paranoia, paranoia, the evil globalists are coming to get me…

August 30, 2012

new world order

One of the biggest reasons why I don’t look forward to elections and rush to shut off all political news shows in earshot is that today’s politics simply infuriate me. From giving clueless dullards inordinate sway over our scientific development to debates by soundbyte and out of context quotes, it’s as if a nefarious committee went over the legal codices of civics and representative democracy with a fine tooth comb while wondering what they could do to make everything from voting to public political discourse as pointless or painfully vapid as humanly possible. My claims to expertise in civics aren’t exactly on par with those of Constitutional lawyers to put it mildly, just an AP class on law and government in my senior year in high school. But I don’t think that you need a doctorate in political science to howl with rage and frustration when conspiracy theories from Coast 2 Coast Radio become a major political party’s platform for science.

For the sake of FSM’s noodle-wrapped meatballs, what is wrong with these people? Yes, once again we’re dealing with their paranoia of Agenda 21, the toothless, vaguely worded collection of lofty ideas which amount to endorsements for free trade zones, observing basic human rights, a call for sustainable development if it tickles the signatories not to dump a few million barrels filled with toxic waste into the ocean on a regular basis, and using their powers wisely. Signatories on the agenda can’t be punished for not following through, there are no specific metrics for them to hit, and there’s no tax or legislative measure that the U.N. can levy to compel the countries to go through with what the agenda says. Yet in the minds of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones, pundits who are so afflicted with paranoia it’s almost tempting to ask if they’re suffering from a condition that should be diagnosed and treated rather than blasted across the airwaves, Agenda 21 is a New World Order wish list that nations must follow under threat of force.

Agenda 21 has been a favorite hobbyhorse of Glenn Beck, who argues that it is a covert means of achieving “centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth” as well as Alex Jones’ all-purpose conspiracy theory clearinghouse Infowars, which calls it a “globalist death plan for humanity.”

Globalist death plan for humanity? Do these dimwits listen to themselves? It’s like getting a little heavy handed advice from a stranger on where you should park your car in a busy city center, then lashing out that you’re being threatened with beatings and arrest if you park your car on a different street corner. And yet, this is what the regressive wing of the GOP is doing, questioning whether new bike paths, parking meters, or a change in the zoning laws was dictated by a death panel from the U.N. plotting to take their guns and put them in reeducation camps North Korea-style. Now, in a rational democracy, the parties would laugh, point out that Agenda 21 has about as much bark as a newborn kitten and about as much bite behind it as that passive aggressive text you might get from an old ex, and go on with the business of actually running the nation. Not today. No, today the Republican Party kowtows to every right wing follower of InfoWars, Prison Planet, and rabid Beck fanatic. It’s one thing to have a "big tent," it’s another thing to turn your party into a circus ran by proud ignoramuses who take their marching orders from lunatics.

Meanwhile, a seemingly unrelated article from the same source by David Rothkopf laments the loss of a time when the government inspired research and development projects on a massive scale, projects that took us to the Moon and turned so much science fiction into science fact. I’m obviously aware that the processes involved were not idyllic and we shouldn’t get all misty eyed about the peak of the Cold War. However, Rothkopf makes an important point that makes tech-obsessed, scientifically educated nerds like me want to say "yes, yes, a thousand times yes!" In the 21st century we need a government that turns to knowledge and cutting edge technology for permanent solutions to an economic malaise, and for which a knowledge-based economy isn’t just a trendy buzzword for having a majority of the GDP being generated in the services sector, but a commitment to research and development. We need hyper-efficient 3D printing factories that put Chinese cheap labor to shame by matching their cost and greatly exceeding the quality of the products they make. We need a thriving space program that creates tens of thousands of jobs and can lay the groundwork for making money from space travel.

Instead we have hysterical soundbyte fights, conspiracy theories, and voters who have no idea how their taxes are being spent asking where the jobs are while dismissing their best bet on an entirely new economy through scientific innovation as a pointless waste of money by a cabal of godless, communist heathens on the right, and either malicious, profit-driven exploitation of the public by global syndicates, or misguided materialism of the left-brained on the left. If you allow me to paraphrase a titan of science fiction, Isaac Asimov, they seem to believe that democracy means that their ignorance is just as important as others’ knowledge and instead of saying no to their more fevered fantasies and fragile ideologies, we bow down before them. Politicians whose understanding of science and technology is actually decent and who are completely reasonable in their approach to the subjects, like John Huntsman for example, are written off and doomed to failure as other politicos decide to rule in the style of Roman Caesars; by giving their followers bread and circuses instead of a future. And this, ladies and gentlemen, isn’t just realpolitik that we have to accept with a sad shrug. It’s a tragedy, one only better education and an overhaul of the current media pundit class can ever hope to fix.

