Destruction from Within (and from Without)

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By Mike Cronin

President Lincoln once said: “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

That’s not quite catchy enough for meme culture, so it was “massaged” by netizens into a more digestible tidbit: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we lose our freedoms it will be because we have destroyed ourselves from within.”

So now there is talk of Russia interfering with our presidential politics again. The difference: This time Russia is supposedly seeking to help Bernie Sanders, currently the front-running Democrat, AND President Trump.  You might be wondering which side has it wrong – after all, Russia wouldn’t support opposing candidates, would they?

They might indeed.  Russia can’t defeat us conventionally, and there would be nothing to rule over if we nuke each other. If you are Russia, how can you get what you want with the mighty USA always in the way?  How can supporting both sides of the presidential power struggle be of any benefit?  If they are doing it, it’s probably because it helps us to destroy ourselves from within. Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev both openly proclaimed that destroying us from within was on the table.

Destroying America from within is probably the favored strategy for any enemy or competitor of the US. Since the US has the most powerful military, most powerful economy, and controls the global commons, asymmetric strategies are all that’s left to enemies or competitors.  Where we are united, turn us against ourselves.  Where we are divided, drive the wedge in further. Where we have moral weakness, stoke it.  Use memes, fake news, cyber intrusions, donations, corrupt business deals, blackmail, identity politics and the like to taint our politicians, influence our media, corrupt our institutions, and keep us bickering among ourselves. That way, we won’t have as much energy to spare watching and worrying about what the Russians or any other bad actors are up to. And if the US has another Civil War, or has a wave of successions and breaks up into several smaller countries?  So much the better.

The Russians have a name for this doctrine. They call it Reflexive Control.  In the ancient Chinese volume, The Book of Qi, an essay called “The 36 Stratagems” refers to it as “Let the enemy’s own spy sow discord in the enemy camp.

The moral: Whenever you feel like we are coming apart at the seams over Trump, immigration policy, gun rights, free speech abortion, LGBTQ issues, race, religion, wealth and income gaps, and so on, just know that Russia, China, Iran, Islamic Fundamentalists, and/or other enemies and competitors have the motivation to keep stoking the flames.

Not so Random Matter?

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By Mike Cronin

I started out thinking I had several disparate items for this week’s post, but they all seemed to tie together:

It’s science-project season at my son’s school.  He brought home an information/instruction packet.  He had to get a parent to sign the first page – which is a letter to parents explaining that the kid has to do the science work on his own, but parents can help with the non-process portions of the project (e.g. helping the kid get materials) etc., etc. On the reverse of the first page is a progress tracker.  The kid has to get his parents to sign each time he hits a milestone on the project.  My son got dinged on the first milestone because I didn’t sign it.   The first milestone is to have a parent sign the letter to parents.  Yes, that’s right: The purveyors of the science project’s hand-out material failed to notice they are requiring a parent sign the back of a form in order to certify that the parent signed the front of the form…and they make the kid take the hit if the parent doesn’t jump through the hoop.  On a science project. You know, Science?  The subject where they teach kids logic, critical thinking, precision, peer review, attention to detail, right? Little things like that.

Speaking of science, I work in a small office with five other people. All five are scientists and/or engineers. Our office serves as a kind of internal think-tank. We do quantitative and qualitative analysis, among other things. I am the only one in the office who does not have a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).  My colleagues can run rings around me on any kind of math-based reasoning or problems.  On the other hand, I usually get the better of them when it comes to verbal expression.  I like to tease them that they are all experts at qualitative reasoning, while I am the quality. At any rate, our work sometimes involves (mathematical) models and simulations. Someone in the field once quipped that “all models are wrong, but some models are useful.”

Given the public’s current fascination with the phenomena of “fake news,” I think an adaptation of the “models” aphorism is apropos as a guidepost for judging the efficacy of anything in the media: “All news is fake, but some news is useful.” Two cases in point:

Some right-wing media sources are reporting that Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, as much as revealed that the UN’s plans to combat climate change are really a set of blinders to hide the real agenda: the destruction of capitalism. While the UN is no friend of capitalism, context matters, as does the thing that is not being said.  Figueres undeniably advocates for the alteration of the global economy when she says:

“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution,”

