Sunday, September 23, 2018

Interview with Sulistiansyah Rahmadi, Indonesian Traveler

Q: You've visited over 20 countries so far, mostly in SE Asia, right? 

SR: Yes. 

Q: What made you start traveling? 

SR: My first country was Singapore, and it's quite the opposite of Indonesia. They're organized, the language is different, and it blew my mind that we have things so different from my [Indonesian] culture. When I visited Australia, I thought it was all-white, but it's multi-racial. Whenever I travel, it's the opposite of what I expect. For example, I felt accepted in Australia, in contrast to Georgia [the Caucasus], where I felt discriminated against as an Asian. 

Q: Which cities did you visit in Australia?

SR: Melbourne and Sydney, but I liked Melbourne the most. 


Q: Did you travel mostly alone or with groups?

SR: Alone. Previously, I traveled with groups, but not recently. I changed because when I go alone, I get more. More wisdom... I get a lot more. With a group, it's mostly fun things, and they are doing fun stuff, but after that... [shrugs his shoulders] 


Q: You traveled to Iran recently?

SR: April 2018 for two weeks. I visited Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Shiraz, Kerman, and Yaz. Usually, I make an organized itinerary with a budget, and in this case, I followed my schedule 70%. It was quite tight but I stuck to my schedule. Mostly I traveled over land--hitchhiking, by car, or by train, because I like seeing the scenery. 


Q: Iran has an image in the West of being a desert country. 

SR: [laughs] Iran in the north is mountains and snow, and four hours from Tehran is a place named Tochal, a ski resort. You can even see snowcapped mountains from Tehran. Kerman, in contrast, is desert, and they call it a "dead zone," because nothing can live there. 

I enjoyed Shiraz the most because I like history. You can call me a history geek. Shiraz has Persepolis, and Alexander the Great conquered the city. After Iran, I visited Istanbul, Izmir, Seljuk, Konya, Antalya, Ankara, Pamukkale, and Cappadocia, Turkey. 

Q: How long did you spend in Turkey? 

SR: I spent 12 days, mostly one or two nights in each city. If you want know about the people, it's not a good way to do it, but my goal was to visit the ruins. 

Q: When I visit ruins, whether it's Stonehenge or Rome, I'm usually disappointed, because either the ruins are literally rocks in the ground, or they've been renovated to the point of looking fake. Only Ephesus in Turkey has impressed me.

SR: For me, it's more than rocks. When I touch the same stone that people touched three thousand years ago, I'm following in the footsteps of the people back then. It's history in the earth, right in front of my face. 

Q: What top three places would you recommend for history buffs?

SR: 1) Egypt (Cairo, Alexandria, Thebes, Memphis, Luxor, Saqarra, Abu Simbel); 2) China (Xi'an and the Terracota Warriors in the Shaanxi province); and 3) Latin America (Aztecs in Mexico, Mayans in Peru, Incas in the Andes). 


So far, I've only managed to visit China. LatAm is much harder for me, because it's so far away, less traveled by Indonesians, and therefore very expensive. Egypt is far away, too, but we [Indonesians] go to Hajj, and Egypt is near Saudi Arabia, so it's more popular. 

Q: What made you interested in archaeology?

SR: My parents are both teachers, and through storytelling, they opened my mind about the history of different countries. I was exposed to history through storytelling in elementary school and since then, I've wanted to see things I did not know about. The future is fascinating, but the past is more fascinating. Did you know the name "China" is derived from  Emperor Qin [Shi Huang] three thousand ago? People today still use the name of this one emperor to recognize themselves, a man who died three thousand years ago! 


Q: How do you afford to travel so much? The Indonesian rupiah is not a strong currency. 

SR: I do not say it's easy. I'm just a medium-level freelancer [graphic designer]. I have advantages because my clients are foreigners, so I get paid in US dollars or Euros. I cannot afford to travel all year long, but I can afford to make two trips every year, as long as I travel cheaply. I hunt for cheap flights, and I sometimes buy tickets one year before. I stay mostly in dorms and hostels--it's like one room you share with six to eight people with a shared bathroom. You have to do your homework and make your itinerary as clear as possible to make it possible. 

Q: What are your favorite travel accessories?

SR: My holy grail is my backpack. It's a cheap backpack--it's actually used for cameras, but I put country flag patches on it and take it with me everywhere. I'll have to replace it soon. 


Q: I find the Indonesian people very friendly and open compared to other cultures. What do you think is the source of such friendliness, especially after Suharto's Communist purges?

SR: I think that's one of many reasons. Because of our history political corruption, we want to forget much of our past. And when you look to the future, you have to be open, especially if the goal is to make a new, better future in contrast to the violent one your parents knew. 


Also, we are not one entity. We are the opposite of homogenous. We are already used to differences. Here in my province (South Sumatra aka South Sumatera), we have about six or seven dialects. Different people, different tribes. so it's not new for us to embrace new movements or different people. 

Sulistiansyah Rahmadi lives in Palembang, Indonesia. His blog is https://sulisbae.com/ and he can be contacted through his Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/baesulis/  

Sunday, September 2, 2018

11 Minutes to Explain 50+ Years of History

I've traveled around the world 2.5 times and finally understand history in context. In a nutshell, the world has not yet recovered from post-WWII fallout and restructuring..."

More here: https://youtu.be/RGpiH9yJgX8 

From wrestling training room at Jakarta's Asian Games in 2018

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Grave Period

Straits Times, July 23, 2018
Having studied Western jurisprudence for almost two decades, I assumed an accordion and trombone analogy could explain the West's checks and balances. Recent events have proven me wrong. I am not referring to America's 2018 election. The rise of demagogues or "strongmen" is not new or limited to the West. Before Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán were Augusto Pinochet and the much more able Lee Kuan Yew: "I never killed them [my opponents]. I never destroyed them. Politically, they destroyed themselves." (New York Times, August 29, 2007) 

Back to the accordion--I'm thinking of the one with a small harmonica attached--and the trombone. The accordion represents--or represented--three branches of government: executive (the doers); legislative (the people's voice, as written); and judicial (the brake or time-out, when necessary). As one branch would attempt to extend its influence, the other two would react to keep the tune harmonious rather than shrill. The trombone represented honest journalism, a complementary bass to sustain and awaken the accordion player if s/he ever became tired. 

