Welcome to the WELL (jonl) Thu 29 Dec 16 09:48
We're kicking off the 2017 edition of the state of the world conversation with Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky. The WELL has hosted this conversation every year since 2000. It's a free-ranging discussion of anything and everything across the worlds of technology, design, politics, high and low culture, fashion - pretty much anything goes. Bruce Sterling is a world-famous author, thinker, and bon vivant. He has a global perspective, as someone who travels and reports broadly. In addition to his writing, he is widely known as a speaker, teacher and maker attentive to trends in science, culture, politics, and design. Jon Lebkowsky has been making and sharing experiences in digital culture and media for over 25 years. He's been an activist, sometimes journalist, and blogger who writes about the future of the Internet, digital culture, media, and society. The conversation will continue for two weeks, so be sure to bookmark it and keep checking back for more commentary, insight, and crazy wisdom...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 30 Dec 16 07:36
Stephen Hawking summarized one aspect of the state of the world pretty handily in a Guardian op-ed, "This is the most dangerous time for our planet." The tagline: "We cant go on ignoring inequality, because we have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it." He says globalization and automation "will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world," and that owing to the spread of the Internet and social media, "the stark nature of these inequalities is far more apparent than it has been in the past.... the lives of the richest people in the most prosperous parts of the world are agonisingly visible to anyone, however poor, who has access to a phone." It's no wonder, he says, that there's a reaction against elites, and a against systems that seem to benefit the rich at the expense of the not-rich. The elites, he says, should acknowledge this, and suggests that elites should not "reject these (Brexit, Trump) votes as outpourings of crude populism that fail to take account of the facts, and attempt to circumvent or circumscribe the choices that they represent..." [https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/01/stephen-hawking-dangerou s-time-planet-inequality] It's ironic that a member of the billionaire elite had the right voice to speak to populist discontent in the USA, winning the presidency with the political equivalent of a TKO. This win was just another piece in a global jigsaw puzzle, assembling the future based on anger and rejection, not based on vision, science, reason or comprehension. Dangerous, yes, and complex. Many pieces of the puzzle are still in the box, out of site. I can't pretend to have scenarios for the future to propose with any level of confidence. However, like Hawking, I'm an optimist. I don't believe we're going to reach meltdown. Maybe, as Rex Tillerson said of climate change, the difficult current state of the world is "an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions." If so, perhaps we should work at getting past the anger and confusion, and think like engineers, problem-solvers looking for innovative solutions. In my own tiny life, I try to address the problem of inequality by supporting worker-owned cooperative businesses. In the USA, we have argued that we are the world's leading democracy, yet most business enterprises here are structured as oligarchies. It should be no surprise that we see a political drift here away from equality and toward oligarchic authoritarianism in that case. How can we expect equality, when we aggressively enforce inequality in our most prominent organizational structures? In a worker-owned co-operative, the workplace is relatively democratic, all workers participate in governance and share in profit. Everyone has a stake, and everyone can be part of consensus governance. This works pretty well in smaller clusters, but democracy doesn't scale well as a process for making decisions. That's a problem worth confronting head-on; a problem of engineering effective and fair governance. Is there an engineering solution?
