Disruption and the Dearth of Good Options

Sarah Hoyt has yet another interesting post over at her place. As usual, she makes me think and it ties into much off the research I’ve been doing for my current book series. Go read it for the full Sarah effect, but the gist of her post is that the same stick of disruption whacking is doing the same to every facet of human activity. She’s right, but that is not the scary part.

The Good News is There is No Good News

The part that should terrify everyone is we are just entering the disruption. Worse, we don’t know which direction it will travel. Will the technologies Sarah mentioned fundamentally transform human society and, possibly, supplant it? That’s certainly a possibility and for those who assume that forward progress in technology is an immutable fact, a given. In fact, it is the dominant position.

That position, though, involves considerable pain. One example: once the disruption is in full bloom, we will have surplus population relative to the work needed. Automation will replace nearly every repetitive job in every industry. Not just manufacturing, but every industry. I can’t think of a single one that won’t be impacted. What do we do with the extra people? The usual human method of shedding population involves violence in large quantities.

An aside for those how think they’re in a bullet-proof industry. You’re not. If it involves routine processes, you are replaceable, whether that process is physical or mental. The current crop of robots have already transformed manufacturing. Almost no one will dispute that. But what of a medical diagnosis? An AI is already in development to function as a primary care practitioner and the long-term prognosis for the medical field is machine-based. The law? We already have computers to do taxes (poorly in the case of Timothy Geithner) and wills.

Maybe you build houses? Safe as it gets, right? Meet the future.

Even with the automation in manufacturing, they’re still on the edge of innovation. What happens when every home has a 3D printer and uses open-source plans to make most of their household possessions? It’s reminiscent of Frederik Pohl’s excellent sci-fi story, The Midas Plague. Which, I was thrilled to see, is available for free.

(Sorry for the interruption. Love that story, so I took a break . . .)

The Bad News is Worse

That’s the future, as much as I can see and by definition limited, if technology remains ascendant. It’s not the only possibility, though. We have plenty examples from the past to see alternative paths, most of them wildly unpleasant.

We take our toys and the infrastructure that allows for them for granted. Those systems are relatively fragile and vulnerable to human neglect or sabotage. The Luddites haven’t taken to the streets yet, but they will. They may hamper innovation, bring it to a stop, or even manage to set it into retrograde. The latter is possible if the Luddites decide that the STEM fields should be subject to opinion and the same lack of rigor that the social sciences maintain.  That’s the best case scenario for the disruption heading negative.

The next-worst case is deliberate sabotage, combined with totalitarian control of the population. For that scenario, the only useful technologies to survive will be those that enhance the state, the theocrat, or the monarch, depending on how the rulers choose to present themselves. North Korea is a prime example of what could become ordinary. A thoroughly ruthless dictatorship that uses tech to control the populace and prey on neighbors. Any deviation from orthodoxy will be detected and eradicated.

A common misconception is that such a thing could not happen here. Ludicrous. Look to the educational campuses and their rigid intolerance of competing views. They go so far as to spy on students, Soviet-style. The riots on the streets of Berkley, when both the police and the university were forewarned, provide another data point. There is a faction that would be pleased to the role of Supreme Leader.

A total collapse of human civilization would be my next-to-last worst case. Imagine all the ungovernable regions in the world without the aid they currently received and see how long human ‘decency’ holds. Starving people will not worry about niceties. They’ll love their neighbor – in a soup, or on a spit.

Worst case? We kill ourselves off and the roaches or AI-enabled-robots with Austrian accents take over.

Pick your scenario, make your plans, plan to be flexible, and know that it all can disappear in a blink.

If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas

If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas penned an impassioned case for the patriotic citizen in If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty and set out to define what both ‘patriotic’ and ‘citizen’ meant, not only in this day and rather cynical age, but during the early years of our Republic. The differences that arise in the two centuries plus between the framing of the Constitution and today are striking.9781101979983

If You Can Keep It is not, however, a political screed. Instead, Metaxas bring to the fore the primary ingredients of a populace capable of governing itself – and demonstrates how far from those standards we have drifted, whether by complacency or intent.

He begins with Franklin’s famous quote to one Mrs. Powell, who asked, “Well, doctor, what have we got? A Republic or a Monarchy?” The reply that lives nearly two and a half centuries later, “A Republic, madam—if you can keep it.” This is no idle place to open the conversation. Embedded into the short exchange is both a promise, unique to the world at that time, of self-government, and an equally sincere promise of the effort that would be required of the citizen and the country to preserve the liberties thus secured.

For those expecting a purely intellectual discussion of Constitutional minutiae, this book will be disappointing. Metaxas takes the position that for all the wonder of the freedoms expressed in that document and the Bill of Rights, they cannot long exist without the active participation of the patriotic citizen. He is careful in defining such and spends considerable time on the nature of the patriot, how patriotism was conveyed from one generation to the next, and most importantly, that which is lacking in today’s populace.

Nor, given Metaxas’ fervent belief, should it surprise any reader that he builds his case upon the faith and virtue of the country. Using Os Guinness’ Golden Triangle of freedom, faith, and virtue, he explains how each plays a crucial part in an interlocking system by which the ordinary man can rise above his personal desires and benefits to vote to the betterment of the country as a whole. In fact, this is central to the idea of self-government and he correctly points out that moral leadership is absolutely necessary to encourage and foster the commitment to the nation as a whole over the benefit to oneself directly. Quoting,

Corruption in leaders gives citizens the sense that they are, in fact, not all in it together. They will get the positively fatal idea that there is indeed an ”us” and “them.” . . . The citizens will buy into the deeply pernicious idea that rather than ruling themselves, they are in fact being ruled but others—that all the talk of self-government and liberty is a sham.”

A more timely and prescient summation of the current political environment would be hard to find.

Metaxas is expressly religious in many of his arguments, as would be expected of him. None of that negates his larger points. From John Adams, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (pg.61). There simply must be a call to a power greater than oneself for a people to self-govern. In the case of Metaxas, and indeed many of the Founders, it was a Christian God. Even a Deist such as Benjamin Franklin recognized the significance of religion in crafting virtue. “Only a virtuous people,” he declares, “are capable of self-government.”

This is no small idea. In the political arena today, we see the result of a lack of virtue. One person campaigns on “free-everything”, another on vague generalities, and none on the national stage could in any sense be considered virtuous. Other than the obligatory nod of “God Bless America!” at the end of speeches, religion might well not exist in politics. There is no call to rise above oneself, no noble over-arching view of the ‘city on the hill.” In short, the politics of the nation has become as tawdry as the leaders lives. It becomes almost impossible to consider a modern politician as a hero in the mold of Washington, or Lincoln, or even Kennedy. Whatever their personal flaws, each asked Americans to rise to the challenge of citizenship.

Selected for special attention by Metaxas as emblematic of the larger problems are our heroes, and our new-found inability to acknowledge heroic behavior. This, postulates Metaxas, exposes a major deficiency in our modern society. Without unifying heroes to rally around as a culture, we Americans supplant the noble with the famous to our detriment. Truly, though, our current leaders prefer this. Measuring up to reality television is much easier than matching the integrity of Washington, the steadfastness of Lincoln, or the courage of the minutemen who suffered in Valley Forge.

Throughout, Metaxas deliberately avoids pointing fingers except at brief points to show that the polarization that exists today is detrimental to the body politic. His message, which permeates every page, is that improving our discourse, providing for the common culture, and our responsibility to preserving our Republic is in our hands. Simple demagoguery will not solve the divisions in society that threatens the Republic. And Metaxas clearly sees the American Exceptionalism as in great danger. Unlike many, he does not believe that we are beyond the point of no-return.

His last paragraph implores the reader to “. . . go forth and love America . . .” and is a powerfully resonant message and a gauntlet thrown to the ground at our feet.

We have a Republic, if we can keep it. Will you, citizen, stand fast to see America survive and thrive, a beacon to the world for freedom or will you surrender? As a free person, which will you choose?

NCAA Virtue-Signals On Its Way to Irrelevance

On Monday, the NCAA, already embroiled in law suits that threaten its existence, took another definitive step toward irrelevance and eventual oblivion when it pulled seven championship events from North Carolina venues in response to HB2, the law that among a myriad of other things, prevents people with wangs from using the restrooms designated for those without.

This, to the NCAA, is the biggest problem that it faces in North Carolina, something so horrible that action must be taken.

Since no discussion is possible on transgender issues without declarative statements, let me make mine, right here, at the top. I. DON’T. CARE. If you are a transgendered person, do what you want, provided it does not impact or harm another person. That does not include using whatever restroom you want, though. You’re not the only person in there.

Nine or fifteen year-old girls should not be required to have biologically-identifiable men share restroom facilities, regardless of orientation. Your right to self-identity does not supersede their right to privacy. If, however, you have had surgery and taken the drugs to erase the outward physical differences, I’m back to ‘Who cares?’

Got a wang and don’t want to use the men’s room? In the text of HB2, it provides for single-occupancy bathrooms. Use them. If they are missing, demand they be built. That would be fair.

So great, that’s out of the way.

Please note that the NCAA is being somewhat inconsistent. Their pulling seven events from public venues but leaving in place events where a North Carolina university is the host. It’s one thing to posture – it’s a wholly different thing to interfere with the flow of Benjamins.

In that same vein, at the University of North Carolina, a cheating scandal that encompassed the best part of two DECADES is ever-so-quietly getting swept under the rug. Considered by many to be the largest case of academic fraud in history, UNC established fake courses, initially to keep basketball and football players eligible, and got caught. The fraud was so pervasive that the accrediation body, SACS, said this: “The investigative report clearly refutes the institution’s claims that the academic fraud was relegated to the unethical actions of two people.” In other words, it appears to be an institution-wide problem.

Brian C. Rosenberg, the president of Macalester College, went so far as to suggest in the Chronicle of Higher Education, that UNC should lose their accreditation. Silliness. UNC is in the ‘too-big-to-fail’ group for SACS to punish with anything more than a finger wag and a sternly worded missive.

Since getting busted, the university has been fighting tooth and nail to avoid any form of punishment. Rashad McCants, a star on the 2005 basketball squad, released his transcript and told ESPN that he made the Dean’s List, despite never showing up for classes. He wasn’t alone. McCants challenged his teammates to do likewise – to date, none of the other starters on the 2005 championship team have done so. The classes were arranged by the staff for the athletics department and included the direct knowledge of at least one department Dean. Lack of Institutional Control is one of the biggest charges that can be filed against a member university. Implicated in the cheating were men’s and women’s basketball, women’s soccer, and football.

The initial notice of allegations also specifically noted the high use of the fake classes, some graded by a secretary, by basketball and football players. UNC had a ready response to this charge though – they included non-athletes, too. Yep, the defense is we didn’t just defraud athletes of an education, we inflicted it on frat boys, too, so it’s all good. The NCAA bobbed its head, practically apologized, and sent out an amended NOA removing the individual sports – except for women’s basketball, which looks to be the designated scapegoat.

Rashada McCants, a star in her own right on the UNC women’s team and sister of Rashad, disagreed with the assertion that a pretense of education is sufficient. She is suing the NCAA over her lack of education. The NCAA’s response was that it has no legal responsibility to ensure the academic integrity of courses, despite its proclamations on its website. This is, of course, exactly opposite the claims it makes in the O’Bannon case, where former UCLA stand-out Ed O’Bannon is fighting to get the revenue shared with athletes. In that case, the NCAA has argued that the education the students-athletes (no snickering, UNC fans) get is compensation enough.

As mentioned, UNC has battled the NCAA, effectively denying that the governing body has any right to comment, much less punish them, for the paper classes. Quoting from News & Observer, “UNC isn’t saying it didn’t happen. It’s saying that the system of phony classes happened within the university’s academic side and involved athletes as well as non-athletes and therefore presents an issue beyond the NCAA’s scope.” The rumblings from the NCAA suggest that, given the chance, they will cave. Penalizing UNC, after all, will hurt their cashflow.

As if hypocrisy is not enough, the UNC case points out a recurring problem in college athletics. Universities such as UNC prey on minorities. The larger portion of athletes in the fraudulent classes were African-American. Want to see institutional racism? Just head over to UNC and you can check out what it looks like in the modern era. (And based on the news breaking this morning, they will protect the athletes from scrutiny at the expense of women.)

So, into this quagmire of ugliness in North Carolina, the NCAA has decided that the single biggest issue deserving its attention is . . . bathrooms.

Not pervasive cheating. Not the inherent racism. Bathrooms.

These are the actions of a dying organization, seeking relevance. If it can’t have that, well, virtue signalling will have to do.