Category: <span>General</span>

What If Things Are Changing Faster than We Can Adapt?

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At some point, in some post (and probably several posts) I asserted that:

The world is changing faster than we can adapt to it

Then (and now) this statement seemed obvious, so I remember being surprised when I got some pushback on it. But upon reflection it was also illuminating. Many disagreements come down to core values and assumptions which are so deeply embedded that we’ve forgotten they’re there. It’s what makes these disagreements so intractable. We’re arguing from different, unseen foundations. I decided it was past time to unearth this particular foundation, and examine its various parts. What do I mean by “the world” and “change” and “speed” and “adaptation”? And if we can come to an agreement on all of that, what are the consequences of change moving faster than our ability to adapt?

I- The World

This first idea is pretty simple. By “the world” I mean nearly everything. Certainly I’m not arguing that continental drift has sped up, but depending on how apocalyptic you are about climate change and the environment (and there is evidence in favor of being pretty apocalyptic) just about everything outside of geology has been touched by progress and modernity: oceans, weather, other forms of life, nations, institutions, people, gadgets, technology, etc. 

My own interests and writings have been about things at the end of that list, societal issues, the impact of technology, but as I’ve said I think the issue is broader. Nearly everything has been affected. Nearly everything is worthy of study, nearly everything is changing more quickly now than in the past. But in this post I’m mostly going to focus on societal progress and new technology.

II- Change

As we get deeper into the discussion things get tricker, and it’s important to recognize that while some things have changed a lot, some things haven’t changed very much at all. So let me start by acknowledging things that haven’t changed. While I fear we may be coming to the end of it, there’s been remarkable political stability for many decades. Compare the last 100 years in America with nearly any other 100 year period anywhere else and you’ll be amazed by how calm the last century has been. Yes, there was World War II, but the US came through that relatively unschathed. Additionally there was the Cold War, the Korean War, and Vietnam, but again as these things go it could have been a lot worse. Should you decide to limit it to the last 50 years then things really look good because everything I just mentioned, other than the Cold War, falls off the list, and even the Cold War has been over for 30 years.

As a comparison, take France between 1775 and 1875. The period started with them assisting the American Revolution, then they had their own quite dramatic revolution in 1789. Shortly after this the Revolutionary Wars started. Napoleon took power in 1799, and turned them into the Napoleonic Wars. These wars reached a nadir for France in the disastrous Russian campaign, which was the first step in Napoleon’s eventual abdication and the restoration of the monarchy. He was sent to Elba, then he came back and was defeated again. After this the French had 15 years to catch their breath before undergoing another revolution in 1830. Then a democratic revolution in 1848. This democracy only lasted three years before Napoleon III pulled a coup-d’etat and declared the second empire. This limped along until 1870 when the French were abjectly defeated by the Prussians. If all of this is too messy, you could cut to the chase and just consider France during the 50 years between 1900 and 1950, which included both World Wars.

All of this is to point out that things have been remarkably calm in the US for the last 100 years. No invasions, no wars actually being fought on home soil, peaceful transfers of power every four years, etc. But what’s interesting is that this period of peace is also an example of change. As I have argued in previous posts perhaps wars are necessary to reveal inefficiencies, to shake up scloretic institutions. Perhaps conflict is necessary if you want to bind nations together into a common cause. Historically we’ve had an overabundance of wars and conflicts, at the moment they’re so scarce we’re almost forced to invent them. Obviously the world, and in particular the Ukrainians, would be a lot better off if Russia didn’t invade, and this should not be ignored, but given that our involvement will probably only increase the risk of the conflict escalating into something truly dangerous it’s not clear why we think we have a dog in this fight. Which is to say we’re inventing conflicts.

I could go on and on listing things in 2022 which are different from 1922, 1822 and 1722. And the list gets even longer if we start talking about differences between 2022 AD and 22 AD or 1522 BC or 10,000 BC. There has been an enormous amount of change. I am sympathetic to those people who think that most of this change has been good. Certainly I’d be unwilling to abandon most of it. But change, by definition, has consequences. Some of these consequences are beneficial, some are harmful, but amenable to mitigation. However, some are harmful in non-obvious ways. Ways which may not initially seem linked to the underlying change . If harmful consequences are rare, or obvious or tightly linked, then mitigation might be straightforward (and then again it might not). But if harmful consequences are numerous, subtle or difficult to link back to a cause then mitigation becomes nearly impossible. The next idea increases the likelihood that change will possess all of those properties

III- Speed

The word “speed” carries a lot of weight in my original statement. It not only covers how rapidly technology advances, but how rapidly it spreads. Also speed is relative. There are few people left who remember pre-war America, and so it seems like a long time ago, and yet from a historical perspective the transition from frequent wars between the great powers to no wars between the great powers happened mere moments ago. All of these factors must be considered when we’re speaking of how fast things have changed.

Before we get too deeply into things we should once again consider the opposite side, the many arguments for stagnation—that change isn’t speeding up, it’s slowing down. I certainly acknowledge that there has been some degree of stagnation. I wrote a glowing review of Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society, in which stagnation is a major theme. But while I agree that stagnation is happening, I don’t think it undermines my point as much as you might think. To begin with, we could be stagnating quickly, going from an expanding, culturally rich society with a great economy, to a society that’s shrinking, recycled and impoverished in just the space of a few decades.

One example of stagnation provided by Douthat is our falling birth rate. Whether you agree with him that this is a sign of decadence and a bad thing, it’s indisputable that it happened very quickly. The US’s total fertility rate has recently been cut in half, going from 3.58 at the height of the baby boom to 1.77 in the space of 20 years (1960-1980). And on this measure the US is doing better than most developed countries. South Korea went from a total fertility rate of 6 to 1.5 in the space of just 30 years (1958-1988) and is now hovering at just over 1. All of this speaks to a degree of stagnation, but also illustrates the speed with which things change in the modern world. Speed isn’t just about new technology arriving, it’s about old ways of doing things disappearing.  

