The Impossibility of Perfect Security

In light of the terrorist attacks today in Brussels it is important to remember two things. First, the threat of suicide bombers is uniquely troubling to governments trying to prevent attacks. Stopping someone who is alone and willing to die in order to kill others is nearly impossible. It is a devastating terror tactic, not least because it frustrates immediate revenge. There will always be people who can blow themselves up, who can walk into a public area and shoot people whom the government will not be able to stop. It is dangerous for governments and citizens to seek perfect security from attacks such as these. The second point is that terrorist attacks such as these are able to terrify people and to frustrate everyday life, but they cannot destroy a country. These are attacks of weakness, and there are a whole host of threats much more dangerous to the life of a country than suicide bombers.

Borders are old-fashioned

In May of last year, Boeing, the enormous defense contractor and aerospace company, threatened to take its headquarters out of the country if the Export-Import Bank wasn’t reapproved by Congress. You can argue if the Export-Import Bank is a good idea or not but it is painfully obvious that Boeing’s ability to move out of the country is a grave challenge to American sovereignty. The true power of corporations in the modern world, especially in wealthy countries, is not their financial might, but their ability to employ thousands of people. Politicians know that if unemployment rises, if the economy retracts, their positions are vulnerable. This weakness gives corporations a huge advantage over states in this century.

States and their governments are restricted and defined by their borders, and borders are old-fashioned. Globalization, communications technology, and the rising economies of previously impoverished Asia and Africa are allowing large corporations to move around the globe to better serve their bottom lines. Another problem with states (and many corporations’ biggest gripe)? Taxes. Governments rely on taxing residents, goods, property, and commerce within their borders in order to fund their services, edifices, and institutions. But how can you tax a corporation if they’ll just leave? We often see this within the United States, corporations will relocate to a state with lower tax rates, and the states that those corporations move to are willing to trade tax revenue for employment. All of this gives rise to the impression of inequality: “the sovereign corporation gets whatever it wants but I have to slave away and bear an enormous tax burden.”

Another obvious example of the weakening position of the nation-state is the continuing rise of non-state actors. The gold standard for this was al-Qaeda before, ironically because of their aspiration to nationhood, the Islamic State. ISIS has destroyed the boundary that separates Syria and Iraq, a line set by the Sykes-Picot agreement between the British and French during the First World War. Few nation-states have arisen organically, most have had lines drawn for political reasons, Iraq and Syria, before the French and British drew their borders, were not nations but provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Communications technology and entropy has allowed non-state actors to gain power and redefine the physical spaces in which they operate. The decentralization of power is a key feature of the modern age.

Thoughts on Hillary Clinton and Voter Turnout

It is interesting to note that in an election year where the democrats are fielding such an unpopular and weak candidate as Hillary Clinton that one would expect voter turnout to be very low for democrats in the general election. If Donald Trump becomes the republican nominee, and he probably will at this point, I believe he will increase opposition voter turnout. The effect of Donald Trump becoming the republic nominee will almost guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton because Trump has stirred such opposition from normally uninvested or uninterested voters. If the Republicans could have fielded a centrist he would have a very good chance of winning the presidency. 

Problems facing humanity in the future

There are two overwhelming psychological challenges that are going to face humanity as we move deeper into the 21st Century: 1) profound mutations of society brought on by new technology, and 2) a nihilistic outlook on life. I will address the first in this post.

Disruptions in economic life are already becoming apparent, and are in fact at the heart of the political crisis that has faced the United States for the last 10 years. As time goes on the economic changes brought on by technology will begin to deeply change society. Inequality, unemployment, and changes in social connections will upend people’s sense of security and could completely disrupt existing political structures. Technological changes will create an ever-increasing under class with a lack of skills to thrive in a new economy. This will create a sizable minority of people who feel alienated from society and culture at large. Politicians have done almost nothing to address this problem, and many plans, such as protectionist trade policies and increasing the minimum wage are nothing but band-aids on a gaping wound.

Thoughts on "The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory"

This timely and interesting book by author John Seabrook provides an often searing look at the high-end of celebrity pop music. All of those number 1 hits you hear on the radio are manufactured by one of several giant music conglomerates, and our dear celebrity pop artists are mere afterthoughts chosen for their unseemly desire for fame meshed with their physical beauty. Though it focuses on the brilliance of the handful of producers who create the vast majority of pop hits the book is truly about the power of large corporations in modern America. The promise of the internet to free entrepreneurs from corporate structures and to cut out middle men has proven to be only half true. What we can now see is that very few break into wealth, popularity, or, more broadly, success without the aid of some large corporation or other institutions that have existed before the creation of the Internet.

The entire wealth generated by the music industry is dependent on the handful of pop hits created by a handful of producers. These producers hand off their songs to interchangeable artists who are then branded and promoted, and then their songs are promoted in a form of collusion between the giant music corporations and the handful of gigantic radio corporations. The hits themselves are an example of the engineering of consumer products to best please the reward pathways of the brain. As in fast food manufacture, where food is laced with just the right combination of salt, fat and sugar to stimulate an addictive release of dopamine, the producers have stumbled upon the right melodies and harmonies and release of tension to create a rewarding “bliss point.”

It is the same in almost every major industry: from music, pharmaceuticals, and food to television, video games and your favorite social media apps. The music is forced on us in one other way that is specific to enormous corporations: you are bludgeoned with it relentlessly until you begin to enjoy it because of the familiarity with it, another psychological quirk that has been leveraged….

The problem with all of this is the fact that the reason corporations are so successful at creating and managing consumer products while masking the naked capitalism involved is because they are the only institutions with the resources to create, market, and make profitable these products, which are sold in a fundamentally dishonest way. I don’t think anything can truly be done to change the situation but the facts leave me feeling that we live in a controlled and sanitized reality, that doesn’t actually match the world. Perhaps the great sin of scientific progress has been to make the world fundamentally inauthentic, and maybe we need to find an antidote for that for our psychological well-being.