Thursday, October 18, 2007

Terrorism's Silver Lining.

Terrorism gets governments all antsy and overbearing. Serious people start justifying all sorts of hogwash. Torture, abandonment of Habeus Corpus, wiretaps, and all manner of rot. It seems like we're coming to the other end of this distasteful fashion in this country. Big Brother is getting fat in other arenas however. The next terrorist attack in the US will further erode civil liberties.

The sad fact is that if the large-scale, inclusive, social safety net model of nation-state is to survive in an asymmetrical era, an erosion of civil liberties is inevitable. Richard Rorty delivered a fascinating and gloomy talk on this. Part 1, Part 2.

Silver lining: Things do not have to develop in the way Rorty outlines. We already have the tools to deal with this. Federalism and local power diminish the power of bloody-minded non-state actors. Taking out New York becomes less useful if you still have to deal with LA, Boise, and Framingham, Mass. Goliath will never beat David, but David ain't about to mess with an army of Davids(apologies to Glenn Reynolds)

We may look back at the terrorism of this era as the first indication that the nation state had had its day in the sun. As we think further about systemic resilience, new models will become necessary. Some people are already thinking about this. Neal Stephenson wrote a great novel about it, among other things.

Hey, I'm as patriotic as the next guy. On the walk home tonight I talked a busker into playing Ashokan Farewell on his fiddle. But If the choice is between a more Orwellian future, or a less centralized one that is truer to this country's best ideals, I think the choice is easy.

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