someone who just sucked on a dill pickle (wendyg) Fri 30 Dec 16 15:31
The thing is, the "elites" who get hammered aren't so muchh the actual elites as the people in the middle who have a few advantages but aren't the ones doing the damage. In the UK, they changed a bunch of tax rules in order to soak expatriates, who are viewed as rich. The result was to triple accountants' costs for peop like me, who *aren't* possessed of the kind of wealth that makes a difference to the tax coffers, while the actual rich bypassed all that by paying a flat fee or moving away again. wg
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 03:20
Back again for another twenty-first century edition of the WELL State of the World! Who's gonna collapse first: us pundits, or "the World"? On the face of it, this is the worst condition the SOTW's world has ever yet been found in. I do hesitate to bluntly state that, because whenever you tell Americans a harsh truth nowadays, instead of pragmatically taking some hands-on action to cash in (as was once their wont) nowadays they tend to empty a bottle of Oxycontin and float out on a paisley tide of weltschmertz. I don't intend to mince a lot of words here, as that is not our tradition, but I would start by strongly urging you prize your existence in 2017. Life is precious and shouid be valued, for it's easy not to have it. Besides, despair is an act of intellectual arrogance. Despair implies that you've got it all figured out, while the only sure thing about 2017 is a forthcoming boatload of unheard-of surprises. Although everybody expressed shock and surprise at world events during 2016, I saw little evidence that anybody actually changed their mind much yet. Scarcely anybody broke a filter-bubble; positions simply hardened all around. You'd think that having your 2015 weltanschaaung reduced to 2016's gonzo cartoon-status would cause everybody to undergo some healthy reassessment of ground-state reality. But, no. Nowadays, that sends confirmation-bias into overdrive.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 03:23
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 03:24
So, in thinking back over my own 2016, which was one of the weirdest years of my extensive lifespan, I wondered if I myself had changed my mind about anything. Were there any shocking facts I had stumbled over that had disarranged my long-established prejudices? Was there a situation where I thought, "You know, I believed (X) for thirty years or more, but in today's perturbed situation, I can see that I should no longer believe (X), and henceforth I will purport myself differently!" Maybe. Sort of. But it wasn't facts or reason that convinced me. Instead, I found that a new sensibility that had crept up on me. I'll tell that story here, although, admittedly, it may seem a tad morbid.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 03:25
t's a story of sudden unexpected death. Specifically, the assassination last December of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov. The assassination of an ambassador is commonly seen as a large and awful business. World-scale dread ensued when that diplomatic was blown away on video, dramatically riddled with bullets by a cop who was trained to shoot and didn't miss. Dread ensued for a news cycle or two, maybe 48 hours. A common hot-take on this geopolitical incident was that a new Sarajevo had occurred. World War III might be at hand, etc. Then the shooting of Karlov gently faded into the background noise. On New Years Eve some ISIS guy in Turkey staged a nightclub slaughterhouse that was 39 times as gruesome, so Karlov's brief fame as a terror icon evaporated from the networks.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 03:29
But in reading about Karlov's demise, and watching the numerous jpegs and videos of the shooting (because they were all over the place), I realized that I was having a strange and novel emotional reaction. One I'd never felt before. I felt a kind of genuine and rueful affection for the guy. As if we were on a first-name basis, and he'd slipped and fallen on an icy sidewalk that presented a danger to anybody. "So, it's come to this, has it Andrei?" I wanted to say. That feeling wasn't grief, fear, indignant alarm, least of all was it "terror." It wasn't even pity or sorrow; no, it was a kind of genteel intimacy, as if I'd told him over a cocktail glass: Well, that's a bad break for you, Andrei, but that's how it is for all of us nowadays. It wasn't me this time, but, well, I get where you're coming from. I think my reaction came to me because that killing took place in an art gallery. Since I hang out in Europe, I've personally seen about a zillion of those well-meaning cross-cultural exhibits in various art galleries. In the case of the Karlov killing, it was a public show of pretty photos of the Russian countryside. Typical. I wouldn't jump out of my chair to see an anodyne exhibit like that, but it's plausible that I would show up in such a situation. Because nobody looks at the art at these shows, except for Grandma and the 11-year-olds. Events like Andrei's are all about state-supported culture industry guys gossiping over the cheese and crackers. Sometimes I meet guys like that. Also, Ambassador Karlov and I were two months apart in age. Contemporaries, really, me and this portly, bespectacled, dignified apparatchik who was blown away at his podium while trying to say something to the local foreigners that sounded civilized. I never met Andrei Karlov, but I've met other people rather like him, so I think I know how that encounter would have worked.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 03:34
