Out of all the forms of societal organization (the tribe, bands, the Kingdom, The City-State, The Empire, etc), the Nation-State seems to have been the most stable and successful way of human association. The competition was somewhat settled after WWI with the collapse of the last of the great empires, like the Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian one. But “most stable and successful” does not mean absolutely stable nor absolutely successful. Everything that’s built by a human is bound to be flawed. From the concept of the family, to the effectiveness of vaccines, to the engineering of the Boeing 737 MAX.
One of the most important functions of leadership in Nation-State is to keep stability. Without it, no society can sustain itself. Social stability depends on trust and legitimacy of its institutions. Economic activity rests on the bedrock of rule of law and contract enforcement. No one would venture to embark on a business if marauders will destroy your property on a whim, regardless of how righteous it might feel to those doing the destructing. No person would be willing to invest in a place where contracts are not enforced, either, or where the law is nothing but dry ink on a piece of paper that’s ignored by everyone.
But the economic impact of the decay of a Nation-State’s institutional legitimacy is nothing compared to the stability impact brought upon by the breakdown of the credibility of a Nation-State’s government itself. You see, breaking a window of a Cheesecake factory because you claim to be mad at police brutality to walk away with a delectable cheescake is in another galaxy within the spectrum of institutional rottenness when compared to a rabid mob rampaging through the constitutionally-mandated act of certifying the winner of an election in the seat of government of the richest nation in the history of humankind.
That said rampage was promoted, harangued, instigated, fomented, and incited by the actual leader of said Nation-State, makes the rottenness petrifying. That the actual leader’s partisans try to equate setting a car lot on fire to hijacking elected officials to prevent them from certifying a duly elected president, is revolting. That the Senator who was spearheading the bogus legal effort to impede the election certification was sending text messages asking for money in the name of a non-existent election fraud fight from the inside of the bunker the hordes had pushed them into, has no name.
But of course this “leader” could not have accomplished this remarkable feat by himself. He needed a megaphone to amplify his parasitic garbage. Time and time again I’ve argued that a major factor in the political clusterf*ck we currently live in is the weaponization of the emotional manipulation tools called social networks. In a legal framework where Big Tech has no obligations to police and measure the tone of the conversation happening under their purview (unlike other media companies legally have to do), Big Tech is shielded from the consequences of socially destructive speech and allowed free rein to reach massive scale without worrying about being sued for defamation. In a capitalistic system where authorities are rendered obsolete to even conceive of a way to regulate the confiscation of citizens’ personal private data for monetization, Big Tech has ridden the winner-take-all wave brought upon by closed-protocol networks to become more powerful than the most powerful human on earth. Big Tech has become Government 2.0. A simple switch “off”, and Twitter neutered he who holds the codes to the biggest nuclear arsenal on the planet, rendering him powerless.
21st century wars are no longer fought with bombs but instead through social media propaganda psyops.
Such a slap in the face must wake us up to the reality. Big Tech, mainly through big data, has surpassed the capabilities of government in several crucial respects. If one of government’s most important functions is to keep social stability, a solid requisite to uphold that function is to be able to “read” its population, so that it can then regulate the population’s behavior, incent pro-social interactions, and deter sociopathic ones. Turns out Big Tech, or Government 2.0, can read the populace better. Model the populace better. Forecast the populace better. Government 1.0 tends to rely on (increasingly faultier) surveys to craft policy, draft legislation, and make decisions accordingly. All Gov 2.0 has to do to gage our mood is look into their servers at our clicks, searches, keystrokes, twits, app usage, articles read, (blogposts written!) and the “private” messages we send our family on WhatsApp, not only to “read” our behavior, but to predict it. After all, that’s how they make their money — selling users’ online future behavior to advertisers.
If Gov 2.0 shut Parler down, it was because they read the populace mood and their predicting algorithms screamed “revolution’s brewing!”. The Right can whine all it wants about censorship, collusion, and about a Big Tech cartel, but last time I checked, it was not BLM nor Antifa trying to overthrow the government of the United States by rampaging the very seat of its power at the precise time it was certifying the guy the Right opposed. If Gov 2.0 crushed an annoying competitor in the process, extra points, I guess. But if Twitter was really only about crushing competition in order to maximize its engagement and profitability, it would not have shut down its №1 user and blow a $3.5 billion hole in its market cap, as happened after the market learned of Twitter banning the president.
It is in moments like these, in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic, that the capabilities of Gov 2.0 could be critically harnessed for the good of society. Their ability to do GPS-based contact tracing, and determine if you’ve been exposed to someone infected. Their capabilities to train AI to detect and predict the onset of the disease in people who haven’t even shown symptoms, obviating testing in the process. If only Gov 2.0 was accountable to the population, and not just to their shareholders.
The government (1.0 that is) should bulk up its big data capabilities, not only to be better prepared when the next insurrection comes, but also to be a worthy policeman to Gov 2.0 and to better combat the pandemic. China, whether we like it or not, is showing the way. It has been able to stand up to its Big Tech (stopping Ant’s IPO until it capitalizes better), and to leverage its own Big Tech complex to use its infrastructure to better combat its Covid clusters (Alipay and WeChat were forced to host the government’s public-health software). Its reward? 2.3% GDP growth for full 2020, and 6.5% in 2020’s 4th quarter year over year. In case you didn’t catch that, that’s 6.5% growth over the last quarter of 2019, before the pandemic(!!).
Here, instead of using its powers to enlist Gov 2.0 to be part of the solution with regards to the pandemic, the government is being buffeted by the powers of Gov 2.0 in order to prevent the collapse of our Nation-State.
But if we’re looking at the glass half full, at least Gov 2.0 is taking actions to preserve the stability of the Nation-State. If only out of pure self-preservation instinct.
[Text originally published in the blog]