Monday, January 26, 2009

2009 - Selfishness Disguised

Last week I reviewed my predictions from 2008. Suffice to say that I didn't have a very good record. Now it's time for predictions for 2009. While my ego would like to be more accurate this year, in reality I'd like nothing better than to be wrong:

1. The economy will muddle along. We won't clearly "emerge" from our economic troubles, and we won't enter a true "crash" or depression either. There will be good signs (revival in the real estate market in some areas) and bad signs (unemployment will keep rising, it will become increasingly clear that some regions of the US will never regain their former glory). My overall prediction is based on my belief that our economy is facing two sets of challenges. The first set are truly fundamental: diminishing energy availability and the fact that our economy is predicated on an assumption of perpetual growth despite our residence on a finite planet. These, however, are not the source of our current troubles. The second set is the result of short-sighted hubris and greed: sub-prime mortgages, the belief that housing prices can perpetually rise faster than the general rate of economic growth, the belief that we can create real wealth out of thin air through the "magic" of complex financial derivatives, etc. These second set of mistakes created a bubble that popped (or, more accurately, is still rapidly deflating), and we're riding it on the way down. There is a critical distinction between these two sets of problems, however. Our economic engine, our fundamental blend of capitalism and fascism (what else do you call a controlling government-industrial interface?), will continue to grow and generate wealth (at least for some) until it collides with the fundamental problems in "Set 1." That means that it will deal with, and overcome, the problems presented by the second set. We'll realize the sources of our short-term problems and we'll fix the system. Then we'll get back to business and growth. Bottom line: the economic problems we're currently facing can and will be fixed. We probably won't turn things around in 2009, but we'll lay the groundwork for a recovery in 2010.

2. This 2010 recovery will, however, come just in time to collide with the more fundamental problems in "Set 1" that will have been gathering steam while we focus on fixing our short-term problems. This is the larger theme of 2009: we will be so focused on fixing our immediate problems that we will fail to effectively address our true, long-term problems. To make things worse, we'll be squandering our last, best opportunity to effectively, proactively deal with these fundamentals. We'll be squandering arguably an amount of surplus energy that simply won't be available in the future, energy that we could use now to build a truly sustainable infrastructure to provide energy and food for our planet. Instead, we'll use this energy to try to make sure we can keep driving our SUVs, keep moving up into larger houses filled with more trinkets, etc. I'm calling this "selfishness" because I can think of no more accurate term. Many people will argue that most people aren't aware of our long-term problems, so they can't be blamed for not acting to solve them. I think this is, at most, conscious ignorance. It's so much more fun, at least in the short-term, to squander our inheritance. This won't be a function of Obama and the Democrats or the Republicans--it is far more fundamental than that. It is far more ingrained than that--in the stories we tell ourselves about progress and in our faith in the continuation of the recent past perpetually into the future. I think we'll see just enough success in the short run--an economic recovery in 2010, a return to global growth and wealth, to destroy any chance (small to being with) that we may have had to make fundamental changes.

3. Oil prices. Most of my recent predictions have addressed the issue of oil prices, and this post won't disappoint. I don't think we'll regain the highs seen in 2008, but I think we'll spend a few months in the $30s and $40s and then end the year between $60 and $70/barrel. This will not be because of any recovery in demand, but rather because of a much more troubling decline in production caused by decreased investment due to low oil prices. We'll see many of the megaprojects, scheduled to come online over the next few years to stave off serious production declines, delayed indefinitely. While it won't make many (any) headlines in 2009, we'll lay the groundwork for precipitous production declines to hit just about the time we experience a last-gasp economic recovery in 2010-2013 (so, while it's far into the future, my prediction will be for a true spike in prices in the area of 2012).

