daughters. My first rule is: Always think like an immigrant, because we’re all new immigrants to the age of accelerations.
Second, always think like an artisan. Always do your job in a way that you bring so much empathy to it, so much unique, personal value-add that it cannot be automated, digitized, or outsourced, and you want to carve your initials into it at the end of the day.
Third, always be in beta. Always think of yourself as if you need to be re-engineered, retooled, relearned, and retaught constantly. Never think of yourself as finished—otherwise, you really will be finished.
Fourth, always remember that PQ (passion quotient) plus CQ (curiosity quotient) is greater than IQ (intelligence quotient). Give me a young person with a high PQ and a high CQ, and I will take that person over a kid with a high IQ seven days a week.
And last, whatever you do, whether you’re in the public sector or the private sector, whether you’re on the front lines or a manager, always think entrepreneurially. Always think, “Where can I fork off and start a new company over here, a new business over there?” Because a huge manufacturing company is not coming to your town with a 25,000-person factory. That factory is now 2,500 robots and 500 people. So we need three people starting jobs for six; six people starting jobs for 12; 12 people starting jobs for 20. That’s how we’re going to get all those jobs. We need everyone thinking entrepreneurially.
James Kunstler’s 2005 book “The Long Emergency” made a huge impression on me when I read it in 2006. In fact, it was one of the reasons I found myself pursuing a career in cloud computing in 2007. Partly thanks to this book and a former boss from British Telekom, my business partner and I were convinced that peak oil and climate change would create a huge demand for energy efficient, carbon neutral compute resources, and cloud computing was the future.
The Long Emergency was primarily concerned with America’s oil addiction and ill-preparedness for what looked at the time to be the coming energy (oil) shock, but it also examined other threats to civilization:
- Climate Change
- Infectious diseases (microbial resistance)
- Water scarcity
- Habitat destruction
- Economic instability
- Political extremism
Every one of those is still an enormous threat.
A new book by national security veteran Richard Clarke and R.P Eddy called “Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes” updates The Long Emergency with some new features of the threat landscape.
The book starts off by asking how we can reliably spot Cassandras – people who correctly predict disasters but who were not heeded – so that we can prevent future disasters.
They examine recent disasters – like 9/11, the Challenger space shuttle disaster and Hurricane Katrina, then examine the people who predicted these events, looking or patterns. They come up with some stable characteristics that allow us to score people on their Cassandra Quotient.
The second part of the book looks at current threats, and their doomsayers, to see if any have a high Cassandra Quotient and thus should be heeded.
The threats are:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Pandemic Disease
- Sea-Level Rise
- Nuclear Ice Age
- The Internet of Everything
- Meteor Strike
- Gene Editing (CRISPR)
The bad news is that they all have high Cassandra Quotients and the scenarios in the book are plausible, science-backed and terrifying.
Artificial Intelligence as a threat hs been on my radar for a year or so thanks to Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawkins and Sam Harris warning of the risks of intelligent machines that can design and build ever moire intelligent machines.
Pandemic Disease has worried me since reading The Long Emergency, but I thought there had been better global awareness, especially since the world took the 2011 flu scare seriously, and Ebola and Zika. Unfortunately, we are – as a planet – woefully ill-prepared for a global pandemic. A high fatality airborne flu could kill billions.
Sea-Level Rise genuinely surprised me, especially since the Cassandra in question – James Hansen – predicted the current melting and ice shelf break-offs we see in the Arctic today…30 years ago. I even googled how high my home is above sea level after being convinced we could see 7m rises within my lifetime.
As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, nuclear horror is deeply embedded in my psyche. But I thought the risk of a Nuclear Ice Age was a pretty low risk. It turns out you do not need a large-scale nuclear exchange between the US and Russia to cause global climate chaos. A limited exchange between India and Pakistan could be sufficient to kill billions though global starvation. I was also surprised to learn that Pakistan moves its nuclear arsenal around to thwart attacks my Indian commandos in the event of a war. This raises the risk of terrorists intercepting on of these weapons on the move, and using it for nuclear terrorism.