Something like this: "So, Mr Ambassador, congratulations on your photography show." Then he would have replied in lightly accented global-diplomat English, "Thank you for coming, where did you come from?" I would have said, "I'm from Texas, but I've been to Moscow and Petersburg. I met some Russian artists there," and then he would have said -- lowering his voice half an octave -- "Oh yes, Texas. I've been to Houston. They have space rockets there," and that would have been that. If you happen to lock eyes with a power-broker guy like that, the subtext is something like: Fine, keep your nose clean, I've got your number now. That's how they are.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 06:45
And I wouldn't have minded it. I wouldn't expect a well-suited official representative of a foreign power to behave any differently. It's a bit creepy, because there's always a whiff of spook intrigue around diplomats, but it would have been cordial and normalizing. It wouldn't concern me that Andrei Karlov and I were not destined to be good buddies. On the contrary, I'd get gravely alarmed if a Russian ambassador got all cozy with me: "Wow! Is it really you?? Aren't you the famous Bruce Sterling, who used to write about Russia for WIRED? I love your sci-fi novels! How about writing a little something topical for 'Sputnik' or 'Russia Today'? We've got girls and vodka!" That would be disturbing. I'm thinking that journalistic colleagues (especially European ones) are gonna see rising levels of that behavior in 2017, because, given events of 2016, how could they not?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 06:46
But that wouldn't have changed my reaction to Karlov's sad tale, because, frankly, all of that has been factored in by now. It's not that I'm overlooking the geopolitical aspects of the event, or that I'm blinded by sentimentality because some guy got killed. Nope, I get it about Aleppo, the war in Syria, the barrel bombs, the Russian special forces creeping in from Ukraine, the ethnic cleansing, the disaffected 22 year old cop who turns his own gun on his masters because of some fit of political rage that he judged was worth his own life. So it's not like some peace-and-brotherhood riff that I'm espousing here, more of a human recognition that we share the same lifeboat. Andrei Karlov wasn't a person one would much need to pity. To judge by his CV, he was a capable career guy. He spent most of his diplomatic career in North Korea, probably persuading them not to randomly incinerate the neighbors. When Karlov got sent to Turkey three years ago -- obviously well aware of the bloody mayhem in Syria and the sky-high stakes of the bold Russian offshored military adventure there -- he must have been pleased and proud of the confidence invested in him.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 2 Jan 17 07:45
I had my own, personal, familial experience of death toward the end of 2016, and it did change my thinking, really struck like lighting at the core of my self-perception. It was an "everything you know is wrong" moment - overwhelming the usual ego-experience, exposing the fragility of personality and the impermanence of life - more than that, the impermanence of everything. As someone drawn to Buddhism I've meditated on impermanence and emptiness for many years, but a sudden untimely death brings it home, you can feel that sense of impermanence deep in your bones. And your life just shrinks into a new understanding, how tiny you are, and how ephemeral. In October we visited Rocky Mountain National Park and its elk. When we arrived we found elks in rut, a bull elk protecting his harem from an invading bull, squawking (the reality of "majestic bugling") bugling and scraping his antlers. They faced off at one point but didn't lock horns. I'd seen a similar dance two decades before. In that moment the life of the bull elk is all assertion of dominance - his life and his world resolve as that moment, in that place of defense for the protector, offense for the invader. Ego is like that, assertion and dominance, protecting the fragile internal life we all experience as bundled with, and to great extent driven by, the kieshas: anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, depression etc. Brittle walls built around our experience, guards at the gates, a deep moat surrounding. Early morning October 23, our sixteen-year-old grandson Carson's heart stopped, and he died in his sleep. We live nearby, had an urgent call from our son, his father, to come quickly, there were no signs of life. After we arrived other family members followed, until the house and yard were full of shocked, grieving family trying to make sense of the impossible situation we were sharing. That kind of shock is a trigger - for mourning and grieving, yes, but also for deep self-assessment. "What could I have done to prevent this" is a first thought, followed by "how could I have made his life better, how much did I take him for granted?" In my case, that thinking extended to all my family, friends, acquaintances - to all my life, seeing the fragility and impermanence: how could it be better? What should a life be, what is the nature of our experience? Ego, like the elk, has worked to dominate and to protect, but in the moments following the death of someone close, I could see that the stakes I've been fighting for, day in and day out, are tiny. My tiny life. And I could see, grieving with others the same loss, that the real and better source of protection is love, not resistance. Prominent people died in 2016, a year of news dominated by obituaries, including the Turkish ambassador Bruce mentioned... and Leonard Cohen, who wrote near the end... You say I took the name in vain I don't even know the name But if I did, well really, what's it to you? There's a blaze of light in every word It doesn't matter which you heard The holy Hallelujah.... Bruce has said to me, many times over, "Every day is a gift." And he says above, "...prize your existence this year. Life is precious and should be valued, for it's so easy not to have it." Don't worry about Trump or Putin or this or that political party ruining your life: it's yours to ruin or not, and we are empowered to do better, and we could do better by loving more and resisting less. The world is