If aliens from Alpha Centauri were monitoring our airwaves over the last 40 years they would have concluded that Israel is the center of the world. The disproportionate attention to Israel stems from a large confluence of themes, including the historical contribution of the Jews to civilization (Jews will never be forgiven for bringing guilt into the world), the genocidal hatred of their neighbors (who control the oil upon which the world's economy depends), the Middle East as a fulcrum during the Cold War, and a host of other issues too numerous to mention (and impossible to completely convey.) The UN, where totalitarian despots get together to berate democracies for their imperfections, focuses on Israel to the exclusion of almost all other conflicts around the world. The reasons for this are legion but at base there is a sense of envy and its ugly offspring, hatred, aroused by the existence of a state which should have, to their way of thinking, disappeared long ago. There is a sense that Israel is approaching a nexus at an intersection of Israel's ability to defend itself versus its enemy's ability to destroy it.
George Gilder might well agree with those aliens and his thesis is instructive.
George Gilder* is a venture capitalist and writer. His most recent book is The Israel Test (which I am about halfway through and which I plan to review when finished.) His basic premise is detailed in an article in City Journal: [HT: Yaacov Lozowick]
How market capitalism saved the Jewish state
The most precious resource in the world economy is human genius, [Emphasis mine-SW] which we may define as the ability to devise significant inventions that enhance survival and prosperity. At any one time, genius is embodied in just a few score thousand people, a creative minority that accounts for most human accomplishment and wealth. Cities and nations rise and thrive when they welcome entrepreneurial and technical genius; when they overtax, criminalize, or ostracize it, they wither.
Jews have a long history of paranoia (though it is not paranoia when they really do want to kill you) and a deep insecurity about their position in the world and among their neighbors. WWII showed that even the most cosmopolitan, secular, and assimilated Jews could be extruded and annihilated by a regressed society. Insecurity is a birthrite of the modern Jew. Yet in many ways the world's attitude toward Israel, the home of the Jews, is critical for our idea of the future.
Those of us who are technophiles can imagine a future of ever increasing freedom and agency for the individual. Our technology is the instrument that will allow us to escape many of the dangers that humans have always lived with. Freedom from starvation, disease, even natural disaster mitigation are all outgrowths of our technology. If our technology were to stagnate and begin to deteriorate, a new dark ages, with all the ancient scourges returning to haunt us, would be inevitable. On a planet which has a subsistence capacity in the hundreds of millions, our current 6 billion could never survive without technology. The forces opposed to the future, which includes such disparate fellow travelers as the far left, radical environmentalists, and in the purest form, radical Islamists, use but do not understand technology or how it makes their lives function, let alone how it secures civilization's functioning.
Jews often gain some pleasure and great pride in e-mails that periodically make the rounds describing the high percentage of Jewish Nobel laureates in math and the sciences, the extraordinary numbers of Jews who have led the way to breakthroughs in such areas, the numbers and ranks of creative Jews who have been responsible for so much technology, entertainment (Hollywood) and culture. When one gets the impression that most of the world would be quite happy to see the Jews disappear, such e-mails are comforting. What stands out from George Gilder's writing, however, is how closely tied America and Israel have become, not only strategically (at a time when many on the left and right are questioning the value of the strategic relationship) but economically/technologically as well:
Venture capital is the most catalytic force in the world economy. In the United States, venture-backed companies produced nearly one-fifth of GDP in 2007. At a time when American venture capital is flagging under the financial crisis, the emergence of a comparable venture scene in Israel, linked closely to Silicon Valley, is providential for both the American economy and its military defense.
This development makes Israel one of America’s most important economic allies. Israel’s creativity now pervades many of the most powerful and popular new technologies, from personal computers to iPods, from the Internet to the medical center.
Early in 2009, for example, Intel launched a massive new advertising campaign to celebrate what it described as its most important advance since its initial invention of the microprocessor chip some 40 years ago: the new Core i7 device, code-named “Nehalem,” which combined leading-edge computing power with unprecedented economy of energy use. Like many of the inventions that have made Intel the world’s leading microchip company, the Core i7 was designed in Israel.