Beyond this, most stagnation arguments end up referencing big visible things. For example, we rarely build new skyscrapers and when we do it takes forever. Big infrastructure projects are also rare and hideously expensive. We wanted flying cars. Instead we got 140 characters (now 280 characters). I agree with most of these arguments, but even if such efforts are slowing down rather than speeding up, I think the consequences for the world of slowing in these areas are entirely swamped by the speedup in other areas. Even when things were moving fast in the realm of infrastructure they were still moving pretty slow. There’s a limit to how fast you can build the interstate highway system, or construct the infrastructure necessary to send a man to the moon. By shifting our focus online changes happen much, much faster. To take the example I just mentioned, the interstate highway system took 35 years to build, while it only took Facebook four years to become the dominant social media platform and a similar amount of time for Google to become the dominant search engine. And of course they were becoming dominant in industries that didn’t even exist more than a handful of years before that. 

While virtual changes happen much faster, one might still argue that material changes have a bigger impact. Which is to say, that even though it took 35 years, the interstate highway system had a far bigger impact than the rise of Facebook. Well, insofar as they both brought about massive changes both feed into my point about the speed of modernity, but those making the materialist argument would go on to say that because we’ve stopped “building things” that we’ve stopped the biggest source of change, and here I’d have to disagree. The change of being able to easily travel from one side of the country to another is a big one, don’t get me wrong, but, depending on how you define “easily”, we’ve been able to do that since at least 1869 when the transcontinental railroad was completed, and if you didn’t mind more hardship, for decades before that as well. Yes, it’s true, we had never previously sent anyone to the moon, but we’ve been spending lots of money to send explorers to dangerous places for centuries. 

What we haven’t ever done is create echo chambers where millions of people whip their political co-religionists into ecstatic frenzies of hate and distrust. We haven’t ever used machine learning to optimize the process of turning young people into zombified status-scrollers. And we’ve never flooded the world with information, much of it wrong, nearly all of it stripped of nuance. Returning to my central point, all of these new and unprecedented things have happened with unbelievable speed. 

I ended the last section by claiming that speed made negative consequences numerous, subtle, and difficult to link back to a cause. The “numerous” part should hopefully be uncontroversial, as things speed up more things happen in less time. “Subtle” and “difficult to link” probably require more explanation, but perhaps some examples might help. The harms I mentioned in the last paragraph (echo chambers, zombification, information overload) seem pretty clearly to be harms wrought by social media. But it took many years for that connection to be made, long enough that it’s going to be difficult to unwind. Also here again we see the difference between the virtual and the material. When someone dies in a car crash the role of the car in the whole affair is pretty obvious. When the rate of teenage depression goes up by 59% over 10 years, the causes are harder to untangle. 

This is what I mean by “subtle” and “difficult to link”, but in many respects, social media is actually one of the easier places to draw conclusions. To move on to another example consider the opioid crisis. Obviously something had to change in order for drug overdose deaths to increase by nearly 600% in only 23 years (17,000 in 2000 to 100,000 in 2021). But you certainly can’t point to just one change as being at the root of everything. (And to be fair blaming teenage depression on social media is also probably an oversimplification.) Many people want to put the blame entirely on the introduction and aggressive (some would say illegal) marketing of Oxycontin, but as I have previously pointed out, upstream of the introduction of Oxycontin there was a broad change in the opinion of the medical community that pain should be treated much more aggressively. This opinion was progressive and compassionate, and the modern world, in the form of Purdue Pharma, was able to capitalize on this change far faster than society or government could adapt to the consequence brought on by the change. As I mentioned in my book reviews at the beginning of the month a drug crisis post is on it’s way, but it’s worth adding that the Oxycontin change was followed by a heroin distribution change, followed by a switch to fentanyl, followed by the craziness of P2P meth. And as far as I can tell we haven’t been able to adapt to any of these changes. 

Choosing to talk about opioids is relatively safe. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that it’s something which hasn’t changed fast, or that we have dealt with that change well. So let’s talk about something more controversial, something which also moved very fast, but where, at first glance, adaptation appears to have been equally fast. We have a tendency to think that if something was easy to adapt to, it’s natural, and by extension good. Unlike the opioid crisis, an enormous number of people think that this change has been good. What is this change? LGBT rights, encompassing both acceptance and identification. 

Once again it’s hard to argue that this didn’t move really fast. And again, it’s hard to point to some single background change which lies at the root of the expansion, but the hardest task of all is to imagine that it could have happened this fast or at all 100 years ago. But of course whereas everyone views the opioid crisis as unquestionably bad, nearly the exact opposite view is held with it comes to LGBT rights, most people view their expansion as something which was unquestionably good. That said, I’m not one of them. I’ve talked about this before and I don’t think this is the space to rehash all the details, nor does it seem time to relitigate that argument. So let’s take something where opinion is more divided: the rising number of people identifying as transgender and in particular the concept of gender self-identification. Regardless of what side you take, it’s clear that this is another example of things changing far faster than we can adapt. Everyone agrees with that, where the disagreement lies is on where the adaptation needs to happen. On one side you may think adaptation is being slowed by bigotry and outdated beliefs, on the other side you may think adaptation is being slowed because the demands are incoherent and disconnected from reality, but in either case speed is presumably a problem. Either we need to slow down the changes, or we need to speed up adaptation, which takes us to:

IV- Adaptation

When you hear the word adaptation, you are most likely thinking of people adapting to their environment. But of course it can go the other way as well, we can adapt our environment to people, make it a better fit for human nature, as it already exists. We can view the first as fixing the people who are broken while viewing the second as fixing the things that are broken

We think we’re focused on the latter, but in practice we put most of the weight on the former. The opioid crisis is a great example. One of the reasons Purdue pharmacy got away with it for so long was the claim that their time-release formula had fixed the thing that was broken. That yes, in the past, lots of people had abused or become addicted to opioids, and presumably they still would, except Purdue changed opioids so that people wouldn’t abuse them. When confronted by evidence that people were abusing it in spite of this “fix” they claimed that they had already fixed the thing so that it worked with normal human nature, anyone who was still having problems had an “addictive nature” and these people were broken in ways beyond what Purdue could be expected to deal with. 

