The accumulation and interpretation of information derived from our increased ability to parse the genetic code contains within it a potential time bomb of epic proportions. The damage that the nuclear bomb of genetic knowledge threatens to produce is incalculable, potentially made far worse by our inability to think about, let alone talk about, the data.
It remains early in the science of genetics. Decoding the human genome is a recent advance; as with all forms of information science, the cost of decoding the human genome has been rapidly decreasing (following its own Moore's Law of exponential progress) and early indications are that some of the data is going to shatter a multitude of unspoken assumptions.
It has long been an article of faith among social scientists (and many geneticists) that there are no meaningful differences genetically between the various races of man. The usual dismissive comment is that we are all more alike than different (an obvious and relatively meaningless truth.) Although evolution is also accepted as an article of faith among the left leaning academic soft sciences, the usual covert assumption made is that evolution occurs very slowly and that since the beginning of culture, man has essentially been static in evolutionary terms. Thus, animals and plants couldshow remarkable phenotypic changes in the course of only a few generations, man was uniquely resistant to or insulated from evolutionary pressures. Again, this was almost always an unstated assumption, since if it were too baldly expressed, its lack of substantive supporting evidence would have been too obvious for comfort.
In light of these assumptions, unacceptable scientific data showing population differences on IQ (especially), were routinely rationalized away as reflecting culturally biased tests, secondary to persistent discrimination, or a result of a host of other inventive and poorly supported theories.
Of note, few identity groups question difference that are consideredpositive traits. For example, most Ashkenazi Jews take pride in their higher than average IQ; Chinese take pride in their facility with science and math, etc. The problem occurs when one group is determined to have less facility intellectually than other groups.
[This is a highly speculative post in which I discuss some relatively inchoate thoughts about a potential economic singularity. I welcome comments offered in the same vein.]
The four most dangerous words for our economy are "this time is different." Anyone who has lived through and paid attention to, the last few bubble iterations (dot.com, housing, financial) knows that when the good times are rolling, the Cassandras who warn of impending doom are typically silenced with words to the effect that "this time is different." It raises the question of what conditions would need to exist for the economy to actually reach a point where the ruleswould change; in other words, what conditions could enable an economic singularity?
The triumph of liberal capitalism (though in the present context of the early days of a frightening recession it may not seem particularly triumphant) has been the creation of wealth. By leveraging individual genius we were able to create a self-perpetuating technology that has raised the standard of living of even the poorest Westerner to levels that Kings could only dream about in the past. At the same time, our great wealth has enabled us to facilitate our brightest minds to answer questions about the nature of the world that have led to amazing increases in life expectancy and the ability to manipulate and exponentially increase knowledge.
Ray Kurzweil's insight in The Singularity is Near was to notice that any field of intellectual pursuit, once its tools (technology) had matured, inevitably would follow Moore's Law. Certainly human activity could short circuit the application of Moore's Law in any particular field. A totalitarian regime could restrict the open availability of information in ways which would inhibit further developments in a particular field. A government that had fallen under the sway of nonsensical ideology, aka religious or quasi-religious beliefs, could impede the growth of the economy in such a way as to impair information acquisition.
(As examples, some might accuse the Bush administrationof stunting the development of bio-tech by the refusal to fund embryonic stem cell research; others express concern that by increasing taxes in service of a belief in anthropogenic global warming, the Obama administration will impair our ability to support more speculative science.)
However, the underlying premise of Moore's Law, that information increases exponentially, and Ray Kurzweil's corollary, that any field that evolves to the point where it is primarily about manipulating information will inevitably follow Moore's Law, has so far held up fairly well.
What does this mean about the possibility of coming to a time when we discover that "this time really is different"?