Israelis are also leaders in arguably the most important technology arena today, particularly for military uses. This is the ability of computers using parallelism to sense, accept, and process information as quickly as modern transmission techniques—especially fiber-optics lines—can deliver it. A representative device in this effort, and a powerful symbol of Israel’s leading position in Internet technology, is the “network processor.” Just as a Pentium microchip is the microprocessor that makes most PCs work, the network processor is the device that makes the next-generation Internet work, doing the vital routing and switching at network nodes. The next-generation Internet will allow “petaflops” (1015 floating-point operations per second) of real-time computational power to be deployed to virtually any point on the earth. The network processor will let any desktop computer access data and processing power exponentially greater than that incorporated in any PC or any single corporate data center.
It is incontestable that Israel is facing an existential thereat from Iran. It is also quite clear that her neighbors will not be accepting a Jewish state in their midst any time soon. Yet from the minds of its people the potential to end this conflict in ways which preserve Israel and its moral standing is coming into focus.
I have written on several occasions about the impact of technology on counter-insurgency, indeed on the nature of armed conflict itself. The day is approaching when Israel's ability to monitor its enemies in real time and respond with pinpoint accuracy to threats against it will effectively (though never completely) disarm its adversaries.
From Moore's Law & Counter-Insurgency, July 2006:
It is clear that this is very dangerous work for the Israelis[iin Gaza]; the Palestinians can easily set up ambushes, IEDs, and other nasty surprises. Now, picture the scene 5-10 years down the road.
During the day, a flock of Smart Sparrows networked together offer daylight coverage of areas of concern; at night, they are replaced by a flock of smart bats equipped with night vision and all part of a meshed network. These flying birds and bats provide 24 hour real time coverage of whatever parts of an enemy territory you desire. They can fly high enough to be invisible from the ground and are nearly impossible to shoot down even when spotted. The Palestinians can kill all the birds they see in Gaza, but when Smart Sparrows cost a few dollars and the next generation of surveillance includes Smart Mosquitoes, their problems become exponentially greater. If they spend all their time hidden indoors, they can't fire Qassam rockets at Israel, which is one of the goals of the current Israeli incursion. Furthermore, Smart Snakes can slither into buildings, and even if they can be defended against, Smart Cockroaches and Centipedes, once cheap enough, will be ubiquitous. If necessary, it would be simple to equip such robots with reservoirs of Cyanide or some other such poison (spider venom?), at which point targeted killings and Smart bullets would take on a whole new meaning.
We lost too many soldiers and Marines re-taking Falluja; imagine a future Falluja, or Mogadishu, (or Tehran?) where we fight machine guns and IEDs with Smart Birds, Bats, Insects, Snakes, and Spiders. Our military could see the theater and manage the entire operation from safe bunkers connected by networks to the battle field, which could be an underground bunker, or an isolated field.
From An Endless War?, January 2009:
We are clearly not there yet, and technology is never going to be a perfect answer to warfare, but the point that future warfare will increase in specificity of targeting is proven valid on an almost daily basis. Furthermore, the nature of information technology is that as it increases exponentially, those who start behind the curve can only fall increasingly behind the curve, with the disparity growing exponentially. The Arab world has been, and Islamic fundamentalism remains fundamentally, parasitic on the productive developed world. The disparity will increase, with the Israelis using their technological prowess to remain at the cutting edge while the Palestinians beg, borrow, buy, and steal the crumbs of technology the rest of the world provides. As long as the Palestinians remain fixed on destroying Israel and killing Jews they will remain crippled in a world in which warfare is increasingly becoming an information technology.
The leaders of Palestinian hate groups, with rare exceptions, believe in martyrdom for their followers but tend to prefer to avoid it for themselves. Once the Palestinians realize that in a future war they will be less and less able to hide from the Israeli weapons, when bullets and cyanide laden mosquitoes have their names written on them, the Palestinian leadership will come to realize that their core ideology, of killing Jews and destroying Israel, may need to be amended, in practice, even if not in theory.
The technological singularity is driven by the ability that technology supplies to leverage human genius. Israel, and the Jews, are often hated for their genius, even as their genius offers a multitude of gifts to the world. Israel does not have to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities to preserve itself, it merely has to delay the Iranians their gratification.
*It should not be necessary, but too often during discussions of Israel the religion of the discussant is considered a crucial element. For the record, George Gilder is a Christian, not a Jew.