This example also illustrates the big problem with adaptation as it is practiced by the modern world. We have this expectation that our technology is powerful enough, and our scientists smart enough, that all things ought to be fixable. We ought to be able to finesse our technology in such a way that we are only left with the good bits: opioids with all the pain relief but none of the potential for abuse; social media that improves mental health and acts as a bastion of facts and reason without devolving into ideological echo chambers; unfettered expressions of identity that always end up being healthy without ever being dogmatic, or bundled into a harmful social contagion. 

One further element gets thrown into this mix, humans actually are pretty adaptable, particularly over the short term, so while the ideal is fixing things, we often end up leaning on the idea that humans can fix themselves. Is social media a problem? Then just stop using it. Addicted to opioids? You should have been more careful. You want to identify as a different gender? Oh, well in that case we’ll just have everyone else do the adapting. 

When you combine these two things together—the expectation that we can get technology to do anything we want, with human’s innate adaptability—it’s easy to slip into an assumption that when something is broken it’s people not technology. 

Even if people are willing to admit that technology is broken, frequently the answer is that we just need more technology: tamper proof Oxycontin, better algorithms to detect questionable content on social media, gender reassignment surgery to get rid of dysphoria. Of course, for some people the eventual goal is to transcend human nature entirely, uploading our consciousness into a computer, then people will be things and we’ll be able to indulge in unlimited tinkering.

I haven’t done anything to tie this back to the speed at which things are changing, but you can see where if the answer to the problem is more technology, that in a sense the answer to the problems of adaptation is to change things even faster. In the final analysis, I think we are expecting both too much out of people and too much out of technology. Just because we can do something with technology doesn’t mean that we should. 

V- Consequences

I would hope that the examples already provided would give an adequate sense of the consequences of speed outstripping adaptation, but if not let me make one last attempt to pull it all together. When technology advances faster than society a chasm is created between the two. Or more specifically between the consequences of the technology and the tools available to deal with those consequences. The differential between the speed with which those two develop—tools vs. tech—determines the size of the chasm. Additionally until the speed of adaptation equals or exceeds the speed of technology the chasm just keeps getting bigger. I have no idea when our tools will catch up to our technology, but my worry is that before it does the chasm will grow so large that it will swallow us. 

For those who think I’m being alarmist or unduly apocalyptic, I’m going to conclude by telling the story of a previous time when technological speed outstripped societal adaptation:

In 1452 Gutenburg invented the printing press. By 1500, 236 towns had printing presses, and an estimated 20 million books had been printed for a population of perhaps 70 million. This was an explosion in the availability of information similar to what we’re seeing today. Similar, but still far slower. This explosion in information was shortly followed by the Protestant Reformation, this went through various twists and turns but eventually culminated in the Thirty Years’ War. On a per capita basis this war was almost certainly the most deadly European War ever. Overall 20% of the population of Germany died, and in some areas it was as high as 50%. I heard someone compare the present day to the period preceding the Thirty Years’ War. There are definitely similarities. Am I predicting something as awful as that? No. But if you’re looking for a worst case scenario for when technological change outstrips society’s ability to adapt, the worst case is really really bad. 

I don’t know where things are going to end up. I don’t know what sort of technology has yet to be invented. Maybe it will make things worse, maybe it will make things better. What I am confident in predicting is what we’re experiencing now is only the beginning. 

Of all the changes wrought by new technological advances, information dissemination may be changing the fastest. I suspect that by continuing to maintain a patreon backed blog, rather than pivoting to tiktok videos that I am not adapting quickly enough. Perhaps the next time I post it will be to direct you to my tiktok channel, but until then consider donating.

COVID: What Does Victory Look Like?

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I experienced a certain amount of reluctance when I decided to do another post on COVID-19. For starters not only is everyone kind of sick of hearing about it, but there is also a credible argument to be made that the biggest problem right now is just how many different opinions there are when it comes to the crisis. That what we might need are fewer opinions, not more. If this is the case then adding my opinion to the hundreds that are already out there just makes the problem worse, not better. Of course, as you can see I overcame that reluctance, and decided to go ahead with it. I hope that doesn’t end up being a mistake.I suppose you’ll have to read it and decide for yourself. 

Part of the impetus for this post came from reading Ross Douthat’s latest, and an excerpt from that article might help set the stage.

“Americans play to win all the time,” George Patton told the Third Army in the spring of 1944. “That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.”

That was in another time, another country. When Patton spoke the United States was still ascending, a superpower in the making. But once our ascent was complete, our war making became managerial, lumbering, oriented toward stalemate. From Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan to all our lesser conflicts, the current American way of warfare rarely has a plan to win.

Maybe the America of mass mobilization belongs as much to the past as Patton, MacArthur, Ike. But nothing that’s happened so far in this crisis proves, definitively, that we the people lack the will to win — especially when the alternative is just enduring, and dying, for months and months to come.

So as we look for a post-lockdown strategy, maybe what we’re actually looking for are leaders — be they governors or legislators, Trump and his appointees or the Democratic nominee for president — willing to embrace the old-fashioned idea that in this struggle, as in the wars our country used to wage, there is no substitute for victory.

That was the first two and last two paragraphs from his article, and I hope you (and he) will forgive the length of the excerpt, but his point was an important one. There is no substitute for victory and we should be doing whatever it takes to get there. The problem, at least for me, and I assume a lot of people, is that it’s not clear how to get there with the America we have, and it’s even a little unclear how to get there period. 

