Geopolitics > Ideology

George Friedman places recent US-Vietnam engagement within the history of balance-of-power diplomacy going back to the 1960s, in order to make a simple but compelling point. US relations with the USSR, China, and Vietnam have been only trivially inflected by ideological differences:

… look at the whole story and see how little ideology matters. The entire story is one of three Marxist regimes hostile to each other, and a Western capitalist regime using that hostility to balance the power. […] From the point of view of geopolitical analysis, the unimportance of ideology in all that happened is clear. The importance of the nation-state, regardless of its official ideology is equally clear. None of these four nations behaved as their ideology demanded. All behaved as their national interest did. […] This is why I find geopolitics an enormously more important method for understanding the world than beliefs and principles. These may matter in personal life. But the Marxism that defined Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev – and they were very much believers – could not resist geopolitical imperatives. And therefore, the president of the United States went to a Marxist country and set the stage for arming it. This should not surprise us.

Quotable (#165)

As this indignant but not entirely uninformative article suggests, the disorienting characteristics of the current conjuncture stem in part from the submerged lineages feeding into it:

Of special interest [to the Extropians] were science fiction, cryogenics, cryptography, anonymous digital cash, nanotechnology, the Singularity, artificial intelligence, mind-uploading, smart drugs, immortality, cybernetics, robotics, and how much the Government sucked.

A suggestively prophetic set of interests, surely? Even to those who hate all this stuff with a passion.

One further (highly topical) snippet from The Awl piece:

A sacred cypherpunk tenet was “cypherpunks code,” as in they actually implemented these things, and worried (or not) about any consequences later. This is where PGP and TOR came from — and eventually what became Bitcoin and Wikileaks also came out of that list. Thiel’s mantra, “Don’t Ask For Permission, Ask For Forgiveness,” as widely adopted now in SV start-up culture, is just an updated take on “cypherpunks code.” It’s the same impulse, to circumvent existing structures through technology (break shit), and worry (if you do at all) about the consequences later. The very staunch Libertarianism that is so alive in Silicon Valley now has this long, odd pedigree.

Quotable (#164)

A hole in ethnography:

Dares, in the sense of “I dare you,” are widespread in human culture, and children start daring each other in early childhood. It is not clear how universal the phenomenon is; “risk-taking” is on Donald Brown’s list of human universals, but not dares specifically. Cross-cultural work is lacking, though I have found descriptions of daring from Brazil, India, the Netherlands (in sign language), and Indonesia, as well as the United States and many parts of Europe. As far as I can tell, no one has written The Sociology of the Dare or even The Economics of the Dare, except in passing on some other topic. Empirical work is sparse, though luckily there is some detailed qualitative work from over a century ago. There is, as far as I know, no Journal of Dare Studies. …

Quotable (#163)

The frontier of automation:

In theory, distributed autonomous organizations (of which the DAO is one of the first examples) are a hardcoded solution to the age-old principal-agent problem. Simply put, backers shouldn’t have to worry about a third party mismanaging their funds when that third party is a computer program that no one party controls. […] At a time when the financial services industry is trying to automate old processes to cut costs, errors and friction, DAOs represent perhaps the most extreme attempt to take people out of the picture. …

Quotable (#162)

The Left-Liberal agony:

There’s more to a democracy than just the holy scripture of the constitution — there are also sacred numbers: election results. Together, words and numbers mold a country’s politics. In this process, the constitution is the constant while election represent a dynamic element. In the near future, this could also present a problem in several places: Election results are expected to deliver the wrong numbers. In Austria, a right-wing populist might get elected president. This could also happen in the United States. Germany’s AfD and France’s Front National have also attracted strong minority followings. A right-wing populist brush fire has become conceivable.

It wasn’t so very long ago that regime legitimation through popular will seemed like a great idea to just about everybody. Now it’s looking disturbingly like a blank check, in the hands of an unpredictable maniac.

(On the Outer Right, of course, the historical diagnosis is quite straightforward: Democracy first destroys the people, and then falls prey to them. The Ancients would have found it odd that anybody could imagine this to be a new idea.)

Quotable (#161)

Horror escalates:

… the immediacy of V.R. has a dark side, too. Several months ago, Michael Madary and Thomas K. Metzinger, researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, in Germany, published a series of recommendations on the ethical design and implementation of virtual reality. Their appraisal of the medium’s psychological force is both studious and foreboding. “The power of V.R. to induce particular kinds of emotions could be used deliberately to cause suffering,” they write. “Conceivably, the suffering could be so extreme as to be considered torture.” In filmmaking, the director must perform a kind of seduction of dread, leading viewers through an escalating series of psychological states. In the immersive world of V.R., no such dance is required. …