not defined by politicians or pundits, or by news, real or fake. Check out "99 reasons 2016 was a good year," at [https://medium.com/future-crunch/99-reasons-why-2016-has-been-a-great-year-for -humanity-8420debc2823#.xrmlqrejx] In fact, the world is a better place than we realize, great things are happening, bodhisattvas appear every day to guide the rest of us away from suffering. Scientists, engineers and innovators work away improving the world, ignoring politics, news, and despair. The real state of the world, incomprehensibly complex, is as readily characterized by joy as by despair. In the USA, I think Donald Trump's election is less of a problem than the fear response I've seen in many public and private comments by my compatriots. Fear is unproductive, fear is paralyzing... the path to hell is paved with fear. The question I would ask is, what reality does this election result manifest, and what is the most productive, most helpful response? We appear to be seeing a reaction to globalization, not just in the USA but elsewhere, e.g. Brexit. How do we speak to the fear and anxiety driving that reaction? What is our path forward?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 2 Jan 17 07:49
And how do we respond to destructive forces in the world? E.g. (via Bruce) "Aleppo, the war in Syria, the barrel bombs, the Russian special forces creeping in from Ukraine, the ethnic cleansing, the disaffected 22 year old cop who turns his own gun on his masters because of some fit of political rage that he judged was worth his own life"?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 09:24
The Great Game, that was Andrei's circus, Such is the Westphalian order. Been like that quite a while. This world doesn't lack for people who are glad Andrei Karlov is no longer with us. I'm not glad, but I noticed that people who wrung their hands over Karlov's sad death said nothing much about 35 Russian guys just like Karlov who just got kicked out the the USA on the pretext of cyberespionage. They're like him, pretty much. However, I feel differently about them after this Karlov moment I had. Although they're faceless and leaving under a cloud, I'm more aware of their living presence as individual people, somehow. Less inclined to freeze them and polarize them as icons of threat. Not that I forgive them for cyberspying, but really, getting kicked out of a country is such a personal drag. You've got to sell your house, get rid of your car, fire the babysitter, fill out all kinds of stupid international paperwork One minute you've got a plum job in Washington, a weird foreign power where things are just getting lively and interesting, and next day you're packing a valise like some goddamn Syrian refugee. Just because you've been spearphishing VCs, CEOs and Congressmen, whatever. Sure, it's sneaky and against the host country's national interests, but were you supposed to NOT do that? You're in the freakin' diplomatic corps! It's an existential condition.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 09:27
People who exult at Karlov's death act realpolitik about it, with sentiments such as, "Well, I don't condone Muslim terrorism, but the Russians got in hot water with this Syrian thing and that's the kind of vicious attack that their wicked meddling provokes," but, well, there's still Andrei. A formerly living being. He's not geopolitics in the flesh, he's a guy full of holes on an art gallery floor. Andrei followed political reality. It's not that he gets a clear moral choice in the matter. How could he possibly refuse the post of ambassador to Turkey? Could Andrei say "Well, I'm a career diplomat, and this is a plum post in my career where I can really make a difference, but -- I think I'll back out on this top-notch assignment because, well, uh, the death of innocent civilians in Aleppo is morally dubious!" Karlov is never gonna say any such thing. He might think it sometimes, but a diplomat without the morally dubious is like a lawyer without crime. So sure, the guy may well have been as crooked as a fresh basket of Kamchatka crabs, but I wouldn't reproach Karlov for his line of work. Plus, Karlov was educated, intelligent and sophisticated. If I started effectively picking at his leprous moral scabs, he would probably riposte. Something along the lines of, "So, Mr Cyberpunk Writer! Are you aware that young men in my country are obsessed with computer crime, due to you and your colleagues romanticizing this kind of misbehavior in your decadent novels of the 1980s?" Not to mention Karlov's own colleagues, just tossed on their ears for cyberespionage. Why, I can remember when Cliff Stoll used to write books about that Russian cyberstuff, and nobody believed it was possible. If I'd known things were gonna turn out the way they did in 2016, I might have been a tad more proactive.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 09:32
don't claim I'm Karlov's moral equivalent, but suppose that it was me shot in the art gallery, instead of him. That's plausible, surely. I'm just some scribbler, but people shoot journalists way more often than they shoot diplomats. There are all kinds of swell reasons to shoot journalists, or even bloggers. I haven't carpet-bombed Aleppo recently, but surely I could get promptly mowed down at a Turkish discotheque. So many do. Now imagine Karlov happening to notice me getting killed, while he's comfortably alive at his embassy. I think that I would like him to have this same kind of attitude that I had toward him. I would not want Karlov to thunder indignantly, or yell that the assassins who killed the nice science fiction novelist deserve relentless justice, or all that common War-on-Terror boilerplate. In 2017, that just seems so hokey. It's formulaic. There's an insincerity about it. No, I'd like Karlov to glance over my obit, "Oh well, another dead writer, got into some kind of weird trouble; that happens, it's a tangled world now, tough luck for him. Hope he was doing his best."
