# Egregore

I’ve been “on the internet” for about two-and-a-half decades now, and … I like to think that I’ve seen it all.

Still, these are strange times. Neologisms abound. Confusion reigns. The future is murky. Etc. etc.

So, I do encounter genuinely new things roughly once every month, if not every week at times.

One of these is the title of this post.

I’ve seen it mentioned in conjunction with recent political trends, recent cultural trends, and unfortunately, more on the junky side of forums.

Without mentioning anything else, here’s an “Ngram history” (I’m curious what that blip in the early 1800s was !):

And just for fun, a comparison with a random word:

# Costs of war

Amid the recent spate of numbers being thrown around (a few hundred million dollars for these weapons, forty billion dollars for some more stuff), I was casting around for “how to put these numbers into perspective“.

I found this great article, from the Project on Government Oversight, that covered a lot of bases, and led me to look for more.

This is the first resource, from the Pentagon itself.

This is pretty terrible in itself; if you multiply the two numbers on the bottom line, the DoD estimate comes to \$1,497,006,000,000, which is a large amount of money.

This is the second resource, which indicates that the DoD estimate is about a third of the total cost.

Additional factors include the interest on the money borrowed, and veteran care, and bring it to 6.4 trillion over 19 years.

Even if we take the “lower” estimate of \$5.4 trillion, it’s still hard to viscerally make sense of it.

One way is to divide it by the number of days: 19 * 365 = 6935.

\$5.4T / 6935d = \$778.659M/d

Let’s be generous and round down.

The “burn rate” comes to \$750 Million dollars, every single day.

Now that’s a lot of money.

As a fun (well, darkly fun) aside, you probably can’t even burn money that fast.

• Caveat #1: literally burning money is illegal, don’t try this.
• Caveat #2: there is a way of destroying large amounts of cash, but only the Fed gets to do it, by shredding it (Again, not as fast as \$750M a day)

This does make for a good unit of comparison (“DWOTS”, or “Daily War On Terror Spend“).

Here are some things worth “1 DWOTS”:

# Resisting the virtual life

A book from the 1990s on “resisting the virtual life”.

An endorsement of sorts:

“At last, a defiant radical critique of the information millenium. . .. A burning barricade across the highway to the total surveillance society.”

A review from the turn of the millenium gleefully putting the book down as a party-pooper.

But this is the best (IMO) part: an article about it from two years further on, written (twenty years ago!) in 2002 (still in publication), excerpts below, with my remarks in parentheses.

No one can deny that our lives have been changed in just a few, short years. Only seven years after this book was published, the Internet has become commonplace in industrialized countries, and is making inroads into developing countries as well

(This is almost cute in its naïveté … “our lives” were going to change far, far more)

This book is an interesting snapshot of the way people thought in 1995. Some of what the authors discuss and predict has come true, and some has not.

(and these articles are interesting snapshots of how people thought they were “done changing” back then, that the “impact of the internet had been absorbed”, and so on)

Technologies engender new values, and lead to shifts in existing value systems, causing instability and a risk of societal implosion. The oft-cited example of the Luddites, English weavers who destroyed the machines that would replace them, is used as a metaphor for those who question these new values. But the Luddites acted out of corporatist, economic fears – they saw a technology that was going to cut them out of the system of production, and eliminate their gainful employment. Today’s Luddites are different – they try to raise awareness of the hypocrisy and complications that may arise from these new technologies.

(twenty years later, “today’s luddites” would be right once again to worry about being “cut out of the system of production”)

… sometimes, the authors are way off the mark. Herbert I. Schiller equates the NII with a system designed for “none other than transnational corporations.” But, while the Internet has become a marketplace, at least in part, its greatest influence has been on individuals. E-mail remains the killer app of the Internet, peer-to-peer has usurped traditional distribution models, and instant messaging (and its cell-phone sibling, SMS) have surprised even those companies who have developed these applications.

(Written before e-mail had centralized providers, messaging had centralized providers, and the quality of the “marketplace” is less of a charming bazaar and more of … something else)

Well, so what?

If nothing else, it shows how cyclical these trends can be, and how it can take time, sometimes a good deal of time, before the full implications of a given technological change are known.

# On catastrophe

From the blurb of a book by John David Ebert

Disasters, both natural and man-made, are on the rise. Indeed, a catastrophe of one sort or another seems always to be unfolding somewhere on the planet. We have entered into a veritable Age of Catastrophes which have grown both larger and more complex and now routinely very widespread in scope.

The old days of the geographically isolated industrial accidents, of the sinking of a Titanic or the explosion of a Hindenburg, together with their isolated causes and limited effects, are over. Now, disasters on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill or the Japan tsunami and nuclear reactor accident, threaten to engulf large swaths of civilization.

These efforts are breaking down. Nature and Civilization have become so intertwined they can no longer be separated. Natural disasters, moreover, are becoming increasingly more difficult to differentiate from “man-made.”

# The solid world

Interview with Bertrand Russell, from 1952

Interesting perspective on the changes felt in the world, speaking a century ago, about the century before that.

