The Information War: Political Conflict Evolves Through Technological Change

Over the past few years I've written a lot about how the political and media elite are able to shape issues and control the political debate. They are able to create "The Narrative," the main story around which public life is formed. Immigration, for example, is portrayed positively and immigration opponents are painted as xenophobes or racists. Rarely would you hear a politician call for reducing immigration (can you name a non-fringe person before Trump? The only names I can think of are Tancredo and Buchanan in the U.S. and both are fringe.) This is despite good polling (that doesn't ask biased questions) showing immigration restriction has support from a modest majority of respondents. As social mood peaked in 2000, the opposition to immigration has steadily grown, yet the political and media elite expanded their push for even more immigration, allowing in millions of migrants and refugees. They started from a position of relative weakness (not in fact, but in theory based on the polling) and pushed into an even more extreme position, all while painting their enemies as racist xenophobes. That is the power of Narrative, of controlling the Overton Window and framing the terms of acceptable debate.

There were signs of cracks once the mood and elites became so far out of whack that politicians started winning on anti-immigration pushes, such as UKIP in the United Kingdom and then Donald Trump. Especially UKIP because they didn't start with an anti-immigration campaign, they switched to it after finding voters kept talking about it. Trump was the proof of concept, he arguably won the GOP primary on immigration and possibly the national election as well given the tightness of the race (although it was really a combination of factors).

Narrative control was still going strong though. The body of the Turkish boy who drowned when his boat sank in the Mediterranean was plastered across front pages in a push for more refugees. Little girls run over by terrorists in France and Sweden were not, but they were plastered all over the Internet. The media and political elites ability to control and shape "The Narrative" was starting to fall apart. In the U.S., illegal alien minor children brought to the U.S. by their parents are called "DREAMers" as part of "The Narrative." Many mainstream media outlets were very upset that Trump said in his State of the Union, "Americans are Dreamers too," because it was a narrative coup. This is a microcosm of the larger information war playing out behind the scenes.

Another anecdote is the Mueller investigation which was an attempt by the establishment to re-run the Nixon impeachment.
On the one side, the Comey — Meuller “Trump Impeachment” advance with names like Flynn, Papadopolus and Manafort. On the other side, the Nunes FISA Memo “illegal wiretapping” counter attack with names like McCabe and Strzok. Nothing has been as front and center the last year as this expanding narrative.

...I’m tempted to stick with this metaphor and identify the Mueller investigation as a sort of Maginot line from the last war, combining 70’s era “leaks” from the Establishment media with near omnipresent “frame control” from the overall Blue Church. As far as I can tell, the outcome of this part of the conflict is very much uncertain — although if my model is correct, I would predict that little of real consequence will come of the Mueller investigation.

...If I had to place a bet right now (and I’m glad that I don’t), I’d draw up the teams roughly with the top layers of FBI, CIA, State and a sizable fraction of the tech elite (e.g., Eric Schmidt) on one side and perhaps NSA, military intelligence (Navy) and the FBI rank-and-file as forming up on with the Insurgency. Perhaps also elites from finance and big energy. I might even be right — but I’m probably missing widely at this level of detail.
That's from this excellent article at Medium: Situational Assessment 2018: the Calm Before the Storm
In other words, while 2016 still formally looked like politics, what is really going on here is a revolutionary war. For now this is war using memes rather than bullets, but war is much more than a metaphor.