In reality, however, the "Court is a reactive institution. It's never in the forefront of social change." (Justice Ginsburg) So much for the judicial brake. Meanwhile, the journalistic trombone, by itself, can influence atrocious music if the audience is too busy, too tired, or too distracted to listen closely to any melody. (No one ever expected a musician to go rogue and supplant the conductor.) Moreover, if executive players insulate themselves from accountability through alliances with lawyers and the legislative branch (e.g., separate disciplinary standards and procedures for government workers), suddenly our accordion player has one very strong arm pushing against a weak one. In sum, Western democratic ideals are so optimistic, they presuppose a fragile, easily-manipulated system is capable of staying in tune even as vested interests stake out more and more territory over time. PM Lee Hsien Loong, in 2018, hinted at this assumption rather than requirement of self-correction: "Yours is a system which has elaborate checks and balances. It is meant to be able to correct itself and prevent policy from being taken to unwise extremes." Compared to the more robust and arguably less mellifluous Eastern model, the Western approach seems to get riskier over time. And what of the Singaporean model, a so-called "third way"? 
From Perry's Singapore (2017)
Singapore in particular recognized the value of consolidating "checks and balances" into a non-ideology ideology: "We knew what to avoid--racial conflict, linguistic strife, religious conflict." In Singapore's view, Indonesia's motto of "unity in diversity" required a stronger, more uniform, and more visible hand to maximize each group's ability to maximize its potential--and, most importantly, to avoid racial riots. By restricting the aforementioned accordion's available playlist, Singapore eliminated the need for the trombone and, at the same time, removed the potential imbalance between the accordion player's mouth and two arms. Under the Eastern system, open conflict or unsteadiness would become unheard of. The accordion player would heed proper direction, and all would be well. Here in 2018, one may argue with Singapore's available playlist, but one cannot reasonably question its success, its continued racial and religious diversity, and the accomplishment of its stated goals.

Singapore proves the Eastern system, like the Western one, can work well if conditions are right. Additionally, the Eastern system's strong executive approach means it need replace only one leader rather than three or four potentially conflicting ones, providing the advantage of simplicity--no small matter when attempting national cohesiveness and the establishment of long-term goals. Yet, the simplicity of the Eastern system is also its undoing. A forceful conductor who limits the range of his musicians can succeed as long as s/he is alive, but left to their own devices, the musicians, so used to only one range of play and one style of direction, usually decline. Seen this way, both the Western and Eastern systems rely on leadership development and replacement. 

Unfortunately, the world has no oversupply of able conductors--quite the opposite. Having lived in Singapore in 2001, I felt a "comfortable disconnect" in 2018 that did not exist until after founder Lee Kuan Yew's death in 2015. Of course it is better to be rich than poor, but no handicap is possibly more severe than being born into a too-rich family, especially in the public eye. Idleness is not the issue but the probability that one's opinions are disconnected from the reality shared by most people. In one sense, Singaporeans today are all Lee Kuan Yew's children born into one of the richest families in the world, and as Singaporean-American author Kevin Kwan notes, "The problem is that they all have too much money, and it's come so easily to them that they think they're bloody geniuses and so they are always right." 

Devadas Krishnadas, in his interesting but unfortunately meandering book, hits the nail on the head when he examines reasons for Singapore's success: "[A]mongst the 5 W's--why, what, whom, when, and where--the 'Why?' was the singular most important query to satisfy. If that question had a good answer then the rest would be a matter of tactics." (Sensing Singapore, paperback, 2014, pp. 20) As long as Lee Kuan Yew was alive, the "Why" had an answer, but now, after his death, the Eastern model is flailing silently--but comfortably--in his long shadow. 

Indeed, the goals of most Singaporean residents are no longer national unity, diverse hawker centres open till midnight, or the creation of an ASEAN role model. Most non-senior Singaporeans want things, not ideas. They desire houses, cheaper health care, and more flexibility in CPF contributions and withdrawals. The most common mobile image on the MRT? A Lazada screen. The natural result of a society divorced from the shared ideals of a strong leader is perhaps a rise in different ideologies, but certainly, more things. Most conveniently, things do not ask, "Why?" 

The more one examines this new paradigm, the more one senses humanity entering a vast showroom filled with many wonderful things but lacking the ability to articulate a reason for any of them. In contrast, a vacuum and dishwasher saved every woman and bachelor in the 1900s time and energy. The sneakers worn today by your average non-athlete are far easier on your feet than the ones worn by Bob Cousy in his heyday. A car not only allowed easier transportation, it literally opened up vast stretches of land not otherwise accessible. 

Lest you become too aggrieved, note that human nature hasn't changed much. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the following words in 1904, a time notable for its many new things, including the vacuum cleaner, air conditioning, electrocardiograms, and radar: 

Things are of the snake. 
The horseman serves the horse, 
The neatherd serves the neat, 
The merchant serves the purse, 
The eater serves his meat; 
’T is the day of the chattel, 
Web to weave, and corn to grind; 
Things are in the saddle, 
And ride mankind.

Surely the more things change, the more they stay the same, but do they still stay the same when the digital world overtakes the tangible one, and when things no longer provide as much utility as before? I don't know, but I'm sure of one thing: in such a world, we need effective rather than ineffective checks and balances, and we are in danger of having everything except the things that matter the most. Good luck, lah? 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Simulacrum Society, Part 3: The Trial Never Ends

[Part 2 is HERE.]
H3: Have you reached a better understanding of humanity now, one that includes its successes as well as its failures? 

H4: I'm not certain my conclusions will please you, but I won't be accused of a lack of effort, so here goes: 

The 21st century midwifed five major changes: 

1) The transformation of religion into a community-building vehicle rather than an engine for intellectualism, especially where subsidized by the state; and, in areas where religion declined, a lack of equivalent substitutes that promoted meaning or historical context; 

2) Women's cultural decisions to imitate men, but without attacking institutional economic factors that disproportionately promoted male influence, such as military spending; 

3) Data-driven economics prioritizing capital inflows without regard to intangibles such as well-being and individual agency, plus governments searching for relevance amidst the rise of the private sector and fragmented informational access; 

4) A failure to realize humanity had limits and that technological progress beyond a certain point, especially if debt-driven, promoted slavery rather than free agency; and 

5) A clash between cultures, one that believed publicizing behavior led to immodesty and inexorable falsity, and another that believed, on balance, publicity generated positive returns by providing models to aspire to. 

H3: For f*ck's sake, I can't take this anymore. All I wanted was some recognition that human beings, our ancestors, weren't chumps. Do you have some way of communicating without a multi-part tome? 

H4: [Sigh] Then let me tell you a story. You know Singapore, a tiny nation-state that built one of the world's most successful societies from scratch? 

H3: Yes, we studied them in school. Interesting country, fascinating leader

H4: In just 50 years, Singapore had flourished and was no longer associated with chewing gum bans, caning, and fines but with peace summits, hedge fund managers, and wealth. The basis of its society was trust and efficacy in all areas, allowing diversity to prosper. Although many Western pundits questioned its one-party dominance, others realized it made no sense to waste time and money shifting national goals every four years.

After achieving almost every benchmark of a highly developed country, Singapore's main economic goal was transforming itself into a digital society and moving all government services online by 2023. To its credit, it expressly included senior citizens and the disabled within its purview to avoid exclusion. 


H3: That's great, right?

H4: Indeed, it's one reason you and I are here, connected to the grid and on this pod. But it's important to realize Singaporeans, along with Estonians and Finns, didn't have much choice but to become guinea pigs in a society increasingly tilting away from the tangible and continuing to struggle with cybersecurity. 