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 09:35
If Karlov were to join us from beyond the grave in this WELL discussion, it wouldn't surprise me if he were quite clear-headed and analytical about it. He wouldn't cry in his vodka about his own sudden, violent death, because he's not the only Russian patriot in a welter of his own blood in the Middle East at the moment. Probably Karlov would point out that the formerly hostile Turkish government has made a full apology, and named a street and a square after himself, and that the Russian diplomatic hand in this NATO Moslem country is much stronger than it was before his sacrifice. So, although he fell in the line of duty, he hasn't been defeated. No, it can be truthfully said that his time at his post in Turkey has advanced Russian aims considerably. Maybe even historically.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 09:36
It wouldn't even surprise me if Karlov even made some suavely diplomatic remarks about his 22 year old cop assassin, with the more-in-sorrow than-in-anger tone that us 63-year-olds like to affect -- that there are many similar hotheads as tragically misled as this young man, that the leaky Turkish security services could use some Russian advice, and so on.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Mon 2 Jan 17 09:36
Karlov would also likely make some remarks about Trump that would irritate the WELL readership considerably. He'd be inviting Russian fake accounts into the chat here, trying to mess with our opinions, the newly-standard adversary antics of a poisoned global Internet. He's got an alien value system, his activities don't align with my interests, but somehow, I'm beyond that kind of knee-jerk irritation not. Troll hot buttons rarely get to me at the dawn of 2017, I understand them as the counterfeit pennies of the modern intellectual marketplace. Karlov is dead, and I take his death "personalitically." The personal is the political, and he's like a freshly coffined microcosm of the trouble we share from pole to pole.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Mon 2 Jan 17 09:40
<scribbled by loris Mon 2 Jan 17 17:17>
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 2 Jan 17 13:02
The Russian cyberattack story has detractors, e.g. http://arstechnica.com/security/2016/12/did-russia-tamper-with-the-2016-electi on-bitter-debate-likely-to-rage-on/ and http://www.robertmlee.org/critiques-of-the-dhsfbis-grizzly-steppe-report/. Donald Trump questions the intelligence community's, and the Obama administration's, strong assertions that Russians hacked (or phished) the DNC. From what I know of the intelligence community, I can't imagine that they could reveal their best sources for the story, hence the weak report. And we know that every intelligence agency worth its salt is hacking and phishing with a vengeance - all part of the intelligence-gathering apparatus. If they put their hides together, they could collaboratively produce a state of the world report that would make this conversation seem thin and pale by comparison. I'd be shocked if they weren't practicing this kind of surveillance. What's new here, if the Russians were behind the intrusions, is that the data was "weaponized" (as pundits like to say) and deployed to influence the U.S. election. Whether that influence was sufficient to alter the course of the election is arguable, but the attempt itself would be worthy of response. Not that the U.S. is entirely innocent of meddling in the political affairs of other nations. Looking on the bright side... if we're going to have wars, hacking and retaliatory sanctions are no doubt preferable to nuclear attacks and counter-attacks.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 3 Jan 17 12:16
A quick one: I just tweeted this Vox interview with Harvard psychology professor and polymath Steven Pinker: http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/12/22/14042506/steven-pinker-optimi stic-future-2016 Pinker says we should "look at history and data, not headlines. The world continues to improve in just about every way. Extreme poverty, child mortality, illiteracy, and global inequality are at historic lows; vaccinations, basic education, including girls, and democracy are at all-time highs." He's not a cockeyed optimist, but he's following the data. "Ive never been 'optimistic' in the sense of just seeing the glass as half-full only in the sense of looking at trend lines rather than headlines. Its irrational both to ignore good developments and to put a happy face on bad ones." "As it happens, most global, long-term trends have been positive. As for the future, I like the distinction drawn by the economist Paul Romer between complacent optimism, the feeling of a child waiting for presents, and conditional optimism, the feeling of a child who wants a treehouse and realizes that if he gets some wood and nails and persuades other kids to help him, he can build one. I am not complacently optimistic about the future; I am conditionally optimistic."