The book does a good job of examining the incredible fragility of out interconnected IT systems in the chapter on The Internet of Everything. As an IT professional I know the reality of how fragile these systems are and we are right to be scared of dire consequences of a serious cyber war.
I do not really think about Meteor Strikes, as there is little we can do about them and they are now part of popular culture.
The final worry in the book is about Gene Editing, especially CRISPR. CRISP has absolutely marvelous potential, but it also has many people worried. Daniel Saurez even has a new book on the topic called “Change Agent“. CRISPR is could be the mother of all second order effects. Take “off target events” for example:
Another serious concern arises from what are known as off-target events. After its discovery, researchers found that the CRISPR/Cas9 complex sometimes bonds to and cuts the target DNA at unintended locations. Particularly when dealing with human cells, they found that sometimes as many as five nucleotides were mismatched between the guide and target DNA. What might the consequences be if a DNA segment is improperly cut and put back together? What sorts of effects could this cause, both immediately and further down the road for heritable traits? Experimenting with plants or mouse bacteria in a controlled laboratory environment is one thing, but what is the acceptable level of error if and when researchers begin experimenting with a tool that cuts up a person’s DNA? If an error is in fact made, is there any potential way to fix the mistake?
So we have planet-scale problems, ingenious solutions. Instead of feeling paralysis or resignation we should accept Peter Thiel’s challenge to find the big breakthroughs, 0 to 1 intensive progress:
Progress comes in two flavors: horizontal/extensive and vertical/intensive. Horizontal or extensive progress basically means copying things that work. In one word, it means simply “globalization.” Consider what China will be like in 50 years. The safe bet is it will be a lot like the United States is now. Cities will be copied, cars will be copied, and rail systems will be copied. Maybe some steps will be skipped. But it’s copying all the same.
Vertical or intensive progress, by contrast, means doing new things. The single word for this is “technology.” Intensive progress involves going from 0 to 1 (not simply the 1 to n of globalization). We see much of our vertical progress come from places like California, and specifically Silicon Valley. But there is every reason to question whether we have enough of it. Indeed, most people seem to focus almost entirely on globalization instead of technology; speaking of “developed” versus “developing nations” is implicitly bearish about technology because it implies some convergence to the “developed” status quo. As a society, we seem to believe in a sort of technological end of history, almost by default.
It’s worth noting that globalization and technology do have some interplay; we shouldn’t falsely dichotomize them. Consider resource constraints as a 1 to n subproblem. Maybe not everyone can have a car because that would be environmentally catastrophic. If 1 to n is so blocked, only 0 to 1 solutions can help. Technological development is thus crucially important, even if all we really care about is globalization.
…Maybe we focus so much on going from 1 to n because that’s easier to do. There’s little doubt that going from 0 to 1 is qualitatively different, and almost always harder, than copying something n times. And even trying to achieve vertical, 0 to 1 progress presents the challenge of exceptionalism; any founder or inventor doing something new must wonder: am I sane? Or am I crazy?
From Blake Masters notes
A wonderful letter on censorship from Charles Bukowski that I found on the Farnam Street Blog. Bukowski had one of his books removed from a library and this was his response to the person warning him about it. The emphases are mine. It was written in 1985:
The thing that I fear discriminating against is humor and truth.
…Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.
I am not dismayed that one of my books has been hunted down and dislodged from the shelves of a local library. In a sense, I am honored that I have written something that has awakened these from their non-ponderous depths. But I am hurt, yes, when somebody else’s book is censored, for that book, usually is a great book and there are few of those, and throughout the ages that type of book has often generated into a classic, and what was once thought shocking and immoral is now required reading at many of our universities.
I am not saying that my book is one of those, but I am saying thatin our time, at this moment when any moment may be the last for many of us, it’s damned galling and impossibly sad that we still have among us the small, bitter people, the witch-hunters and the declaimers against reality. Yet, these too belong with us, they are part of the whole, and if I haven’t written about them, I should, maybe have here, and that’s enough.
may we all get better together,”
“Good Citizens Don’t Think” by Propaganda Times on Flickr (CC)
Some interesting passages from Tim Black’s review of “Revolt of the Right – Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin” in Spiked.