In a push to trickle down the benefits of cyberinvestments to the civilian sector, governments outside the EU were numb about privacy concerns and could not achieve consensus regarding an appropriate balance between freedom of speech and protection of vulnerable populations. In order for a digital society to be beneficial, it needs all the data. AI can never be sure the 90% it has reviewed is the most relevant or correct if there's 10% missing. 

H3: Hence, the rise of the surveillance state in the 21st century--an effort to capture all voice, facial, gait, and location data. Governments and corporations had to see everything in order to optimize the digital economy. Anyone trying to disrupt the model, even by excluding himself or herself from cell phones, was interfering with trillions of dollars of investments by multiple countries. 

H4: In the meantime, Singapore had decided the right balance involved mandatory military service for male citizens and political speech in designated areas only with a permit. Yet, other than its brilliant founder and Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore in 2018 failed to produce a single notable poet, philosopher, or author raised and educated within city limits. (Kevin Kwan was raised in the United States and Chua Beng Huat studied in Canada.) No one publicly questioned why Singapore, given its lack of creative output, should be so enthusiastic to become fully digital. Everyone assumed it was the way to go, especially with China rolling out a social credit score. It was as if insurance companies--the wealthiest and most influential businesses in the world at the time--had taken over human "progress."

H3: Why are you complaining? We are now safer than we've ever been, in part due to the sacrifices made by the Chinese, Singaporeans and other people during the 21st century.

H4: Did they have a choice? World governments decided it was impossible to create enough good jobs if population growth continued, so they set about lowering birthrates, increasing the age of new parents, and making consumer debt more palatable. We know governments in debt have no qualms about placing their citizens in debt, too. No one asked if this was the best way forward. The future would involve digital transformation and financial leverage, and developing countries would just have to get on with it. 


[Roughly two fifths [40%] of the world's population is effectively outside the financial system, without access to bank accounts, much less credit." (Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money, paperback, Penguin Books, 2008-09, page 282)] 

H3: I'm still confused about why you're complaining. 

H4: Remember: these were governments and corporations that could not solve segregation; fair pay and hiring processes that rewarded merit regardless of one's gender or accidental place of birth; increasing rates of divorce, depression, and suicide; a fair criminal justice system; and the military-industrial complex
Huat's Liberalism Disavowed (2017)
Take the simple act of hiring employees. People would joke about repressive governments one day making them pay to work without realizing they'd described the status quo: after all, didn't they pay money to colleges, funded mostly by government/student loans, in order to secure a chance at a middle-class job? 

Lacking context, their "solution" to any wide-scale problem was always a hammer. Depressed? Take pharmaceuticals. Divorced? Download this app to meet new people. Lonely? Here's an app to find group activities. 

Even after spending obscene amounts of capital on psychological and academic studies, few people could discuss simple issues--such as the advantages and disadvantages of voluntary same-sex segregation--aside from the usual Puritanical spiels. In fact, our research proves the calming effect women's chemicals have on men and the way men's chemicals spur higher red blood cell production in women--and we've used these findings to create more comprehensive pharmaceuticals, finally solving a bevy of psychological and physiological ailments. 

We also know the reason some women felt a subconscious desire to prolong social interactions with men before copulation was to see whether each person adapted well to the other's chemical impact. Seen this way, segregated gender settings imposed a less "contaminated" chemical test when two people decided to test the waters between each other and also made it more likely each gender would feel calmed by the other. 

H3: So romantic difficulties weren't only because of temptation and more choices but a mix of culture and complex biological forces? 

H4: Yes, but that was the least of humanity's problems in 2018. So many different forces upended humanity's customary ways of life, most people spent the 21st century not entirely sure what was going on. Greater technology led to fewer jobs at the same moment women were entering the workforce in developed countries. As the time between educational completion and one's first positive net worth became longer, both women and men in developed countries lost incentives to have children, leading to immigration battles. 

Ironically, immigration presented the most obvious as well as the most difficult way to grow. Most people know if x country attracts a hard worker from y country, it has scored a 200% victory differential. The immediate consequence of y country losing one of its hardest or smartest workers is a minus 100% score, which also disrupts y country's gender relations if its citizen is unmarried. Over time, however, the immigrant becomes a reflection of x country's institutions because his or her child will be influenced more by the country's institutions and residents than by family. This dynamic exists not only because of linguistic fluency differentials, but because immigrant adults typically lack a solid understanding of their new country, leaving their children more susceptible to immediate--and, ironically, for the parents, foreign--influences. 

While these sociological forces were intruding on people's lives, the world's economic order was breaking apart. Because of the way trade was linked to military cooperation and weapons purchases, freedom of trade didn't really exist, which limited freedom of labor as well as movement. 

H3: Didn't women in so-called first-world societies have a limited period to have children back then, making the education-to-job process harder for them as well as society? Melinda Gates, of all people, wasn't recognized for her fascinating (but probably suboptimal) hypothesis: support roles needed to be monetized for true gender equality--broad-based attempts to harmonize pay scales or other artificial attempts at changing the economic system not touching fundamental drivers of inequality were insufficient. 

H4: [chuckles] Yes. The great politician Lee Kuan Yew made few major mistakes, but he almost lost his people's trust when he offered state incentives for educated women to have children. As one Singaporean taxicab driver said, "What, just because I drive a cab, my kid can't be a college professor [one day]?" 


H3: Ha! The limits of top-down governance, even in a small area, had been reached, and no one had accounted for women not having at least two children. Humanity's conflicts make sense now--a lack of advanced biological technology mucked up their entire platform. 

You know, people forget evolution, based on mutations occurring at precise times when the environment allows continued propagation, doesn't always have to be good. Of course we've solved that issue now, and we've decided we can choose for ourselves which mutations and changes we desire.

H4: Speaking of outliers and mutants, the greatest English-speaking writer on human interaction was born to a Missouri farmer who died penniless. Dale Carnegie died in 1955, and no one has been able to replicate his abilities thus far. In other words, humanity's source code hadn't changed for millennia but 21st technology finally caused an almost overnight evolution--and, as you point out, not in a good way. 

H3: You're referring to the visual over the logical. Our ancestors took the digital revolution and channeled it into a visual-based society, unwittingly reducing space for introverts and philosophers, or as I like to call them, the Shane Battiers, the Tariq Abdul-Wahads, the glue guys. 

H4: You're onto something. In a visual society, people focus on the most obvious or loudest players, when in fact every team and therefore every society needs all personalities playing equally hard. 

H3: "Too many chiefs, not enough Indians." 

H4: More accurately, "Too many wannabe-chiefs, not enough brave Indians." So as humanity shifted its society from the physical to the digital, it stopped asking "big" questions about whether its own progress was optimal and sustainable. By 2018, it had been at least 50 years when a lawyer or philosopher had accomplished anything substantially bettering all of society. After Gandhi, Lee Kwan Yew, Karl Popper... [poof!] 