Roland Legrand (roland) Tue 3 Jan 17 13:46
One could argue for being "conditionally pessimistic", as technology advances and makes individuals and small groups ever more powerful. There are young men who want a weapon of mass destruction and who realise if they get the kind of wood and nails necessary to make this thing and if they persuade enough other young men to help, they can build it. Hence governments and intelligence services have to monitor ever more each and everyone of us, since our individual powers to destroy on a massive scale are increasing exponentially. The same logic which makes us so individually powerful, calls for measures to check the individual ever more carefully. What happened in 2016 and what is going to happen this year, the hardening of the positions and the antagonisms, the United States possibly even more retreating as a global power and the emergence of ever more smaller or even very small global powers, all this is making morbid scenarios of "pessimistic conditionality" increasingly possible.
Dave Waite (dwaite) Tue 3 Jan 17 14:39
Is this a balancing between the have and have not societies? >Extreme poverty, child mortality, illiteracy, and global inequality >are at historic lows; vaccinations, basic education, including girls, >and democracy are at all-time highs." While the world seems to be growing up around the United States, it seems to me that the United States sinks deeper and deeper into the middle of the pack on many of these points.
Administrivia (jonl) Tue 3 Jan 17 14:48
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Bruce Sterling (bruces) Tue 3 Jan 17 14:59
I don't want us to chat about dead guys during this entire SOTW, although there were plenty of 'em last year and will be more. However, I'm thinking there may be some useful positive life-lesson here. For instance, after seeing Karlov shot, I thought to myself -- you know? What about The Vladimir? What if disaffected zealots also appear in Putin's own security detail? Putin is supposed to be the sinister world leader-figure of 2017 -- mostly because he got some lucky breaks, and things are kinda going his way -- but suppose we lost him in 2017? Wouldn't people instantly cry buckets about Vladimir Putin? They'd sob and moan. Especially if he met the fate of Karlov. Of course Russians would be hugely upset, but wouldn't the vast majority of people worldwide also be seriously shocked, disoriented, even traumatized? After all, Putin's been a stabilizing presence on the world stage for a generation. Even though he occasionally poisons an FSB traitor or has a journalist iced and such, so that him getting killed as well is not some outlandish prospect, it's not like Putin is Ivan the Terrible. He doesn't rage, bluster and chew the carpet. His paid trolls are trained to talk like paranoid lunatics, but Putin himself makes quite calm, thoroughly-considered remarks. He's statesmanly. Putin's not a peaceful guy -- he's a violent guy. He's into judo, spy subversion and occasional military adventures. However, compared to the new crop of deglobalized race-realists that Putin's ushering toward power, Le Pen, Farange, Trump, Orban in Hungary, Kascinzky in Poland, that wildly convulsing Turkish dictator -- Putin comes across like Louis XIV. Putin biggest problem is that he actually IS a lot like Louis XIV, in that classic sense of I-am-the-State and After-Me-the-Deluge. So if he suddenly demonstrated his mortality, as so many of us do, well, people would be thunderstruck. Putin actually vanished for a couple of weeks once. People were nearly unhinged with anxiety. No one was happy about his vanishing trick, either -- they were all deeply anxious. Maybe the proper attitude in 2017 is not piling such emotional effort into: "What is this awful guy gonna do to mankind, what are his dreadful capacities," but "What if he's not around?"
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