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The Networks of Nations

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Military theorist John Arqilla offers a provocative piece in Foreign Policy.

The (B)end of History

….How the new pattern will unfold is still unclear, but just as the first nation-states were often tempted to become empires, there may be a pattern in which nations and networks somehow seek to fuse rather than fight. Iran, in its relations with Hezbollah, provides perhaps the best example of a nation embracing and nurturing a network. So much so that, in parsing the 2006 Lebanon war between Israel and Hezbollah, most of the world — and most Israelis — counted it as a win for the network. China, too, has shown a skill and a proclivity for involving itself with networks, whether of hackers, high-sea pirates, or operatives who flow along the many tendrils of the Asian triads’ criminal enterprises. The attraction may be mutual, as nations may feel more empowered with networks in their arsenals and networks may be far more vibrant and resilient when backed by a nation. All this sets the stage for a world that may have 10 al Qaedas operating 10 years from now — many of them in dark alliances with nations — a sure sign that the Cold War–era arms race has given way to a new “organizational race” to build or align with networks.

Can’t say that I disagree with that in big picture terms. Looking long term to 2100, I wrote in Threats in the Age of Obama that the geopolitical position of nation-states would undergo a transformation.

….Nation-states in the 21st century will face a complex international ecosystem of players rather than just the society of states envisioned by traditional Realpolitik. If the predictions offered by serious thinkers such as Ray Kurzweill, Fred Ikle or John Robb prove true, then technological breakthroughs will ensure the emergence of “Superempowered Individuals”[1] on a sizable scale in the near future. At that moment, the reliance of the State on its’ punitive powers as a weapon of first resort comes to an end. Superemepowered individuals, separatist groups, insurgents and an “opting-out” citizenry will nibble recalcitrant and unpopular states to death, hollowing them out and transferring their allegiance elsewhere.

While successful states will retain punitive powers, their primary focus will become attracting followers and clients in whom they can generate intense or at least dependable, loyalty and leverage as a networked system to pursue national interests. This represents a shift from worldview of enforcement to one of empowerment, coordination and collaboration. States will be forced to narrow their scope of activity from trying to supervise everything to flexibly providing or facilitating core services, platforms, rule-sets and opportunities – critical public goods – that the private sector or social groups cannot easily replicate or replace. Outside of a vital core of activity, the state becomes an arbiter among the lesser, interdependent, quasi-autonomous, powers to which it is connected..

States and their oligarchic elites seem to be attempting to counter this trend of eroding omnipotence by increasing omniscience by building panopticon societies of 24 hour surveillence. Rulers will (theoretically) have the awareness to strike first and break up opposition movements or dissent before they can crystallize and gain the critical mass to overthrow a regime or accumulate enough countervailing power to force concessions or honest negotiation in place of stage-managed, political kabuki theater.

The Networks of Nations


Weimar Meets Waterloo

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by James Howard Kunstler

The Sunday night news, scant as it is these days despite the grotesque exertions of over a thousand cable TV stations, showed the old familiar faces lit up with crocodile smiles. The Republic was saved, surprise, surprise, by a last-minute fugue of reasonableness, when all concerned decided that putting the business-end of a double-barreled 20-guage shotgun in America’s pie-hole might not summon the spirits of Ronald Reagan, Santa Claus, Adam Smith, Chuck Norris, and the Holy Ghost after all.

Let’s give thanks that it’s over because now the USA can get on with its systemic collapse honestly and fairly. Even though the debt ceiling extravaganza ended in something like political failure, one point did seem to shine through: there’s no more money. Anyway, no money for non-bankers, and pretty soon even the bankers will be out of money too, because their money is fantasy banking money (sssshhhh, don’t tell them) consisting of hard-drives packed with digital slime trails of swindles and frauds. The public can live in straight-up unvarnished fear now that they are liable to lose everything they thought they had.

This new depression is way different from the hazily remembered one of grampy’s boyhood. There was no money then, too, in 1934, but you didn’t have to puzzle out the metaphysical workings of a collateralized debt obligation to know what the score was. Your pockets were just empty and the bank down the street was shuttered. The country had plenty of everything except money: lots of oil, good farmland, manpower, ores, timber, beeves-on-the-hoof, excellent railroads, dynamic cities, and factories just recently built (only the orders for goods stopped coming in). Yet something happened that still mystifies the viziers who call themselves economists.

Was it all that mischief on Wall Street with the “bucket shops” and the margin-gone-wild, and the shoeshine boys proffering stock tips to their customers? Or was it some remorseless cyclical exhalation of history? Or was it that plus the Keynesian monkey-business with interest rates and the issuance of

currency? Or was it some fundamental flaw in the workings of industrial capitalism itself? These questions have never been adequately answered, though there is no shortage of “stories” cooked up to explain it – many of them elegantly entertaining.

My own guess is that the industrial experience itself was a peculiar experiment rife with treacherous self-amplifying feedbacks that the participants were not prepared for, such as the rapid saturation of markets via mass production at the colossal scale. Whoops. And meanwhile, everybody in China is living in the equivalent of the 12th century, so forget about selling them radios. (Globalization eventually fixed that…or did it?)

To put a finer point on it, industrialism (and all its digital offshoots) may not be a permanent feature of the human condition, but an anomalous congruence of some historical events that had a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I happen to think we’re at the end of this anomalous era because we’ve run through the material resource base. I know a lot of people eagerly await the nano-dawn of self-replicating bot Satori, where everything we need is literally conjured out of thin air. The Viziers would really love that because, at last, their models would work! Personally, I do not hold my breath waiting for Kurzweilian “Singularity.” We’ll be disappointed enough when Walmart fails to run on wind turbines.

So now we enter an economic terra incognita of the real post-industrial economy – not the Cinderella hoo-hah of digi-magic advertised in places like Wired Magazine, but more like a Foxfire world made by hand. We’re out of cheap oil, cheap and good ores, ocean fish, good timber, and lots of other things. All the stuff we erected to live our lives in – the stupendous armature of highways, strip malls, suburban houses, skyscraper condos, sewer systems, electric grids – is beyond our power to repair now. We can only patch it, and that can only work for so long before things go dark. (Can you sharpen a saw blade?)

The money part is not so hard to understand. When the dynamism wanes in a hypertrophic system, money can no longer be created. Real money, that is. Money that means something, a trustworthy medium of exchange, in a system where borrowers reliably pay back loaned money. All the current money fiascos underway around the world, old and new, western and eastern, are just dumb-shows put on to conceal the fact that money is not being paid back. Real wealth is contracting – even as the smaller pool of remaining wealth moves magnetically to the centers of power.

We will never solve this American debt crisis. We’re going broke fast and it will be like falling down a long staircase. The federal government will never recover. It will pretend to be in charge of things that continue to fall apart, and eventually its pretenses will be seen for what they are – and then it will be every community for itself. (The same can be said of the states, and even the counties.)

The troubles will mount more rapidly, too, from here, because nobody has been fooled by the machinations in congress the past month, except maybe the elected cravens at the center of it all, and many of them are in their final years of lofty, well-feathered splendor. A debt rating warning – if that’s what it turns out to be – will be brushed aside, and for some good reasons, too, but it is really a dark sign that our Republic does not function anymore and is primed to break apart.


My books are available at all the usual places.





Weimar Meets Waterloo

[Clusterfuck Nation]