4. Geopolitics: we'll continue a similarly selfish course of action in 2009. While I'd like to think the Obama administration will take a bit more far-sighted tack than his predecessor(s), I think Obama will be too fixated on trying to create an immediate economic recovery to expend any political capital on diplomacy. Hopefully I'll be wrong here, as well. What will this look like? It will mean continuing to support dictators, strong-men, and corrupt regimes in the name of near-term stability and security, and at the long-term expense of continually grieving the world's poor and oppressed. As I noted a few weeks ago, people don't hate America "because of our freedom," rather they hate us because we support their oppression in our own self-interest. We'll continue that trend in 2009. I'll go out on a limb and make at least one bold prediction here: Pakistan will succumb to another military coup, and Obama will take sides with the new military ruler in the name of expediency in the "War on Terror."

In addition, here are a few responses to an e-mail interview I gave last week that are essentially predictions for 2009 and beyond:

Q: According to you is the problem of Peak Oil (and the likely impacts of a decline in oil production) a top-priority for the US Department of Defence or is it just seen as an important issue but equal to others?

A: I don't think Peak Oil is really on the DoD's radar, especially not at the highest levels. I know that, within the DoD, there is widespread understanding of the problems that rising (and, more recently, volatile) oil prices create for budgeting, logistics, acquisitions, pre-positioning, etc. There is a lesser understanding of how and where Peak Oil will drive conflict--in my experience, most senior leadership understand that competition for energy resources will make oil exporting regions into conflict areas, but I think there is minimal awareness (at best) of the extent of these conflicts, of the positive feedback loops between geology and geopolitics, and about how declining oil revenues will weaken nation-state structures just as many export-reliant states are facing the peak of their domestic demographic crises.

Q: - As they say in the recent JOE 2008 report "The implications for future conflict are ominous", in this context, do you think the Department of Defence is preparing/planning (e.g. ways to secure oil transport, invasions of producing countries) for the crisis?

A: I think this quote from the JOE demonstrates that, at least within the think-tank side of the DoD, there is some understanding of the scope and scale of problems that Peak Oil will bring. However, there seems to be a widening gulf between this understanding (often isolated in policy and research organizations) and the operational and developmental policies being implemented on the operational side of the DoD. We seem to be stuck, operationally, in a Catch-22 situation. We're preparing to defend regimes against insurgencies and we're increasingly willing to compromise our proclaimed policy of "we support democracies" to achieve the ends of securing energy supplies; we're lamenting our inability to diffuse, at its most basic level, the motivation among "terrorist" groups to attack the US and the West in general; yet we seem incapable of understanding--at least at the senior operational and policy level--that it is our very policy of supporting exploitative regimes (to secure our energy supplies and economic hegemony) that drives the threat against those regimes, ad infinitum.

Q: How do you see major actors (USA, China, Russia, EU, OPEC) reacting to the crisis and oil shortages?

A: I think that, in light of recent US experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, you will see increasing support for non-democratically elected regimes (e.g. regimes that will barter access to energy supplies for third-country military and financial support to stay in power) and an increasing willingness to provoke proxy conflicts and support insurgencies to gain access to supplies otherwise locked down by another power. I don't think we'll see the wholesale occupation of oil producing countries (and even in Iraq I think we'll continue to see US forces drawdown), but I do think we'll see a growth in economic and military deals that can only be described as mercantilist. Unlike past, colonial mercantilism, I think the primary tool here will be long-term bilateral supply contacts paid for up front with regime aid. China, and to a lesser extent India are already doing this, but it will become more pronounced and will be joined by Europeans and America.

Q: Do you rather see an anarchic world or a world of alliances (e.g. NATO vs. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation)?

A: Near-term, I think we'll see a push for strategic aliances. Longer-term, I think the answer will depend on the broader state of the world economy. To the extent that states can fulfill their constitutional (small "c") obligations to their constituent nations, then they will be in a position to make the (wise) long-term investments in strategic partnerships. However, to the extent that states need to show immediate results to hold themselves together, they will sacrifice these long-term prospects for near-term gain achieved by abandoning (or double-crossing) their former allies. OPEC (and the nascent natural gas cartel) is a perfect example: as long as the Saudi monarchy, for example, can continue to buy off its citizens with handouts, then it will be able to hold together some kind of cartel to operate in its long-term best interest. However, to the extent that the Saudis have any true spare capacity, they will bring it online for short-term cash if they need to prop up their domestic spending to stay in power--alternately, they will damage their field geology by overproducing if they are short on cash. Same things is already looming in Venezuela, Mexico, etc. On the consuming-nation side, heavy lifters in NATO and the SCO will grow tired of pulling the weight for others and will be more likely to abandon their alliances if they see it to be in their self interest--and this will largely be determined by whether they have the luxury of looking to their long-term self interest or whether they must, by necessity, look for the quick fix.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Review of 2008 Predictions

Well, it's 2009 and time for annual predictions. This post, however, will review my 2008 predictions.

