The atmosphere recorded the mass death, slavery and warfare that followed 1492. The death by smallpox and warfare of an estimated 50 million native Americans—as well as the enslavement of Africans to work in the newly depopulated Americas—allowed forests to grow in former farmland. By 1610, the growth of all those trees had sucked enough carbon dioxide out of the sky to cause a drop of at least seven parts per million in atmospheric concentrations of the most prominent greenhouse gas and start a little ice age. Based on that dramatic shift, 1610 should be considered the start date of a new, proposed geologic epoch—the Anthropocene, or recent age of humanity—according to the authors of a new study.
I also watched recent video of ISIS members in a museum smashing (alleged) archaeological relics from the very ancient Mesopotamian past. I felt a certain sense of historical irony while doing so. I wondered as I watched them use sledgehammers and power drills on a 3,000 year old Assyrian statue if they realized that they were following the ancient Assyrian playbook as they tried to erase the region’s past. The Assyrians of that era were masters at the art of atrocity marketing. The concept of publicizing horrific cruelty to cow and intimidate subjects or opponents has a long history, and only fell out of style relatively recently (and not everywhere).
It’s only in the last century or so that public executions, for example, have become rare. Having people view a burning, beheading or hanging (with or without a torture appetizer) was thought to be something that reinforced law and authority and demonstrated that justice was being carried out. Often it was thought an edifying thing to have children watch.
We have trouble digesting randomness; our brains crave pattern and meaning.
Even for scientists, the scientific method is a hard discipline. They, too, are vulnerable to confirmation bias — the tendency to look for and see only evidence that confirms what they already believe. But unlike the rest of us, they submit their ideas to formal peer review before publishing them. Once the results are published, if they’re important enough, other scientists will try to reproduce them — and, being congenitally skeptical and competitive, will be very happy to announce that they don’t hold up. Scientific results are always provisional, susceptible to being overturned by some future experiment or observation. Scientists rarely proclaim an absolute truth or an absolute certainty. Uncertainty is inevitable at the frontiers of knowledge.
That provisional quality of science is another thing a lot of people have trouble with. To some climate-change skeptics, for example, the fact that a few scientists in the 1970s were worried (quite reasonably, it seemed at the time) about the possibility of a coming ice age is enough to discredit what is now the consensus of the world’s scientists:
Americans fall into two basic camps. Those with a more “egalitarian” and “communitarian” mind-set are generally suspicious of industry and apt to think it’s up to something dangerous that calls for government regulation; they’re likely to see the risks of climate change. In contrast, people with a “hierarchical” and “individualistic” mind-set respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs; they’re apt to reject warnings about climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead to — some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions.
The United States continues to make up more than 22 percent of the world’s economy. It continues to dominate the world’s oceans and has the only significant intercontinental military force. Since 1880, it has been on an uninterrupted expansion of economy and power. Even the Great Depression, in retrospect, is a minor blip. This expansion of power is at the center of the international system, and our forecast is that it will continue unabated.
The greatest advantage the United States has is its insularity. It exports only 9 percent of its GDP, and about 40 percent of that goes to Canada and Mexico. Only about 5 percent of its GDP is exposed to the vagaries of global consumption. Thus, as the uncertainties of Europe, Russia and China mount, even if the United States lost half its exports — an extraordinary amount — it would not be an unmanageable problem.
The United States is also insulated from import constraints. Unlike in 1973, when the Arab oil embargo massively disrupted the U.S. economy, the United States has emerged as a significant energy producer. Although it must import some minerals from outside NAFTA, and it prefers to import some industrial products, it can readily manage without these. This is particularly true as industrial production is increasing in the United States and in Mexico in response to the increasing costs in China and elsewhere.
The Americans also have benefited from global crises. The United States is a haven for global capital, and as capital flight has taken hold of China, Europe and Russia, that money has flowed into the United States, reducing interest rates and buoying equity markets. Therefore, though there is exposure to the banking crisis in Europe, it is nowhere near as substantial as it might have been a decade ago, and capital inflows counterbalance that exposure. As for the perennial fear that China will withdraw its money from American markets, that will happen slowly anyway as China’s growth slows and internal investment increases. But a sudden withdrawal is impossible. There is nowhere else to invest money. Certainly the next decade will see fluctuations in U.S. economic growth and markets, but the United Stares remains the stable heart of the international system. While I subscribe to Strafor’s Intelligence service, they have chosen to make this intriguing report, on possible future geopolitical trends, available to the public via the link below.
When Google’s Eric Schmidt called White House officials a few weeks ago to oppose President Obama ’s demand that the Internet be regulated as a utility, they told him to buzz off. The chairman of the company that led lobbying for “net neutrality” learned the Obama plan made in its name instead micromanages the Internet.
Mr. Schmidt is not the only liberal mugged by the reality of Obamanet, approved on party lines last week by the Federal Communications Commission. The 300-plus pages of regulations remain secret, but as details leak out, liberals have joined the opposition to ending the Internet as we know it.
The Progressive Policy Institute said: “There is nothing progressive about the FCC backsliding to common carrier rules dating back to the 1930s.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supports applying the 1934 law to the Internet, nonetheless objects to a new regulation giving the FCC open-ended power to regulate the Internet. “A ‘general conduct rule,’ applied on a case-by-case basis,” the EFF wrote, “may lead to years of expensive litigation to determine the meaning of ‘harm’ (for those who can afford to engage in it).”
What if at the beginning of the Web, Washington had opted for Obamanet instead of the open Internet? Yellow Pages publishers could have invoked “harm” and “unjust and unreasonable” competition from online telephone directories. This could have strangled Alta Vista and Excite, the early leaders in search, and relegated Google to a Stanford student project. Newspapers could have lobbied against Craigslist for depriving them of classified advertising. Encyclopedia Britannica could have lobbied against Wikipedia.
Among the first targets of the FCC’s “unjust and unreasonable” test are mobile-phone contracts that offer unlimited video or music. Netflix , the biggest lobbyist for utility regulation, could be regulated for how it uses encryption to deliver its content.