Fragility and Nepenthe

Our modern society progressively depends more heavily on computers and electronic, communication networks. The power grid is essential to its operation. Books are moving from print-on-paper media to electronic media. We rely more and more on fast computations on small digital computers to do the work done in the past by big room-filled staffs and secretaries. But the whole structure is built on unstable foundations, which if any element of it were to give way, would destroy our modern civilization.

In a 2014 post on Ghyzmo, "Hacking Math I--Math Precision of Python", I wrote what now looks like a prophetic statement:

"The worst case scenario would be that some insane world leader could release some destructive force that destroys the whole intellectual-technological network and plunges the world into a super nepenthe that resets the whole, (by then) starving human race back to the stone age. When all the batteries run out, we would all then be in deep trouble. But then, we would not have any paper to use for math calculations either; and of course, we would be too busy surviving to care anyway. So let us be optimistic and use the best that we have today, and preserve our historical knowledge of scientific ascent in more primitive print media, just in case."

The recent variation of coronavirus that went out globally from China (The Wu Flu) is a shock test on the stability of the modern world. This is not quite what is known as a "Black Swan Event" because Nassim Nicholas Taleb says that it was predictable. A black swan is when something totally unexpected happens, which is so far from any statistical norm that it is unpredictable. If you give your kids a big box of matches to play with, your house burning down is not a black swan event in your life. There are natural events that would also shock our modern grids. An unusually strong solar flare could cause solar storms severe enough to wipe out our modern infrastructure: power and communication grids and also, the operations of our orbiting satellites. An event of this strength happened in 1859, the Carrington Event, but in 1859 wires and electricity were not yet part of our critical infrastructure. If such an event were to be repeated today, it would destroy modern civilization. That however, would not be a Black Swan event because it is somewhat predictable. Who knows what black swan event could topple our modern house of cards? For a deeper study of the notions of fragility, antifragility and black swan events see the publications of Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

The Wu Flu has offered us a valuable shock test of the fragility of our global infrastructure: manufacture, trade, finance, and governments. This shock test reveals many weak spots that need to be fixed before the human race can take its proper place among the stars. I would describe the predicament that the human race is in as follows: A mass of political, psychologically clever people, without an ounce of human compassion, have taken over the major decision making capacity of the human race globally and are driving its whole operation into the ground. If these psychos continue to have their way, humanity will be driven back into the paleolithic. Perhaps this has happened to the human race in history.

What is the cause of our modern woes? Some blame a movement called technocracy. This movement has a history that goes back to the 1930s.

Technocracy called for the control of the various systems of the world by technical experts who would replace greedy businessmen and establish order in the messy chaotic system of international commerce and planning. The philosophy of technology is to let the smart people do the thinking and let the general population sink into some kind of state-dependent status. Technocrats would redesign human systems including religion, family, and sexuality without the constraints of moral and ethical considerations. A number of dystopic novels have been written that portray the results of applying such a philosophy. Two examples are Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and '1984' by George Orwell. The logical results of a long technocratic rule on the bulk of humanity is presented in the comic film Idiocracy.

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