More troubling, no one asked "Why?" regularly. Devadas Krishnadas once wrote, "[A]mongst the 5 W's--why, what, whom, when, and where--the 'Why?' was the singular most important query to satisfy. If that question had a good answer then the rest would be a matter of tactics." 

In 2018, the answer to "Why?" was most likely, "To get out of debt," "To make money," or some other uninteresting answer. Meanwhile, the number of interesting, authentic people were dwindling--and that's when they weren't killing themselves

It was so weird--everyone knew something was off, but no one had the language to express what "it" was, and the reason no one possessed the language was because visual images and technology had replaced meaningful vocabulary and context.

H3: [Sigh] Oh, come on, you can't be a Luddite. Technology constantly evolves, and we've finally tailored it to individuals, resolving most philosophical objections against its widespread use. 

H4: What about the idea that physical spaces exist to show you things you might not otherwise be exposed to? A digital library with an algorithm tailored to your preferences will provide excellent recommendations, but what about the idea that randomness has value? 

H3: We have algorithms that provide randomized results. We've thought of everything, and we now have access to everything within our imagination. 

H4: Then why did our ancestors value collaboration so much? Why did so many interesting ideas result from mistakes, including possibly chocolate [from cacao beans exposed to fire]? 

H3: In the past, we had no choice. Today, we can run simulations that provide us with every single possible scenario and outcome. 

H4: But those outcomes are based, at some starting point, on human inputs, even with machine learning. 

H3: Even if I accept your argument that some gaps exist, the amount of information our technology provides is overwhelmingly positive and prevents us from wasting time going down cul-de-sacs. You mentioned relationships, yes? Even if an algorithm does not make a perfect match, it can remove people with incompatible goals, which generates more time for everyone and a better system. 
Taleb, Antifragile (2012)
H4: Can your algorithm measure integrity? 

H3: [Sigh] Of course not--that's not what it's designed to do. Would you prefer the old ways, with hundreds of millions of orphans and divorcées? 

H4: When I was younger, I'd have given you an immediate answer. As I get older, I'm less sure. Who's to say an orphan is less valuable than a non-orphan, or a divorcée less interesting than a lifelong spouse? A single random encounter may be more likely to produce a drug addict than an Oprah, but what algorithm could accurately perform a cost-benefit analysis in your specific case? To predict the future, we input all kinds of scenarios into algorithms, not just financial ones, but we know--not least of all because of the 2008-2009 financial crisis--any models based on human input will have gaps even if randomness is minimized. The reason we think our models have improved isn't because the technology has gotten better but because our overall approach has minimized randomness, providing better results--at a cost I consider too high. 

H3: Are you going to pay for the social welfare programs necessary to uplift each orphan resulting from a poorly conceived match? Doesn't it make more sense to use that money to further space exploration, health care advances, and other improvements? Listen, we've eliminated infant mortality. It will be 0% in the near future. We can also remove problematic genes in vitro or in vivo and create babies outside the womb. What invention would you need to see before you're willing to become more complimentary in your analysis? 

H4: Hold on--your question includes an unexamined premise. Why would we need to create separate programs for orphans? Why couldn't they use the same programs as anyone else? We know social welfare programs in the past were useless in solving long-term problems, so we changed our approach. The problem wasn't that a child was an orphan, but that such a child had excessive randomness in his or her life, i.e., less stability. 

H3: Wait, I thought you liked randomness. Weren't you promoting it just now? 

H4: [Sigh] No, I was arguing for self-determination, which requires some randomness and some interaction with physical objects. The digital world can be manipulated--opinions often differ based on the inputs given, so one check and balance against informational manipulation is randomness and the willingness to explore random paths. Without a physical wooden wardrobe, we don't have a C.S. Lewis fable. 
H3: You mean, like this? [Waves hand, shows one simulation of a wooden wardrobe, then another, and then another...] 

H4: I keep telling you, there's a massive difference in the way our brains interact with real things, no matter how realistic the simulation. 
Kristof, A Path Appears (2014)
A Japanese writer, Murakami, described the moment he decided to become a writer: he said it happened entirely by chance at a baseball game when he heard the crack of a bat. No physical game, no abstract writer. 
Murakami mentioning "tactile memories"
when describing his decision to begin writing novels.
H3: Modern psychologists disagree, and neuroscientists who've measured the brain's reactions in different scenarios say differences today are infinitesimal between simulations and non-simulations. The reason prior humans couldn't generate the same synapses as us is because their simulations weren't good enough. 

An AR/VR baseball game would have been inferior to the "real" thing in 2025 but now, it's the same--and, quite frankly, better because of the minimized clutter and preparation time. Did you see the 2018 Asian Games' debacle on buying tickets online? [waves hand, shows website
They had to revert to physical office sales because their third-party ticket seller's website didn't work. We don't have those issues. 

H4: But your analysis is inherently unfair--the younger generation doesn't have the requisite alternate scenario to be able to make meaningful comparisons. They're exposed to simulations much earlier and much more often than prior generations. Additionally, now that our physical landscape has completely changed, how can we measure the impact of the old ways vs. the new when the old ways no longer exist? Listen to Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985): 

By substituting images for claims, the pictorial commercial made emotional appeal, not tests of truth, the basis of consumer decisions. The distance between rationality and advertising is now so wide that it is difficult to remember that there once existed a connection between them... No claims are made, except those the viewer projects onto or infers from the drama... One can like or dislike a television commercial, of course. But one cannot refute it.

H3: We make fair comparisons by measuring infant mortality rates; the decline of extreme poverty; the percentage of children with access to education; the elimination of laws that discriminate on the basis of private activity or immutable traits; accident rates, whether on or off the job; and so on.

H4: You've totally missed the point. Why are movies less interesting today than they were in the American 1940s? Why is dialogue less spry? Why is everything well-done either a joke or a dystopia? But you know what, let's take one of your examples. Do you think if you remove a law against segregation, suddenly segregation disappears?

H3: It's the first and necessary step. Everything improves incrementally once you remove direct obstacles.

H4: Even agreement on common values and how to finance their advancement? 


H3: The mistake you keep making is assuming humanity isn't simple. We've learned from the past and eliminated overly complex interference. We now know the following: 

1) The more diverse a society, the more of a meritocracy it must be to avoid fracturing; 

2) Almost all economic problems stem from short-termism in the pursuit of profit without long-term sustainability analyses, which eventually morph into social problems; and 

3) Each existing constituency typically deserved to reach its power but over time, typically three generations, loses its original purpose and becomes corrupt. 

For example, when Americans utilized slavery, racism clearly played a part, but the goal was the same in every generation, though the tools became more complex: cheap labor, higher profits. The Americans imported labor from all over the world, first by force, then through varying stages of exploitation like short-term visas and debt. If a country didn't have a natural resource to exploit, it grew through immigration, sovereign wealth funds investing overseas, and/or short-term labor contracts. Every single 21st century's economic growth strategy involved some form of labor exploitation, because technological platforms were trying to overwhelm competitors' technologies, creating a new digital arms race. At some point, state competitors decided it was too expensive and too difficult to export one-size-fits-all digital platforms into each country and essentially agreed to monopolies within each geographic area. The digital platform wars ended peacefully, with the most advanced players drawing geographical lines around different areas the same way countries did post-WWII and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire

H4: [Smiles] When did you become so damn wonky? 

