Keep Calm and Carry On – Reacting to the Boston Marathon Bombing

Runners continue to run towards the finish line as an explosion erupts at the finish line of the Boston MarathonI’ve had some deep discussions today about the Boston Marathon bombings with friends. Here’s something I shared with a friend who lives in the Boston area in Massachusetts. His predominant feeling right now is disillusionment. If you’re in the same boat, I hope you find it helpful in some way. Thanks for any feedback.

Friend, I hope this event won’t shake your faith in humanity or in the continued acceleration of global progress, or in our ability to better understand what progress is, and for reasons yet to be discovered, why accelerating progress seems only partly under our control, and partly driven by the amazingly intelligent and self-correcting environment into which we were born.

acooperativespecies2011There are always half of one percent of us who are seriously broken in some way. It is surprising, when you stop to think about it, that majority of us are so strongly against doing such cowardly and terrible things. Almost all violence is rapidly self-limiting. It can be a calculation of fairness, a seeking of justice in the wild. Or a case of beliefs being seriously out of step with reality, or emotions not being sufficiently regulated. Fortunately, for the vast majority of us, our moral sentiments and desire to cooperate are incredibly deep, selected and self-organized over countless previous life cycles. At the same time, our tools and policies for protecting the world system get only better and smarter. We must understand these processes better, and aggressively work to improve them in society and the individual.

the.transparent.society1998The mentally ill, extremists and oligarchs throughout history are a persistently tiny fraction of society. The main effect of mental illness events like this (these particular bombings, irrational as they are, are even more a mental and psychological illness than an extremist/terrorist event, as I see it), aside from their tragic short-term cost, is to grow our global immunity to them in future years. If we learn from them (a critical “if”), they accelerate the emergence of the transparency tools and social development programs that we know is our future, and as long as it is increasingly a bottom-up, citizen-driven transparency and social development process, we gain greater control over both the extremists and the autocrats, our democracy strengthens, and the world gets collectively more intelligent. Imagine, as social and media futurist Alvis Brigis says, if it was ten years in the future and one out of twenty people in that Boston crowd had been wearing Google Glass or an equivalent? (I’m a Glass Explorer, so I’m looking forward to getting an early adopter version of this fantastic new wearable computer and lifelogging tech). They’d all be able to share their recent archives and feeds and it wouldn’t be long before we’d have the perpetrators identities and last public locations.

Mental illness is one issue, but what about oligarchy (government by elites, without representation) and plutocracy (government by the wealthy), and the way such governments breed extremism in the developing world by replacing culture with commercialism, removing self-determination and representation, and inducing cornered cultures to react with Fundamentalism? If increasing political, economic, and social fairness is a clear vector of social progress, how do we keep building it in all our societies in the years ahead?

With regard to the plutocrats, there is good news: our global rich poor divide has never been smaller. It was highest in the 13th century  under Feudalism by several measures, and has slowly decreased ever since. But the problem we face is that in the world’s leading and fastest developing countries inequality seesaws, at first going up as the wealth of new technology revolutions is initially captured by the well-capitalized few, and then later down again as the revolution works its way out to the many, where the maturing and cheapening tech allows disruptive new entrepreneurship on top of the platform, and as new rights and entitlements eventually emerge.

priceofinequalitybestcover1

The Finland Phenomenon, a great film on the education reform the US needs for more self-reliant and less fearful citizens.

The Finland Phenomenon, a great film on the education reform the US needs to make more self-reliant, innovative, and less fearful citizens.

As Joseph Stiglitz discusses in The Price of Inequality, 2013, we need a certain amount of income inequality to spur innovation, but if we let it get too big, the wealthy and the corporations capture our political machinery, only their interests are represented, and democracy, political reform, and political compromise and moderation die. Due to tech globalization’s great wealth creation, income inequality has grown rapidly in the last 60 years in a handful of nations, in the 1970’s-80’s in the US, UK, and Israel, and in the 1990’s and 2000’s also in rapidly developing countries like China and Brazil (and to a much lower degree, in a few low-inequality countries like Germany and Sweden). In the U.S., asset inequality is now so extreme that just 1% of us own 40% of the nation’s wealth. When our lower and middle classes can no longer find meaningful jobs under constant technological change, while we see other developed nations doing far better with education and job creation, we should not be surprised. We let this happen, by letting our MNCs get larger than governments (instead of splitting them up, as we used to), and by dismantling progressive income and inheritance tax for the wealthy (which last existed seriously in the US in the 1950’s).

