In the 13th Century, Ibn Khaldun proposed the concept of asabiyah – the will of a society to engage in some sort of collective action. Regarding, asabiya in the U.S., I would say it is at the lowest I have witnessed in my lifetime. We should ponder why the gap between Rs and Ds has widened into a chasm, and why so many of us have relatives who live in Facebook echo chambers. I expect to see many posts in the next day from people feeling nervous about the election, grasping for asabiyah or attempting to build it themselves.
Why the angst?
A healthy democracy does not play on genetic identity politics for short-term advantage. It does not offer a post-political career in media or paid speeches. It does not include one candidate inciting violence against another, and it does not shrug and say “well at least candidate X isn’t as bad as candidate Y”.
So why are these things happening?
War Peace and War by Peter Turchin has helped me to connect a few of the weirder puzzle pieces flotsamming to the surface this election cycle. Turchin has expounded on Khaldun’s asabiyah, wrapping it inside of the context of secular cultural cycles in War Peace and War, and highlighting the need for external threats to unite empires. Turchin’s meta-ethnic frontier-based coalescence makes a ton of sense, and establishment of an “other” explains why a big chunk of the election cycle has been dominated by questions about how to deal with ISIS, an organization that has a 1 in 45 million chance of killing an American. Elites understand that the true threats are Russia and China. Killing someone like Saddam, Khaddafi, or Kim Jong is just another Great Game. Of course the base doesn’t love these wars, because incidentally few elites die relative to the poor, and there is no clear-cut victory.
An important ingredient for asabiya is trust. When everyone is wearing a ski-mask online and anyone can create a Facebook account without verification, it’s too easy to spread false rumors about your political opponents and to create fake grassroots enthusiasm for your own. This results in lack of trust. We’re more connected than ever before as a society, and yet less assured that what others tell us is actually true.
In Turchin’s study of cycles within agrarian empires, inevitably a civil war occurs as elites on two sides of an issue incite their collective bases to wage war. I would like to believe that we are past warfare and that our election cycle is a good proxy for war. The cornerstone to a healthy empire is the peaceful transitions of power. I really dislike HRC. I think she’s displayed consistently mediocre judgement, and has shown a willingness to engage in pay for play politics, but I must admit I’m a little worried about a lone gunman scenario.
I don’t think our asabiya gets better until we get a credible external threat. It’s possible that Russia or China will serve those roles. I have faith that our economy/culture/military is superior to either one. My fear is that either of the two main candidates will result in bad policies which further hollow out of the middle class, causing more distrust, and hence weaker asabiya. HRC is a symbol of elitism, and how much consensus she will be able to muster during her first year is questionable. When elites (Colin Powell, David Petraeus, and now Hillary Clinton) live by a patently different set of rules this also results in a total lack of trust. Meanwhile, the RNC appears to be doubling down on obstructionism and Trump is setting himself up for a media presence after the election. All of the outrageous claims he has made will still be out there, floating around in the Inter-nether. The Republicans will still be a presence on November 9th.
The angst present on social media is interesting though. It seems to indicate that people ARE trying to discover/build a consensus with each other. The counter-argument is that the “others” they mention are typically from the other party.
My own belief is that we will continue to lurch along the same trajectory until a major crisis, either external or internal presents itself. History shows that empires only implement dramatic structural changes when confronted with emergencies. It could be economic. It could be war, disease, or the environment, or maybe people finally demand that someone bust up the Trusts. I really want the Republican Party to die, and for someone to clone Teddy Roosevelt.
Also, Mr. Robot is Pretty Good
The whole psychology aspect of the show is meh, but the technical details are spot-on. But the very best part of Mr. Robot is what is has to say about security. In almost every episode, the protagonist isn’t really hacking computers. He’s hacking the 7 Deadly Sins. It rings true with my experiences in the intelligence community.
- Identify one person in a network of people.
- Exploit that person.
- Figure out their weaknesses.
- Relationships – loved ones
- Vices – laziness, greed, lust, pride, etc
- Figure out their weaknesses.
- Find the rest of the network.
- Exploit the network.
The personal flaws which people bring with them will almost always give you the keys to their castle. The structural flaws which they build into their castle will give you more targets to exploit. So from my vantage point, the worst thing someone can do on the Internet is to wave a big flag saying exactly who they are and what they do online, assuming they are important and not some bald-headed blogger. Any network can be cracked. It just takes time and patience.
People on the left may be tempted to sigh, to dismiss Trump as a fluke, and to believe that they can now ride roughshod over conservatives. I have a feeling that would backfire, and I think Hillary will be more pragmatic. She has always had a tin ear to the poor, and she does not possess Obama’s speaking talents. She’ll need to something to rally Americans around . Here’s hoping we can all find a common cause.