Tuesday, September 22, 2020

COVID: System of Systems Failure

In 2012, I posted my sixth and seventh entries: Governance Failure.  I argued that governance "failure is a condition where the economic and logistical problems, which the state has traditionally addressed, exceed the capacity of the state."  I also asked the question:  "will the modern Western administrative state exist in 30 years as it did over the last 200 years?"  

COVID-19 is dangerously close to suggesting the answer is no.  Part 1, Brass Tacks, was a face value estimation of COVID.  Here we examine a collective, psychoanalytic interpretation alongside a more conventional, external view.  

System Failure

As Above, So Below
        Hermes Trismegistus (possible attribution)

It is no exaggeration to say that the United States currently lacks a functioning national system for responding to pandemics.
        New England Journal of Medicine, July 2020

Consider inverting the first quote into 'as below, so above' for a moment.  Our microcosms don't necessarily cause impacts on our macrocosm.  The experiment simply helps to think about how COVID is a symptom of something more fundamental than a pandemic.

COVID is revealing failure and fragmentation at many levels - the respiratory system, the body as a whole, individual hospitals, the public health system as a whole, various political-economic systems, and the biosphere itself.  I recently watched a TED Talk with global health expert Alanna Shaikh titled "Coronavirus is our future”.  She argued, among other things, that the Coronavirus reflects our push ever deeper into the wild.  It implies that we have some culpability here.  

Many journalists have made the observation that COVID is revealing weaknesses in our institutions, structures, and systems; and these weaknesses also imply second-order human culpability.  Fareed Zakaria says we "are in the early stages of what is going to become a series of cascading crises, reverberating throughout the world.  And we will not be able to get back to anything resembling normal life unless the major powers can find some way to cooperate and manage these problems together."  His interpretation is political, economic, and financial. 

I hope Shaikh and Zakaria are wrong.  I hope we do what we should have done after the publication of works such as Silent Spring by Rachel Carson decades ago - namely to develop and implement aggressive ecological policies that do not simultaneously destabilize markets.  Otherwise, I do see something scary afoot.

System of Systems Failure

We are on in a space without a map... all previous expectations, all familiar features no longer apply.  It's like we are unmoored, cast loose.  In Tibetan Buddhism, such a place or gap between known worlds is called a bardo.  It's kinda frightening.  It's also a place of potential transformation.  As you enter the bardo, there facing you is the Buddha Akshobhya.  His element is water.  He is holding a mirror for his gift is mirror wisdom - reflecting everything just as it is.  And the teaching of Akshobhya's mirror is this: do not look away; do not avert your gaze; do not turn aside.  This teaching clearly calls for radical attention and total acceptance.  Well for us right now, it's pretty clear, who is holding up Akshobhya's mirror: COVID-19.
        Joanna Macy, June 2020 (emphasis added)

[A system] of systems is a collection of task-oriented or dedicated systems that pool their resources and capabilities together to create a new, more complex system which offers more functionality and performance than simply the sum of the constituent systems. 

The mission of option3 emphasizes "full systems thinking".*  That obviously includes considering a system of systems.**  Where we draw boundaries is important.  COVID draws a planetary boundary.

The "cascading crises" to which Zakaria refers may not contain themselves to politics, economics, and finance.  COVID feels more like the beginning steps toward a scientifically predictable apocalypse, which constitutes a system of systems failure.  We are talking, informally, about an order of magnitude difference.  If it is not the beginning of an apocalypse, it is a warning shot from the collective unconscious.  Most of my adult life has been lived under the shadow of some notion of an apocalypse.  We live in a world-historic time.  I recall learning about climate change at least in the mid-1990s.  I worked in the climate justice field in 2004 and 2005.  That's when I started to feel we were in trouble.

The path ahead is almost certainly going to test us.  We face the gnashing of teeth eventually.  The bardo is a serious matter; and I do not pretend to have studied Tibetian Buddhism.  So I will keep my words simple.  As Macy observes through metaphor, the bardo is a also place of transmogrification akin to the Jungian shadow.  It is our hope that we can purify ourselves into something new and move forward.  