To bring this back to the theme of this post, another big price of plutocracy is that our citizens lose the ability to engage with the developing world an empathic and positive-sum way, and our fear grows. We fear technological progress, as the job disruption dumps us into a degraded society that doesn’t keep job creation and retraining as the top priority. We fear the further loss of jobs via outsourcing. We fear immigration, and forget that merit-based immigration is one of the fastest creators of new jobs, science, and industries. We fear other belief systems, and we demonize the other, rather than finding common cause with the moderates in every religion and group. As our political system gets captured by unresponsive and polarized elites (they are wealth driven and fight hard to divide the spoils among themselves), tough social problems like educational reform don’t get done. See The Finland Phenomenon for an excellent example of what we can will one day do to fix our broken educational system, when we finally get the political will. In the meantime, our citizens grow increasingly globally ignorant, inward-focused, and politically apathetic, or polarized and uncompromising like their wealthy masters.

Source: Growing Unequal?, OECD 2008. <BR> Click the graphic for the report.

Source: Growing Unequal?, OECD 2008.
Click the graphic for the report.

But, thank the Universe, America is an outlier, with our elites capturing such an outsized portion of the new technological wealth in the last six decades that we are going temporarily against the global trend. We will eventually reverse this and be forced, by accelerating technoeconomic integration, to get back to the global trend. The developed OCED countries as a whole aren’t following our sad course of sixty years of rapidly increasing income inequality and 60% higher levels of income poverty, as the 2008 OECD graphic at right shows. Remember that for the global economy, the absolute size of the inequity gap is still closing since Feudalism. As visionary books like Abundance, 2012, make clear, we can see how extreme global economic and educational poverty will disappear just a few decades hence.  Many of the emerging nations are now in the process of growing their GDP two or three times faster than us. Check out Gapminder.org for some beautiful graphs telling that story. If we’re thinking at all about accelerating tech, we can see a new world of the conversational interface and of teacherless education (to use futurist Thomas Frey’s great phrase) less than ten years hence, where every literate and illiterate child has a wearable waterproof smartphone on their wrist, listening in to what they are learning and teaching them who knows what.

Accelerating technology always causes evolutionary disruption in the first phase. More money goes to the rich and the leading corporations, at first, rather than the rest of society from any new technological and trade revolution, be it industrial, transportation, mass consumption, communications, personal computing, internet, web services, or any other revolution affecting the global marketplace. In the U.S. and a few other countries, these and other revolutions have been the dominant story of the latest 60 years of globalization. In turn, the vast new wealth increase of the MNCs, many of whom now have revenues larger than those of the leading countries, and their unrestrained effects on the developing world, has been a great driver of the clash of cultures and the extremist events we see today. We are pushing citizens in many of these cultures to change at a rate far faster than their reformists are comfortable with, and successive waves of technology innovation are driving them (and us, but always to a far lesser degree) continually out of their livelihoods into a globally wealthier but, in the absence of good retraining and social safety nets, a much more socially uncertain future.

virtuous_circleantifragileEventually the global system, being not only evolutionary but also developmental, always gains irreversible new levels of total positive-sum integration, and immunity. For the system as a whole, virtuous cycles are always underway and antifragility will increasingly dominate, if global development is like living systems development, as I believe it is. I hope you can find a way to see and guide the positive changes that will come from this tragic event, as they surely must.

Bruce Schneier, Security Maven

Bruce Schneier, Security Maven

So regarding our emotions and actions around this bombing, with a potential to cause disproportionate fear and immune response, as occurred after 9/11, I think Bruce Schneier’s brief piece in The Atlantic says it best: Keep Calm and Carry On.” Let’s not overreact, overspend, overregulate. Let’s not fixate on or overgeneralize this rare event itself, or get scared. Let’s continue to work calmly on the social development processes (income equity, representation, education, psych services, job creation, civics, religious tolerance and reform) that will reduce the probability of this happening again, and the transparency processes (primarily bottom up, and secondarily top down cameras, sensors, networks, databases, pattern recognizers, human intelligence) that will increase our ability to find, isolate, and help (or at least, prevent from further harm) the broken folks or individual who did this.

Let’s implement our actions carefully and incrementally, while always insuring their social benefits exceed their costs. Let’s keep calm and carry on.

BBC Doc: People’s Century, Ep 24, God Fights Back – The Return of Religious Fundamentalism (Late 1970’s to Early 1980’s)

I’ve just finished People’s Century*, 1995, an amazing 26 part BBC series, 54 minutes each, that chronicles our entire 20th Century. It is definitely the most impressive documentary series I’ve seen yet.

