A Pandemic of Authoritarianism, as the Red Grains Cascade
What we see is an attempt to impose an idealised technical managerialism onto a complex, rather than pursue real solutions to problems.
Change happens quickly and often unpredictably. Yet the unpredictable part seemingly is all about physics. Imagine, dropping one grain of sand after another onto a table. A pile soon develops. Eventually, just one grain starts an avalanche. Most of the time, it’s a small one. But sometimes the pile just slides and disintegrates entirely.
Well, in 1987, three physicists began to play the sand pile game in their lab, seeking an answer to what it is that triggers the typical avalanche? After a huge number of tests, they found there is no typical number of grains that does it.
To find out why such unpredictability should show up in their sand pile game, the physicists next coloured it according to its steepness. Where it was relatively flat and stable, they coloured it green; where steep and, in avalanche terms, ‘ready to go’, they coloured it red.
They found that at the outset, the pile looked mostly green, but that, as the pile grew, the green became infiltrated with ever more red. With more grains, the scattering of red danger fingers grew until a dense skeleton of red instability ran through the pile. Here then was a clue to its peculiar behaviour: a grain falling on a red spot can, by domino-like action, cause sliding at other nearby red spots.
Afghanistan was intended to be a showcase for western technical managerialism – an empirical petri-dish in which to prove the historical inevitability of technocracy. Its doctrine held that free markets somehow obviated the need for politics; that big data and ‘expert’ managerialism in markets (in markets extended to ‘everything’, that is), were the crux to re-setting the world in a better way (i.e. the Build Back Better meme). It was, in a word, postulated on data predictability.
Existential political and social questions in this doctrine however, were to be nuanced through ‘Third Wayism’ (i.e. left unsolved – or fudged with easy answers, and easy money).
Or … ‘regulated’ into compliance. The answer to social problematics was Cloud Computing of mass data. With enough input on past human choices, it is believed that experts can precisely predict human behaviour, which then can be ‘nudged’ in the direction that our élites wish it to go. Nudge behavioural psychology, of course, is about control – not active thinking.
Yet unpredictably, this ‘world class’ managerial team in Kabul, so consumed by the notion of technocracy and mass data management, produced a project so rotten and corrupt (gaming the system) that it collapsed in eleven days. Many Americans and Europeans have barely recovered from the shock, and remain in denial.
So, back to the sand pile: When the red spots come to riddle the sand pile, the consequences of the next grain become fiendishly unpredictable, the physicists discovered. It might trigger only a few tumblings, or it might instead set off a cataclysmic chain reaction involving millions. The sand pile seemed to have configured itself into a hypersensitive and peculiarly unstable condition, in which the next falling grain could trigger a response of any size whatsoever.
Physics is saying we have systemic instability at a certain point of accumulation. Our technocrats deny it, and therefore will be unable to foresee even such a possibility. Their creed is the model.
There are many subtleties and twists in the story, but the basic message is simple: The peculiar and exceptionally unstable organization of the critical state does indeed seem to explain why our highly complex world, at large, seems so susceptible to unpredictable upheavals. So much for AI and big data’s predictions – In the end, it was the landing of the Taliban ‘red grain’ that triggered an unpredicted, lightning cascade.
The question must be: Will this trigger any chain reaction? Maybe not, yet there are several other ‘fingers of instability’ in the western sand pile which should be coloured ‘grain red’, and – judged in avalanche terms – may be poised to cascade.
One such is the ‘vaccination’ (or gene therapy): The mRNA ‘vaccine’ doesn’t stop infection, nor does it stop the spread of the virus. A fully vaccinated person can catch the virus and spread it to others. There’s new evidence that double-vaxxed individuals build up huge viral loads in their noses and sinuses, causing them to become super-spreaders, and infect others. The unvaccinated therefore, have as much to fear in terms of catching the disease from the vaccinated as the other way around.
Israel is providing a useful case study in the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of vaccines. Israel is one of the most heavily vaxxed countries in the world, with nearly 80% of the population fully vaccinated and almost 100% of the elderly. But now Israel is experiencing a massive increase in infections (and of serious cases), mainly among the fully vaxxed.
There are ample reasons not to receive countless millions of mRNA spike-proteins into one’s circulatory system – including being recovered from Covid, and having stronger antibody protection than the vaccinated. Yet, the latter are being treated as lepers. And governments, like that of PM Draghi in Italy, continue trying to impose ever stringent vaccine mandates and other forms of authoritarian control. ‘Pandemic authoritarianism’ will do nothing to slow the spread of the disease. It may even adversely repercuss – as it has in Israel – to create a graver problem. What it will do however, is to tear an already tense society apart – particularly when set against the background of deteriorating economies.
