"Things don't just happen, they are made to happen." – JFK
A common theme of Adam Curtis is the rise and eventual dominance of management systems in our every day life, or how our lives became regulated by managerial structures that escaped our control and are now living lives of their own. There are no single explanation for this strange outcome we are living, but rather a combination of economic, political, organizational and technological pressures that created a world far away from what idealists of the mid 20th century would have expected.
Indeed, instead of harnessing technologies to offer a better life, reducing our working time and increasing our income, we have been overcome by their power, submitting our lives to continuous stress and near slavery. The words are strong, but those who try to live without internet may discover how addicted we have become. With this rise of machines came a global cultural shift that took the initiative away from the individual toward the processing of large amounts of data to sometimes mediocre or even counter-productive results.
Today, any project must be backed by enormous amounts of statistics showing why it is good (when really most of the time data cannot even answer this question because they are backward looking). Even though projects must submit to sensible financials or statistical analysis, it is rather surprising that this aspect should come at the very centre of the project itself. Following this way of thinking, big projects (including the internet) would have never seen light.
The amazing irony is that what the Western World fought against during the Cold War, namely the state rationalization of every aspect of a country (being the USSR), is now under way, this time under the seemingly neutral economical theories. Economics have always been heavily politicized but 30 years of neo-liberal backlash have succeeded in erasing this simple fact from our minds.
Our way of thinking about society has been reduced to a simple anthill where we are all cogs of a self regulating system. A poor vision indeed, and one which deprives us from any hope for changes because of a powerful argument: trying to change our present using the power of the state would run against the natural order of things. Of course, this runs against 200 years of Enlightenment theory, from its birth in Europe to the American Revolution to the rise of social democracy. Yet today's policies now take decisions based on rationale that would have been seen as extreme ideology only 40 years ago.
In light of the scale of our world's challenges, the 'laissez-faire' approach has shown serious short-comings that cannot be addressed but with the power of the state. Global warming, rising inequalities and the depletion of resources are far too big to be addressed without governmental actions. Without the introduction of incentives and regulation in key sectors and industries, individual actors (companies and people) have all incentives to continue on their track until the inevitability. Given the size of disruptions at stake, it is something that we do not want to run into.
Science, General Knowledge & Environment
Our Cats, Ourselves – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – "Many of us conceive of our relationship to our pets as analogous to that between a parent and child. But the natural history tells a more pragmatic tale. Cats emerged in the context of profound ecological changes to the post-ice-age landscape wrought by humans."
Earth’s Disappearing Groundwater – NASA: "Because the gap between supply and demand is routinely bridged with non-renewable groundwater, even more so during drought, groundwater supplies in some major aquifers will be depleted in a matter of decades. The myth of limitless water and the free-for-all mentality that has pervaded groundwater use must now come to an end."
Food supply: Uncharted waters – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – "Farmed fish production has grown by 13 times since 1980, with the industry producing $144bn worth of salmon, shrimp, trout, scallops and many other species in 2012. The amount of captured wild fish has remained stagnant since the 1990s at around 90m tonnes a year as a result of the depletion of key grounds and the introduction of quotas."
Solar and Wind Energy Start to Win on Price vs. Conventional Fuels – "Nonetheless, he said, executives were surprised to see how far solar prices had fallen. “Renewables had two issues: One, they were too expensive, and they weren’t dispatchable. They’re not too expensive anymore.”"
Connecting the dots: Extreme climate change, conflict – "But climate change will exacerbate some of the factors that sow discontent and create fertile recruiting grounds for extremists, including drought and food shortages, economic upheaval, changes in disease patterns, and population migration."
Algorithms Are Great and All, But They Can Also Ruin Lives – ""We are all so scared of human bias and inconsistency. At the same time, we are overconfident about what it is that computers can do.” The mistake, Citron suggests, is that we “trust algorithms, because we think of them as objective, whereas the reality is that humans craft those algorithms and can embed in them all sorts of biases and perspectives.”"
History & Geopolitics
Thanksgiving and Puritan Geopolitics in the Americas – "The first winter took many of the English at Plymouth. By fall 1621, only 53 remained of the 132 who had arrived on the Mayflower. But those who had survived brought in a harvest. And so, in keeping with tradition, the governor called the living 53 together for a three-day harvest feast, joined by more than 90 locals from the Wampanoag tribe."
The War That Didn't End All Wars – "In the end, the lesson of 1914 is that there are no sure lessons. War has no reliable solutions, because contexts change. What resolves conflicts in one setting will provide cover for aggression in another; actions that deter aggression under some circumstances will at other times provoke it."
China, Russia and the Sinatra doctrine – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – "It will not be hard for the governments in Moscow and Beijing to point to continuing inconsistencies in America’s rejection of spheres of influence. But the US argument still rests on a basic truth. There is a vast difference between a sphere of influence based on willing consent and one that is constructed around intimidation and force."
The UAE and Saudi War on the Muslim Brotherhood Could Be Trouble for the U.S. – "There is a sizable lobby within the U.S. government that is interested in cracking down on those and other Muslim groups. The Emiratis and Saudis hope the lobby will use the United Arab Emirates' announcement to push in this direction."
The Islamic State Reshapes the Middle East – "What is noteworthy is the effect that the Islamic State has had on relationships in the region. The group's emergence has once again placed the United States at the center of the regional system, and it has forced the three major Middle Eastern powers to redefine their relations with Washington in various ways."
Jerusalem not the place to ignite a religious fire – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – "The settlement policies of Mr Netanyahu and his predecessors, giving Israel control of more than half the occupied territories, may already have placed a Palestinian state beyond reach. Some hardliners in his cabinet are calling for formal annexation of big chunks of the West Bank."
Conversation: Analyzing Pakistan's Fight Against Jihadists – [Video] – "Stratfor Analysts Fred Burton and Kamran Bokhari discuss the Pakistani Intelligence Agency's efforts to fight jihadist within the country's borders."
Finance & Economics
Radical cures for unusual economic ills – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – "This is one of the difficulties with the boilerplate recommendation of labour market reform, which entails lowering wages for a large proportion of the labour force and making it easier for employers to hire and fire. This is likely to lower consumption at least in the medium term – precisely Germany’s experience in the first decade of the 2000s."
China’s power threatens new BRICS bank’s prospects – (Hat tip Lolo) – "The danger could be that China’s influence either grows too big for the partner countries to accept or that it restricts overall lending, therefore negating the bank’s effectiveness."
China blinks as economic downturn deepens – "But the bigger concern lies with state-owned enterprises (SOE). We estimate SOE debt at close to 100pc of GDP, twice as much as private corporate borrowing. Given that banks have always preferred SOEs, a disproportionally large part of banks’ balance sheets is probably locked in to non-performing SOE loans."
Picture of the day: Portraits
Written by Carlito
About Carlito Riego
"Great perfection may appear imperfect, but its usefulness is inexhaustible. Great abundance may appear empty, but its usefulness cannot be exhausted. Great correctness may appear twisted, great skills appear crude, great eloquence appear awkward. Activity conquers cold; inactivity conquers heat. Clear serenity governs the world." - Lao Zi