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  • Brett

    The anti-UN conspiracies have pretty deep roots in the US, going back to the 1950s and paranoia about the Communists who were supposedly trying to take it all away from Good, Hard-Working People. It’s not surprising that you’d see them recycled into new paranoia about environmentalism and regulation, now that the Soviet Union doesn’t exist.

  • Jypson

    Greg Fish 2012!

  • Greg Fish

    I would make a terrible politician. Instead of vomiting my party’s talking points, I would be campaigning to conduct studies and in depth data mining of national problems over a period of two years and setting up pilot projects to figure out what works, why, and where. I’d be labeled an indecisive technocratic elitist and my campaign would fail as no one will want to listen to me.

  • venqax

    “I would be campaigning to conduct studies and in depth data mining of national problems…to figure out what works”

    Well, that’s fine for tech and engineering problems. It’s not so useful for social and values-related ones where values and so who decideds what “working” means is the issue. Not “what” works. What “works” regarding abortion policy? If you don’t want legal abortions to happen, then bannign them works. OTBE, you will have fewer than if they were legal. If you want abortions as an option, then allowing them works. IOW, if you think the unborn are humans then aborting them is murder so they can’t just be allowed. If you think they are not fully human, then aborting them is simply a personal choice. What “works”? If you believe the US having the biggest and best military is best for the US (and maybe for the world), then what works is simply how to most efficiently, affordably provide that military. If you think militaries are inherently bad and the US having a big one makes it a bully, then what works is having a small military capable of some homeland defense but not able to project globally.

    Most of the problems govts face are not solely pragmatic and require some kind of basic foundation of values before what works can be defined. Many solutions SEEM easy when you don’t really grasp what the problem is. BTW, I agree that we should invest more in technology. OTOH, I also think that while investing in tech is a good thing, doing it through govt, in general is not. Really, if you’re interested just in what works, government wouldn’t even come up very much.

  • Greg Fish

    Most of the problems govts face are not solely pragmatic and require some kind of basic foundation of values before what works can be defined.

    No, but the ones that are driving up the deficits tend to be. You can’t tell me that American healthcare is any any way, shape, or form efficient. If you know why we’re spending trillions and getting mediocre results for the same procedures as other nations are performing for a fraction of the cost, surely you can wring out all the waste and streamline the process. There are tools that can save hundreds of billions if they’re implemented for the cause, what holds us back is mindless partisan bickering.

    Social security needs to be overhauled so we need to find the best way to leverage its assets and figure out a way that we can afford to supplement senior citizens’ retirement funds. We can’t just eliminate it because Wall Street has already blown millions and millions of nest eggs by playing fast and loose with both rules and investor cash. But we also can’t afford paying for everyone’s retirement so we need to find a way to cover as much as we can and compromise how the checks will be sent when it’s time to collect. I can see it becoming a supplemental fund, but not the main source of post-retirement income.

    The military needs to be maintained but we also need to wring massive inefficiencies out of it. If we weren’t insisting on keeping it in a perpetual, all out global war, we wouldn’t need to have as many infinite contracts as we already do.

    Really, if you’re interested just in what works, government wouldn’t even come up very much.

    So the 60 years of research and innovation that gave us much of the modern world, funded by the DARPA, NSF, the DOE, and NASA just didn’t happen? But then again, you really don’t think that the government is useful or should be allowed to do anything of use beyond the military so why bother acknowledging that it can be used in better ways than a scapegoat for all our problems, right?

  • venqax

    So the 60 years of research and innovation that gave us much of the modern world, funded by the DARPA, NSF, the DOE, and NASA just didn’t happen?

    Yes, it happened, but probably would have happened faster and better if the govt had played a smaller role in it. Because govt did it doesn’t mean that no one else could have. That’s pretty much always the case. It’s no accident that Walmart got relief to Katrina victims much quicker than the govt. did.

    But then again, you really don’t think that the government is useful or should be allowed to do anything of use beyond the military so why bother acknowledging that it can be used in better ways than a scapegoat for all our problems, right?