If I had reviewed my oil price predictions in May of 2008, things would have looked great: I predicted that prices would solidly breack $100. After that, I failed to predict a "spike" (as it turned out, to roughly $147/barrel), or the subsequent crash in prices. This second failure was largely the result of my biggest failure in my 2008 predictions: I argued that we wouldn't have an economic crash, and that we wouldn't even enter a recession. I don't think it's possible to mince words here: I was wrong.

Ultimately, my confidence in the economy was due to my belief that we wouldn't see enough oil production decline in 2008 to really pull the rug out from under our economic fundamentals. And, at least to the extent that didn't happen, I was right. Where I was wrong was in my optimism that we'd be able to deal with the credit and financial troubles we were facing. I still stick to my underlying belief that our credit crisis--as a short term bubble caused by overly optimistic lending--is fundamentally fixable. By insisting on continuing to try to prolong the bubble, we eventually pushed it past a point of no return to where it popped. The far more intractible problem facing our economy--dependence on depleting fossil fuels and (the related) problem of being a growth-dependent economy confined to a finite planet--remain to cause havoc in the future, but they aren't the underlying cause of our current troubles. So now we're in a recession, and we're paying the price for living high on a bubble for the past few years. C'est la vie. What troubles me about this is that 1) we'll recover and ramp up consumption just in time for this to collide with a decline in energy production that will gather steam in the next few years, and 2) we'll be so fixed on solving our short-term problems over the next few years that we'll squander our best (last?) opportunity to proactively address the truly fundamental problems that we face. More on that, of course, next week when I make my predictions for 2009.

Were there any highlights, things that I got right in 2008? While it was a pretty dismal year for my predictions, I did get two things right. First, I predicted that it would be a slow year for Iran and Iraq, and that turned out to be the case. Second (and, admittedly, so vague that it shouldn't really get scored), I predicted that we'd continue to fail to take the tough steps necessary to deal with our most fundamental threats, and that we'd continue to push off a real accounting to later years and generations. I wish I could have reported that I was wrong there, too, but unfortunately I can't... Maybe I'll write a post about Hotelling's law and our ability to solve our problems within our existing political system. At least that's one prediction that I feel confident in being right about, even if my proof won't (hopefully) arrive in 2009.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Emergence 1: Fundamentals

I've been promising a series on emergence--the science behind it and what it potentially means for human civilization and spirituality--for some time.  I wrote two posts on the topic (and promised to post them) but later decided that I needed to first improve my own understanding of this topic before offering any thoughts or conclusions to a broader audience.  I'm now well in to that process (at the result of understanding now, more than ever, just how much about emergence remains unknown).  With two caveats, I'm beginning my series on emergence--a topic that I think is central to the ongoing evolution of economics, politics, science, spirituality, and my own theory of Rhizome.  The first caveat is that I continue to read and think about emergence--this series is by no means a simple presentation of ultimate conclusions.  It is the chronicle of my process of learning about emergence, and my thoughts on the topic along the way.  The second caveat is that, while I continue to work to publish a new post every Monday morning, I'm not optimistic about my ability to keep precisely to that schedule over the next few weeks.  I have an 8-day jury trial starting March 1st.  My preparation will be fairly intense--I'll be taking or defending three all-day expert depositions over the next 8 days alone--and at some point this writing will have to take a back seat.