In answer to this last statement a lot of people will retort, “Well what about South Korea, Taiwan and China?” Haven’t they been victorious? So let’s start there. First, we need to be clear that we can’t trust all of the information coming out of China, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts. But that issue aside, these countries are fantastic examples of what to do and I think the US should be emulating their example as much as possible. And that when Douthat talks about a lack of leadership it’s the failure of our leaders to aggressively follow these countries’ examples, particularly in the case of masks which I blogged about previously. But also in areas like testing and tracing. So the solution is just “copy Taiwan”? End of story? Unfortunately there are two reasons why it’s not that simple. First, there’s the idea I already alluded to, America is a very different place than Taiwan or South Korea. But beyond that, and important to mention, the final tally of deaths is not in yet, and until it is, the possibility remains that we should be emulating Sweden not South Korea.

Before people start accusing me of wanting old people to die, let me offer some clarifications. First, if I was given absolute control over the US pandemic response I would definitely be trying to emulate Taiwan (for those who didn’t follow the link, they’ve had 440 cases with 7 fatalities so 1/10,000th as many deaths with 1/15th the population of the US). Second, it’s important to remember that it’s not today’s death toll that matters, it’s the final death toll. And it’s not even the final death toll from COVID-19, it’s the final death toll from all the things we do. If suicides go up, our numbers should do their best to reflect that, and ditto if traffic fatalities go down. And it’s not even the final death toll from all causes, what really matters is the final toll period, what did that path cost us when all is said and done. This is the hardest thing of all to quantify, particularly since as much as people hate to put a dollar value on human life, in some fashion, at least, economics has to be part of that calculation.

For the moment imagine that the window for containing the virus is past, that it’s too widespread and too deeply entrenched and there are too many asymptomatic carriers. That a vaccine ends up taking years or being outright impossible. That despite our best efforts (and recall we’re a long way even from that) the virus can only eventually be stopped through worldwide “herd immunity”. That as great as Taiwan’s measures are, they eventually fail and when the final tally is made, their death rate ends up being essentially the same as Sweden’s. If that’s how it plays out, one would expect Sweden to reach this immunity much sooner than Taiwan. What will that mean for them? If the death rate ends up being essentially the same for both countries won’t people end up envying Sweden rather than Taiwan? Because they didn’t have to deal with years of heightened precautions which ended up being pointless?

I suspect that this last point is not one people think about a lot. When you consider what it takes to maintain a system like the ones these countries have in place, it’s neither cheap nor unobtrusive. There’s definitely got to be some downside, some drag, consequences to the perpetual uncertainty, where years go by with lockdowns imposed and then lifted, continual monitoring and screening, closed borders, no really large gatherings, etc. And to reiterate if these methods work, then that’s great, and that’s the path I would prefer to take, but what if ultimately they don’t? What if Taiwan and South Korea end up with the same basic death rate as Sweden, but had to suffer through years of ultimately futile precautions as well?

The point being that, while I would definitely prefer to implement the South Korean or Taiwan approach, there is still an enormous amount of uncertainty, and a lot we don’t know. Consequently I’m grateful that both Taiwan and Sweden are out there and that they’re trying different approaches, because ideally we’d learn from both in constructing our own response. Which takes us from the “how do we get to victory” problem (answer: it’s complicated, and a lot of questions remain) to the question of how do we get there with the America we have? How do we turn the current quagmire into victory? 

One of the things that characterized all of our past victories, to one degree or another, is sacrifice. But what does sacrifice look like in the current crisis? Are the Swedes sacrificing? Are the Koreans? I’m not sure. What about the US? I can certainly think of one example of sacrifice, which got a lot of press, both because people love stories of sacrifice, and also because so far I don’t think there’s been a lot of them. (i.e. demand far outstrips supply) It’s the story of the workers who lived in the factory for 28 days making polypropylene to get turned into PPE.

I will admit to personally loving that story, and I’d love to expand the example into some broad lesson, but I’m not sure if it scales up. Are there other critical factories that could do the same thing or something similar? Perhaps, and I’ll get to that later, but I think this issue of sacrifice is at the root of the leadership problem Douthat mentioned in the article I quoted from originally. That good leaders inspire sacrifice, and sacrifice is how you win. 

This is certainly not all a leader does, but in a crisis like this I’d be willing to bet that it’s a big part of it, and to the extent that it is we’re still left with two problems. Finding a leader who can inspire the entire nation to sacrifice and figuring out what sort of sacrifice this leader should be advocating. 

As to the first, Trump is clearly not that leader. I will admit, in the past, to being something of a Trump apologist, which is to say, I think he’s an awful person, and an awful president, but I didn’t think he was Satan incarnate, and, also, like many people, I thought labeling him as such made it more difficult to call out actual Satans. I still basically feel that way, but it’s apparent that his failings, which are many, have been magnified by this crisis and that if, as Douthat claims, victory requires some amount of leadership, say a Patton or a MacAuther, a Roosevelt or a Kennedy (which is not to say that those people didn’t have their own failings) that we have been saddled with basically the opposite. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Biden is such a leader either. But as I said it’s still not clear what the ideal leader should be doing. Even if we assume that we had the required leadership, what sacrifices would this leader ask of us? 

The largest crises of the past were all wars and the sacrifice people were asked to make was death, or at least the risk of death. And people volunteered in their thousands and tens of thousands, to personally risk death. Today no one is being asked to do that (there are some proposals asking for healthy people to volunteer to be infected, but they’ve gone nowhere) and it’s impossible to imagine any leader suggesting it even obliquely. And to be clear I’m not arguing that they should, I’m just pointing out how off limits it is. Is it so off limits because when it comes down to it there’s really not that much similarity between a war and a pandemic? Or is it off limits because this is 2020, not 1918?

Those are interesting questions, in particular what did happen in 1918? Was leadership an important part of things? Was there a Churchill equivalent who rallied an entire nation? As far as I can tell the answer no. And what’s even more interesting is that despite all of the current sturm and drang, the 1918 pandemic, which was vastly worse on every measure, ended up mostly being forgotten. Up until possibly the last few months, if you had asked people to name the greatest disaster of the 20th century almost no one would have said the Spanish Flu, and most wouldn’t have said it even if you’d asked them to list the top ten disasters. 