    Funny you should say that, because that almost is exactly all the federal govt was intended to do by that pesky Constitution. The govt was never intended to fund science, or run the economy, or demand seatbels, or protect you from 32 oz. sodas. Really. Honest. Aren’t you the one who complained that politicians have too much influence over science money? Don’t you see that the reason for that is that so much science money comes from the govt? (Govt. is run by politicians. Rely on govt, then they are in charge).

  • Greg Fish

    Yes, it happened, but probably would have happened faster and better if the govt had played a smaller role in it.

    And what is your evidence for this? Who else had an interest in going to the Moon? Who else had the motivation to develop TCP/IP, which were originally meant to create networked supercomputers to analyze the physics of nuclear explosions and provide redundant military communications? Who else had the hundreds of billions of dollars to fund all this? The government farmed out work to defense contractors and telecommunications companies which had no commercial use for technology that didn’t yet exist and which they were supposed to build.

    Funny you should say that, because that almost is exactly all the federal govt was intended to do by that pesky Constitution.

    I think you’re confusing the Constitution with the Articles of Confederation. The Federalist Papers were quite clear on the idea that a government that’s basically there just to summon an army and run the post office was of little use to anyone and that it needed some power.

    The govt was never intended to fund science…

    And the web wasn’t intended to stream porn, yet it now can. That’s the funny thing about time. It changes things. In fact, the entire idea of Amendments was built on the premise that we wouldn’t take the document as holy writ, but that we would adapt to modern times and change it to better fit with the world in which we live. According to the Constitution, we also need militias. Compare what a militia can do to what a batallion of U.S. Army soldiers can do. Is a militia still necessary to the state’s welfare? The government wasn’t even supposed to have the Air Force under its command. That was a whole new thing for WW2. Since there’s nothing about an air force, should we remove it from the DOD’s purvey now?

    … or run the economy…

    If you think the government runs the economy, you don’t understand how the economy works. We have a mixed economy, true, but the government doesn’t outright run things. It was begged and pleased for bailouts by Wall Street and since Wall Street donates billions for the politicians’ campaign funds, of course it would get its trillions in cash when it asks. Nothing says “the government runs the economy” like executives in Armani suits telling Congress that without a quick, no questions asked bailout, it’s gonna be a real shame what’s going to happen to our economy…

    … or protect you from 32 oz. sodas.

    Actually Roosevelt created the precursor to the FDA because there were so many public complaints about horrible pollution and toxicity. In China, there’s no FDA or EPA. As a consequence, just take a look at how horribly polluted their major cities, rivers, and lakes are, as well as the constant reports of things like pork dumplings being stuffed with cardboard and pork juice. I.e. America circa 1902. I’m happy my taxes are in some part responsible for me being reasonably sure I don’t have to risk black lung just to breathe the air outside.

    Aren’t you the one who complained that politicians have too much influence over science money?

    I was the one who complained that dumb politicians have too much influence over science money and my suggested fix for this wasn’t to immediately declare all government evil and useless, but a corporate-government competition system for science projects ran by those who actually have experience in STEM fields before running for these offices, sort of a massive X-Prize on the scale of Apollo.

  • venqax

    Yes, it happened, but probably would have happened faster and better if the govt had played a smaller role in it. And what is your evidence for this?

    Pretty much everything. Look at anything where the public and private sectors actually compete. The DMV vs MVD Xpress, Amtrak, the post office. Government is terrible at doing most things. That is because it runs on the rules of politics, not on those of economics let alone anything approaching the hard science you champion. Government’s concern is fulfilling political agendas, not with being good at anything. I’d think you would know this better than most. At least it does contract out to what passes now for private companies (many are actually monopsonies). But that contracting regimen is a hell’s parade of political cronyism and outcome-based social engineering, not rationality.

    I think you’re confusing the Constitution with the Articles of Confederation.

    No, the Constitution is very, very specific about what the federal govt is supposed to do, and it is not very much. The default governing power is with the states, not the feds. The 10th Amendment makes that very clear. Of course the states are govts, too, but that is different problem now.

    The govt was never intended to fund science…And the web wasn’t intended to stream porn, yet it now can. That’s the funny thing about time. It changes things. In fact, the entire idea of Amendments.

    Okay, let’s talk about those amendments. What amendments, exactly, would be the ones tasking govt to fund science projects? And let’s talk about time and change. The Constitution is a philosophical document meant to spell out some timeless principles of government. Like limited govt. The very purpose of a constitution instead of regular statutes is to enshrine and insulate certain things against the whims of populist “change”. The web is just a piece of technology, intended to do whatever it can. Technology’s agenda is expansive. The agenda of the Constitution relative to govt is restrictive.You can compare incomparables.