That said, what's the big deal about emergence, anyway?  The scientific community is primarily interested in emergence as a phenomenon present in psychology--specifically the study of human consciousness.  Consciousness, along with developmental microbiology, occupy in my mind the top tier of the pantheon of great unknowns (I think theological unknowns will be largely answered if and when we fully understand these two sets of phenomena).  As will become more clear after discussing the fundamentals of emergence, however, it is my hypothesis that human political and economic organization may be linked to the same set of macro-rules that govern both consciousness and developmental microbiology--something that I think could be a great accelerant to my theory of Rhizome, though not necessarily an essential element.  That's why, aside from general intellectual curiosity about the "great unknowns," I think a discussion of emergence is relevant here.

British Emergentism and Configurational Forces

Where else to start but the beginning?  While I (borrowing from others) have in the past suggested that emergence was a new field, it is anything but.  It certainly stems back as far as Aristotle, though it has been part of the mainstream intellectual discourse since at least the late Nineteenth Century in a school called "British Emergentism."  The British Emergentists hypothesized the notion of "configurational force," which is "that of a force that can be exerted only by substances with certain types of structures, where the forces are such that they canno be exerted by any kinds of pairs of elementary particles."  The Rise and Fall of British Emergentism, Brian P. McLaughlin, at 1.4.  This theory basically suggested that effects then mysterious such as physical chemistry, atomic bonding, etc., were not the result of "micro-structural" forces (the characteristics of the individual atoms bonding, for example), but rather their structure.  Subsequent developments, especially in the field of quantum mechanics, pretty much took the wind out of the sails of the British Emergentists, but their several decades of prominence (roughly 1880-1930) laid much of the ontological groundwork for modern discussions of emergence.

What is Emergence?

It's often defined as the situation where a phnomenon is "unexplainable, or unpredictable, on the basis of information concerning the spatial parts or other constiutents of the system in which the phenomenon occurs." On the Idea of Emergence, C. Hempel and P. Oppenheim.  In other words, even if you know everything about the "micro-structure" of the components of a system, you cannot explain or predict observable phenomena (emergents) of that system.  Consciousness is  perfect example--given everything we know about neurology, chemistry, biology, etc., we still cannot predict or explain consciousness.  It is an emergent--a property of the system that emerges from the whole but that (at present) cannot be explained or predicted based on an understanding of its component parts.

Some have suggested that emergence is only a way of stating that we do not yet have sufficient understanding of the micro-structure of a system to predict the emergent phenomenon, and that this fact alone in no way proves that there is anything "emergent" about the as-of-yet unexplained phenomena--they merely represent an expression of our current limits of knowledge.  The demise of British Emergentism as a theory to explain certain aspects of chemistry supports this view--the improved understanding of micro-structure via quantum mechanics made once unexplained and unpredictable phenomena fully explained and predictable.  However, the fact that some emergent phenomena may be reducible to an improved microstructure theory does not prove that emergence is not also a stand-alone phenomenon.  "Emergence" of a characteristic is not an ontological trait of certain phenomena--all or some may be ultimately reducible--but it is a means of explaining what cannot currently be explained through reductionism. 

As unsatisfying as that admission may be, it has potentially critical ramifications:  if an "Emergent" (an irredudible phenomena that emerges from a broader system) is fundamentally unreducible, then several interesting results follow (discussed below).  If, however, a phenomena later proves to be reducible, then its ontological value is significantly changed.  Take consciousness, for example.  If consciousness is an emergent--that is, it can never be reduced to mere operation of component neurons, etc.--then that tells us something very significant about the human condition, both scientifically and theologically.  However, if we eventually learn that consciousness is fully explainable and predictable based on its micro-structure of neurons, then any discussion of "soul" or "individual" seem to end, at least in my mind.  If people have personalities for the same ultimate reason that leaves are green (i.e. in both cases, if the result is completely reducible to and explainable by the micro-structure), then there is nothing fundamentally unique about two people beyond that which is unique between two leaves.  If, however, consciousness is an emergent (unreducible to microstrucutre, unexplainable and unpredictable based on that microstructure), then we are left with significant mystery, but also significant understanding--specifically, that there is some part of humanity that, by definition, transcends our bodies.

