Friday, July 22, 2005

Terror and Chaos: Growth Spurts Suck

(This is long.)

Hmmm, my posts seem to be uncomfortably close to reality when it comes to London. To take the sting out, I will now predict that London will become the center of the New Renaissance! Go London!

I did wonder about the timing: Two weeks is probably the right amount of waiting. My thought was that they would do it within a week, so that security wouldn't be settled down.

I forgot: there is no such thing as security.

At the turn of the 20th century, technology had a spat of breakthroughs.

Two decades later, the whole world broke out into war after war. This continued for forty years. Yes, a simplification.

If you've read up on the causes of World War I, it becomes clear that they are pretty lame. It really comes down to: everybody was feeling their oats and itching for a fight.


Because they were all feeling the shift in power. The radio, the telephone, commonly available electricity, the motorcar, the aeroplane. Within twenty years, everyone felt it, this new type of power, these unparalleled new means of travel and communication.

There's no doubt in my mind that a sudden increase in technological might causes a surge in nationalism and orneryness. Look at Russia. Look at Germany. Look at Japan. In many cases, the surge in technology follows a surge in nationalism... but then it continues to push nationism.

This may be related to wars, but the world was certainly not rife with war before the technological innovations of the late 19th century... and it isn't rife with war now, despite the massive technological innovations going on. I think wars simply allow societies to assimilate new technologies faster, not necessarily CAUSING new technologies faster.

At any rate, let's quickly review. Massive technology boost caused a huge shift in the infrastructure of the world. After about twenty years of this, massive wars broke out.

Today: our computer infrastructure has been changing rapidly for fifteen years.

The whole planet seems to be a pepper-pot of insane nationalism. North Korea says that it will only give up nuclear weapons if the USA takes it off its "you're a dick" list. China is forging a miniature universe of government-regulated Blade-Runner-esque technological infrastructure. France is killing ten million South Africans because they don't want "evil food" to feed the starving. The Middle East is... okay, bad example. They're pretty much the same as always. But they are extending their grip. America is in the hands of a religious dictatorship - not one led by a man, but one led by a force of combined nationalism and superstition. India is in the midst of a potential nuclear cold war with Pakistan.

Sounds bad. Is it worse than it was before?

During the cold war, there were two major players. Now, every country has the capability to radically alter life on earth via unconventional weapons. The situation is radically less stable: instead of two big dudes flexing at each other, there are two hundred little dudes with guns flexing at each other.

Perhaps the reason is the fall of Russia? Maybe, but Russia fell due to technology. The cost of it, the rewards of it, and the political methods which support it.

There was no defense against the World Wars. Countries COULD NOT DEFEND THEMSELVES. London was bombed regularly, even though Britain has a significant military force. It could not defend itself with that force. It did not know how. We learn to attack before we figure out how to defend.

Time passed. We built up worldwide defensive infrastructures. These largely replaced the idea of standing armies. Japan hasn't had a meaningful standing army since WWII, but has never suffered invasion. That's because of these defensive infrastructures: a system of economic and political relationships.

Like armies are largely ineffective against this infrastructure, this infrastructure is largely ineffective against the new generation of attacks.

We have learned how to attack. This attack is not what you think. Terrorists are not the new infrastructure. Terrorists are merely a weapon, like a gun or a trade embargo. A weapon requires an infrastructure behind it, to make it work. In this new era, that infrastructure is an attention matrix.

An attention matrix is a self-perpetuating factory of attention. It is people who get together to talk about something, which in turn causes more people to get together to talk about the same thing. It acts by convincing people of what is "right" by sheer force of peer pressure. Essentially, an attention matrix is a factory of self-perpetuating peer pressure.

These existed before, of course. Every high school has them. Every nation had them. But now, they extend the reach of this pressure to other cities, other nations. Anyone who is susceptable can be contacted and pressured, regardless as to where they are.

Let's look at an example: the communism witch hunt. That's pretty much an attention matrix. The whole nation was talking about it, and the situation changed almost daily. The fact that the fastest channels of communication were driven to carry it allowed it to become one. But this only happened because the force of the entire government and all the media moguls was behind it. It couldn't have happened with, say, iTunes, because the media wouldn't have continually spouted on about it.

Today everyone has access to that level of communication. Attention matrixes form up all the time. Some dissolve, some grow stronger. These self-driving media fixations, like the war on video games, like Harry Potter... like terrorism.

Terrorism requires constant attention to survive. Without daily reassurance that your wigged-out extremist view is normal, you'll likely come to realize that it ISN'T. In the good old days, this need meant that everyone was stuck local. You couldn't give someone in France daily attention: they were simply too far away for meaningful interaction.

Now, it takes less than a day to get across the entire planet. Moreover, tight-knit communications allow cells to support each other, although I doubt they're very organized. Most importantly: the response from a nation a thousand miles away is felt immediately. Peer pressure relies on that response, and now that it can be gained from someone far away, someone far away can become a target.

The attention matrix of terrorism grows daily.

How can you defeat it?

Well, if history is any lesson, we need to develop a counter-infrastructure. Something which recognizes the attention matrixes and works to moderate them, keep them in check.

But, on the other hand, if history is any lesson, we have less than ten years before the next big breakthough. They've been coming faster and faster and faster.

Hmmm. Well, this is all half-assed theory. Thanks for reading it.


will said...

real interesting stuff man, sounds kinda postmodern. not sure whether the whole planet can really be called a pepperpot of 'insane nationalism' but like your idea of an attention matrix being a self-perpetuating factory of attention! good stuff :)

Craig Perko said...

I'm not sure it can be called that, either, to be honest. I'm not old enough to tell whether it's worse than it was in the seventies, but there's certainly more dangerous head-butting.

But it was a lot of fun to write!