Monday, March 23, 2020

The Story is Over, Really

I woke up today to a kind of paranoia. I'm certain that I had plenty of company in that. I woke up today to this notice from It adverted to a book "by Chinese colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, from 1999, Unrestricted Warfare: China’s master plan to destroy America." Conspiracy theories are always plausible. They just hide their premise; in this case that China wants to destroy the U.S.

The original book is easy enough to find on Chinese Amazon. There is no such subtitle. As far as I can tell, it's in a line of books, including books on non-violent resistance and the overall obsolescence of war, which have been written for a long long time. Destructive weaponry is, of course, the least likely way to defeat the US. That doesn't mean that China set up this current mess just so that they could take over the world, even if it ends up that way.

The more interesting story is only beginning.

I don't believe for a second that China plotted anything to do with what's going on right now. Nor do I tend to agree with some on Fox News - the real fake news - that we should (as if we could) disentangle ourselves from China.

But the Quora post was bracing, somehow. It was a reminder about how increasingly unlikely it is becoming that we will ever return to the way it was before COVID 19.

I doubt the virus will kill us all, but the economy will have collapsed. For the moment, it does seem obvious that China will come out on top.

I'm glad that people like Benjamin H. Bratton try to understand what's going on, and continue to deploy their superior brainpower for the sake of good. But I don't believe for a second that their good sense will prevail. I doubt that they do either.

We are much more likely to be taken in by a feel-good story which requires that we do nothing. Oh wait. That's the story we've been living. The one that's over. The End.

As one lively comic noted, we insist on democracy in governance when we go to work for corporations which are run the way that Genghis Khan ran his armies.

Well, we are hardly insisting on democracy now, but it would be hard to believe that Bernie's prescriptions are sufficient anymore. That sort of socialism was a long dream for those of us well-read enough to know that the story we have been living couldn't end well. We never could believe that such policy would be voted in.

Now we exist in a state of exception, and most of us are only wondering what those in charge are going to do. Will they think of eminent domain over empty hotels and motels so that we have enough sick-wards. Will they commandeer the negative pressure isolation units that we have been calling RVs, like documented private ships in times of war? Will they finally begin to test all grocery and pharmacy and delivery/postal workers and provide public notice of where infected vectors touch?

Will they even do the simply obvious? Our scientific community understands stochastic sampling. Combined with protecting those who deliver essential services, this should be easier than knee-jerk setting up of drive through testing which quickly has to be shut down.

Could we possibly do worse than the upside-down manner in which teams are being set up now? Can't we please place an expert in charge? I mean someone who knows how to run a team to get the best results. You have to allow team members to speak truth to power. I have this on the highest authority.

Apparently, we don't even have enough testing capacity for any but hospital workers and the very sick to be tested. The rest of the world has done better, though there is no point to complain about that now, any more than there would be any point to berate myself for not selling of my meager stocks when I knew they were flying too high.

Our financial choices won't matter because I don't think that our familiar economy is ever coming back. For one thing, if it does, it will still never be prepared for states of exception. I don't think China is the case to follow, though. Of course their authoritarian government was prepared. Of course we don't wish to emulate them.

I have quit plenty of jobs when my boss wouldn't let me do my work, but wanted me to be subservient to their orders. I have had plenty of other jobs where the decisions were made at the level of the knowledge, and I found those satisfying. There was never any distinction in the nature of the work, or even how nice the boss was.

Given the openness of our networks and the freedom of our speech, it seems unthinkable that we can't find a way to ensure that decisions about this virus are made at the appropriate level. Our leaders don't have time and likely aren't qualified to monitor the media and spread the best ideas. Their organizational training seems to be contrary to our aspirations for our politics. The literal idiots are in charge.

Some workers these days are made to be robots. Their productivity is relentlessly surveilled, and rewards are for efficiency. In my personal experience, such jobs would include account inquiry servicing, insurance claims evaluation, fast food servicing, shipping (driving and delivery), along with many many more.

The division of learning has meant that I've never had to endure such jobs myself, or maybe it's just that I've aged out from that economy faster than it's been virally spread.

There is a different trend that could be as good as it could be bad. The new gig economy encourages contract workers to own their means of production again, and manage how they accomplish efficiency. Just now, it seems to be devolving toward slave labor and the undermining of established businesses. But that doesn't have to be the was it always stays. The leaders of such businesses have been something less than inspiring. We seem to be letting them get away with something. They're too damned young.

I just know that there are far better cooks and salespeople and delivery people and inquiry responders than the ones now treated so poorly by their overpaid managers working for massive Wall Street backed brand names.

Now might be the time to take back our lives and write our own stories. We have to start by putting sensible laws in place. None of us should be characterized by the surveilled behaviors of a slice of us we can't control.

Badges for the immunized - and the immune by virtue of recovery - wouldn't be a bad idea. They should not become permanent is all. The tech can help with that. The behaviors captured would be in the category of no-fault behaviors.

Now that they have dominated our economy by predatory methods backed by Wall Street speculation, the giants of Amazon, Walmart, Google, Microsoft and Apple, among many lesser gods, will do the right thing. That example will encourage the rest of us to take heart.

And then we need to reconstruct our government so that such predatory behemoths are never again allowed to appear. The destruction of creativity in the name of creative destruction has been unfathomable. We never took proper warning from the collapse of Wall Street back in 2008ish. It was not different from what is happening now.

The earlier collapse of our economy is framed similarly as an act of nature; something periodically inevitable if we wish for capitalism to work. But we never did ferret out the forces of evil represented within that system.

The evil was benign, in the sense that those perpetrating it must have largely talked themselves into feeling that what they were doing mattered only locally. From earth's perspective, the COVID 19 virus is benign as well.

Sure Daniel Defoe's Journal of the of the Plague Year might be as much a novel as true reporting. But it's still instructive to note how little has changed. Work for Amazon - cart off the dead bodies - until you can get your jobs back.

But it's different this time. The difference is that we are globally aware. The angels of our better nature are about to take flight. Even the obscenely rich know that the incentives are misaligned. That know that Wall Street needs tweaking. They know that massive socioeconomic divides will spell their own doom. They know that chief executives have to stand for something good and not just the short-term bottom line.

We are not yet the best America that we can be. But we cannot let this experiment fail.

I have to say that I find China to be a largely benign force. But they define themselves in recialist fashion, have largely closed borders, and don't have anything near the freedom of speech that we do.

Our trouble is that in net result, we don't actually speak. We drown out thought that matters, much of the time. I don't believe for a second that China suffers any absence of freedom of thought that's much different than ours is.

Consider this: On Chinese Amazon there has been a dedicated tab for the Three Body Problem for well over a year (likely much longer, but I haven't been paying that close attention). It's a fabulous book, and full of challenging thought (I haven't read the English translation). But what is going on with that? Can you even imagine one single author with such dominance here? Can you imagine a leader for life?

I hope not.

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