Until the late 1960s, the Narcissistic Personality was considered to be impossible to treat in therapy or Psychoanalysis. There were many reasons for this but the primary reason was that the Narcissist was thought to be incapable of forming a transference relationship with the therapist. The thinking was that since the Narcissist only cares about himself, the Analyst could never become a meaningful object to him, and therefore, the transference relationship (the core of analytic treatment) would never develop and could not be used to effect a cure. This was completely inaccurate but was accepted (as a complex rationalization) for several reasons, the most important of which concerned the primitive rage of the Narcissist. As I described in Terrorism and the Narcissistic Trilogy:
Emotional deprivation in the midst of material wealth forms the nidus of what I recently referred to as the Narcissistic trilogy"of out-sized entitlement, inability to imagine or appreciate an other's point of view, and intense neediness." In an increasingly globalized world, narcissistic pathology allied with an ideology that leverages the Narcissistic trilogy, creates an extremely dangerous mixture.Emotional deprivation in the midst of material wealth forms the nidus of what I recently referred to as the Narcissistic trilogy "of out-sized entitlement, inability to imagine or appreciate an other's point of view, and intense neediness."
The Narcissist cannot tolerate becoming aware of any shortcomings within himself because such self-awareness would constitute an impossible to tolerate humiliation, an attack on his self-esteem; any criticism is then tantamount to a humiliating attack and humiliation evokes shame which, when not tolerable, is replaced and disguised by the intense rage of the primitive ego. The source of the shame is externalized (to the one who made it "public") and if the offender can be destroyed the shame is dissolved and honor/self-esteem/equilibrium restored. For a great many therapists who tried to work with Narcissists, the limiting factor was the rage of the patient when a correct interpretation was made. Primitive rage can be frightening and a good many therapists chose to rationalize the intractability of the patient in order to eschew the unpleasant treatment situations that were frightening. (At one time it was taught and thought that tolerating and managing the patient's sexual feelings for the analyst were the crucial determinants of a successful therapy; only in more modern times has the painful recognition come to the field that managing and tolerating the patient's primitive rage is the more difficult task for the therapist.)
Now consider an entire culture, all of whose variants share the tendency to becoming enraged whenever their honor is even mildly questioned.
One of the best analyses of the Middle East that I have seen in the major Media appears in the Jerusalem Post today. Jonathan Spyer considers the recent "heroic" shoe flinging in Baghdad, and draws a pessimistic conclusion from the incident:
I have lived in New York my entire life and it resembles nothing less than a banana republic. We now have an accidental governor, long known in the state as a light weight, in office by virtue of his predecessor catching himself money laundering via a high priced prostitute (Spitzer was one of the main motivators behind the money laundering laws that caught him when he tried to hide the source and destination of his prostitute's fee), preparing to Knight (Senator?) a never-before-elected-to-anything young woman because she has a celebrity name. This follows another never-previously-elected woman joining the Senate because she had a celebrity name. It also follows the Uncle of the soon-to-be-named Senator being elected primarily because he had a celebrity name. Beyond that we have had a, barely, two party corrupt state government for years and now have a corrupt one-party government. And let us not forget our renowned Congressman who chairs the committee that writes our tax laws, who having run afoul of said laws, complains that he didn't understand the laws he supposedly wrote.
Those who have spent their entire lives feeding off the public trough and have never produced anything of any value think that the way to run New York is to promise their friends our money and keep raising taxes on the rich, who are increasingly either poor (because so many were working in the Finance Casinos on Wall Street and rolled snake eyes) or leaving the state for more clement weather, financial and otherwise. If a state could have an IQ, New York's would be about 20 points lower than New Yorkers think it is.
As the learned solons in Washington debate how much of our money to give to their friends and supporters to save their failed businesses, I wonder if anyone has given any consideration to some of the unintended consequences of their largess.
After 9/11, "connecting the dots" became a sport for those attempting to place blame on their political opponents and a the game of obfuscating the connections became a full time profession for some of the guilty. The obfuscators ultimately won the field; bureaucrats are far better at escaping blame and CYA than at actually illuminating their mistakes. It is inarguable that our current world is so complex that it is both possible to find connections where they do not exist and it is also possible to miss connections that should be obvious. Students of Chaos Theory are fond of pointing out that through the magic of complexity, the vortex from a butterfly's wings in the Amazon rain forest can cause a hurricane in the Caribbean. In light of the current chaotic changes taking place, here are a few dots which may or may not be connected but are worth thinking about:
Using a driving simulation setup, Marcel Just and his colleagues saw that listening to sentences robbed from visual and spatial areas necessary for driving. This is also why hands-free phones are really not any better than conventional cell phones. The problem is not just having to hold the phone, it's diverting the brain's resources for visual and spatial awareness.