    Compare what a militia can do to what a batallion of U.S. Army soldiers can do. Is a militia still necessary to the state’s welfare?

    Compare what a bunch of tribal hooligans can do to US Army soldiers. Cause a lot of mayhem. Underestimate motivated people at your peril. The states still have the authority to form militias. They could supply them with military weaponry if they wanted to foot the bill. Nothing has changed constitutionally in that regard.

    If you think the government runs the economy, you don’t understand how the economy works.

    The govt accounts for over 40% of the economy. Nothing else comes close. If you don’t think that’s enough to qualify as a problem, then you don’t like capitalism and don’t understand economics in general. You did express perplexity at the notion that lowering taxes aids economic growth, so, I’m just sayin’. Of course Wall Street gets bailouts. They know the role govt plays now better than anyone else. They don’t have to worry about the market place. The market place doesn’t matter much. Corporations do better by playing politics than bothering to make good economic decisions. That doesn’t contradict my point, it makes it.

    …or protect you from 32 oz. sodas. Actually Roosevelt created the precursor to the FDA

    I don’t think TR’s purpose for the FDA was to control people’s beverage choices. And I don’t think there was much complaint about the horrible pollution and toxicity of Big Gulps. Nor does soda pop cause a lot of black lung. I think the govt just likes to play nanny. Not really a TR thing.

    I’m trying to figure out exactly what you would like. So far, it seems like you are calling for an atheistic BIG government that marginalizes the influence of religion, funds scientific and technological innovation, monopolizes the education of children, and doesn’t cater to public opinion with demeaning things like referendums. That sounds familiar to me. Is this simply nostalgia of some kind on your part?

  • Greg Fish

    Look at anything where the public and private sectors actually compete.

    You completely dodged my question of who would’ve footed the bill for the space race, TCP/IP and the web to go off on your merry little rant. Not exactly an honest debate tactic, is it?

    No, the Constitution is very, very specific about what the federal govt is supposed to do, and it is not very much.

    So you’re a Constitutional scholar who can enlighten us on all the ways the Supreme Court went so horribly wrong over the years?

    Okay, let’s talk about those amendments. What amendments, exactly, would be the ones tasking govt to fund science projects?

    And now you lay down a red herring. This is the same thing you did with Damian in another thread, when confronted with something you don’t like or argue around, you backtrack and erect a completely irrelevant strawman. If you want a literalist adoption of Constitution, you need to come back to 1800.

    Compare what a bunch of tribal hooligans can do to US Army soldiers.

    You mean what a bunch of tribal hooligans trained by a foreign intelligence agency in guerrilla tactics and armed to the teeth to be used as proxy shock troops for their handlers can do to army soldiers?

    The govt accounts for over 40% of the economy. Nothing else comes close.

    Fine, I’ll give you that, it’s about 40% of GDP. However, when you consider that this number is a result of bailouts, wars, stimuli, and an economic recession followed by a sluggish few years, it’s also an anomaly. Normally, government spending is much less than that. You can thank Wall Street for making this happen.

    I don’t think TR’s purpose for the FDA was to control people’s beverage choices.

    Wait a minute… I had pop today. Why didn’t the food Nazis tackle me when I bought it? It’s almost like you’re pulling this out of your read end…

    I’m trying to figure out exactly what you would like.

    I would like people to stop complaining about the government not working, demand that the same supposedly non-functioning government save their bacon when things go wrong, then elect people whose entire platform is that the government is evil and doesn’t work to run said government and wonder why the government doesn’t work well while complaining about their taxes.

    I would like people to build a smarter, more efficient government which incentivizes doing the right thing, working with private industry to get things done, catalyzes big ideas with public funds that are awarded in competitions. I want people to treat their government as a useful tool when handled properly, not all purpose scapegoat to protect their ideologies or a bludgeon with which to hit poor and old people.