What does this psychoanalytic speculation mean in concrete terms?  Macy, like others, points to the degree of interdependence societies exhibit.  It is a testament to our investment and trust in each other.  But it is a potential source of fragmentation and vulnerability when the system undergoes stress.  Public health systems will experience failures until we have some affordable solution to COVID - especially as we head into winter.  But, whereas with public health we see predictable and incremental fragmentation, elsewhere we see possible emergent and nonlinear fragmentations.***


Unless immediate action is taken, it is increasingly clear that there is an impending global food emergency that could have long-term impacts on hundreds of millions of children and adults...  Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruption in the food supply chain.
        António Guterres, UN secretary general, The Nation

There is not only no global leadership, there is no national and no federal leadership in the United States...  In some sense, this is the failure of leadership of the U.S. in the U.S.
        Ricardo Hausmann, Director of the Harvard’s Growth Lab, NY Times

The first fragmentation (or impact) of COVID is generally considered the health impact itself, getting sick, and the related disruptions in public health systems.  The second fragmentation is reduced economic activity and reduced employment.  Fragmentation in the food distribution system (i.e. food supply chains) is the so-called third wave of COVID.  Food is an altogether new specter of uncertainty that takes us from system failure closer to the attributes of a system of system failure.  Hunger is more vivid than unemployment.  The delay is shorter.  We had food insecurity in the US well before COVID.  But the tenor of recent COVID-driven shocks feel different: massively increased demand at food banks, disruptions in meat processing and other food harvesting, and seeing farmers destroy food due to supply chain problems.   

As The Nation recently wrote, Lloyd's of London has focused on of food system shocks in the past and identified the potential to disrupt stability across multiple years and across the entire food system, which has their own attendant economic, social, and political impacts including stock market prices and insurance claims.  Lloyd's looked at dynamics during the Arab Spring such as food protectionism and the attendant price increases.  All of these effects spell political instability such as food riots. 

We hope a fourth fragmentation does not surface.  COVID is possibly deepening the governance failure to which I referred above.  But frankly, separating Trump's unwillingness to tackle COVID makes it hard to determine if we see COVID-driven governance failure or plain ineptitude.  The latter is the likely culprit.  Still, I have theorized since at least 2017 that a few factors may force people away from globalization not only for ideological reasons seen on the Right but because of automatization and related job losses and a general loss of faith in political institutions.****  The system is not serving the needs of the people.  And people may return to the land as best they can - possibly banding together.

Cascading Impacts

You accumulate problems, and because you’re such a strong player, you can carry these dysfunctionalities for a long time...  Until something happens and you can’t anymore.
        Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford Historian, NY Times

When asked to identify clusters of global risks from among the list of risks that are most likely to have synergistic effects and possibly lead to a global systemic crisis, 82 scientists replied.  A network map of those responses reveals how all assessed risks are embedded in a complex web of interdependencies...  An event in any one of these dimensions could potentially trigger events in connected realms, multiplying the likelihood and impact of risks.  The potential for crises arising from interactions is well known; society has seen many crises coming from sometimes-unexpected cascading impacts across systems.  
        Future of Earth, Our Future on Earth, 2020 (emphasis added)

As interdependent disruptions in the public health, economic, and food systems accumulate and multiply their impacts, those systems and others will falter and the system of systems will approach its own moment of truth.  Interdependent and interconnected dynamics deserve attention here.  COVID is not an isolated event.  As Alanna Shaikh argued in her TED Talk, COVID is a function of humans pushing further into the wild.  Consider: Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, HIV, SARS, Swine Flu, MERS, and Ebola all occurred in about the last 60 years.  Shaikh goes so far as to argue we are entering an era of pandemics.

We have disrespected Mother Earth under any common sense estimation.  She had been exceedingly patient with us.  A system of system failure is something we have never seen.  It is more serious than Yersinia pestis (i.e. the plague).   Determining when an apocalypse will happen is like forecasting accidents.  You can't.  You can use an exponential distribution to characterize small and middle scale risk.  But, but high consequence events are notoriously hard to characterize.  In short, our continued failure to see the interdependent and interconnected nature of this planet and our role in biospheric damage will mean we will continue to take non-incremental steps towards a scientifically predictable apocalypse.