Hierarchy and Emergence

It seems, however, that emergence informs far more than theology.  The identification of an emergent is not the end of the investigation--far from it.  First, an emergent cannot be "identified" any more than we can prove a negative--investigation into possible microstructural causes must continue as the ability to conduct those investigations improves.  However, an equally interesting any revealing question presents itself:  even if an emergent isn't explainable or predictable by the microstructure, can we understand what microstructures give rise to (or tend to give rise to) emergents?  One core idea of our modern understanding of emergence is that "as systems acquire increasingly higher degrees of organizational complexity they begin to exhibit novel properties that in some sense transcend the properties of their constituent parts, and behave in ways that cannot be predicted on the basis of the laws governing simple systms."  Making Sense of Emergence, Jaegwon Kim.

In other words:  as complexity increases, at some point emergent properties of the complex system seem to present themselves.  This process will be the focus of my discussion in later posts, but for now I want to pose a hypothesis:  some kinds of complexity are more conducive to generating emergence than others.  That sounds pretty simple, but consider the importance of a possible extension of this:  non-hierarchal (topologically "flat") complexity is more conducive to emergence than is hierarchal complexity.  I think there is support for this from one of the key examples of emergence listed above:  consciousness, which emerges (presumably) from the very non-hierarchal structure of our brains.  Compare this to the massive but hierarchal corporate structures in our economy which do not appear to exhibit emergence (and, conversely, the far less hierarchal global structure of human interactions which, may hypothesize, facilitates the emergence of the noosphere, or "global brain").  Can we foster, or guide emergence from human strucutres?  Is hierarchy an evolutionary mechanism to control (reduce/eliminate) emergence in human political or economic systems?  Why would it matter?  Specifically, what could be the effect of emergence that would make it relevant to the structure or functioning of our economic or political systems?

Emergents and Downward Causation

At the cutting edge, and among the more controversial parts of emergence theory, is the notion that "emergents bring into the world new causal powers of their own, and, in particular, theat they have the powers to influence and control the direction of the lower-level processes from which they emerge."  Making Sense of Emergence, Jaegwon Kim.  This notion of "downward causation" is critical.  If emergents cannot exercise downward causation, then the emergent is either (1) nothing more than an as-of-yet unexplained but reducible phenomenon, or (2) useless as an ontological formulation (because what does it do or tell us?).  As Jaegkown Kim asks, "For what purpose would it serve to insist on the existence of emergent properties if they were mere epiphenomena with no causal or explanatory relevance . . . [if emergence] supposes something to exist in nature which has nothing to do, no purpose to serve, a species of noblesse w hich depends on the work of its inferiors, but is kept for show and might as well, and undoubtedly would in time be abolished."

The controversy over downward causation seems to stem from the mental gymnastics demanded by a feature that emerges from itself while simultaneously influencing the sourced of its genesis--what some have suggested is an unacceptable circularity.  I don't have any problem in principle with this formulation, but proponents have also developed a modification of the theory of emegence that seems to satsify even the skepitics:  diachronic reflexive emergence, or emergence where the emergent at time T influences the micro-structure at T+1, which in turn results in possible modification of the emergent at T+2, etc.

Certainly, if one accepts consciousness to be an emergent, then the downward causation of consciousness (acting upon the physical body and brain structure) is clearly documented (this specific example matches the model of diachronic reflexive emergence mentioned above).

There you have it--a whirlwind tour of the fundamentals of emergence as both a philosophical and scientific doctrine.  We're just scratching the surface (though human understanding doesn't seem to go much deeper at this point).  To whet your appetite for future discussions:  can different human economic or political configurations exhibit different abilities to produce emergents, and can those emergents in turn exert downward causation on the operation of the underlying structure?  Can we structure our economic or political systems in a way that facilitates emergents--even emergents that then open the door to new functioning of the underlying political or economic system through the exercise of downward emergence?  Is this playing with fire?  (Or, perhaps more appropriately, playing god?)

Readers may also find my litigation checklist of interest.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Cabinda Update

Two and a half years ago, I wrote an article about the potential for unrest and insurgency in Cabinda, an oil-rich exclave of Angola, to disrupt projected increases in Angolan oil production.  This week, Cabinda again made the news with a deadly attack on the visiting Togolese football (soccer) team.  What is the current situation in Cabinda, and more importantly what does this tell us about the state of oil and infrastructure targeting by insurgents?

