The Aging Infrastructure Paradox

Many countries in the developed world have an infrastructure crisis. In the United States there is an avowed problem with bridges and railroads, but also with water and sewage systems and with internal governmental communications technology. There is general agreement that these aging structures need to be replaced or repaired, but the cost is tremendous and the political jockeying for funds is, and will be, intense.

There is another problem, though. With technology advancing so rapidly, how does a municipality or nation decide when to proceed in adopting technology with promised cost reductions and improvements over the horizon? Any project undertaken will necessarily be outdated and overcost compared to projects undertaken in the near future, but further deterioration in infrastructur hurts all facets of society.

It is clear that in physical infrastructure projects leaders must choose a contractor and technique and live with it, technology in this arena and costs will always fluctuate but structures must be maintained.

In communications technology any investment designed to modernize infrastructure will be rendered obsolete in a few years. Anything adopted in the public sector will immediately lag behind innovations in the private sector. This can lead to problems that are not immediately apparent, such as tech support being ended for the technology in use. If quantum cryptography or other innovations provide superior security from cyberattacks then anything not using that technology will be vulnerable to intrusion. Systems that are immediately antiquated will be vulnerable and attractive targets.

Flexibility is integral in modernity’s ever-advancing technological revolution. Skeleton structures that can be modified and updated are optimal, instead of rigid, permanent structures, in both physical and communications projects.

The Destruction of the Western Canon: The Unnoticed Casualty of Progress

Modernity’s movement of inclusiveness is reversing monstrous injustices. Old, white, male intellectuals and artists are rightly downgraded in importance and their authoritativeness disavowed in the face of modern writers and artists from marginalized communities. Unfortunately, a consequence of this is the destruction of history. A thread of thoughts and a conversation can be stretched from Homer to Cicero to Pope to Orwell but then slowly is thinned into nonexistence. What happens when we no longer value the ideals and conversations that have formed Western Culture? The values of justice, individualism, freedom of thought, and political thought have all sprung from the Western Canon. Numerous individuals and artists were enriched from their participation and examination of those works. It is ironic that a white, Western, male-dominated strain of thought that centered on the superiority of logic and on the equality of mankind has undermined the august position of the progenitors of those ideals.

A sad fact is that minorities in Western society fundamentally lack power. Many gains made by minorities in the realms of social justice and equality are, in fact, granted by the majority. In much the same way, works reacting to the dominance of the white patriarchy are derivative of that same system of thought. If artists truly want to break from current power structures, radical, original art must be produced AND disseminated from sources that are entirely minority. BeyoncĂ©’s “Lemonade” has generally been viewed as a pop-cultural piece rooted in minority experience, but it is promoted and released through corporate structures that are largely owned by white males.

If the Western Canon is to be disavowed, a new, radical minority-driven Canon should replace it with original thought and ideals, instead of being a reaction, there must be creation as well as destruction. If this does not occur then we will have abandoned the good of Western culture while disposing of the evil without actively replacing the missing virtues.

The Obvious Discrimination in North Carolina’s "Bathroom Bill"

It is completely apparent that North Carolina’s law restricting the use of public bathrooms to the sex listed on an individual’s birth certificate is designed to encourage and act against transphobia. There is no other logic that would require this bill to be passed now.

If the law is designed to protect children, why is it being passed how with a focused on transgendered people? Heterosexual males, who were born men, could dress up as women and enter a woman’s bathroom to assault people before any specific law was passed.

Further, heterosexual males, who are born men, are vastly more likely to be sexual predators. This ties in to one of the recurring themes of fear against the LGBT community. The idea that LGBT individuals are more likely to be promiscuous and sexually deviant is not supported by facts. It is a social panic for a problem that does not exist. Transsexual people have not been accused of assaulting people in bathrooms, and even if they did, they are such a small minority of the population that there is no overwhelming need to single them out for rigorous legal restraint. More people in the United States have had a sexual experience with an animal than there are transgendered persons. This law was only passed as transgendered people have prominently entered the public consciousness.

The final factor that makes clear that this is a discriminatory law that is designed to placate panic and demonstrate disapproval of the LGBT community is that it is unenforceable. It is a bad law. Police cannot monitor every public bathroom and demand individuals, who they suspect are transgendered to produce their birth certificates. It is unreasonable and it would seem to require some sort of invasive profiling.