Wikipedia defines a system as "a cohesive conglomeration of interrelated and interdependent parts which can be natural or human-made.  Every system is bounded by space and time, influenced by its environment, defined by its structure and purpose, and expressed through its functioning.  A system may be more than the sum of its parts if it expresses synergy or emergent behavior."

** Clif High deserves credit here.  At some point in 2020, he argued in a YouTube video that we are in the middle of a shift from one system of systems to another - a significant event, no doubt.  As such, I got the term from him; and he did connect it to COVID as well as other disruptions occurring on Earth.  Where the term began, I do not know.  I recalled Clif discussing a French theorist.  I reached out to Clif; and he referred me to Jean Baudrillard.  However, Baudrillard talked about a 'system of objects' in reference to ideas he had on consumerism.  I did not want to jump headfirst into a 200-page post-structuralist text to see if the Baudrillard had captured the idea for which I was looking.  I also saw other more satisfying references to the term in engineering.  I leave the matter at that for now.  

I also note that I became aware of another term 'complex systems' in 2001 or 2002 as a student of Professor Carl Simon at the University of Michigan.  He is a founder in the field of complex systems, which is an increasingly codified field.  Still, the term system of systems is somehow more satisfying in this discussion - though less functional.  An equally note-worthy term and theorist is 'gestalt'.  Kenneth Boulding applies that the term from earlier works. 

***Emergent is a specific term from the field of complex systems.

**** This idea is newish.  The automatization argument I have discussed on the podcast several times. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Conspiracy: A Taxonomy

Conspiracy is not a black and white issue.  Conspiracies deserve careful analytical attention.  Below is an attempted nomenclature and taxonomy.


a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.
        google.com (emphasis added)

At face value, conspiracies are neither unusual nor hard to understand although some conspiracy remain more complex and difficult for people to believe exist.  Like many complex questions, conspiracies sit on continuums - in this case I propose at least the following three continuums: conventional to the highly strangeweak to strong, and local to systemic (if not global).  

Conspiracies are sometimes also underdetermined; conspiracies can include competitive arrangements where factions vie for supremacy but also remain satisfied with long-term detentes or impasses that remain advantageous in a larger sense - such as controlling the masses.  Conspiracies also sit within hierarchies - one or even many within another - like Russian nesting dolls.  Indeed all conspiracies may fall into one single enormous struggle for power on this planet where the dominant conspiracy may yield the greatest power.  I suspect, in a certain sense, we live in such a world.  I will later call this managing the maelstrom.  In any case, before I get ahead of myself, here is the introductory taxonomy...

conventional (i.e. face value or vanilla) conspiracy exhibits conventional-rational state authentication or other forensic verification that, for instance, a lawyer, academic, journalist, researcher, or other practitioner might evaluate.   The The Business Plot and Mena Coverup are vanilla conspiracies.  You can find more.  Highly strange* or Ickian conspiracies - named after David Icke - involves higher, lower, and unseen dimensions in the universe as well as new and unusual beings that conventional research and reporting fails to imagine or evidence.  Most people do not have the imagination to suspect that the world we live in could be so complex, deep, and even problematic.  The world described in The Matrix films is an example of an Ickian conspiracy.  Another example is the very one Icke often discusses regarding inter-dimensional reptilian extraterrestrials who have utilized various direct and indirect methods to control the outcomes of collective and individual human decisions.**

weak (or soft) conspiracy lacks a well-delineated group or plan and exhibits greater flexibility in its operation and interpretation.  weak conspiracy may simply involve a common understanding and signaling*** within a loosely organized group.  A weak conspiracy exhibits less forensic specificity.  (Here weak does not mean their impact is weak.)  (A subset of teh weak conspiracy is the complex conspiracy, which may not reach a systemic wide conspiracy but still exhibits a good deal of complexity.)  A strong (i.e hard or verifiable) conspiracy is a 'smoke-filled room' conspiracy.  They have a well-delineated, secretive group and a specific harmful or illegal plan often exhibiting specificity in terms of forensics and authentication in relation to accomplices, objectives, schedules, and other components.  Watergate and Iran-Contra Affair are examples of strong conspiracies.