I hope that you will consider watching all 26 episodes for yourself at some point in your life, and showing it to and discussing it with your children. It is a singular experience. It should be part of the core curriculum in every enlightened high school or college. Documentaries with this kind of scope in time (100 years), and breadth in subject (the whole world) give us what David Gelernter calls topsight, the ability to see and understand the whole of a system in its essentials. People’s Century gives you unparalleled topsight into the nature of human life, the perennial trends, cycles, opportunities, and challenges of civilization, and in particular our relentless and uplifting history of accelerating scientific, technical, and social complexification.

Of the 26 episodes, I found Episode 24, God Fights Back (see links for a great PBS site with program descriptions and teacher resources), the most personally enlightening by a narrow margin, though several others, particularly Killing Fields, Lost Peace, On the Line, Breadline, Total War, Freedom Now, Asia Rising, Endangered Planet, Great Leap and Half the People are also particularly great, to pick a personal top 11 (sometimes 10 isn’t enough!). They all tell amazing, inspiring stories of cultural, political and technological change, in a format short enough for dinner viewing. Unfortunately, aside from a few random episodes (see bottom of this post), the interwebs are the only place you can find this incredible series online at present. Let’s hope the BBC releases it digitally for a reasonable price soon. In the meantime, check the torrent sites, and caveat emptor.

God Fights Back, after a brief nod to the rapid civil rights and modernization disruptions occurring round the world in the 1960’s (covered beautifully in earlier episodes), considers the inevitable and equally rapid fundamentalist backlash against modernization that occurred in Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Turkey, Israel, Pakistan, India, the USA, and several other countries beginning in the late 1970’s to the early 80’s. For the US version, recall the fundamentalist Christians who marched on Washington for Jesus in 1980, the Reagan Revolution, and the rise of the Christian Right and its neoconsequences. All of these backlashes were triggered largely by too-fast and too-insensitive modernization, from the filmmaker’s perspective. Although I’d like to see more data to back that hypothesis, I find it quite plausible. Also, the film is rich with ideas for how things could have been handled better, ideas which continue to be useful today.

For example, there’s an awesome bit in the film on the way sexual objectification of women used by growth-oriented Western corporations to sell products in Iran was seen as particularly offensive and corrupting by some Islamic women. If only the Shah had been smart enough to be listening to his people, and sharply restricted this kind of advertising (basically pornography, from the Islamic perspective) and other bits of unthinking cultural warfare by the newly monied class on the rest of society. He could have set some smart standards, requiring social referenda before the “pornography” laws would be relaxed in various classes (it will clearly be a few more decades before anti-Mohammed cartoons will be allowed in most Islamic societies, for example) that other modernizing Islamic nations could have emulated. Every society regulates speech and has pornography standards, which reform on their own internal pace, and if you ignore them, you pay a steep price for your ignorance and arrogance. Some errors turn out to be critically important, in the end.

There was certainly a lot of gambling and prostitution and other corrosions of traditional values going under the Shah, just as in Cuba under Batista, which JFK, in 1963, said was the worst he knew of in any colonial country (see Cuban Revolution on Wikipedia for the surprising quote). When the Shah didn’t realize he needed the continual blessing of a significant portion of clerics and ministers to the poor, and wasn’t willing to engage in a brutal and damning de-religification of his society the way Mao and Castro and other extreme autocrats did, a Pyrrhic victory not worth the cost, he sealed his fate.

This series shows the folly of pushing modernization too fast, of letting unrestrained commercialism disrupt social fabric, of not honoring the ideas and beliefs of the majority, of not engaging the religious community in inevitable reforms, and of not staying at the pace of the most rapid religious reformers in your community. In this episode we see modernization driven at the unsustainable speeds of technocratic visionaries in Iran, Egypt, and Turkey. Some of them, like the Shah, had their modernization fueled by massive new oil wealth, and the changes went insanely fast. Anyone with sense could see the train wreck coming.

The story of Iran’s incredible modernization under Shah Reza Pahlavi from 1936 to 1979, when women lost the veil and got modern educations and freedoms, and when commerce and technology ruled the day, then the even more rapid and brutal loss of women’s and civil rights under the fundamentalist Khomeini in the 1980’s, and Iran’s isolation and extremism since, is one of the most dramatic tales of the 20th century. I’ve recently heard that The Queen and I, 2008 (IMDB 7.2), by an Iranian filmmaker who talks with the widow of the Shah, is a compelling and very personal retelling of Iran’s late 20th century story. It’s on my watchlist now. This history is critical not only to understanding modern Iran, but to understanding modernization in general.

The only thing People’s Century has underplayed so far is the impact of the massive rise of the corporations since 1950. We’ve let our global corporations get bigger than most of our governments in the last 60 years, so we shouldn’t be surprised when they take over our political systems, remove choice and competition at the top, and corruption and crony capitalism and corporate welfare result. I’m confident we’ll fix this imbalance in the future, but the first step is seeing the problem. People’s Century gets close in several of its episodes, but ultimately it misses on this critical point. I’m giving the series an 8.8 however. Ultimately it’s must-watch material.