(If you want hard numbers as of 2017 there were 80,000 books on World War I, and 400 on the Spanish flu, and most of those had been written since 2000. Alternatively just do a Google search for: spanish flu forgotten.) 

What are we to make of that fact? Why didn’t the Spanish Flu loom larger in the collective imagination? Is it because it came and went so fast? (The majority of deaths took place in a 13 week period at the end of 1918.) Is it because it was largely a solitary crisis? Should the level at which something is remembered be used as a proxy for how bad it was? Apparently not, because the Spanish Flu was really bad. Should it be used as a proxy for how impactful it was? One would think that this is almost the definition of memory. Does that mean the Spanish Flu didn’t have that much of an impact? Maybe?

Frankly I’m not sure what to make of this, nor do I intend to use it in service of some sweeping recommendation or conclusion. But it’s something I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere, and it feels important. 

In the course of writing this post I was more thinking through things than holding forth on some pre-formed opinion. And in the course of that, I think what I’m inclined to do is offer a caveat to Douthat’s call for leadership. I don’t think we need leadership in the traditional, “rally the country”, “call for sacrifice” sense. What I think we need is smart and effective leadership (man did we end up with the wrong president in this crisis). Which is easy to say and hard to do, so allow me to explain. recently published a list of recommendations on how to beat COVID. It included the things you might expect, universal mask wearing, more testing, contact tracing, etc. But it also included things like removing restrictions on outdoor spaces and spending a lot of money. And these latter two in particular begin to touch on what I mean by being smart. But before we fully switch to that topic, it also illustrates one last thing about sacrifice.

You can imagine that it’s a sacrifice to wear masks, or to stay at home. We might also have to make sacrifices to ramp up testing and tracing. But none of these things really fit in with how sacrifice has worked historically. For one thing they’re not particularly demanding, nor are they particularly… flashy. But more than that, most of the time when we imagine sacrifice we imagine shared sacrifice. A band of brothers, or living in the factory for 28 days to produce material, or even a group of founders working crazy hours on their startup. All of the things we’re being asked to do, in addition to being fairly low effort, are also pretty solitary as well. You would think that if the measures being recommended required less effort that this would be a good thing, but I get the feeling that it’s not. That we’re actually having a harder time unifying because less is being asked of us and what’s being asked of us doesn’t require us to come together.

So if having a charismatic leader inspiring us all towards victory through the medium of shared sacrifice is out, then we have to be smart. We can imagine achieving victory through enormous effort, lockdowns that lasted months, 99% mask and handwashing compliance, quarantining people centrally, and everything else we could think of. In other words a plan where we’re not sure which measures are the most effective, but we do them all just to be sure. The problem is that this has a high social and emotional cost. A charismatic leader, and a lot of unity might allow us to pull it off anyway, but we don’t have those. This being the case it suddenly becomes a lot more important to pick our battles, figure out what really works and emphasize those things. It becomes far more important to be smart.

Above I mentioned Vox’s recommendation that we allow people outside, and this is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. Despite very little evidence of transmission out of doors (a study of over a 1000 transmissions in China found only one case where it happened outside) numerous jurisdictions have closed outdoor spaces, and we’ve probably all seen alarmed stories about packed beaches, which to begin with, aren’t that dangerous, and also aren’t that packed, they just look that way because of what amounts to photographic trickery (i.e. a telephoto lens). 

If we had unlimited reserves of patience, then it might not matter if we did some things that are dumb, but we don’t. Accordingly we should be picking our battles, and from what I can tell the battle over outdoor spaces is not one I would pick. It’s not smart, and unfortunately since the beginning of the crisis it would seem that most of what the government has been doing is not particularly smart. 

I’m not going to spend any time revisiting the testing failures, or the ridiculous regulatory hoops people have to jump through, or really the massive failure at all levels. But the story of the only domestic mask manufacturer is interesting. Because it combines a little bit of everything. This is a company who ramped up production and staff and made huge sacrifices in 2009 during the swine flu pandemic. But the minute it was over the company just about went out of business because all the people that had previously been desperate for masks at any price, all dropped the company in an instant once it was over. This meant the company had machines they still owed money on, and way more staff than was needed. After massive layoffs and other restructuring the company survived, but only just barely. 

Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that this time around the company is not willing to do that. They want long term contracts. As an example of how this has played out. When the pandemic was first ramping up the company approached the government with an offer to use their mothballed machines (evidently left over from 2009) to make seven million N95 masks a month. And the government basically blew them off. And in fact as near as I can tell those machines are still sitting idle. 

If this was an isolated story, or if there were lots of problems at the beginning, but eventually we got our act together, it would be one thing, but each day brings a new story of how we’re not being smart. Like the story on Friday about the FDA shutting down a well-regarded COVID testing project in the Seattle area. This seems beyond merely not being smart and well into the territory of actively being stupid.

If this isn’t the kind of crisis we can get through with shared sacrifice; and if we don’t have the leadership to pull it off even if it was; and if we don’t have much in the way of leadership period; and if we’re not being smart, where does that leave us? For myself it leaves me reluctantly considering the Swedish approach. If nothing else at least it’s straight forward. And remember, no one is forced to do anything, people are free to take as many precautions as they want. And yes, I understand this does not entirely protect people from the actions of others, but recall that it’s not as if Sweden has zero restrictions, in fact I would hazard to say that if you compared what Sweden is doing now with what municipalities did in 1918 that they would look very similar. Recall that when people talk about the cities who had it the worst in 1918, they’re talking about cities which had parades in the middle of the pandemic, which I’m pretty sure even Sweden is avoiding.

Combine this with the point I made earlier about how little impact the Spanish Flu had on people’s memory of the 20th century, and I’m inclined to be cautiously optimistic. What do I mean by that? Am I suddenly advocating for the Swedish approach? No, but I fear that after a lot of groping around doing stupid and counter productive things that we’ll end up there eventually anyway. It may never be the de jure policy, but I think it will increasingly become the de facto policy. (Also, people do what they want more than governments are willing to admit. People start taking precautions before lockdowns begin and stop taking them before the lockdowns end.) In other words, in contrast to my normal position, I’m offering up reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Of course I have to be alarmed about something, so if I’m not alarmed by how poorly we’re handling things, even now, what am I alarmed about?