This war is about much more than ideology, money or power. Even the participants likely do not fully understand the stakes. At a deep level, we are right in the middle of an existential conflict between two entirely different and incompatible ways of forming “collective intelligence”. This is a deep point and will likely be confusing. So I’m going to take it slow and below will walk through a series of “fronts” of the war that I see playing out over the next several years. This is a pretty tactical assessment and should make sense and be useful to anyone. I’ll get to the deep point last — and will be going way out there in an effort to grasp “what is really going on”.
The two sides, "Red" and "Blue" in the U.S. line up on different sides of the war because they hold different positions of power. The "Blue" team controls the media, government and universities. It sets the policies and generally advances over time, even if it suffers set backs. The "Red" team is out of power. The GOP (until Trump) operated like the Outer Party from 1984. GOP nominees to the Supreme Court might go left (Souter), but Democrat nominees never went right. The GOP might win short-term gains on welfare reform or taxes, but they're reliably reversed by the next administration. GOP presidents were also more likely to work against their base, such as George W. Bush passing the prescription drug benefit and pushing for amnesty for illegal immigrants. President Obama didn't push for mass deportations of illegal immigrants and no one worried about it, but GOP voters constantly worried their Senators might make a deal that was 180 degrees against their wishes. When Indiana passed a religious freedom law, they were denounced by corporations such as Apple. But no one imagines a corporation denouncing a whole state for legalizing same-sex marriage. If you are a left-wing activist, you work through the major media outlets, corporations, government and universities. If you are a right-wing activist, you are much more in the position of an insurgent against legacy institutions.

The real change taking place is not political though, but technological, in the same sense that the Germans overpowered the French and the Americans overpowered the Japanese thanks how they used technology, not because of the superiority or inferiority of their ideology. The Blue Church referenced in the article, sometimes dubbed the Cathedral by the right, has power from its voting base and through control of what Americans learn in school, watch on television, and through greater control over the unelected bureaucracy. Trump's power base is a combination of raw power, the GOP voting base, and the "mobile infantry" of the Internet, anonymous posters on BBS sites and Twitter. It's a memetic war machine with no leader against a centrally controlled Narrative. Trump is not the leader of it, only the beneficiary of it because he is lined up against the same institutions. CNN can try to punch Trump, but it ends up hitting water and drowns in a memetic wave. The term "Fake News" was an attempt by media reduce the status of social and digital. Well before a month had passed, the term was already turned into a weapon against legacy media and continues reducing their stature to this day.

Here's a concrete example of technology mixing with politics from the Independent: Bitcoin has gifted huge windfalls to the alt-right, proving the benefits of cryptocurrencies are often dangers too

Why are members of the Alt-Right getting rich (although not so rich these days) on cryptocurrencies? Because their opponents who control banking and technology companies kicked them off of services such as PayPal for violating political rules. They were forced to find alternative ways of donating to each other and opted for Bitcoin. The changes brought about by Bitcoin aren't political except in the sense that if you are an insurgent, Bitcoin is far more attractive than if you are tied to legacy institutions. Far leftists also have reason to pile into cryptocurrencies if they oppose banks, even if they won't ever be kicked off Paypal for promoting communism. Marijuana sellers in some states may need it since banks do not take them as customers. But the average left-winger who can always use Paypal to move money will never move to Bitcoin out of necessity.
This dynamic requires much deeper consideration. Consider, for example, the tacit alliance between the rapidly proliferating “blockchain” community and the Insurgency. Whether or not there is an “ideological” overlap between the two, there is a fundamental dispositional alliance: both prefer a “smooth” and highly decentralized landscape. So, for example, if we were to witness the emergence of real threats to Platform Hegemony from the Blockchain (say a tokenized Twitter competitor), this would radically shift the balance of power to the Insurgency.

On the other hand, consider phenomena like “increasing returns to scale” and the strategic advantages of being in the technological vanguard of “exponential growth”. Machine Learning and Quantum Computing are the Radar and Atom Bomb of this conflict — with the broader Blue Church alliance at least currently firmly in the lead. Is there any way that a decentralized approach to science and technology could emerge that could erase or usurp this advantage?
OK, so this post isn't really about politics just like the article I'm referring to isn't about politics, it's simply a way for those unfamiliar with technological changes to put it into context. What's really going on is a transformation on par with the printing press, Industrial Revolution and the Internet.
For those who want to step up to 40,000 feet and look at the landscape free from the biases and contamination of American politics, we can scan an apparently different zone of the broader war to see what I think shows up as the exact same dynamics: the blockchain.

In this domain, the forces arrayed are the Ancien Regime of Silicon Valley style Venture Capital and Startup Culture against the unwashed revolutionaries of cryptocurrencies, decentralized consensus and autonomous organizations. In other words, the military-industrial arm of the Broadcast collective intelligence against the emerging swarm of a new interactive, Digital, decentralized collective intelligence.