*Finding People’s Century online isn’t easy at present. Episode 2, Killing Fields (WW I) is on Amazon Instant Video. A few more are online here. For now, to see all 26 you will have to go to the torrent or usenet sites (use an anonymizer of some type if you torrent, so your ISP doesn’t throttle your connection), or buy a creaky old VHS copy ($99 for the series) off Amazon or eBay. DVDs don’t appear to be available at any price. As I’ve written in How the Television Will be Revolutionized, until reasonably priced digital educational video emerges (and we all know what reasonable is), you should have no qualms going to the internets for this, as long as you are willing to pay the price, as in all conflict. Be a soldier in the war for global access to affordable quality educational video!

Objections? Additions? Omissions? Let me know. I hope you can find time to watch the series, it’s amazing.

Heathrow Has No Wifi Clothes, It’s Gone Boingo

Heathrow, airport of the 2012 Olympics. No affordable internet access.

It’s high time for another post to the Deviants section of the blog, so let’s get started. Like cockroaches under a rock, Deviants frequently come in packs. Find a problem, dig deeper, and you often discover a bundle.

This time we’ve got at least four deviants to offer you. Let’s start with Heathrow International Airport, bane of international travelers (To remember how bad they are, it would be great if we could “heave and throw” them out of the global airport hub system till they up their game)

At Heathrow, wi-fi costs over $25 (US equivalent) for a “day pass”. No hourly rate is available. This Machiavellian strategy screws thousands of short-layover people every day out of any access to the internet.

From http://www.ihateboingo.com Logo and running man should be reversed, to show customers fleeing, I think. Any graphic designers want to update this pic?

The wi-fi is run by Boingo Wireless, one of the largest and horriblest (yup, that’s a word) wireless companies presently inhabiting our precious island Earth. Check out Boingo’s atrocious reviews at CNet. They’ve been regularly accused of several deceptive practices, including repetitive billing when customers sign up for a day pass, and terrible procedures for getting off their repetitive billing. See more lovely complaints by the downtrodden here. Boingo has an apparent, if not a legal monopoly, on wi-fi at Heathrow. I wasn’t able to find anything else when I was recently there. The information desk didn’t know of others either. (Were you waiting for a way to remember Boingo as a deviant? Think of getting boinked economically, in a coercive manner, and you’re pretty close.)

Heathrow is designated as a hub airport in the global travel system. By choosing Boingo, the UK is screwing all international flyers, telling them what they really think of them and their travel dollars. It would be lovely if the ICAO or another governing body for airports could hold them accountable on this. Heathrow’s general level of service is has long been rated poorly (see the large number of low ratings at Skytrax buried among the positive ones, some of which I suspect are pre-Olympics PR shills). Heathrow’s run by BAA (think black sheep to remember them) the plutocratic, bureaucratic airport management conglomerate that until recently had a monopoly on all the main London airports for years. In 2009, the UK government finally forced divestiture of the two other London airports also owned by BAA. Big money here, so things are slow to change.

Free wireless now exists in hundreds of civilized airports globally. See: http://www.wififreespot.com/airport.html for a list. Apparently T-Mobile (only slightly less sucky than Boingo) was in Heathrow before them. And apparently the Starbucks in one of the Terminals at Heathrow had good cheap connectivity way back in 2006. It’s not rocket science.

Anticompetitive industry lobbying groups like the CTIA (formerly called the Cellular Telephone Industries Assn, but you can call them Controlling Today’s Information Access) push for airport monopolies on wifi service provision, as they did in 2006 at Logan Airport in Boston, for example. That sucks.

It’s high time to recognize wi-fi access to the internet is no longer a luxury good, but a community service that should be free in all civilized countries, like bathrooms. Soon it will be a right, like 1Mbps internet is in Finland.

How do we get free wi-fi as the base layer in all our airports over the next few years, including the largest, most plutocratic and bureaucratic ones like Heathrow and LAX? For a start, I recommend complaining to Heathrow on Twitter, @HeathrowAirport, and using the tag #HeathrowAirport. Anyone searching the tag will forever see your thoughts about their crappy wifi, and can add their voice. You can also complain here on their website, but that’s private. I’d trust BAA/Heathrow’s willingness to do anything with your private feedback as far as I’d trust a scorpion not to sting me.

Until your cybertwin can relay your opinion to the web for you on voice command, for all of us to use to guide us to the best things, and to help us rein in the deviants, take a moment and let them know what you think. If you have any other good strategies in mind, let us know in the comments, thanks!

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