Well, I’m out of space, so I’ll have to write more on this topic later (and it won’t be my next post, that’s already spoken for) but I’m becoming increasingly alarmed that in the process of fighting the pandemic we’re going to make an even bigger mistake. What might that mistake be? Well keep your eye on this space, but I’ll give you a hint: As you might imagine I’m not a fan of the colossal amounts of spending we’ve engaged in to fight the pandemic. A world with pandemics is well covered territory, a world where money has ceased to have any meaning. less so.

As sick as you probably are of hearing about COVID-19, you’re probably even more sick of hearing me try to come up with a clever request for donations. Too bad, just like the pandemic, it’s still a long way from running it’s course, lots of stupid choices are being made, and at some point I’m imagining you’ll just want to get it over with. 

The Fragility of Efficiency and the Coronavirus

If you prefer to listen rather than read, this blog is available as a podcast here. Or if you want to listen to just this post:

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I heard a story recently about 3M (h/t: frequent commenter Boonton). Supposedly, back during the SARS outbreak they decided they should build in some “surge capacity” around the construction of N95 masks. Enough additional capacity that they could double their production at a moment’s notice. It was unclear if they actually did that or if they were just thinking about it. And even if they had, it appears that the scope of the current crisis is great enough that it’s not as if this one decision would have dramatically altered the outcome. Still it’s hard to dispute that it would have helped. 

The question which immediately suggests itself is how would the market have treated this development? In fact imagine that there were two companies, one who took some portion of their profits and plowed them back into various measures which would help in the event of a crisis and one that didn’t. How do you imagine that the stock market and investors would price these two companies? I’m reasonably certain that the latter, the one who took the profits and disbursed them as dividends, or found some other use for them, would end up with a higher valuation, all else being equal. In other words I would very much expect Wall Street to have punished 3M for this foresight, particularly over a sufficiently long time horizon where there were no additional epidemics, but even in the few years between doing it and needing it.

What this story illustrates is that attempts to maximize the efficiency of an economic system also have the effect of increasing and possibly maximizing the fragility as well. And while, in general, I don’t have much to say about the Coronavirus which hasn’t been said already and better by someone else. I do think that this may be one of the few areas where not enough has been said already and where I might, in fact, have something useful to add to the discussion. 

To begin, I want to turn from examining the world we have to looking at the world we wished we had, at least with respect to the virus. And as long as we’re already on the subject of masks we might as well continue in this vein. 

As the pandemic progresses one of the big things people are noticing is the difference in the number of infections between the various countries. In particular South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have done much better than places like Italy and Spain. There are of course a number of reasons for why this might be, but there’s increasing anecdotal evidence indicating that the availability of masks might be one part of the equation. 

For example, Taiwan is very closely connected to China, and one might expect that they would have gotten the virus quite early. Probably before people really understood what was going on, but definitely well before the recent policies of social distancing really started to be implemented to say nothing of a full on quarantine, and yet somehow, they only have 235 infections, which as of this writing puts them below Utah!

There are of course numerous reasons for why this might be, but I’m more and more inclined to believe that one big factor is that Taiwan is a mask producing juggernaut. In fact as recently as a few days ago they pledged to send 100,000 masks a week to us. They can make this gesture (and I know 100k is actually just a drop in the bucket) because they’re currently producing 10 million masks a day! For a country that only has 24 million people. Meaning that while that won’t quite cover one mask per day per person it’s enough that if people avoid leaving the house unnecessarily and if some masks can be reused they have enough for everyone to be wearing one at all times when they’re out of doors.

South Korea is similar and the big challenge there was not that they weren’t producing enough masks, but to stop exporting the masks they were already making. Finally reports out of Japan indicate that about 95% of people are wearing masks. But more importantly reports were that even before the pandemic around 30-40% were wearing masks just as a matter of habit. Is it possible that this slowed things down enough to allow them to get on top of it once the true scale of the crisis was apparent?

As I was writing this post I did some research on the topic, but before the post was finished Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex came along, as he frequently does, and released Face Masks: Much More Than You Wanted to Know which is a very thorough examination of the mask question. What he found mostly supports my point, and in particular this story was fascinating:

Some people with swine flu travelled on a plane from New York to China, and many fellow passengers got infected. Some researchers looked at whether passengers who wore masks throughout the flight stayed healthier. The answer was very much yes. They were able to track down 9 people who got sick on the flight and 32 who didn’t. 0% of the sick passengers wore masks, compared to 47% of the healthy passengers. Another way to look at that is that 0% of mask-wearers got sick, but 35% of non-wearers did. This was a significant difference, and of obvious applicability to the current question.

On the other hand, when we turn to the US and Europe, in contrast to Southeast Asia, there is definitely not a culture of mask-wearing and even if there had been, most of those countries apparently imported masks from places like Taiwan and China (a point I’ll return to) meaning that when those countries stopped exporting masks there were even fewer available here, enough that people started worrying about not having even enough for the healthcare providers. Once this problem became apparent various authorities started telling people that masks were ineffective. A policy which has since been called out for not merely being wrong, but contradictory, counterproductive and undermining trust in the authorities at a time when they needed it most. 

For most people, myself included, it’s just common sense that wearing a mask helps, the only question is how much? Based on evidence out of the countries just mentioned, and the SSC post I would venture to say that they help quite a bit. Also they’re cheap. Particularly when weighed against the eventual cost of this pandemic.