This principle applies to much more than driving while listening.
The problem with multi-tasking robbing resources from one area to devote to another exists at every level of human organization.
Now consider that Gordon Brown, much admired by Barack Obama, has apparently decided that our struggles with those who oppose us (not otherwise specified) is not with an Axis of Evil but with a "Line of Terror":
The Guardian describes Gordon’s new terminology for the War on Terror. The “axis of evil” has been replaced by the “line of terror”.
Gordon Brown’s repeated references to what he calls “a line of terror” through the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, via Europe to Britain, reflect why his foreign policy focus is increasingly moving east. ...
While the core concept of the “axis of evil” rested on the notion of state-support as the engine of terrorism, the “line of terror” idea appears to rely upon the idea of supporting formal states in conflict with ungovernable and illegitimate subnational units. Brown, who told Pakistani President Ali Asif Zardari that 3/4 of all terror plots in Britain were hatched in Pakistan, announced that Britain would provide training and other assistance to help it crack down on “the chain of terrorism that links the mountains of Afghanistan to the streets of Britain.”
This shift in terminology may imply two things. First, that Brown, in harmony with Barack Obama’s own views, regards Southwest Asia and not the Middle East as the strategic center of gravity of the terrorist threat. Second, that future responses to terrorism will take the form, not of toppling state sponsors of terrorism, but “helping” governments rein in militants. If the military expression of bringing down state sponsors of terrorism was the conventional military invasion, the corresponding mode for the Brown/Obama strategy will be counterinsurgency, aid and diplomacy.
President Bush's conduct of the war on Islamic terrorism included one very good strategy and one very poor strategy.
My internet connection is very problematic today so I will keep this short.
There is a fair amount of diagnosing going on around the blogosphere related to Blagojevich and his corruption. The question of whether or not he is crazy has been raised. It is an interesting question with a simple answer that leads to a more complicated question deserving of much more invetsigation. According to any Psychiatric nosology one might peruse, Rod Blagojevich as publicly depicted through the press coverage and the transcripts of the FBI wiretaps is not "crazy", if by crazy we confine ourselves to questions of a psychotic illness. He is corrupt, arrogant, and stupid and these traits may well reflect a significant character disorder but there is not enough data to speculate on such.
The deeper question concerns a more general discussion:
When non-psychotic people do things which are certain to destroy them and they persist in the behavior seemingly unaware and unheedful of the risks they are taking, what might this reflect within their character?
That is a very complicated question but the short, non-technical answer would be that people are complex mixtures of often contradictory desires, inhibitions, impulses, drives, morals, and a host of other elements. It takes artists, novelists, neuroscientists, Psychoanalysts, and multitudes of others to attempt to understand the human psyche. We remain a young race with fairly low levels of self-awareness but we are starting to understand oursleves. I will have more on this when time permits.
Ever since the Palestinians developed and promulgated the use of televised terror as a tool with which to advance their strategicinterests (which then and now included the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel) terrorism has had a particular dialectic. The terrorists stage a murder spectacular, it is leveraged by the Western press such that it gains strategic advantages for the Islamists and the West's defensive forces are mobilized and restructured so as to minimize the chances of success for future similar attacks. The Terrorists must then find new ways to stage their theatrical specials, and the cycle of terrorism recurs. There are a number of important points that should be kept in mind when considering the impact of terrorism.
First, as Daniel Pipes points out, though with a very different emphasis, terrorism that does not offer an exponential increase on investment, quickly loses its effectiveness:
Victims caught in terrorist atrocities perpetrated for Islam typically experience fear, torture, horror, and murder, with sirens screaming, snipers positioning, and carnage in the streets. That was the case recently in Bombay (now called Mumbai), where some 195 people were murdered and 300 injured. But for the real target of Islamist terror, the world at large, the experience has become numbed, with apologetics and justification muting repulsion and shock.