  • venqax

    Actually, my doctorate is in political science and I do teach con law. Though I wouldn’t say constitutional scholar— I haven’t done really original research there. But that is WHOLE other subject. You brought up “change” In the mission of govt and justified it with the idea of amendments. I called you on it and said. “OK, what are those amendments, exactly?” What are the amendments that have somehow justified or specified the very fundamental change in the role of govt that you call for? There are none. None. There are no amendments that have changed any of the principles I’ve referred to. You wrongly cling to a notion of constitutional construction from a generation ago that you probably learned in school. You don’t have to go back very far to realize that the “living Constitution” taught in civics class isn’t paradigmatic anymore. Another great example of the bias in curricula, BTW. There are a lot of non-interpretivists on the bench now. At least 4 on the Supreme Court. (U.S. v Lopez, U.S. v. Morrison, are 2 popular examples of more current jurisprudence). I only raise this because you brought it up. And I’m not claiming that the space program was unconstitutional. Don’t try to use the Constitution to justify your desire for bigger, more intrusive govt. Just admit that limits on govt is a part of the whole Americanist, constitutional thing that you don’t like. You it seems would prefer something more along the lines of social state, at least, which the Constitution as is doesn’t allow for. That’s what honest progressives to do in private. The lack of amendments to the Constitution authorizing the expansive govt agenda is far from a strawman, it is the most basic, first-line argument against a lot of what you propose. BTW, I don’t argue much about science and tech issues, you’ll notice. Not my area.

    As for who would fund the “space race”, I’m not saying anything at all about that, per say, or even if it was worth funding . Just that govt running it—or much of anything– is a bad idea almost always. When the only choice is govt—as is the case with certain services, like defense and law enforcement e.g.—then govt has to do it. I’m not advocating anarchy or even libertarianism. MY point, which you don’t address, is that the govt doesn’t do things very well. It is meant to be a last resort for most things. It is not set up to, or intended to engage in the economic activity you seem to want. You keep complaining about politics in govt, when the govt IS politics. That’s like complaining that water is wet. If you don’t want politics determining things, then you have to stop using the govt. You can’t have it both ways. Either govt decides based on political motives, or industry decides based on economic motives. How could any person sans ideological blinders possibly conclue that what we need for economic success is MORE govt? It is not possible to rationally reach that conclusion.

    You mean what a bunch of tribal hooligans trained by a foreign intelligence agency… No, I just mean 17 year-olds who are willing to be snipers, suicide bombers, and IED builders, and weren’t even born yet when the Evil USA was supplying mujahadeed can cause a lot of damage and keep the best militaries frustrated for decades. That doesn’t take any fancy training from the CIA or SPECTRE. But, regardless of that, the states can have militias as sophisticated as they want to. That is the point. They don’t have to be just a bunch of guys in hunting clothes and flannel who hang out in the woods. Right now, 23 states have there own defense forces separate from the NG or the federal govt., called militias or SDFs. Nothing has changed regarding the states’ right to have them. And the American people are armed to the teeth. LOL. Not choosing to use a power you have is very, very different from claiming to have a power you don’t have.

    The govt accounts for over 40% of the economy…Fine, I’ll give you that, it’s about 40% of GDP. However, when you consider that this number is a result of bailouts, wars, stimuli, and an economic recession followed by a sluggish few years, it’s also an anomaly. Normally, government spending is much less than that.
    No it’s not. It’s been over 30% all but one year since 1968 and steadily climbing ever since. It was between 32 and 36% during the Clinton economy. It is scheduled to be significantly more for Obamacare. You can’t blame that on Wall Street and Big Bad Business. It’s Big Bad Govt Overreach. Plain and simple. And it’s been going on a long time.
    Wait a minute… I had pop today. Why didn’t the food Nazis tackle me when I bought it? Yet. You don’t live in NYC, probably. That’s where it is actually illegal to buy a soda bigger than 16 oz. Actually against the law to buy or sell a Big Gulp. Don’t you get the news? Don’t worry, other places are proposing it—Cambridge, SF, LA. If that’s the kind of govt. you want, the chance will be heading to you soon.
    I would like people to stop complaining about the government not working, demand that the same supposedly non-functioning government save their bacon when things go wrong
    How about people stop demanding so much from govt (why should the govt “save your bacon”? Stand up and save your own bacon). How about they don’t complain about govt because it doesn’t control their lives and so it just doesn’t matter so much? Just like a grown-up stops complaining about his parents.
    I would like people to build a smarter, more efficient government
    Me too. And we could start by making it much smaller and responsible only for those things it was intended for, instead of everything. How can anything succeed when you expect it to do all things you want the govt to do, and according to the dictates of politics? It is a tool, but a very, very blunt one. It’s an ax, not a scalpel. I don’t want it to be up to the govt to “incentivize” or “deinsentivise” anything unless there is something like a real war that requires govt management. If you’d like to talk about constitutional law, I’d be glad to, but I doubt you want to eat up space on your sci-tech blog to do that. Email if you’d like.