We’ve all learned many new things since the pandemic began, one of the things I didn’t realize was how bad the SARS epidemic was and how much the current precautions and behavior of the Southeast Asian countries is based on lessons learned during that epidemic. And while it’s understandable that I might have missed that (particularly since I didn’t start blogging until 2016) the CDC and the federal government on the other hand should have been paying very close attention. In fact, you would have expected that they might have taken some precautions in case something like that happened again or worse, started in the US. (Though to be fair, we don’t have wet markets, if that is where it started. As if we didn’t already have enough conspiracy theories.) Instead the US Government’s response has been borderline criminal. (Other people have done a much better job of talking about this than I could, but if you’re interested in a fairly short podcast just about the delay of testing that avoids sensational accusations, check out this Planet Money episode.)

To continue using the example of masks, I think it’s worth asking what it would have taken for the government to have a one month supply for every single person in the country. Stockpiled against a potential pandemic. According to this Wired article, before the pandemic 100 disposable masks were going for $3.75, let’s be conservative and round up and say that masks cost 4 cents a piece. From there the math is straightforward: 330 million people X 30 days X $0.04, is ~$400 million dollars, or 3% of the CDCs budget, or less than what the federal government spends in an hour. Still, I’ll agree, that’s a fair amount of money. But remember that’s the absolute maximum it would cost. I’d actually be surprised if once you factored in the huge economy of scale that we couldn’t do it for a 10th of that or even a 20th of that. And it would presumably have been cheaper still to just buy the necessary machinery for making masks and then mothball it, with a “break in case of emergency” sign on the door. Once you factor in all the potential cost savings, it’s hard to imagine that this would have cost more than $25 million (in fact if the government wants to offer me a $25 million contract to make it happen for next time I would be happy to take it.) And when you consider that it’s probably going to end up costing the US over a trillion dollars, plus the expected odds of something like this happening, you start to wonder why on earth they didn’t do this and countless other things that might have come in handy. (A strategic toilet paper reserve? I’m just saying.)

When you consider all of the budgetary cuts that were proposed for the CDC, which have emerged in the wake of the pandemic, and which generally involved only tens of millions of dollars, it seems unlikely that even $25 million would be allocated just for masks, but why is that? With a federal budget of $3.8 trillion why are we so concerned about $25 million? (It’s the equivalent of worrying about $25 when you make $3.8 million a year.) I understand people who are opposed to government spending, heck I’m one of them, but this also seems like one of those classic cases where people balk at spending anything to prevent a crisis, while somehow simultaneously being willing to bury the problem in a giant mountain of money once the crisis actually hits. It would be one thing if we refused to spend the money regardless of the circumstances, but if recent financial news is any indication we’re obviously willing to spend whatever it takes, just not in any precautionary way. (Somewhat related, my post from very early in the history of the blog about the Sack of Baghdad. Whatever the federal government and the CDC were doing in the months leading up to this, it was the wrong thing.)

One assumes that this desire to cut funds from even an agency like the CDC, where budgets are tiny to begin with, and where, additionally, the cost of failure is so large, must also come from the drive for efficiency we already mentioned or it’s modern bureaucratic equivalent. Which I understand, and to an extent agree with. We shouldn’t waste money, whether it’s taxpayer money or not. But given the massive potential cost of a pandemic, even if one never emerged, it seems clear that this spending wouldn’t have been a waste. But how do we get to there from here? How do we make sure this drive to save money and increase efficiency doesn’t create priorities which are so lean that they can’t spare any thought for the future. How do we avoid punishing companies who exercise foresight, like the example of 3M? Or how do we ensure that governmental agencies are making reasonable cost benefit calculations which take into account the enormous expense of future calamities, and then taking straightforward precautions to prevent or at least mitigate those calamities?

One of the most obvious potential solutions, but the one that seems to generate the greatest amount of opposition, is the idea of increasing the price of items like masks during periods of increased demands. Or what most people call “price gouging”. Let’s return to the story of 3M and imagine that instead of price gouging being universally frowned on, that instead it was widely understood and accepted that if there was an emergency 3M was not only allowed, but expected to charge 10 times as much for masks. In that case they’re not just hoping to help people out when the calamity comes, they’re also hoping to make a profit. This is in line with the generally accepted function of business, and presumably stockholders might reward them for their foresight, rather than punish them for not being “efficient” enough. In any case maintaining a surge capacity for mask production would be a gamble they’d be more willing to take. 

Notice I said 3M, which is different from people buying up thousands of masks and then reselling them on Amazon. As a generalizable principle, if we were going to do this, I would say that people should be able to raise prices for goods they control as soon as they think they see a spike in demand. So if someone had started stocking up on masks at the first of the year before anyone realized what was going to happen then they ought to be able to sell them later for whatever they think the market would bear. This early buying would have been a valuable signal of what was about to happen. But once the demand is obvious to everyone then 3M should raise their prices (and profit from the foresight of building a second production line) and Costco (or whoever) should raise their prices. I understand that this is not what happens, and that it’s not likely to happen, but if you want a market based approach to this particular problem, this is it.

A governmental solution mostly involves doing the things I already mentioned, like relying on the government to stockpile masks, or to proactively spend money to prevent large calamities. Though you may be wondering how subsidiarity, the principle that issues should be handled at the lowest possible level, factors into things. Clearly state or even local governments could also stockpile masks, or give tax incentives to people for maintaining spare capacity in the manufacture of certain emergency supplies. But as far as I can tell subsidiarity was long ago sacrificed to the very efficiency we’ve been talking about, and thus far I’ve seen no evidence of one state being more prepared than another. Though speaking of tax subsidies, it’s easy to imagine a hybrid solution that involves both the public and private sectors. 3M would have faced a different choice if the government had offered a tax credit for building and maintaining surge capacity in mask construction.

You could also imagine that greater exercise of anti-monopolistic powers might have helped. If you have ten companies in a given sector, rather than one or two you’re more likely to have one company that bets differently, and maybe that bet will be the one that pays off. Additionally globalization has also been a big topic of conversation, and was one of the first effects people noticed about the pandemic. Hardware companies were announcing delays for all of their products because they are all built in China. But we also saw this in our discussion of masks. Most of the mask production also appeared to be in Southeast Asia, and once they decided they needed the masks locally the rest of the world was caught flat-footed. Of course, economists hate the sort of tariffs which would be required to rectify this situation, or even improve it much, and they also mostly hate the idea of breaking up monopolies, but that’s because their primary metric is efficiency and as I’ve been saying from the beginning, efficiency is fragile. 