If terrorism ranks among the cruelest and most inhumane forms of warfare, excruciating in its small-bore viciousness and intentional pain, Islamist terrorism has also become well-rehearsed political theater. Actors fulfill their scripted roles, then shuffle, soon forgotten, off the stage.
Indeed, as one reflects on the most publicized episodes of Islamist terror against Westerners since 9/11 – the attack on Australians in Bali, on Spaniards in Madrid, on Russians in Beslan, on Britons in London – a twofold pattern emerges: Muslim exultation and Western denial. The same tragedy replays itself, with only names changed.
Daniel Pipes, et al, correctly note that due to a combination of Media inanity and Western timidity, the resolve to attack the fundamentals of Islamic terror has been waning for quite some time (from a fairly low level to begin with.) But it should be noted that Islamic terrorism's increasing difficulty in shocking and horrifying (which translates into less fodder for the MSM) creates an important dilemma for the terrorists.
Once again, work pressures are interfering with blogging.
Briefly noted, Tom Friedman today suggests that our car companies may be working with an obsolete m business plan and that shoveling money into failing enterprises may be a poor idea. His conclusion, however, bears discussion:
Do not expect this innovation to come out of Detroit. Remember, in 1908, the Ford Model-T got better mileage — 25 miles per gallon — than many Ford, G.M. and Chrysler models made in 2008. But don’t be surprised when it comes out of somewhere else. It can be done. It will be done. If we miss the chance to win the race for Car 2.0 because we keep mindlessly bailing out Car 1.0, there will be no one to blame more than Detroit’s new shareholders: we the taxpayers.
Considering that most taxpayers do not appear to be eager to bail out Detroit's incompetent management and overpaid and obstructionist unions (if the polls are to be believed), shouldn't Mr. Friedman more appropriately assign blame to our Congress? Does the fact that our Congress is now controlled completely by Democrats lead him to obfuscate, confuse the point and blame the American taxpayers in whose name the Congress purportedly acts?
In Part I of Terrorism and the Narcissistic Trilogy I attempted to explain why the ideology of our Islamic enemies has such appeal to its adherents. It is an ideology perfectly designed to use the sense of grievance and inner deprivation that so many in the Muslim world exhibit. In the course of my post I described the outcome of failed narcissistic defenses as despair and its counterpart, rage. Since our problems with Islamic terror have a greatdeal more to do with rage than despair, I would like to explore in a little more detail how this operates.
Individuals with narcissistic pathology rely on the external environment to support their self esteem because they lack the inner resources that engender the belief and confidence that they can obtain needed emotional supplies from positive relationships with other separateindividuals. In my post I concentrated on issues related to the development and maldevelopment of a cohesive self. However, the other aspects of healthy narcissism are also significant contributors to our current straits:
(Part I) The development of healthy narcissism, which includes adequate self-esteem based on a realistic sense of one's abilities, a reasonably close approximation of a realistic ego ideal, and a cohesive self (with its enlightened self-interest) is the outcome of a complicated set of interactions involving identifications and integrations (of self and object representations) in the presence of "good enough" parenting.
Within the Arab world, and spreading by virtue of Saudi influence (Wahhabi, Deobandi, Salafi proselytizing) and by the example and propaganda from the Palestinians, has developed a cult of death. The suicide murderer has become the most highly valued aspiration for young people who cannot gain status in other, more positive ways. Within Shia Islam, fueled by the Khomeini revolution, their long standing emphasis on martyrdom and self sacrifice now lends its own quota of death-love to the mix. In these cases, the idealization of death and suicide murder, is a response to, and a reinforcement of, the narcissistic dynamic.
The Narcissist uses others, the environment, to support his fragile self esteem. When the environment no longer does so, he is left denuded, exposed as weak, ineffectual, and dependent. This is a painfully humiliating position. There are a limited number of psychological responses one can have in such a position.