There aren't enough data points to say anything definitive on Cabinda, but it appears that the various insurgent factions operating there have not been able to effectively leverage threats against offshore oil production to advance their cause(s).  I think there are three issues here worth discussing. 

First, as noted in the article on the recent attack, above, there appears to be in-fighting among the various rebel groups, with more than one claiming responsibility for the recent attack.  To me, this suggests that the character of the insurrection remains predominantly hierarchal, as opposed to an open-source "fuoco."  This is inhibiting the success of Cabinda's insurgents, and more importantly (see below) preventing them from effectively leveraging open-source models of targeting and tactics development.

Second, while it's unclear whether this is a chicken or egg issue, the rebel groups in Cabinda have not demonstrated the ability to learn from insurgencies around the world about the effectiveness of targeting infrastructure (especially oil export capability) to gain leverage.  If the insurgents in Cabinda could present the plausible threat of taking a significant portion of Angola's oil export capacity off-line, they would have a very powerful bargaining chip toward increased autonomy and profit sharing.

Third, rebel groups in Cabinda have not shown the ability to learn from global insurgencies (especially Nigeria) the tactical ability to effectively target offshore platforms and offshore oil production and export capabilities.  The opportunity to learn and develop a locally-appropriate tactical set is there, but requires 1) understanding the targeting methodology involved (see above) and 2) open-source (as opposed to infighting among hierarchal structures) development of this capability.

Cabinda's insurgent groups are failing ot seize this critical opportunity, and their window of opportunity to exert leverage on Angola via threats to its oil export potential will not last forever (another decade, roughly).  It's an interesting case study, in my mind, because it shows both that integration of the open-source insurgency model is not automatic, and because it shows some of the features (in-fighting among locally-powerful/influential figures) that can dampen the development of an open-source insurgency.

Back from the holidays, and a bit of media

I'm back from a bit of a holiday break. Two media links and a brief commentary on the Gaza conflict for today:

First, I recently appeared on the C-Realm podcast with KMO. We discussed hierarchy, energy, and the "Peter Principle."

Second, here's a video of my presentation at the 2008 ASPO-USA conference in Sacramento. You'll need to skip past the first presentation (though it's also worth watching) to get to my presentation on energy geopolitics.

Finally, a few thoughts on the Gaza conflict. I'm not going to talk about the actions of Israel or Hamas. Instead, I'm going to talk about the problems created by America's hypocritical support of Hosni Mubarak. Despite the consistent American talking point of "supporting democracy," the US has consistently supported Mubarak, a defacto dictator at the healm of a military-industrial oligarchy, as the leader of Egypt, the most populous Arab state. President George W. Bush resolutely supported Mubarak for his support in the "War on Terror. There has been (to my knowledge) no indication from the Obama camp that we will put any serious pressure on Mubarak for democratic reforms in Egypt, despite ongoing rhetoric about supporting democracy. Why? Because it has been, and will continue to be expedient in the short term to support an autocratic strong-man in Egypt.

A democratic Egypt will, at least for now, mean an Islamic fundamentalist Egypt--if truly free and fair elections were held today, the Muslim Brotherhood (a banned, grass-roots organization) would almost certainly win. We support Mubarak because he is a barrier against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Mubarak, however, is exacerbating the situation in Gaza because he views Hamas as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood (they grew out of the same basic movement), and therefore views them as a threat to his rule. The US, by supporting what the "Arab street" (largely) correctly views as a series of thugs and dicatators bent on exploiting Arab poverty and sentiment for their own good, continues to draw the ire of Islamists. We like to say that "they hate our freedom" or some political drivel like that, but the simple truth is that they hate the way we have selfishly supported their exploitation by local dicatators and monarchies for nearly a century (and for over a century if we tack on our imperial predecessors).