If this shift of perspective makes sense to you, then we have made contact. While the specific battles (e.g., politics, means of production, etc.) matter, this is a war that is much, much broader in scope than any of the singular battlefields. And the only way to win this war is to first become aware of the actual nature of the war itself.

...The conflict of the 21st Century is about forming a collective intelligence that can outwit and out innovate all of its competitors. The central challenge then is precisely to innovate a way of collaborating and cohering individuals that maximally deploys their individual perspectives, capabilities, understandings and insights with each-other. To achieve a decisive advantage in innovative capacity.

Have you been paying attention? Have you noticed the pace of change in, for example, drone warfare? Or in self-improving AI? Crispr Cas9? This is nothing compared to the pace of innovation that will be unlocked once a functional decentralized collective intelligence emerges. In 1000 AD, the tribes of Western Civilization were a backwards and dirty lot barely interesting to the other Civilizations of the world. By 1500 AD, the West had cohered a new form of collective intelligence that, as it turned out, proved decisively more generative than any previous Civilization. By the 19th Century, the unwashed barbarians had comprehensively conquered the world and launched us on our current exponential trajectory.

In this exponential context, the intelligence amplifying implications of even a slightly positive exponent (i.e., scalable) collective intelligence — particularly one that can connect with and amplify any human being connected to the global Internet-is not comparable to anything that has been seen in human history.
If you've been paying attention to the blockchain and cryptocurrencies you've no doubt heard of "Initial Coin Offerings." And while many are indeed scams, the underlying technology is not. Instead of going through a long process of raising money through traditional channels, entrepreneurs can immediately tap crowd sourced funding and rapidly scale innovative technology. And the users become much more involved in the process. Along with the "prosumers" described by Toffle you get "Provestors," investors who help build and consume the new company/product. You can come up with a good idea today, link with people around the world who can help implement your vision, improve it or even take it and turn it into something far better, with sufficient funding, faster than it takes a typical business to fill out all of its regulatory requirements. The ownership is horizontal, not vertical. The organization can create a new business ex nihilo faster than a corporation can even figure out what projects to fund.

The system is extremely robust: many companies will fail, but those that don't will thrive. We don't yet know how the ICO market will play out. We have to wait and see if it produces any winners and how big they win (or lose). ICO's raised $5.6 billion in 2017. If one of those companies turns into a $10 billion company or they cause enough disruption to shave $100 billion off the market cap of listed stocks, and every other company is a scam that ran away with investor money, is the ICO market of 2017 a success or not?

The pace of technological innovation is accelerating and the intersection with politics leaves many befuddled. I have railed against the media bubble and the author of the Medium piece, who sits on the other side of the political divide, agrees:
Final note, regardless of one’s opinion of the content of the Blue Church and the Red Insurgency, I think it is important to recognize that most future scenarios have the balance of power continually shifting away from Broadcast/Television dominant and into Interactive/Digital dominant.

Accordingly, if your sensemaker is still entrained to the Blue Church (e.g., if you still look to the New York Times and Harvard to tell you the Truth), you are going to have a hard time. You will likely feel disoriented and anxious and disconnected. Moreover, you will find it harder and harder to make good choices. The future is quite likely going to require moving to the very different form (not necessarily the content) of collective intelligence currently being explored by the Insurgency. To be sure, right now, the Red Collective Intelligence looks and feels a lot like “applied schizophrenia” with a big dose of “indiscriminate paranoia” but the future is very much on the side of this kind of model. The sooner that more people with a wider set of values and perspectives learn how to play this new game, the better for everyone.
The changes taking place in politics and that feeling of accelerating madness isn't going away, it's coming to corporate board rooms and government agencies because it's driven not by politics, but technology. I have predicted on this blog that fringe parties such as Sweden Democrats or AfD will eventually win outright majorities (assuming no one goes into coalition with them or co-opts their issues). That would represent a political revolution in those countries. That change will still pale in comparison to the change in how politics, business, government, media and education are conducted by everyone.

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