“What Revolt of the Right captures is a society that, politically speaking, is cleaving along new lines. These lines are not those of nineteenth- or twentieth-century class-based politics; and the political vernacular is not that of socialism and capitalism, of left and right.
The emergent picture, rather, is of a society dominated by a financially secure, university-educated middle class. And more importantly, it is a society dominated by the values of this class. Ford and Goodwin namecheck Adam Przeworksi’s Capitalism and Social Democracy when describing these values as ‘post-material’, encompassing such concerns as the environment, civil liberties and global social justice. But there’s more to this ruling outlook than new left verities. It is seen by its possessors as progressive. They are pro-gay marriage, and against all forms of nastiness. They are cosmopolitan, and against all forms of narrow-mindedness. They are for the European Union, and against all forms of Little Englander sentiment. In short, their values and attitudes are, in the own minds, completely and utterly the right values and attitudes. Their ground is the moral high ground.
But just as this social stratum has come to dominate British public life, to fill public space with its sense of progressive self-righteousness, so other sections of society, from older generations of Britain’s working class to shire Tories, have experienced a shutting out, a quick-quick-slow assault on their values, attitudes and experiences. These people, then, are not simply the Daily Mail-reading Home Counties stereotype, trotted out by too many a complacent London liberal; they number, as Goodwin and Ford make clear, a large section of Britain’s working class, too. And not only do they feel under cultural attack, not only do they feel that even raising the issue of immigration, for example, is ‘politically incorrect’, not only do they feel that they are constantly being told that their values and beliefs are wrong, or backward; politically they have no representation, no voice.
As Goodwin and Ford point out, none of the mainstream parties try to appeal to this ‘left behind’ section of society. More importantly, given the deracinated, relatively memberless nature of the modern political party, which has deeper roots in Oxford University’s politics, philosophy and economics course than in society at large, they have virtually no connection with the so-called left behind. As Ford and Goodwin put it: ‘[The left behind] look out at a fundamentally different Britain: ethnically and culturally diverse; cosmopolitan; integrated in a transnational, European political network; dominated by a university-educated and more prosperous middle class that holds a radically different set of values, all of which is embraced and celebrated by those who rule over them. This is not a country that the rebels recognise, nor one they like.’
What you have, then, is not a political conflict, but a culture war, a face-off between two sets of values and attitudes, with each competing for moral authority. Yet so far it has been a largely one-sided battle, with a self-styled progressive middle class, represented fairly uniformly by a political and media cohort, telling the ‘left behind’ that they’re, well, wrong: that their ‘bigoted’ views are wrong; that their fags and fatty-foods are wrong; that their whole being is, somehow, a bit wrong. The discourse is intemperate and condemnatory, personal and insulting.”
In was recently reminded of one of my favourite books from my late teens – Aldous Huxley’s “Ape and Essence” (1948).
Here are some quotes:
Vertical stripes, horizontal stripes, noughts and crosses, eagles and hammers. Mere arbitrary signs. But every reality to which a sign has been attached is thereby made subject to its sign. Goswami and Ali used to live in peace. But I got a flag, you got a flag, all Baboon-God’s children got flags; and because of the flags it immediately became right and proper for the one with the foreskin to disembowel the one without a foreskin, and for the circumcised to shoot the uncircumcised, rape his wife and roast his children over slow fires.