It is all reminiscent of the managerialist control efforts of an earlier ‘war’ (the equally failed) Great War On Terror, launched in the wake of 9/11, when a different, yet supposedly, ‘morally justified’ form of mass public control and surveillance was instituted – with the wider, awkward facts of counter-terrorism policy simply edited out from an already anxiety-ridden and de-sensitised audience.
Today, there is an ongoing debate about whether we are going to ‘beat’ Covid in the way the general public conceives of these things. Scientists – not the ones you hear most from – always made clear that vaccines would not stop Covid in its tracks if, like other similar such viruses, the latter mutated into something more dangerous, and transmissible.
The latter would constitute a variant which vaccination might actually accelerate, in a process known as antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) (on which the jury is still out). There is a popular misconception that – at some critical threshold of vaccination – Covid just ‘goes away’. The science however, (Draghi aside) suggests that a happy outcome arguably will only happen were new variants to become milder, like a ‘flu.
In Afghanistan, where a ‘managerialist’ Pentagon had for 20 years, until the very eleventh hour, one General after another, repeating the mantra lie that all was fine: Plenty of ‘progress’ evident in Afghanistan. ‘Progress’ always was there – until it wasn’t. Until the state’s collapse. It was in essence a defeat driven by data addiction, at the expense of the ‘real’.
So, in this other ‘field’ of Covid, we find the similar approach: Vaccine ‘progress’ will be achieved, if not with two, then three, and now four shots (in Israel) – until it isn’t. And with that, another ‘grain’ will settle on a red finger of instability.
This issue is doubly pertinent, because just as Covid is not ‘sorted’, neither is the economy. Anyone with a smattering of economics, might have also seen in advance that QE would never achieve its key goals. It is the quintessence of high tech (financial) managerialism. Central banks may keep saying they have achieved their goals (like the Generals calling ‘progress’ in Afghanistan), but the slump in productivity and the rise in inflation, and the shift to a reductive gig economy, all make it abundantly clear this is wishful thinking. It seems, we are now told that only trillion-dollar fiscal spends can halt the rot … Or, like vaccines, potentially with more and more shots, though possible ADE makes infections increase. Again, real solutions are edited out.
The Telegraph’s International Business Editor, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, sees another red-grain finger of instability running through the sand pile:
“Germany’s long-simmering anger with the European Central Bank (ECB) is again coming to the boil. It is hard to justify perennial [QE] and negative rates when German inflation is near 4pc – and rising. Political realities are forcing the ECB … to prepare for bond tapering sooner than it wants … in order to head off a bust-up with Europe’s anchor power [Germany].
“[This means] it will have to start pulling away the shield that has protected the high-debt Club Med states from market forces for almost seven years, and that has conveniently covered their entire borrowing requirements under the cloak of “monetary policy”. It is this monetary tightening in conjunction with parallel moves by the U.S. Federal Reserve that poses the chief risk to overheated global asset markets, not the virus’ Delta variant.
What is different this time [from past German grumblings], is that inflation can be felt everywhere – gefühlte Inflation – and parts of the German economy are patently overheating … German irritation should not be underestimated: The German Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) this week published an extraordinary paper, more or less alleging that ECB governors from the high-debt states are exploiting QE in order to bail out their own insolvent governments – and doing so in violation of EU treaty law”.
Events are nearing the point where Germany must either challenge this process, or accept that it has lost control of the Euro, and together with other northern ‘frugal’ Euro-states, pull out.
The ramifications deriving from the paradigmatic blow given by the Taliban to the Western technocratic vision; to Europe at its sudden discovery that America does not have Europe’s back; to inflation felt everywhere; to the QE impasse (that interest rates above 2% would kill the western economy); to geopolitical rejection of the western liberal model – arguably all these run through what happens next with Covid, and the mass resort to the imposition of ‘virtuous’ authoritarianism.
There is, in the end, nothing more than one common single thread running through all these fingers of instability: It is the attempt to impose an idealised technical managerialism onto a complex, critical-state reality, rather than pursue real solutions to problems – and the resort to behavioural control psychology to conceal the rot beneath, and compel compliance.
So, we are now poised at a critical state of what Paul McCulley calls ‘stable disequilibrium’ – where all actors work to maximize their personal outcome, and reduce their exposure to fingers of instability. But the longer the game runs, says McCulley, the more likely it is to end in a violent avalanche, as the fingers of instability have more time to build, and, eventually, the state of stable disequilibrium goes critical.
Which finger goes first? Unpredictability again – any grain falling on a red spot can, by domino-like action, cause sliding at other nearby red spots.