H3: [Growls] You must be influencing me. 

H4: Doesn't your analogy to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire make you anxious? Didn't you study the numerous conflicts that resulted from such hasty border creations? 

H3: But that's the beauty of digital borders. Almost anyone can go anywhere else, so there's fewer reasons for conflict. 

H4: Oh, come on, a Vanilla Sky (2001) existence for everyone is your idea of utopia? 

H3:  You don't get it--the true value of the digital world is peace, not originality. Problems with rapid capital and cultural changes are less problematic when the digital is prioritized over the physical. 

By way of analysis, let's examine a developing country that invites a large restaurant chain. The chain immediately has major advantages over locally-owned businesses like access to capital markets, greater advertising budgets, ability to scale, etc. What leaders didn't understand was that inviting foreign businesses meant the invitees also captured or co-opted local supply chains. 

For example, a restaurant that served chips or fries had to source potatoes. That meant it could eliminate competition indirectly, even with an inferior product, if it offered potato farmers higher-than-market price, then purchased each lot's maximum output. It could also control fluctuating prices by importing if necessary or relying on derivatives, two options unavailable to most small businesses or local competitors. 

The next thing you know, foreign capital and marketing from outsiders is changing your society in unexpected ways. 
Singaporean gov ad with 100% Caucasians displayed (2018)
Worse, any attempt to fix the problem after failing to create a long-term investment plan usually ends up violating the meritocracy principle we mentioned earlier. In short, countries that successfully deployed foreign capital did so as part of an overall security framework, which forced negotiators into long-term outlooks. Every single successful story of outside influence in the 20th century was within a framework of trade agreements either designed to repair a country after its military defeat (Germany, Japan) or to bring it into commonly shared security arrangement (Singapore). The future in 21st century was digital security, and that approach paved the way for us to be here, enjoying this conversation. Countries had to negotiate with each other within a new framework, which took time, but they eventually caught up. 

H4: So you're telling me we've identified solutions to the problems you've mentioned above?  


H3: We're working on it. It's an incremental process because as I just explained, technology amplified the risks of sudden change. It didn't actually change anything fundamental--it just made mistakes far more costly. 

By 2018, humanity realized if the result of total surveillance wasn't social harmony, governments would lose credibility. China's approach suddenly became viable, despite fewer consumer choices and the total loss of privacy. Many hiccups occurred on the path to achieving a less totalitarian digital society, including cults that ironically failed to achieve critical mass because their methods eschewed digital platforms. Most governments eventually figured out a fear-based strategy no longer worked and switched to proving their competence. Singapore became a model for this "soft totalitarian" approach, where citizens knew their government was watching but trusted the judgment of their officials. 

Singapore's model worked because of its small size and affluence, and its approach took time and trial-and-error to adapt to larger countries. Some elements of Singaporean society could not be replicated despite best efforts. For instance, its small size meant government officials were accessible by default, while its mandatory military draft meant almost everyone knew a police officer or military servicemember, making conspiracy plots against minorities implausible. 

Indeed, one could argue Singapore's greatest accomplishment was putting minorities into its police department for day-to-day policing, something no other country managed to do in meaningful ways. It worked in Singapore because LKY consciously ensured the country's military was majority Chinese, and in the unlikely event of a police-led uprising, of course the military had far more power. In contrast, America's police departments had historical links with the racist KKK, making meaningful diversity efforts more difficult; and although its military was more egalitarian, its greater diversity was partly because of the country's failures in educational development, which impacted the private sector's willingness to hire and develop minorities. 

Costa Rica and Panama came closest to Singapore's domestic security paradigm, but with a twist: they eliminated their military, effectively gambling their relatively safe and prosperous countries would attract significant capital investment from militarily-advanced countries, which would then interfere in the event of an invasion. Once again, the 20th century's emphasis on using the sea for trade scored winners, as Singapore and Panama had sovereignty over their strategically important ports, while Costa Rica had the best ecotourism in the world. 
John Perry's Singapore (2017)
In any case, China's attempts to copy Singaporean culture failed because Chinese officials didn't appreciate the sacrifices Singaporeans made to enforce their informal motto--borrowed from Indonesia--of "unity through diversity." If America's problem was taking a blunt hammer to its problems, China's was that it preferred a Mjölnir. 

So, as usual, change was incremental, but once humanity saw Singapore's success, at least it had a way forward, though its unevenness caused many countries to take the less difficult path of isolationism--assuring their decline. 

H4: If you're right, then change was incremental because 20th century economies grew in the shape of an upside-down pyramid, which the 21st century spent flattening into something more sustainable. As Michael Lewis wrote in Flash Boys (2014), “Every systemic market injustice arose from some loophole in a regulation created to correct some prior injustice.” In other words, laws didn't get repealed--humans just added more of them to their rules-based foundation and relied on selective enforcement under a deterrence framework. In effect, lawyers, legislators, and so-called "elites" dug their own graves by failing to think long-term while outsourcing their role to the executive branch's whims. 

H3: So you're arguing humanity had delegated its destiny and way of life to the executive branch long before the "strongman" politician came into vogue? 

H4: From a strictly economic analysis, nothing is inherently wrong with a strongman or illiberal politician--as long as the quality of life for all residents improves steadily over time. LKY proved that. 

The problem in 2018 was the economic foundation of worldwide civilization was built on military spending, and such a foundation no longer supported benefits that accrued to all residents. In the past, military spending provided far more than defense. It provided logistics, trade, knowledge transfers, cultural exchanges, and process improvements [e.g., Kaizen (改善), inspired by American William Edwards Deming, who believed higher quality ipso facto reduces costs and boosts productivity, which in turn improves market share]. 

If your R&D--and therefore innovative capacity--is linked to unchecked military spending, everything designed to restrict its growth will fail. Liberals lost credibility by not understanding this simple concept and by discarding individuals who operated outside their preferred networks. 

H3: Unions, universities, political parties... all of them apparently accepted the principle of "100 dollars for the military yesterday, 10 dollars for me today, 11 dollars for me tomorrow, and isn't everything just great?"

H4: No one made the link between humanity's loss of originality/creativity and the expansion of unsustainable military spending, which had destroyed privacy. Just like laws built on top of one another with little to no relation to everyday lives, military spending had built t
oo many jobs, especially for uneducated men, to be reduced. More problematically, such spending, including weapons sales, were the real basis for many worldwide trade agreements, few of which could be unwound easily without affecting numerous industries. 

The U.S. assumed it would make a reasonable ROI on its military spending while creating jobs for its citizens worldwide but overestimated its influence. By 2018, it had shut down its base in Subic Bay, Philippines; lost Hong Kong to China (in 1997); lost trading influence with Taiwan; and had only tiny Singapore to counter China's rise. 