The American mafia is an illustrative example of both strong and weak conspiracies.  If we look at the entire American mafia - as a whole - its members are bound more by common understanding and common values and less by an explicit plan.  In such as an environ, signaling is very much possible and people can realize common goals with explicit coordination.  In this sense, the American mafia is a weak conspiracy.  For instance, in terms of RICO laws, the American mafia as a whole obviously remains to this day un-prosecuted and in operation (albeit perhaps weakened).  However, prosecutors have been successful at targeting sub-components of the mafia.  If we look at individual families or subcomponents such as crews within a family, those subcomponents are more likely to have the qualities of a strong conspiracy; and, unsurprisingly, law enforcement officials prosecuted such subcomponents using RICO laws.****

local conspiracy is a small scale, (often) geographically close conspiracy.    A local conspiracy is often a conventional conspiracy such as a point shaving in college basketball or municipal contract bid rigging.  Such examples do not stretch the imagination.  systemic conspiracy involves interdependent parts, often geographically spread that form a complex and interacting whole.  If I was to adventure a candidate example, I could point to voter irregularities outlined in the documentaries Kill Chain and Hacking Democracy.  

 The idea of high strangeness explicitly comes from in the work of Linda Moulton Howe - another researcher on extraterrestrial matters.  

**  I want to share two observations regarding the question of high strangeness.  One, evidently I didn't offer evidence for the last conspiracy mentioned.  I have no hyperlink, no book title, and  no documentary name.  You will have to do your own research.  Or don't.  Two, these ideas - whether we wrap them in terms of inter-dimensional reptilian extraterrestrials or some other strange beings - are not fundamentally unreasonable questions that lie outside of religious cosmology.  Archons, to which Icke often refers, are a legitimate research matter in contemporary religious studies.

I have a new blog entry that touches on the subject extraterrestrials.  For some, first-person testimony from various sources is convincing.  For others, psychedelic experience will reveal answers to these questions.  For others, they want to see bodies and crafts.  I get that.  Personally, I believe in intuitive sensing, Indigenous folklore/knowledge, and rational/scientific thought.  For me to reach personal consensus, I want to check all the boxes.  Until then I make the best possible conjecture in the face on conflicting evidence or lack of evidence.  The prevalence of first-person testimonies that discuss, reptilians, so-called Pleiadians, Ebens, and various greys suggest to me that they all likely exists.  The same applies to extraterrestrial crafts, crashes, and even possibly meetings between US government officials and extraterrestrials at least during the Eisenhower administration. 

*** Signaling allows people to communicate a great deal about their intentions without direct communication.  I also was going to add a subcategory called signaled conspiracy but a signaled conspiracy seems like a sub-category of non-strong conspiracy.

**** For instance, to borrow from the language of RICO cases, 'enterprise' revolves around whether prosecutors can establish a common purpose among a group of individuals.  Establishing 'enterprise' is easier among a smaller group of conspirators.  With a hard conspiracy, a prosecutor can more easily establish 'enterprise' when the conspiracy involves fewer people.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Conspiracy: Establishment Theorists

Establishment Theorists A Taxonomy - A Case Study

For Ted Gunderson.  

Before beginning, I want to emphasize how complicated this subject is.  In terms of specific conspiracies, I always try to make every effort to make measured statements based on hard evidence, (non-alternative) facts, science, corroboration, and first-person testimony from reliable individuals.  The fact remains that we as a culture - as a thinking collective - are shifting our views on conspiracies.  Our minds are opening.  And yet, we cannot engage in stupidity, carelessness, insensitivity, credulity, and any form of vulgar skullduggery or disrespect of others.  I was listening to an episode of This American Life and a story on Leon Pozner.  I was moved.  I was saddened.  I was humbled.  I do believe conspiracy abound on this planet.  And yet we must study them as academics or jurists and unpackage them with care.*

I was introduced to Ted Gunderson by a friend at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles in early 2010.  My friend had met Gunderson as a producer on a tv show on conspiracies.  Ted handed my friend and me two sets of notes and documentation on ritual murder and sacrifice.  As I read it over the following days, it was too troubled to keep it near me.  I put it in the garbage.  I regret that deeply.  I wish I had put it in storage.  I dedicate this blog entry to him and many, many others who have risked their livelihood, position, and lives to share profoundly troubling evidence of various forms of systematic, coordinated, and even ritualistic misbehavior and malfeasance to control the lives of people here and abroad. 


