A Prediction

March 2021

I have a prediction. One that will likely turnout to be wrong, as I usually am, but any feeble attempt to think orthogonally is valuable in and of itself.

I predict that the outcome of the Corona virus pandemic will prove the failure of technocracy’s ability to problem solve. What I see happening is a continued mishandling of the situation by hyper-specialized experts and legislators until ultimately, all there is left to do is return to normalcy and let the virus (or mutation of the virus) run its course. I will focus my attention to the United States.

 

We have seen institutional response prove largely ineffective. Many claim that this is to do with non-compliance. This is true in part. But non-compliance is directly caused by a failure to legislate. Say the shoe industry was run by the cartels, and our war on drugs led the government to pass a law banning the wearing of shoes in the United States. The citizenry would think this is a bad idea. They would continue to wear shoes. One can blame this on the population being non-compliant, but one could probably place a more well-grounded critique on bad legislation. This is the case with the institutional response to the virus. Not only do we need to contain the virus, but we need to do so in a way that mitigates the slew of negative externalities arising from said response. This would increase compliance. Over-specialized experts driving regulation fail to think in a generalized fashion and fail to assess the higher-order effects of the law [1].  The virus is a near-infinitely complex problem to approach, but certainly there is an optimized point between full measures and no response that mitigates the virus and the effects of governmental response.

 

The vaccine’s roll out has been tumultuous, and by the time of wide deployment, there may well be several mutations of the virus that the vaccine is rendered ineffective against. We still get flu shots every year. Will this be another vaccination added to the annual list? What happens when the next virus or disease crops up? Our response is certainly not sustainable nor has it been a successful practice run for a worse pandemic. COVID 19 is being treated as a one-time anomalous catastrophe, not something that has been happening throughout all human history for almost every generation (as it has) [2]. For all the progress we have made technologically, we still are brought to our knees.

 

And thus far, we haven’t considered the more existential threats of this failed technocracy. Post-war organizations set up by the Allied powers were intended to be institutionalized means for biasing global affairs towards said powers. It has taken but seventy years for these organizations to be leveraged against the same nations that created them. Take senior World Health Organization epidemiologist Brian Aylward’s handling of the question of Taiwanese sovereignty as an example [3]. The corrupt politicization of this individual (and by representation, the organization) is disconcerting considering the organization’s stated purpose lies squarely outside of the political [4]. Perhaps Jinping will soon hold sway over institutions with more clout, such as the WTO or World Bank. 

 

Another example of technocracy’s failure causing an existential threat is the ruling class of technocratic elites utilizing their position of power to overtly exercise rampant over-speculation resulting in further wealth transfer and acute increases in the income divide. Congressmen leveraged exclusive knowledge attained from briefings on the COVID lockdown to sell massive fractions of their portfolios, shifting assets to more pandemic-friendly industries, and otherwise toying with the market [5]. Beyond this, as markets have trended towards democratization, with individual investors increasing their presence since the lockdown, institutionalized investors and legislators have sought to strike them down.  Our elites are in favor of technology until it subverts their power and finds its way down to the common man, as seen by Maxine Waters and other senators leading an investigation into retail investor Keith Gill and his investment of his own $50,000 into Gamestop [6]

 

Harrold Innis warned against these “knowledge monopolies” [7] where the class of people who gain knowledge of certain technologies attain undeserved power over those who don’t. The GameStop charade reveals the elite class’ faltering grasp of this knowledge monopoly, and we see them desperately trying to claw it back [8]. And this is all without mentioning the total breakdown of the gated institution’s control over information diffusion and check-valving. The extent of their mishandling of these powers is seen by a virtually non-existent consensus, and by the unprecedented outcome of conspiracy theories from the darkest corners of the web regarding the virus turning out to be completely prophetic, despite the institution’s best efforts to “fact check” and otherwise control the global narrative — this is an unprecedented failure.

 

We have failed use this pandemic as an opportunity to learn as a collective and develop a more refined methodology for approaching novel biological threats. Do you feel like we could handle COVID 22 more effectively than we have been handling COVID 19? It seems implausible to me given the near comical lack of cohesiveness between legislators, experts, and the constituency. The starry-eyed dream of a techno-centric utopia where the vague concept of science and those who practice it are the ultimate authority for all of civilization has fallen short. As it turns out, science does not govern. Hyper-specialized scientists also fail to govern.

 

The promise of techno-centric modernism has failed to deliver in 2020. Maybe the kinks are still being ironed out and we are only a hundred years away from disease being eradicated, government subsidized Soma [9] showing up daily in our mail, and a hyper-connected-global-digital community emitting nothing but compassion. But maybe science will still fail to govern in one hundred years, and a thousand. Maybe we will still need leaders, well-rounded, sober-minded, respectful of history. Maybe there will always be demand for the generalist. Or maybe I am wrong, and we will navigate a technical solution to the COVID 19 pandemic and all that follow. I have my doubts.

 

Notes

[1] See Christakis’ research on the closure’s effect of children in terms of educational attainment and years of life lost for one interesting example (there are many): https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2772834. To be clear, I am making no claims as to what the best response is, only that every decision has benefits and costs, some more obfuscated from view than others.

[2] See  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_epidemics for perspective on the commonality of pandemics. Which, it might be added, can be expected to increase in frequency with heavy globalization: increased population density, rapidity of travel, global commerce, economic interdependence all compound.

[3] See interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlCYFh8U2xM. For additional commentary, check out this New Bloom article (perhaps with a grain of salt, this organization is a very progressive Taiwanese site run by young activists in the country. But you must commend them, they are resisting and working to preserve their country against the fate Hong Kong is suffering now): https://newbloommag.net/2020/04/09/tedros-racism-comments/.

[4] From the WHO website, their mission reads: “The Bulletin seeks to publish and disseminate scientifically rigorous public health information of international significance that enables policy-makers, researchers and practitioners to be more effective; it aims to improve health, particularly among disadvantaged populations.” You can find their constitution here: https://www.who.int/about/who-we-are/constitution

[5] “2020 Stock Scandal” is one example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_congressional_insider_trading_scandal. This article contains more detail: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/21/coronavirus-trading-house-senate-140260.

[6] To read Gill’s opening remarks see the transcription here: https://docs.house.gov/meetings/BA/BA00/20210218/111207/HHRG-117-BA00-Wstate-GillK-20210218.pdf. It is worth noting he was the only individual without a team of advisors behind his camera, advising every word. This is perhaps because he didn’t need advisors, and could just speak the truth. Refreshing.

[7] See Innis’ The Bias of Communication for a more detailed portrait of this concept.

[8] Large institutional investors have long deployed tactics of market manipulation, depressing stock, commodity, and other asset prices, making hugely leveraged plays and more. To see how easy this is to do at scale, check out this (rather snarky) paper: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3282845

[9] Read Brave New World, if you haven’t already. Subservience by pleasure seems to be more plausible than the Orwellian alternative that we seem as a collective to fear more.