H3: You keep mentioning originality. Originality wasn't optimal because military spending--which I support, by the way--fosters trickle down jobs in the civilian sector that prioritizes not just following orders but citizens who follow orders. I get it. What's the alternative? Malcolm X, MLK, John Lennon... a long list of creatives were shot because of poor security. 

If you want to be fair, you'll argue we've always relied on propaganda to maintain security due to deterrence being the most cost-effective method, but when the spending necessary to maintain security is unsustainable or fails to result in genuine safety or transformative trickle down innovation, governments lose credibility and people lose hope. At the same time, we never stop trying. 

H4: The logical result of a dishonest society, which you describe as imbalanced, is that Anthony Bourdain spends most of his life poor and then commits suicide while Trump becomes a billionaire and President. And while humanity agonizes over ecology, authenticity has become the most endangered species. 

["Look, I believe in some basic virtues, you know? Mercy, humility, curiosity, empathy. They sound quaint now, but..." -- from Bourdain's last interview in 2018] 

H3: It's not a perfect society. 

H4: [Becomes angry, but only for a moment] It doesn't bother you that the artwork and creativity from humanity's former generations exceeded the quality of their descendants? Visit any major city in 1600 and observe the central mosque or cathedral and how each neighborhood was walkable (due to a lack of cars, of course). Then visit a major city in America in 2040 and observe the difference in architectural quality--and the abject sameness. It was as if humanity peaked creatively but was too busy applauding its technological advances to realize its overall regression. 

Meanwhile, Robbie Williams might have summarized developed countries' malaise when he sang, "We're praying it's not too late / 'Cause we know we're falling from grace." 

H3: [Softens a little] Truly, no one thought it strange that developed countries were foisting their advanced economic culture on developing societies despite the latter being more culturally dynamic? 

H4: As you yourself argue, what could anyone do about it? Almost all the interesting people were hybrids--mutants like Junot Diaz, Nicola Yoon, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Zadie Smith. Without realizing it, humanity's intellectual evolution had regressed to advanced cave sketching and advanced spearing. People kept citing Greek philosophers without wondering why they themselves couldn't generate equivalently interesting thoughts despite a 2,000+ year advantage. 

H3: Well, returning to the security argument, the Greeks were able to develop many philosophers because they had four slaves for every one citizen, allowing more leisure time after mandatory military service; however, it does surprise me that a so-called "advanced" intellectual society couldn't avoid murdering Socrates, exiling Plato, or advancing sexism. Perhaps Socrates' evolving thoughts on democracy should have been a warning to future imitators of Greek civilization. Indeed, at least one man, John Adams, seems to have gotten the message in 1814: 

I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy... Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. 

H4: I have a different view than Adams. The problem wasn't government or political structures, but something in human nature itself that belied humility. Take something as simple as the early and now outdated Islamic practice of dividing men and women in the public sphere. 

I've noticed in historic simulations incorporating hardware and without my tech-suit, when I spend lots of time with the opposite gender, my energy declines, indicating an invisible exchange of testosterone and estrogen levels. Consequently, it's possible Arab fighters separated men and men to maintain higher energy levels, and also that monogamy reduces male sex drive, increasing the likelihood of better parenting and sexual fidelity. Now, what are the chances a Muslim Arab in 2000 A.D. would be able to determine whether any of the aforementioned hypotheses were true, and further, realize his government was issuing regulations possibly designed to maintain energy levels in an intensely humid climate? 

H3: Well, what if it was just a way to avoid competition in the public sphere and matters of importance? Segregation usually involves relegating potential competitors to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind role. 

H4: True, but remember the prophet Mohammad (PBUH) married an older, affluent woman, had a child with her, and stayed monogamous until her death. Overall, given his simple background and youth, his societal edicts, mostly in favor of women at the time, seem guided by the practical influence of an older woman. 

H3: Ok, but what does any of this have to do with your creativity vs. security argument? 

H4: Creativity matters because not only does it provide honest marketing opportunities, saving us from a resource-driven economy, but it also helps ground our natural voyeurism. One reason social media was so predominant in the 21st century was because it tapped into human nature's innate desire to peer into other people's lives. If, over time, the lens becomes manipulated, it means our ability to interact meaningfully with others is reduced, removing many opportunities for collaboration--missed opportunities no technology can register. 

["When you're surrounded by endless possibilities, one of the hardest things you can do is pass them up." -- Murakami, Norwegian Wood (2000), paraphrasing Dostoevsky] 

H3: But you're actually talking about the death of local communities like kampongs, not individualism or iconoclasts. People not part of the newly dominant system would of course be ignored--or worse--the alternative being that Singapore wouldn't have had the progress you yourself cited. 


H4: No, I keep telling you--a world running on military spending always disfavors individuals, especially creative ones. It was worse in poorer countries whose soldiers didn't travel internationally and who believed their civilian duties were more than just make-work to maintain the military-industrial complex. The fourth Jakarta employee who manually checked someone's boarding pass in 2018 had no idea other airports checked it only once or twice or that he was the victim of a meaningful job gap. 

H3: But everyone can argue their jobs are more meaningful or more valuable. 

H4: Sure, but there's a difference between a German company requiring 17 forms for an escalator manufacturer based on a logical QA process involving multiple suppliers and union input vs. a city having a hard time attracting private equity that then sees job growth in security positions because it's the easiest way to attract foreign capital. 

The problem with your worldview is that accepting propaganda aka marketing is that it relies on misinformation or concealment when things don't go as planned. 
From 2018
The consequence? Governments, which now control the digital space through various negotiations with each other, have forced cultural localization and imaginary internationalization upon us. 

H3: I don't know the alternative. You prefer the fake news debacle of the 21st century? 

H4: I like choices. Don't you? Why do you think most people, if given a blind test in 2018, preferred to be born in Canada than China? What digital software could accurately measure national pride if one country's pride was based on informally enforced national loyalty days while another's was based on quiet dignity? 

H3: But it doesn't matter anymore. If you want to talk to a Canadian or a Chinese person from 2018 to today, programs are available. Because governments agreed to share voice, location, and facial data--subject to data anonymization and protective orders--you can talk to anyone in any time period. Years prior to 2000 are less accurate, but we have access to those programs, too. 

H4: You're missing my point. You accept propaganda as a sine qua non of modern society. I don't. I agree security is the underlying basis of all economic transactions; therefore, it must be funded properly. But any idiot can protect you with an unlimited budget--the trick is to harness security so it promotes rather than stifles creativity, diversity, and community. 

When technology and security are being used properly within economic development, the result is obvious: low-level security jobs decline over time. In 2018, Abu Dhabi's airport had one employee at the end of several automated checkpoints, not four people checking boarding passes. 

H3: Once again, your argument isn't with security, but the financialization of the world economy, especially where foreign debtors had to pay interest on bonds to creditors with stronger currencies. 