There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt — until recently … and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.
        Gore Vidal

Bin Laden didn't blow up the projects,
It was you, nigga,
Tell the truth, nigga,
Bush knocked down the towers,
Tell the truth, nigga,
Bush knocked down the towers,
Tell the truth, nigga.
        Immortal Technique featuring Mos Def, Bin Laden**

Today, conspiracy is mainstage.  From Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear in 1944 to the Wachowskis' The Matrix in 1999, conspiracy has become a premier concern for Westerners.  Conspiracy is no longer parlor talk.  It is a more commonplace policy question that concerns many highly intelligent artists and researchers.  Not only is conspiracy coming into vogue in popular terms, it has an academic legacy throughout the 20th century.

The first substantive notion of conspiracy I considered originated in the film JFK in 1991.  What makes Oliver Stone so important is that, regardless of his politics, he does his homework.  JFK was nominated for 8 Oscars for a reason.  It offered a clear thesis: that people conspired to assassinate President Kennedy to prevent him from ending the Viet Nam War and altering components of the military-industrial complex of which President Eisenhower himself had warned.  Another important and even more ambitious piece of conspiracy-themed art was X Files, which started in 1993.  Both had an impact on me.

In the late 1990s, back when newsstands existed, I recall seeing small circulation, non-academic journals that covered issues such as urban warfare simulations and police militarization.  These independent journalism analyses was where I was formally introduced to real-world conspiracy journalism.  For the most part, I forgot about this material until about 2003 or 2004.

Around that time, I saw a 911 conspiracy documentary on channel 36 in the SF Bay Area; I simply watched it and did not fully commit to any specific view.  About a year later, I came across the above piece by Immortal Technique.  That was a watershed moment; it shifted my thinking for whatever reason.  Soon I read at Crossing the Rubicon by Michael Ruppert and 9/11 Synthetic Terror by Webster Tarpley.  The rest is history.  Pun intended.

Establishment Theorists

The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to the doctrinaire and academic thinkers.
        Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope1966

[T]he university is really under the control of a small and active group of trustees who have no standing in the world of education, who are reactionary and visionless in politics, narrow and medieval in religion.
        Charles Beard, upon resigning Columbia University (emphasis added)

Conspiracy research is not, however, simply the work of independent journalists in the 1990's.  Quigley is a slippery figure.  He was interested in secret society no doubt.  But his motivations and the motivations of those who allowed him to study their institutions are not clear.  He was a Harvard-trained, Georgetown professor of history.  His work helps us to establish that the mainstream narrative of Left versus Right in the Unites States is a deep, subtle, and complicated drama, meant to occlude the real nature of political life in Western nations.

Charles Beard and Anthony Sutton are not so slippery.  Beard was a highly influential Oxford-trained, Columbia professor of history, who studied much of America's political history and foreign policy.  According to Professor Lance DeHaven-Smith, discussed below, Beard went so far as to argue that the field of history is itself the study of conspiracy.  Sutton was an English-trained economist (I believe) and Stanford University researcher, whose work deeply complicates conventional understandings of both WWII and the Cold War - especially with regard to international bankers influence on Nazis and the Bolshevik Revolution. 

Lance DeHaven-Smith is perhaps the leading figure in academic conspiracy research today.***  Consider his book Conspiracy Theory In America.  DeHaven-Smith coined the term 'state crimes against democracy'.  He served in the US Army and fought in the Vietnam War.  He earned a PhD from Ohio State University and teaches public administration at Florida State University.

These four people are nontrivial, academically trained researchers.  I don't discount citizen journalists, independent journalism, or even highly intelligent ranters online.  But IMO it's important people know about this category of conventional academics discussing what otherwise appears unconventional and even taboo.

* If it matters, I never took the Sandy Hook conspiracy very seriously.  At the risk of muddying the waters early in this discussion, I like Alex Jones.  I also think 'crisis actor' is a valuable analytical concept.  And yet, we must be more careful than Jones so as to not have to retract our views, which Jones eventually did.