Americas claim to stand for a set of very noble principles. Yet we seem to think that we can "win" a war on terror that started and continues due our our incessant pissing off of the vast majority of the Arab world. We don't have to bow to terrorists or surrender to stop pissing them off. In fact--shocking as this may be--we would likely find that if we just start acting on the very principles we espouse we would achieve the best resolution possible in the war on terror. The catch? It would take time, and it would appear to get worse before it gets better (oh, and it would undermine our remaining vestiges of economic imperialism to a certain extent).

This isn't much of a New Year's post (that will be coming soon--predictions and reviews of 2008 predictions), but this is the theme for 2009: we have the opportunity to make the hard choices that will hurt now and actually improve our long term situation, or we can continue to reach for the quick fix and make the ultimate, necessary accounting that much worse. Here's a preview for my 2009 predictions: we won't have the guts to make the difficult but correct choice.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Eco-Nationalism," Identity Politics, and Sustainability

I recently had the interesting experience of discussing Rhizome with a self-professed "eco-fascist"--not someone, as you might at first think, who is interested in a strong central government to ensure that humans don't damage the environment, but rather someone trying to apply green wrapping paper to what is admittedly a "white nationalist" agenda.

As I explained as patiently as I could, combining white nationalism (or "majority rights" or "eurasianism," among other euphemisms these groups like to use) with "eco" or other trappings of an environmentally-friendly agenda is internally contradictory.  I decided not to embark on the futile task of convincing this man of the general error of his ways, but only to illustrate the fundamental incompatibility of ultra-nationalism and any claim to sustainability.

After more thought, however, I realized that this fundamental infirmity extends to more than just white nationalism, but to all identity politics are fundamentally unsustainable.  Look around--identity politics is deeply entrenched, indeed.

All identity politics presume hierarchy.  Without a hierarchal power structure, there is no ability to enforce the definition of "in-group" vs. "out-group" and the concomitant preferential treatment of the in-group.  It simply won't do, for example, for white nationalists to have the Italians, or heaven forbid the Jews, to presume that they qualify as "white"!  This same hierarchy that enforces the group definition, however, necessarily produces peer-polity competition between it and other such hierarchies (because the "out-groups" will form their own "in-groups" in response--creating competing hierarchies), and these groups must then grow and intensify to avoid being out-competed (or, in ultra-nationalist terms, "out-bred").  This is the Problem of Growth, and reveals as false any claim of sustainability by these identity groups.

So, if identity politics are necessarily unsustainable, does that relegate us all to a formless, tasteless, meaningless future?  Far from it!  The only incompatibility between those qualities and characteristics that make humanity vibrant and meaningful with sustainability is when people seek to use abstractions of of purportedly intrinsic characteristics and qualities to divide or exclude on the basis of differences.  Instead, networks are more efficient where they embrace these differences without seeking to impose uniformity (the multitude), leveraging the differences in perspective, understanding, and connections.  In some senses this may sound like standard multiculturalism, but it incorporates the important difference of the rejection of hierarchy either within this multitude or as a means to define this multitude.

Examples of the strength of such a multitude can already be seen today in the dominance in intellectual and cultural creativity of such diverse locations as London, New York, and San Francisco.  Of course, even these networks are hindered by their simultaneous integration of extreme hierarchy.  In fact, while the metropolis exhibits many of the strengths of the multitude (as highlighted by Hardt and Negri in their recent work Commonwealth), their fixedness to cartesian notions of space result in equally extreme dependencies (e.g. food, water, shelter, etc.) that create extremely hierarchal structures.  The information processing burden of these hierarchies significantly dampens the synergies of the multitude, and is precisely why I think that Rhizome, as a less geographically centralized alternative, can develop the scale-free self sufficiency to allow it to leverage the pure powers of such multiplicity through optimal network configurations without the burdens of hierarchy.

None of this will likely convince the white nationalists, whose heavily negative first (oral/survival) and second (anal/territorial) circuit imprints make them susceptible to ideas that let them think they are OK because others aren't (to put it in Robert Anton Wilson's terminology).  However, I think it is important for us to realize that this structural unsustainability extends well beyond such facially objectionable ideologies...

Readers may also find my litigation checklist of interest.

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