“Love casts out fear; but conversely fear casts out love. And not only love. Fear also casts out intelligence, casts out goodness, casts out all thought of beauty and truth. What remains in the bum or studiedly jocular desperation of one who is aware of the obscene Presence in the corner of the room and knows that the door is locked, that there aren’t any windows. And now the thing bears down on him. He feels a hand on his sleeve, smells a stinking breath, as the executioner’s assistant leans almost amorously toward him. “Your turn next, brother. Kindly step this way.” And in an instant his quiet terror is transmuted into a frenzy as violent as it is futile. There is no longer a man among his fellow men, no longer a rational being speaking articulately to other rational beings; there is only a lacerated animal, screaming and struggling in the trap. For in the end fear casts out even a man’s humanity. And fear, my good friends, fear is the very basis and foundation of modern life. Fear of the much touted technology which, while it raises out standard of living, increases the probability of our violently dying. Fear of the science which takes away the one hand even more than what it so profusely gives with the other. Fear of the demonstrably fatal institutions for while, in our suicidal loyalty, we are ready to kill and die. Fear of the Great Men whom we have raised, and by popular acclaim, to a power which they use, inevitably, to murder and enslave us. Fear of the war we don’t want yet do everything we can to bring about.”
“The leech’s kiss, the squid’s embrace,
The prurient ape’s defiling touch:
And do you like the human race?
No, not much.
Sorry to hear that South African born author Bryce Courtenay has died.
The Power of One is one of my all time favourite books.
“Impersonal forces over which we have almost no control seem to be pushing us all in the direction of the Brave New Worldian nightmare; and this impersonal pushing is being consciously accelerated by representatives of commercial and political organizations who have developed a number of new techniques for manipulating, in the interest of some minority, the thoughts and feelings of the masses.” – Aldous Huxley, Preface to A Brave New World
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
I came across an old note about Raymond Williams’ book “Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society“.
Williams is a fairy extreme leftists (sympathised with Pol Pot) but the book is wonderful.
Here are a few excerpts:
Aberrant decoding: An anti-structuralist term that recognises that audiences et messages in different ways to the ones intended. ‘Encoding’ is the term used to describe the way in which media practitioners construct messages so that they can be understood by the widest possible audience, almost always the aim of media professionals. ‘Decoding’ is the term used to describe how people read these messages. In communication theory there is an approach which claims that messages are encoded (produced) through one set of meaning structures and are therefore necessarily decoded (received) in the same linguistic framework and with the same meaning structures
Anomie: Normlessness (a product of sodal disintegration).
Aporia: A seemingly irresolvable logial difficulty or serious perplexity.
Canon: A list of approved texts, orginally of a religious character.
Civil society: Everything in society that is not government
Cultural capital The transmission of privileges from one generation to the next.
Dominant/Residual/Emergent : The factions wlthln cultures that are always in a state of conflict.
Doxa: A broader term than ideology, meaning somethihg close to comnon-sense or everyday assumptions.
Enonce/enondation : The distinction between speaking and the effects of that act.
Episteme: The dominant mode of organising thought at a given tiistorical time.
Essentialism: The belief that people, groups or objects have fixed, ate characteristics. A combination of social and cultural characteristics that together form a distinctive socal identity.
Feedback: A term describing the reception and response of a message.
Flaneur: The observer.
Governmentality : Michel Foucault devised the term ‘governmentality to describe the increasing tendency over the past two centuries for the state to intervene in the lives of its citizens
Habitus: A system of shared sodal dispositions and cognitive structures.
Hegemony: The exerdse of cultural and social leadership by a dominant group.
Hermeneutics: Understanding how understanding works: a theory of interpretation. Its basic philosophical meaning refers to translating something not understooda textinto a comprehensible form. We might say it refers to the process of interpretation, and it was generally used to describe the interpretation of biblical texts. Its current usage refers to our understanding of how understanding takes place, particularly in relation to how readers understand the meaning of works of art and literature.
Metanarrative: Stories about stories (Jean-Fran ois Lyotard).
Metaphor/metonymy: Metaphor: the substitution of one term for another.
Metonymy: the substitution of an element of a term for the term itself.
Moral panic : A media spiral in which sodal control and hysteria escalate social problems.
Phenomenology: A philosophical approach that concentrates on the meaning of experiences.
Subaltern: The underclass; the oppressed in colonial societies.
The book is available at Amazon.com
Raymond Williams on Wikipedia
Excerpts on Culture and Popular