** Although I enjoy sharing the Immortal Technique track, I am not blaming Bush explicitly for 911 at this time.   

*** I would discuss David Ray Griffin more but I do not know his work well.  I also do not mention him in this entry as these academics are not 911 academics but rather conspiracy academics in a wider sense.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

COVID: Brass Tacks

Without a timely vaccine*, prophylactic, antiviral or other inexpensive therapeutic, COVID-19 may constitute as longstanding and impactful an event as WWI, possibly even the First Industrial Revolution, and certainly more significant than the Spanish flu.  Total deaths may not match past events but COVID-19 is a harbinger of things to come that will leave a profound mark on our bodies and psyche.

Endgames: Herd Immunity, A Vaccine, and More

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
        John Quincy Adams

According to Ed Yong of The Atlantic, we have three endgame scenarios.  Under the control scenario, number 1, which he describes as vanishingly small in likelihood, "every nation manages to simultaneously bring the illness to heel" similar to SARS in 2003.  Under the herd immunity scenario, number 2, the illness runs out of gas but "at a terrible cost" - 
both in terms of deaths and social and economics costs.  Under the vaccine scenario, number 3, we play a "game of whack-a-mole...stamping out outbreaks here and there until a vaccine can be produced".  I include antiviral solutions - such as remdesivir, favipiravir and baloxavir - in scenario three.

You can add three intermediate scenarios: monoclonal antibody therapy, convalescent plasma therapy, and testing for antibodies.  The first is in development.  The second is expensive.  According to Stacey McKenna of Scientific American and more reading, the third remains uncertain as questions persist around individual immunity and antibodies.  Let's assume testing is our intermediate scenario. 

According to Alex Putterman in the Hartford Courant, any "return to semi-normalcy will also require extensive diagnostic testing, contact tracing and isolation of infected people".  He also notes that, according to CNN, over 90 companies have told the FDA they are selling antibody tests with vary efficacy.  Germany on the other hand seems to lead the way on testing.  Regarding contact tracing, according to Donald McNeil, Jr. of the NY Times, the US may have to train up from about 2K to 300K tracers.  The number of asymptomatic carriers will complicate this effort as well. 

I want to be positive.  But, it seems to me, we are on varying levels of lockdown until we have a vaccine or other solution.  Herd immunity is not a likely solution without a vaccine - especially given the conditions of transmissibility and fatality here** as well as the potential long time length for incubation, infection, and recovery.  Remaining uncertainties around reinfection could help or hinder the argument for the immunity scenario listed above.  

You could argue that we can 'harden' ourselves and try immunity scenario but, as I said, we face a major headwind.***  Sweden is experimenting with this approach in a sense - not without even some limited success although their nation is not a dense one, which doesn't help most major nations such as the US. 

I suspect we are in for 2 or 3 years of undulating lockdowns - especially if no vaccine is found in the non-trivial short-tun such as 5 years or so.  I also suspect that over time we will choose a hybrid between scenario 2 and 3 and let people die - assuming reinfection questions fall in our favor.  I am not ignoring that without economic activity, a portion of our society and other societies will die.  If it’s not obvious, I believe more in scenario 3.

The President's New Clothing

I’m going to have to make a decision, and I only hope to God that it’s the right decision...But I would say without question it’s the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.
        Trump, in April 2020, regarding reopening the country

The epidemiological model often cited by the White House, which was produced by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, originally predicted 100,000 to 240,000 deaths by midsummer.  Now that figure is 60,000.  While this is encouraging news, it masks some significant concerns.  The institute’s projection runs through Aug. 4, describing only the first wave of this epidemic.  Without a vaccine, the virus is expected to circulate for years, and the death tally will rise over time.
        Donald McNeil, Jr., NY Times, April 18, 2020

Ms. Merkel has done what Mr. Trump has not. She has been clear and honest about the risks with voters and swift in her response. She has rallied all 16 state governors behind her. A trained physicist, she has followed scientific advice and learned from best practice elsewhere.
        Katrin Bennhold, NY Times, April 23, 2020

Writing about Trump is always demoralizing and unproductive.  The people who need to examine his character, leadership, and policies can't.  And everyone else already sees the problem.  Nevertheless...  