Remember J. Paul Getty: "If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem." In 2016, America owed trillions to its trading partners, but that meant that countries owed trillions to America, too. 

H4: The complexity was astounding. Ireland was a huge creditor of American dollars but it lowered its tax rate specifically to allow American technology companies to sell their own IP to their own subsidiaries, then invested the proceeds back into U.S. securities. These royalty payments "averaged 23 per cent of the country’s annual gross GDP," which put it at odds with its trading partners in the EU. 

H3: What if other countries lowered their tax rates even further, leading to capital flight from Ireland?

H4: You're catching on to the unsustainability inherent in the system, are ya? Hong Kong actually had the best approach. It maintained a consistent 15% to 16.5% taxation rate, and highlighted to everyone that its tax rate would stay constant while it became attractive to capital and skilled labor in other ways, not just through its taxation rate. Anyone visiting Hong Kong in the 21st century would see a veritable hodgepodge of nationalities, all comfortable, none afraid of the government. 


H3: Did governments catch on and encourage predictability and adaptability? 

H4: Not exactly. The status quo continued well into the 22nd century because governments lowered interest rates and flooded the marketplace with money. Since they had failed in trickling down the benefits of military spending--infrastructure, better selection of products, free movement, etc.--to all citizens, they would try to maintain the stability of all enterprises until they could determine a better way. 

Remember, governments used to claim authority from some independent source until the 21st century. In the modern era, however, governments had one of two choices: 1) give individual citizens benefits directly, such as housing (i.e., Singapore); or 2) ensure cohesion and societal harmony. As the latter became more and more difficult, governments tried to convince people life was getting better through marketing and opportunities for self-expression. 

H3: The optimism craze, where everything was getting better, even when it wasn't or only when it was compared to a much worse time. 

H4: Yup. Now you said simulations had improved to the point where they were equal to or even better than the real thing, right? 

H3: That's what the research shows.

H4: So if the government wanted to lie to you about how much your life had improved, would it be easier or harder in a fully digital society where the government and its allies control information flows and what you see? 


H3: I accept your logical premise but not the result you are aiming for. I do not accept that governments and people desire a more dishonest society merely to sustain their own power. I believe governments are sincere in blocking disruptive information and behavior in order to facilitate harmony and progress. 

H4: You know, some books are out of print. If you wanted to find Warren Hinckle's If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade (1974), you are usually dependent on someone else's interpretation of the source material, which algorithms prioritize. In other words, without physical bookstores and randomness, the information you receive about the past is virtually guaranteed to be secondhand aka hearsay. As society aged, almost all our information about the past has become less reliable even if we read only the source material, because even our selection of the source material is now biased due to centuries of algorithmic fine-tuning. In short, we are now more dependent than ever before on large entities when it comes to developing our perspectives. 

You mentioned I can pull up AI-generated simulations of anyone from the past. Well, why can't I pull up actual interviews with individuals and sort them on my own? I realize the data is immense, but part of the reason life--and, I continue to maintain, humans--used to be more interesting is because of the ability to interact randomly with information and physical objects. 

H3: Suppose I agree with you that the upside down pyramid is an inherently unstable model. That even if the pyramid grows perfectly rather than unevenly and avoids a Jenga-like scenario, at some point, reaching the top guarantees a large distance between the first and final bricklayers. That after some time, continued growth necessarily requires looking outward, creating tension as funding leaves familiar borders and becomes subject to less predictability. That even worse, the distance between the top and bottom creates a compassion gap absent a strong leader to bring the community together and to guarantee accountability as well as stability. 

H4: The pattern has been attenuation, then repression to maintain the status quo. 

H3: Right. What is the alternative? 

H4: [Sigh] The alternative is to heed Robert Frost: "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out." And to understand walls do not have to be physical or even concrete to impose barriers. 

Trade agreements, laws, currency fluctuations, changing immigration rules, tariffs, foreign capital, etc.--all of them were intangible walls designed to create predictable systems of trade--and all of them, being intangible, were harder to control. This paradox caused less compassion in the 21st century because individuals implicitly understood they could not effectively assist farther blocks/communities outside the parts the system could control. 

More interestingly, places with less control--and therefore more danger--were more compassionate but unevenly so. Their tolerance allowed elements of radicalism, not just ideas the majority preferred. 

H3: So New Orleans, America was more vibrant than safer San Jose, America?

H4: Exactly. 


H3: And your alternative is... 

H4: Humility and the willingness to change your entire way of life, which is impossible absent societal cohesion. Singapore, for example, switched to an exchange rate mechanism rather than follow Western finance, which based government action on the money supply (M0-M4). It made perfect sense because shadow banking--the combined value of off-balance financial transactions through Western Union, PayPal, BitCoin, informal networks (not necessarily illegal), etc.--had reached trillions of dollars, making M1/M2 benchmarks almost meaningless. 

John Lanchester,
London Review of Books (2018)
H3: And raising or reducing interest rates doesn't work if the data you're using isn't complete. 
El-Erian, The Only Game in Town (2016)
H4: Exactly. And yet, in 2018, the brightest minds in the West were so pleased technology would finally allow real-time data analysis, they forgot that their data was meaningless if it wasn't complete: 

[T]he most interesting things we want to do aren't to predict what GDP is going to do next month, but to make predictions about what happens if we tinker with the system. If we change the rules so that, say, people can't use as much leverage, or if we put interest rates at level X instead of level Y, what happens to the world? ... Places like the US Federal Reserve Bank make predictions using a system that has been developed over the last eighty years or so. This line of effort goes back to the middle of the 20th century, when people realized that we needed to keep track of the economy. They began to gather data and set up a procedure for having firms fill out surveys, for having the census take data, for collecting a lot of data on economic activity and processing that data. This system is called “national accounting,” and it produces numbers like GDP, unemployment, and so on. The numbers arrive at a very slow timescale. (J. Doyne Farmer)

H3: That's just poorly designed simulation, which we've solved. Back then, governments had to directly or indirectly merge operations with private companies or risk becoming obsolete. Regulations and the market had become too fragmented. 
In Behalf of Advertising (1929)
Thus, once a platform like Google dominated, it received tacit support from its own government, leading to regulatory conflicts: at the same time a country didn't want to fall behind international competitors, its government was responsible for regulating private sector excesses. The question was how to do so effectively. 

["Globalization needs regulation but everyone is reluctant to demand it for fear that it may discriminate against them." -- Misha Glenny, McMafia (2008), pp. 150.]

H4: Conflicts abounded, driven by unnecessary complexity. Such a fragmented system certainly created jobs--every lawsuit filed by a plaintiff's lawyer meant a job for a defense lawyer--and therein lies the rub. More jobs, but no real progress, especially if insurance covered the bills and/or judgment. Without intending it, human beings had outsourced progress to insurance companies, financial organizations, and lawyers masquerading as knowledgable government officials. 