Note that she stops short of stating that the current global economic development model that must be changed is capitalism (it isn’t, by the way – it’s a mix of capitalism and controls), or describing what model should obtain.  I would not be surprised to learn that Figueres is indeed anti-capitalist, nor would I be surprised to learn that UN efforts to combat global warming are indeed a smokescreen to hide the destruction of capitalism, but Figueres’s statements fall short of being a smoking gun – more like an eyebrow-raiser. The subject bears watching.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the fake news spectrum, we have the New York Times’ headlines for Friday’s attack at the Louvre in Paris by a “lone wolf” Islamic jihadist. Their first headline read: “Louvre Museum Evacuated after French Soldier Opens Fire.” At best, this headline leads you to believe the incident revolved around the actions of a French soldier. At worst, it leads you to believe a French soldier went nuts and started shooting up the Louvre.  A few hours later, the headline had changed to read: “Assailant Near Louvre Is Shot by French Soldier” Again, the French soldier’s actions seem to be the focus.  As mentioned previously, context matters, and what is not being said matters. What the vaunted New York Times neglected, or purposely refused to highlight in their headlines, was that a man shouting “allahu ackbar!” (i.e. “God is great” in Arabic) and wielding knives attacked some French soldiers and was shot by one of them in response.

It would not do to depart from The Narrative by highlighting yet another attack by a Muslim against Western targets, even as the militant arm of the “tolerant” left is convulsing over President Trumps’ recent “anti-Muslim” immigration restrictions, now would it? Instead, the “Newspaper of Record” felt it must mislead readers with deceptive headlines. I’m not suggesting the Times should have gone with “Islamo-Fascist Nut-Job Takes Knives to a Gun Fight in Paris; Wins Darwin Award Nomination,” but something like “Assailant Shouting in Arabic Shot by Soldier At Louvre” might have hit the right balance between not jumping to conclusions about the attacker’s religion, intentions, and connections, and the response of the soldiers.  All news is fake, some news is useful.

The Network Revolution

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By Mike Cronin

Every so often you come across a book that leads you to multiple epiphanies.  “The Seventh Sense” by Joshua Cooper Ramo is turning out to be such a book for me (I haven’t finished it yet). Ramo’s theme:  Networks are the next revolution, are you ready to capitalize on that?  This post is not quite a book review – it’s more a chronicle of some of the thoughts it has prompted so far.

Historians, archaeologists, and geologists like to describe history and pre-history in terms of epochs, periods, and ages, such as the Cretaceous Period, the Jurassic Period,  the Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Space Age, etc.  In human history, the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, and the Enlightenment brought Western Civilization out of the Dark Ages and mark the beginning of the increasing pace of change. They signaled the advancement from superstition to science.  Those who best understood the power of reason over tradition were best –positioned to become the elite.  The Industrial Revolution marked a similar point – those who best understood the promise of industrializing were best positioned to become the elite: Getty, Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc.

Since that time we’ve had the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, the Space Age, and the Information Age; and again, those who could best foresee the advantages of the advancements of their time became the elites. Howard Hughes. Bill Gates. Michael Dell.

The next historical paradigm shift may very well be centered on harnessing the power of networks. Human networks started small with clans and tribes, and then grew into cities and nations and empires…which built physical networks of trade routes and roads.  Trans-oceanic shipping started to tie the nations, cities and empires together across and around the globe, but the connection speed was very slow – weeks or months, or even years.

Steam power shrunk that time to days or weeks across the oceans…and continents, on rail networks. The telegraph and radio and television accelerated message transmission to the speed of light, but the bandwidth was still very narrow.

Along came computers and the internet, and advanced us to the current state of affairs: instant, high-bandwidth communication to almost anywhere on the globe.  Here’s where Ramos comes in: We are nodes in networks, be it human, mechanical, or electronic.  The people who best understand networks and how to leverage their advantages are becoming, or are poised to become, the next generation of elites. Jeff Bezos. Mark Zuckerberg. Sergey Brin.

In my view, such a radical paradigm shift could lead to the replacement of the nation-state (i.e. country) as the model for organizing human geopolitical affairs.  Instead of a world divided into hundreds of countries with hundreds of governments, imagine two global entities: The connected world, and the isolated world. The so-called Globalists may be onto this concept, but they generally have been going about achieving it the wrong way.  Some of them were (or still are) putting the cart before the horse.  They had already attained some measure of “elite-ness” in the existing Space Age and Information Age paradigms, then anointed themselves as our betters and purported to tell us how we were to usher in their vision of things – with themselves on the top, people like George Soros.  Many such globalists miscalculated badly with the US election, while President Trump’s campaign team represents an effective example of the new paradigm.  Trump’s message may smack of nationalism, but his campaign strategists still shrewdly demonstrated a facility with the power of networks that eluded the globalist elites.  The Trump campaign spent half as much money as Hillary Clinton’s, yet it harnessed the power of social media networks to connect “nodes” the Clinton campaign ignored and to bypass the mainstream media.  This strategy was at least partially responsible for Trump’s electoral win.

Time will tell whether his Cabinet and other advisers will show the same prescience as his campaign strategists.  Meanwhile, you and I and our children must learn to harness the power of networks if we are to remain relevant in the coming Network Revolution.