Perhaps as never before, Trump has more than ever before illustrated his singular weakness - one that is quite surprising: indecision.  Indecisiveness is not generally the weakness of conservative leaders.  His bombastic tendencies only highlights his overall rising failures.  He has made many notable mistakes here that his recent predecessors - Republican or Democrat - probably would not have.  

One, Trump dissolved the National Security Council directorate on pandemics two years ago.   Two, he ignored the 69-page Obama pandemic 'playbook', which anticipated early problems we are still facing such as regarding distribution of PPE.  (John Bolton shares credit so far.)  Threehe waffled early on regarding the seriousness of the virus.  Four, he has punted on coordinating distribution of PPE and left state governors to solve a problem within the confines of a market-orientation when the nature of the problem required federal regulatory (i.e. non-market) leadership in light of various positive and negative externalities, timing constraints, and information asymmetries.  Five, according to The Atlantic, Trump has also had trouble with infighting within his administration.  Six, he continues to waffle on when to open the economy, which is a bizarre question in the first place.  People are not simply going to rush out to resume ordinary life.  To paraphrase Mark McClellan of Duke University on Fareed Zakaria GPS on April 12th, you can't push in a string.  Getting the economy going again is a process of confidence building and institutional rebirth - not a button you push.  Our entire way of life is on trial, as I will better explain in part 2.

Trump needs to coordinate with his health and economic experts along with governors and develop an interdisciplinary game plan with benchmarks on when to augment lockdowns based on concrete epidemiological intelligence - which is precisely what Angela Merkel is doing.  It's very hard work with many moving parts and very high stakes.  But it's his fucking job.  Many of his failures perhaps arise from his willingness to cut budgets for the CDC and NIH due to a prior disinterest in pandemic preparedness.****

* I have a great deal of ambivalence towards vaccines.  I do have concerns about vaccine conspiracies.  As for a matter of state policy, I think the government needs to invest and coordinate in developing a vaccine.  I approach this question very honestly.  It could cost my life or that of others.  And I could be called a free-rider in a post-COVID-19-vaccine era.  But I can't take responsibility for everything.  I believe we are all in this life together and need to make informed, free choices in our lives and face the consequences in this life and the next.  As I said, I believe in various method to 'harden' oneself.  See part 2.

** As a recent Lancet article, put it: the "first wave of COVID-19 outside of Hubei has abated because of aggressive non-pharmaceutical interventions.  However, given the substantial risk of viral reintroduction...close monitoring of Rt and cCFR is needed to inform strategies against a potential second wave".  Rt is the illness reproduction rate.  cCFR is the fatality rate. 

*** I write on what 'hardening' of ourselves might mean in part 2.

**** I don't explicitly include testing among his failures - though I probably should - because the CDC is in part to blame for sending out testing kits that didn't all work, which perhaps reflects recent funding problems they have face, which re-implicates the Trump administration.  I choose not to include it as a chicken-and-egg matter.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Liberal Dialectic: Marx to Krapotkin

 Marx to Krapotkin - Freud to Marcuse
Libertarian Centrism - Actual Policy

Before beginning, while I am a centrist thinker, I am unambiguously a capitalist: I own property and seek more.  Nevertheless, as a writer, my focus remains on how to build a society that balances the state and the market and simultaneously does not condemn the individual economically, psychologically, and spiritually.  To that end, socialists and anarchists help 1) interpret capitalism* and 2) consider intelligent policy innovations.  I also most admit I neglect the intellectual developments from Smith to more contemporary Liberal conservatives.  I am actually not certain so much new thought has surfaced.  The ideas of Locke and Smith remain quite new. 

The Great Overcompensation

Democracy is the road to socialism.
        Marx (disputed quote)

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.  The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

Before Marx was a communist, he was an intellectual of great capacity and a committed student political economist Adam Smith and philosopher Hegel.  Marx founded sociology along with Weber and Durkheim and redefined the concept of ideology.  Laypeople often dismiss Marx as a failed theorist.  I would say he failed in his policy prescriptions.  He was actually a truly impressive theorist and valuable yet imperfect forecaster of history.**

Marx and Engels (1848) redefined the state in (administrative) socialist terms as an inevitable response to the market and its capitalist nature and within their historical context.  Whereas Locke and Hobbes put too much faith in the liberal civil society, Marx and Engels put too much faith in the anti-liberal state - in particular the administrative conception of the anti-liberal state.  Herein we see the great over compensation that lasted from 1917 to 1991 (if we ignore China and Cuba).  In Hegelian terms, overcompensations are natural and even necessary to root out various contradictions.  