Bad laws and unenforceable laws destroy respect for the law. This argument over social norms would be better litigated in other civic arenas besides the courts and legislature.

The Motivations of Leaders

Winston Churchill, in the third volume of The Second World War, offers several brief asides that betray a quizzical fact about his character. Within several pages of one another, Churchill praises the suicide of the Hungarian Count Teleki and of Greek Prime Minister Alexandros Koryzis as preserving the honor of their nations. A few pages later Churchill offers the thought that the British and Greek armies could make a heroic stand at Thermopylae, the site of a famous last stand in Ancient Greek history. Churchill’s naive notions of chivalric heroism are apparent in many of his famous speeches to the Houses of Parliament as well. Truly a man for the moment, Churchill wanted desperately to live out his dream of knightly heroism and often saw mass, industrialized slaughter as a worthy opportunity. His desire for an almost literary form of heroism (along with an ample amount of amoral Realpolitik) enabled his ascent to the pinnacle of the history of British leadership.

Vaulting ambition, the insatiable desire for power, is a well-known facet of great political leaders. But it is often this attribute with a mixture of a desire for praise and distinction that creates truly great leaders. John Adams, founding father and second American President, wrote:

“Every personal quality, and every blessing of fortune, is cherished in proportion to its capacity of gratifying this universal affection for the esteem, the sympathy, the admiration and congratulations of the public…”

He goes on to assert that government has the function of regulating these desires. This is important because it helps us to understand the process of government and of those who govern. Legislation passed and actions taken are not necessarily to solve some public issue, but to gain the esteem and adulation of the public. It also helps clarify the ends of different leaders. For instance, President Obama wishes to have a powerful liberal legacy, built on sizable achievements. He is not just seeking the moderate respect of the crowd but lionization in the historical record. That is why he was willing to forgo chances at prolonged cooperation with Republicans on lesser issues and instead focused on tremendous ones, like the Affordable Care Act, and the changes wrought by the stimulus bill.

When we better understand the psychological and emotional motives of or most consequential leaders, it provides a framework for understanding their actions.

The Post-Will, Post-Fate Future

Our wills and fates do so contrary run, that our devices still are overthrown; are thoughts are ours, their ends none our own.
Shakespeare succinctly summed up a fundamental debate about human nature with that quote. It seems that we are predestined to play certain roles in our lives. When we look back at the episodes that define our existence, often we find that patterns seem to emerge from the randomness that permeates our interactions. This is possibly an illusion, but it also refers to something we know to be true, that we make unconscious decisions that subtly and overtly shape our lives.
Every bit of us is being broken down into discrete chunks of data. And all of that data is processed with other data, and constantly refined algorithms comb through all that data to sort and find patterns. It is the avowed goal of the founders of Google, for instance, to create a personal assistant that optimizes all of the minute decisions we make in a day. Less traffic than usual? Your sleep not quite as sound? Sleep in for 10 more minutes before getting up, this will be determined for you.
Now the AI deprives of us will, but it does not exactly exist as fate either. That is, it determines in a mathematical manner the most efficient way to live in our lives at the moment, from moment to moment. It does not determine an overarching theme for our lives. But how will we cope with this new aimlessness?
It seems likely that the majority of people will acquiesce, handing control of their lives over to algorithms and enjoying the placid comfort of decision-less existence. People who rebel will almost certainly be at a disadvantage, both in the comfort of their lives and in their place in society. This is I, Robot and The Matrix in real life. Will AI have to give us the illusion of control in order for us to maintain our emotional equilibrium? But we will know it is a lie. We will all have to find our unique pleasures and goals. Even the realm of art will be penetrated by AI, and a society of artists will be unnecessary, so will self-improvement. So what exists beyond the intellectual? The only thing that we will control or want to control, and the only thing that distinguishes us from an intelligent computer, is our emotions and physicality. Perhaps we will seek to manipulate our emotions, “I wish to feel joy!” Or maybe, due to the imperfections of human psychology, profound sadness. The other is physical pleasure. Drugs and stimulations will be in high demand.

I’m not sure where this leaves us as a species, but once our minds are rendered impotent compared to a computer, all we have left are our bodies and our primitive feelings. Existence, even immortal existence, could be rendered utterly meaningless. That flaw, that has driven humanity so far, to discover meaning, always asking “why?” and “how?” will certainly be our undoing once there is no purpose to answering those questions.