H3: You're saying Marc Andreessen was wrong. Software didn't eat the world--finance and insurance did. 
Goldman Sachs alumnus Steve Bannon
Democratic checks and balances don't work if insurance interferes with accountability, if debt props up the incompetent, and if stability means more than integrity.
Perry's Singapore (2017)
H4: Yes, and one cannot issue or roll over trillions of dollars of debt without favoring stability over integrity, predictability over randomness. The ideal situation was Singapore: shared data between the government, often a stakeholder, and private industry, but with the government having a hands-off policy and allowing private competition for purposes of determining the most meritorious entity.  

H3: I agree Singapore offers many lessons in understanding the 20th and 21st centuries. Its remarkable progress proved co-opting organizations and marginalizing political opposition can work--as long as residents share common goals and as long as efficacy is the goal. But of course, they, too, were subject to the "law" of the third generation: "Fu bu guo san dai," or "Wealth never survives three generations." 

["We are ideology-free. What would make the place work, let's do it." -- LKY, 2007]

H4: Something like that. Almost everyone who remains in a place tends to go with the flow because the formal and informal rules they've accepted promote certain behaviors, which always excludes certain people and groups. Then, unless constrained by size or some other limiting factor, provincialism and disconnect develops within the status quo, a gap that allows new ideas room to to maneuver--but only if the best ideas are allowed to take root, which requires the exact ingredients the status quo usually lacks, i.e., humility and adaptability. 

So remember the paradox: your belief system is the result of a prior belief system that worked so well, its adherents felt a kind of special relationship to the divine or a particular way of doing things, but over time, its formal and informal rules lose sight of their original purpose, giving rise to yet another belief system that seems just as divine because it's countering one that has become antiquated. Yet, human nature doesn't really change at all, creating confusion and conflict because the new adherents cannot access the reasons the old belief system worked in the past--if they could, they wouldn't need a new one. 

H3: In effect, humanity is always doomed to forget, then repeat history? 

H4: Bingo. The inability to access context is driven by multiple factors, not just struggles for informational integrity, but the unavoidable fact that everything degrades over time. 

H3: Why am I getting depressed? 

H4: Hold on--we have a way out of the cycle. If we're able to remember the overall dynamics of human history, we can see ourselves--though in vastly different groups and geographies, indicating excessive fragmentation is nothing new--as having adapted logically over time to different events. So the Muslim ban on pork, which made sense in an era of unpredictable sanitary conditions, as well as its halal practices, can be adapted to the modern era by realizing our food is best when it comes from local sources and eaten quickly after preparation. 

So you see, the fundamental dynamic hasn't changed because human nature has stayed fundamentally the same--what has changed is our cognitive ability to reach back in time and adapt our ancestors' understandings to the present-day. As proof, the halal process follows a remarkably similar process on the Jewish side, showing humanity is drawn to particular practices, especially visually-percipient ones, as a means to bond with each other. 

We can avoid self-defeating cycles within the context of cognitive adaptability plus skepticism aka an acceptance of imperfect information aka humility. One more example: Hinduism within the context of its caste system suddenly makes sense if we see it as elders restricting information in order to promote a perception than certain members had special access to wisdom or power. The religion's attempts to avoid a discussion about whether conversion is possible absent a caste designation can then be attributed to the desire to be seen positively in the continued informational warfare that marks a feature as well as a bug of humanity. 

H3: So everything gets watered down over time? 

H4: In a manner of speaking, yes, because it has to incorporate changing demographics as well as preventing excessive exclusion. Otherwise, it will become extinct.

It's the same with laws, even our own. No matter the system of law or process, it is always designed to allow people in power to eliminate rivals who threaten the status quo. The legal process is merely a structure that allows the opportunity to claim benevolence and non-absolute power when in fact, laws as written are always expressly designed to eliminate behavior deemed unhealthy to the ruling classes or elites, who then justify the law based on outliers or other informational warfare tactics. In short, legal systems have always failed to corral corruption because they were designed to give cover to the ruling elites, making it harder to create the necessary space we mentioned above for new ideas to maneuver. Hernando de Soto, the greatest economist of his generation, even called lawyers "terrorists" for their attempts to maintain the status quo at any cost, regardless of impact on the poor.

["The issue in the 21st century in the West is assetless paper and everywhere else it is paperless assets."-- Hernando de Soto Polar

H3: What about that Iranian-British-American you mentioned previously? Wasn't he a lawyer? 

H4: Yes, and after Trump vs. Hawaii (2018), he kept traveling outside his "home" country. Unfortunately, Singapore, which had been so lovely in 2001, no longer possessed the spirit of its founder, primarily because Singapore, like many other rich countries, had to import temporary workers without a permanent stake in the country's future, thereby setting the stage for a backlash against newcomers during any future recession. 

H3: So where did he go?

H4: According to his own hypothesis, which presumed humanity's ego would always overwhelm its humility, and further, that this innate defect would always lead to groups overwhelming or co-opting individuals, he had to determine how to communicate better with others. He set out to find a place that developed talent in non-manipulative ways, and where every worker, no matter what level, could exercise common sense discretion without fear. 


H3: Did he figure it out?  


H4: Here's what he wrote before he disappeared: 

"Humanity's progress depends on an illogical paradigm requiring minorities and outsiders to want to take root in foreign soil, make the shifting dirt their new home, but to grow much more slowly than desired. 

Furthermore, the greatest creativity and bravery are usually the result of a paradox, and if we understood this, we'd be far more curious about each other and far more adventurous. After all, America's greatest military general was Dwight Eisenhower, whose mother was a devout Jehovah's Witness and pacifist (died September 11, 1946). England's most adept politician at promoting conservative economic values was Gordon Brown, a liberal Scot. Muhammad Ali, the world's most vibrant modern-era Muslim? Born and raised in a Christian family. Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian China's greatest seafarer? Zheng He, a devout Muslim. Japan's most successful investor? A Korean immigrant, Masayoshi Son. The list is endless. 
E.B. White had it right in the end: "The quality in New York that insulates its inhabitants from life may simply weaken them as individuals. Perhaps it is healthier to live in a community where, when a cornice falls, you feel the blow; where, when the governor passes, you see at any rate his hat." ("Here is New York") In short, if you cannot reach out and touch the source of authority over you, it is not accountable--and it will generate contempt in the end, under any simulation.  


We are a tangible species rebelling against the increasing intangibility of life. We cannot grasp source code with our hands, but we know it forces impersonalization, without which moral authority diminishes. And so we rebel, even against our own interests, not because we do not believe in globalization or the human race's ability to collaborate, but because the way structures and institutions advance interests is against the tactile wisdom of ancestral generations. Whatever its source, authority, whether God or manmade, comes from an implicit social contract, and until we know what the terms are, we will vote to bring down the structures until we can feel their pillars." 

We don't have a record of anything else after 2018--just an enigmatic Johnny Mathis song: 
H3: How strange. 

H4: More cardamom tea, my friend? 

H3: Ah, you always get the perfect mix of cardamom. I don't understand why my replicator can't get the right formula. 

H4: (Smiles) Just lucky, I guess. 

END SCENE

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat