Memia on Sunday 27-Mar-2022: 🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦// Risk, 2022 edition🎲⚔️// network power🌐// swarms, egregores, autocults😱// new Kremlinology🪆// China's economy under pressure🇨🇳📉// rainwater cities🌧️
A variety of morbid symptoms
In this week’s monster sized Memia on Sunday, your regular eclectic curation of big-picture thinking about the future, analysis and culture from the last week:
🎲⚔️Risk, 2022 Edition
(I wrote briefly about the new rules of 21st Century Risk back in Memia 2020.24):
“In the traditional game of Risk, political powers conquer bordering territories using constantly-reinforced armies. It’s a game of scale, power, dominance (and, of course, dice🎲).
So…if “influencing” is now the name of the game, what are the new rules for 21st Century Risk? (Indeed, what are the new aims to win the game?!)”
Another big week of flexing in global geopolitics:
🌐Futurist John Robb: the last month has witnessed “network power” replacing “soft power”. (see also: Swarms… below)
🪆Kremlinology is back
Imagining some post-Putin, defeated-Russia scenarios
A sideways look at US strategic think tanks in all of this
Yuval Noah Harari talks with Sam Harris about protecting the “global order”
More on the looming global food crisis exacerbated by the Russia / Ukraine war
Plus very recently a move by China to establish a landing pad in Solomon Islands - Australia and Aotearoa’s back yard.
Also worth reflecting:
…and Grozny, and Syria, and Yemen, and Palestine… when will it be the last time?
😱Smarms, egregores, autocults
Fascinating discussion from 4 futurist edge thinkers, finding meta-framing of what’s going on out there in the infosphere: has the global “permacrisis” and escalating social media memetic velocity generated a new “swarm intelligence”, or “egregore” (a distinct non-physical entity that arises from a collective group of people) which may effectively be using millions of human brains hacked by “empathy triggers” as a substrate to think and evolve? Mindblowing stuff.
🇨🇳📉China’s economy under pressure
Two opposing positions from economist Adam Tooze and the FT’s Chartbook team on China’s economic outlook.
The regular collection of deeper links to go explore:
After this week’s flash flooding in Tāmaki Makaurau and other parts of Te Ika-a-Māui…Ed Clayton has some thoughtful ideas on how to more effectively include rainwater in city designs:
A new interpretation of the island-filled chart created by Pacific voyager Tupaia, who guided Captain James Cook through the South Seas, may finally crack a 250-year-old puzzle.
Music: Introduction to one of my favourite musicians, stalwart multi-instrumentalist (and skilled whistler) Andrew Bird.
Also music/culture, a new profile of Canadian electro-pop artist Grimes… more famous for other reasons, but she’s been releasing original music since 2009 and worth a deeper dive.
Another top crop of memes to wrap up with.
Paid subscribers read on…
🎲⚔️Risk, 2022 edition
Reflecting on current global geopolitics.
So what are the aims in the new 21st Century edition of the game of Risk? Putin still seems to be playing the old version (fire explosives, capture territory, wipe out armies (…civilians)) but what we’ve witnessed in the last month has been a whole extra layer of sophistication and effectiveness in global geopolitics: what futurist John Robb calls “Network Power”:
Yes, network power ultimately actuates in the physical world - but it operates across a parallel digital and memetic metaverse: borders and boundaries are now defined and enforced with economic sanctions, internet disconnection and censorship:
(See also John Robb’s contribution to the discussions on swarm intelligences below…)
Given that this war is now being fought as much in the digital sphere as in the physical world… what actually are the aims of asserting network power? Just to defend physical territory or something much more ambitious? How does a geopolitical player “win” 21st Century Risk? Arguably the biggest question of our times - what constitutes “victory”?
(And in a network…who is the player…?)
Philosopher-historian Yuval Noah Harari covered similar topics in an extensive conversation with Sam Harris this week, discussing the defence of the “global order”:
“What’s really at stake is not the West, what’s really at stake is the global order and it concerns people in Africa, people in India, as much as it concerns people in the United States…”
…it’s not just democracy, it’s not just liberalism, it’s also self-determination, it’s nationalism, it’s the basic idea that you can’t just invade a neighbouring country and conquer it and wipe it off the map…
…over the last three generations, maybe the most basic rule established in the international arena - irrespective of the type of regimes… is that you no longer do these things”
(Leave aside for one moment the irony of him speaking from his home in Israel).
A master of strategy:
The whereabouts of the Kremlin’s military head have been the subject of many internet rumours this week, with the old discipline of Kremlinology suddenly being back in vogue in 2022:
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu disappeared from view for 2 weeks, with rumours of a heart attack or worse. His blurred appearance in a Security Council videoconference call with Putin raised more questions than it answered. Finally yesterday:
…but whether this video is a staged fake or not is still under debate on SM.
It’s important because:
Further to Balaji Srivinasan’s recent pointer to Chinese interests in the Russian Far East, starting to see memes like the Tweet below appearing:
…A rapid break-up of a defeated, fragile post-Putin, post-Ukraine Russia may not be so far-fetched.
But obviously…if the “Siberian Democratic Republic” and similar did eventuate, high likelihood of it effectively being a client state of China…maybe that’s one outcome in which the US and Chinese reduce their mutual strategic tensions… divvy up the cadaver of a fallen Russian Empire…it’s huge:
The role of US think-tanks in all of this
Reading through this brief from Rand in 2019: Overextending and Unbalancing Russia Assessing the Impact of Cost-Imposing Options - contains some uncanny gameplay relating to the current situation in Ukraine.
The wider world
Erin Cook’s perpetually insightful Dari Mulut ke Mulut (Indonesian phrase meaning “word of mouth”) Substack on Southeast Asia is always worth a read - here she runs through Russia’s evolving relationships with countries in the region including Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.
The regional temperature rose late on Thursday, with a leaked draft of a Chinese-Solomon Islands security deal that would see Chinese warships based in the Pacific, fundamentally shifting the balance of power in the Australasian region. Apparently the agreement would give China the power to use its military to protect the safety of Chinese interests in Solomon Islands and also give Beijing a base for its navy - less than 2000 kilometres from Australia’s coastline.
Stuff: response from Aotearoa foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta:
“Developments within this purported agreement will destabilise the current institutions and arrangements that have long underpinned the Pacific region’s security…This would not benefit New Zealand or our Pacific neighbours.”
Finally, a global food crisis is projected to be one of the medium term impacts of the Russo-Ukraine conflict discussed by Adam Korzeniewski.
😱Swarms, egregores, autocults
OK the most mind-stretching thing I’ve watched in a while: a 90-minute discussion on The Stoa Youtube channel between four of the most “edge” meta-thinkers about the future. (And yes, all white North American cis male phenotype but a diversity of minds…)
I’ve already covered Jordan Hall a few weeks ago: here he is joined by John Robb, Patrick Ryan and BJ Campbell, where they attempt to meld their four frames of reference to make sense of “a new emerging entity in the noosphere”. The current explosion of digital social media, misinformation and “swarm” decision making (eg network power above), driven by a “permacrisis” of Trump-thru-Covid-thru-Ukraine…
Here’s John Robb’s fundamental hypothesis on what’s going on:
BJ Campbell (Handwaving Freakoutery) expands:
“…smartphones allow us to outsource certain critical thinking processes from our brains to our phones, from road navigation, to scheduling, to morality itself. The sensemaking content within our phones primarily flows from like-and-share mechanics within our social feeds, meaning whatever is popular within our chosen echo chambers becomes “true” to us in a postmodernist sense.”
Meanwhile Patrick Ryan spends his time thinking about Autocults: “powerful AIs that not only create religions and Gods for competitive advantages, but also believe them”.
Mix this all together for 90 minutes…some seriously original, challenging, utterly contemporary sense-making:
There are so many avenues surfaced in there that are worth exploring more deeply… at base, I think John Robb’s thesis is right - looking at (paraphrasing) “the AIs that exist between human brains” is the likeliest avenue to be able to conceptualise what is actually going on… and then whether or how it’s possible for humans to exert control, individually or collectively.
Further watching if you’re switched on by this:
🇨🇳📉China under pressure
More prosaically… as previously observed, China’s economy is having a sore time of it trying to control a massive real estate crash, even before any fallout from their positioning in respect of Russia:
Two intelligent reciprocal commentaries came together this week with paywalls down:
Economist Adam Tooze (Chartbook) in the FT is positive about China’s policy and prospects:
“Real estate booms don’t generally end in a whimper. They end in a bang. They end with major banking crises. So, if we are agreed that Beijing looks set to stop the largest property boom in history without unleashing a systemic financial crisis, it is doing something truly remarkable. It is setting a new standard in economic policy.”
In response, the FT’s Unhedged team guest posted in Chartbook, citing increasing demographic trends driving China towards a more stagnant economic future:
“In all, the most likely scenario is that China’s growth just keeps slowing. That does not mean that investors in China will necessarily lose money. But it does suggest that generic China exposure -- simply owning Chinese equity or credit indices -- is going to be a losing proposition in the long-term. The analogy with Japan is again useful. The performance of Japanese indices has been awful for decades, but certain companies and even sectors have done unbelievably well. “
Links to onward reading, listening and watching:
Victor Billot in Newsroom published the most on-point, visceral dissection yet of the recent Parliament Protests: A variety of morbid symptoms:
“A great blurring has taken place. Some worthy Tories from the sticks were annoyed at water regulations; the next thing signs on Utes and tractors are screaming about Māori apartheid and communists. People were concerned about Government over-reach with the mandates; the next thing a teacher from Northland is throwing a brick at cops outside Parliament and people are claiming Covid is either non-existent, or a bioweapon, or part of a “plandemic” (or all three). They say the “plandemic” will end in one of two ways: concentration camps for the unvaccinated, or an uprising by the resistance and Nuremberg style trials of the Government, medics and journalists. Try to unpack that. There is an amorphous incoherency to the movement.”
Following this week’s flash-flooding up north, this thread from Ed Clayton looks in more detail about strategies to incorporate rainwater into city design: for example “sponge cities”, “reservoir parks” and “engineered aquifers”. Some great ideas.
18th-century Tahitian navigator Tupaia was Captain Cook’s guide through the Pacific. On this journey, he drew this famous map, with more than 70 islands identified - but the islands are not drawn in the expected positions according to European mapping conventions. Cristy Gelling in Knowable Magazine sheds light on a new interpretation of the map which has puzzled academics for over 250 years.
A couple of musical links as well:
I rewatched Andrew Bird’s stripped-down Tiny Desk concert from 5 years ago and wanted to share. He’s a massively talented multi-instrumentalist spanning many genres from jazz to folk - and unusually a skilled whistler as well. I love his lyrics, particularly this from the title track to his 2016 album Are You Serious:
“Used to be so wilfully obtuse / or is the word abstruse? / Semantics like a noose / Get out your dictionary
I’m going to cut to the quick / This is all non-fiction / Would you beat me with a stick / These are my true convictions”
(If you like this, see also his live radio session 2 years ago)
On another planet altogether, a Vanity Fair profile of Canadian electro-pop artist Grimes… more famous for other reasons, but she’s been releasing original music since 2009 and her back catalogue is worth a deeper dive.
The memes keep coming.
The Shoigu deepfake they should have made:
As @FractalDoctor points out, this physically hurts:
You are here. (via @karlahandley7)
On the subject of swarm minds:
Stephanie Lepp @stephlepp@kenakennedy @DevinGordonX @Liv_Boeree Someday....those shall be grade school terms 🤓
Also along the same lines:
(Wikipedia has the full background story of the ubiquitous Distracted Boyfriend Meme).
Phew, monster post today…sorry it’s a bit late and I hope there’s something useful in here for you…another newsletter on Wednesday!
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