But they can be terribly painful.  Consider the democidal regimes of Stalin, Castro, and Pol Pot.  To make matters worse, with the first industrial revolution and innovations in everything from banking, medicine, and bureaucratic method, the state had developed profound new powers over the individual.  Despite China's profound innovations and successes, they represent a destructive and aggressive opponent to the self and its development.  Look at the persecution of Falun Gong and Tibet.  With the rise of contemporary of technology, some visions of the future approach the absurd.

The greatest failure of Marx IMO was to turn to the state too much for answers that lie in the hearts of women and men.  The contradictions in capitalism are real.  But they originate in the within us.  Their solutions lie their too.

Libertarian Left / Anarcho-Syndicalism

[A] federated, decentralised system of free associations, incorporating economic as well as other social institutions, would be what I refer to as anarcho-syndicalism; and it seems to me that this is the appropriate form of social organization for an advanced technological society in which human beings do not have to be forced into the position of tools, of cogs in the machine.  There is no longer any social necessity for human beings to be treated as mechanical elements in the productive process...we must overcome it to be a society of freedom and free association, in which the creative urge that I consider intrinsic to human nature will in fact be able to realize itself in whatever way it will.

It is the general idea put forward by Proudhon in 1840 that unites him with the later anarchists, with Bakunin and Kropotkin, and also with certain earlier and later thinkers, such as Godwin, Stirner, and Tolstoy, who evolved anti-governmental systems without accepting the name of anarchy; and it is in this sense that I shall treat anarchism, despite its many variations: as a system of social thought, aiming at fundamental changes in the structure of society and particularly - for this is the common element uniting all its forms - at the replacement of the authoritarian state by some form of non-governmental cooperation between free individuals.

        George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements

No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will save the world.  I cleave to no system.  I am a true seeker.

Most people overlook the libertarian Left.  Few have heard the term anarcho-syndicalism.  For nowI conflate anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-socialism, libertarian socialism, and the libertarian Left.***  I sometimes focus on the term 'anarcho-syndicalism' because I like Chomsky's working definition, as it focuses on the question of 'free association'.  In line with my rising consciousness thesis, I believe people must freely associate in new and different way along side existing capitalist structures in order to build a new healthy society that balance the needs and benefits of the state, the market, and the self as each has developed in the last 800 or 900 years.

The libertarian Left acknowledges wage slavery and other negative aspects of mainstream capitalist culture - including its stratification and exploitation of labor, unsustainable exploitation of the environment, manipulation of face value politics, the failure to observe adult sexual freedom, and the failure to consider Schumpeterian instability - to name a few important themes.  Anarcho-syndicalism also acknowledges benefits of social solidarity, direct action, mutual aid, cooperation, distributive justice, and the universal basic income.

All of these ideas are fundamentally new.  A minority of thinkers have been writing and speaking on these matters since the middle of the 1800s.  However, today only a minority of academic philosophy, activists, and alternative journalists have much knowledge of these ideas.  And these ideas have certainly not made their way into mainstream journalism, economics, policy studies, or policymaking.  

The libertarian left is not a panacea.  Nothing is.  Ideas from the libertarian left allows us to reconsider socialist thought without the baggage of administrative socialism.

I am not analyzing capitalism here.  If you don't have a developing suspicion that our current stage of highly destructive and prejudiced Western capitalism needs innovation, you probably never will.

** This subject deserves more attention than I can commit at this time.  I will note that many Western thinkers have no sobriety with regard to socialism and socialist thinkers.  Again, if you don't have a developing sense of this matter yet, you probably never will.

*** One can delve much deeper into libertarian Left theory.  I am also all too aware that I am glossing over the work of a few key contemporary philosophers for the purposes of brevity.  I do wish to recognize philosopher Joseph Déjacque as the first to coin the term libertarian.  To this day, these ideas haven't really even permeated economics, IMO.