The contrast, or irony, or whatever the feeling evoked by these contrasts was so strong that I couldn’t help myself, and took some screenshots of particular quotes.

# On the return of “history

I’ve being seeing the word “history” propping up frequently in the titles of articles.

Those of “a certain age” will remember talk, a few decades ago, of the end of history. History being a force that moulded the world that was done, because presumably there was nothing fundamentally going to change anymore.

Several times over decades, the arc of history has been invoked. History being some sort of predictable pattern of changes in the world.

People have spoken of a side of history. History being a continuous moral judgement, reflected on to the past, to classify right and wrong.

Just today I read about the revenge of history, and how we are at a hinge of history.

So here, history is instead … back to being a sort of fabric of the world, that is revealed to have been there all along, and that once again we’ll have to wait and watch to see what happens.

# Orwell and Wells

Another long-form article that I found relevant to the current time; here’s the full article, which was originally written in August 1941, or about eight decades ago.

I present my selections here, but the full article is well worth reading too. Some historical context is needed, but you can get away with very little, and a lot of the content should map to equivalent situations today.

This was written in the middle of the Second World War, about eight years before he wrote 1984.

What is the use of pointing out that a World State is desirable? What matters is that not one of the five great military powers would think of submitting to such a thing. All sensible men for decades past have been substantially in agreement with what Mr. Wells says; but the sensible men have no power and, in too many cases, no disposition to sacrifice themselves. Hitler is a criminal lunatic, and Hitler has an army of millions of men, aeroplanes in thousands, tanks in tens of thousands. For his sake a great nation has been willing to overwork itself for six years and then to fight for two years more, whereas for the common-sense, essentially hedonistic world-view which Mr. Wells puts forward, hardly a human creature is willing to shed a pint of blood.

The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions — racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war — which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action.

If one looks through nearly any book that he has written in the last forty years one finds the same idea constantly recurring: the supposed antithesis between the man of science who is working towards a planned World State and the reactionary who is trying to restore a disorderly past. In novels, Utopias, essays, films, pamphlets, the antithesis crops up, always more or less the same. On the one side science, order, progress, internationalism, aeroplanes, steel, concrete, hygiene: on the other side war, nationalism, religion, monarchy, peasants, Greek professors, poets, horses.

History as he sees it is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man. Now, he is probably right in assuming that a ‘reasonable,’ planned form of society, with scientists rather than witch-doctors in control, will prevail sooner or later, but that is a different matter from assuming that it is just round the corner.

But unfortunately the equation of science with common sense does not really hold good. The aeroplane, which was looked forward to as a civilising influence but in practice has hardly been used except for dropping bombs, is the symbol of that fact. Modern Germany is far more scientific than England, and far more barbarous. Much of what Wells has imagined and worked for is physically there in Nazi Germany. The order, the planning, the State encouragement of science, the steel, the concrete, the aeroplanes, are all there, but all in the service of ideas appropriate to the Stone Age. Science is fighting on the side of superstition. But obviously it is impossible for Wells to accept this. It would contradict the world-view on which his own works are based. The war-lords and the witch-doctors must fail, the common-sense World State, as seen by a nineteenth-century Liberal whose heart does not leap at the sound of bugles, must triumph. Treachery and defeatism apart, Hitler cannot be a danger.

… nationalism, religious bigotry and feudal loyalty are far more powerful forces than what he himself would describe as sanity. Creatures out of the Dark Ages have come marching into the present, and if they are ghosts they are at any rate ghosts which need a strong magic to lay them.

# Random Note #6782036478

A perspective on waste and social media.

Waste books/Sudelbücher

This sub-genre of notebooks comes out of the tradition of double-entry book keeping where accountants often kept a daily diary of all transactions in chronological order. These temporary notes were then later moved into a more permanent accounting ledger and the remaining book was considered “waste”.

In the commonplace book tradition, these books for temporary notes or (fleeting notes in a Zettelkasten framing), might eventually be copied over, expanded, and indexed into one’s permanent commonplace collection.

In modern digital settings, one might consider some of the ephemeral social media stream platforms like Twitter to be a digital version of a waste book, though to my knowledge I may be the first person to suggest this connection. (To be clear, others have certainly mentioned Twitter as being a waste and even a wasteland.)

# “On Cyberspace”

Warning: From 1995 (25 years ago!)

Today the term “cyberspace” sounds silly (perhaps “internet culture” comes closest) but here’s a 10-min clip of Neil Postman talking about it.

My first observation is his prescient (and today, contrarian) comments:

• people becoming “information junkies
• globally connected world leading to a “reversion to tribalism” instead of bringing people together
• people retreating away from public forums, and a reduced ability to solve problems together
• “… am I using the technology, or is it using me?” (!)

My second observation is the format of this interview itself!

How rare it is now, to see a discussion like this, question-and-answer, uninterrupted every five minutes by an advertisement, without dramatic inflection.

Where could this even happen? Who would today’s equivalent of Charlayne Hunter Gault be? It certainly wouldn’t happen on TV! (The closest things come to this today are in “long-form podcasts”, like Joe Rogan or Lex Fridman)