Before moving on, two other things that don’t quite fit anywhere else. First, doesn’t it feel like there should be a lot of “surge capacity” or room to take precautions, or just slack in the modern world? Somehow we’ve contrived a system where there’s basically a car and television for every man, woman and child in America (276.1 and 285 million respectively vs. a population of 327.2 million) but somehow when a real crisis comes we don’t have enough spare capacity to do even as much as nations like Taiwan, Japan and South Korea? As I’ve already suggested, there are obvious difficulties, but doesn’t it feel like we should be wiser and better prepared than we have been in spite of all that?

Second, am I the only one who would have felt a lot better about the huge stimulus package if we weren’t already running a deficit of $984 billion dollars in 2019? This, despite supposedly having a great economy for the last few years? In any rational system you build up reserves during the good years that you can then draw on during the bad years. That does not appear to be what we’re doing at all. I hope the MMT advocates are right and the size of the US government debt doesn’t matter, because if it matters even a little bit then at some point we’re in a huge amount of trouble.

Which brings us back to our topic. If, as I’m claiming, all of the modern methods are unworkable, we might ask what have people done traditionally, and the answer for most of human history would involve families, and to a lesser extent tribes, along with religious groups. And I suspect that there are quite a few people who are gaining a greater appreciation for family at this very moment. In my own case, I have deep stocks of many things, but toilet paper was not one of them (an obvious oversight on my part). As it turns out my mother-in-law has a ton (not from hoarding) and so rather than show up at Costco at 7 am, or buy it on the black market I can just get it from her. And if she hadn’t been able to help me I’m sure that my religious community would have. (Just to be clear I still haven’t burned through the TP I had on stock at the beginning of things, I’m just laying the groundwork to make sure I don’t get caught flat footed.) This whole story is an account of surge capacity. Though it may not look like it at first glance. But think of it this way, when you need help, having a single child that lives on the other side of the country doesn’t do you much good, but when you have five kids, three of whom live close by, you have four times as many resources to draw on in a crisis, and potentially six times as many depending on what you need.

Going even deeper, friend of the blog Mark wrote a post over on his blog which I keep thinking about, particularly in relation to the current topic. He talks about redundancy, fragility and efficiency as it relates to biological processes. In other words, how does life solve this problem? He gives the example of building a bridge and compares how an engineer would do it versus how a biological process would. While the engineer definitely wants to make sure that his bridge can bear a significantly greater load than whatever they judge to be the maximum, beyond that his primary goal is the same as everyone else in the modern world: efficiency. The biological process, on the other hand, would probably build a bridge made up of dozens of overlapping bridges, and it might cover the entire river rather than just one stretch of it. In other words from an engineering perspective it would be massively overbuilt. Why is that? Because life has been around for an awfully long time, and over the long run efficiency is the opposite of what you’re striving for. Efficiency equals fragility which, as we’re finding to our great sorrow, equals death. 

I suspect that some of you are either already suffering financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic or that you will be soon, so rather than ask for donations, let me rather make an offer of communication. If anyone needs someone to chat with feel free to email me. It’s “we are not saved at gmail”. I promise I’ll respond.

I Finally Figure out What I Want to Be When I Grow Up: An Eschatologist

If you prefer to listen rather than read, this blog is available as a podcast here. Or if you want to listen to just this post:

Or download the MP3

Eschatology- is a part of theology concerned with the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity. This concept is commonly referred to as the “end of the world” or “end times“.

It should go without saying that it’s difficult to get noticed on the Internet. Sure, occasionally the Eye of Sauron falls on some hapless individual like Justine Sacco (the young lady who made an ill-considered tweet about AIDS just before departing on an 11 hour flight to South Africa) who ends up with far more negative attention than they ever wanted. But I’m talking about attracting the kind of attention people actually want. Doing that is enormously difficult, and involves a large amount of luck.

That aside, there are things that can be done to increase one’s chances. Long lists of activities designed to attract new people to your material while also retaining the audience you already have. If one were to examine one of these lists, you would find that I do almost none of those things (though I have recently started being active on Twitter). Mostly because they all involve some degree of self-promotion, which generally makes my skin crawl. Though out of all the ways that people promote themselves, there’s one in particular that I find especially annoying. What is this singularly annoying example of self-promotion you ask? To answer that we have to journey back into the beginnings of this blog. 

When I was first thinking of creating a blog, my primary goal was to write about the connection between LDS theology, AI Risk and Fermi’s Paradox (topics I have continued to cover). And when I told people about these topics, several of them pointed me in the direction of the Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA). (It’s been awhile. I bet they thought I forgot about them.)  As I investigated the MTA I started noticing a pattern, nearly everyone involved was a self-proclaimed “philosopher”. (I could link to some examples, but it’s not my intention to single out anyone.) This seemed insufferably pretentious, almost a distillation of all the things I find so annoying about self promotion. “Hi I’m <Insert name>. I’ve noticed a (largely unsupported) connection between Mormon Doctrine and Transhumanism. And I can spare the $11 a month necessary for a Bluehost account, this makes me a ‘philosopher’ (you should be imagining Aristotle or Kant at this point) who’s going to unveil the secrets of the future to you.”

Of course, admittedly, it’s also possible I was jealous. They were certainly getting more attention than I was. Also, I would like to be considered a philosopher as well, though, unlike them, I’m far too neurotic to ever think I deserve it. (See: distaste of self promotion.) On top of that, it feels like the sort of thing you have to earn, and if I didn’t feel they had earned it then certainly I hadn’t either. 

Beyond my reluctance to do anything resembling self promotion, another thing on the list I refused to do was to pick something to really focus on. Long time readers may have heard me declare several times that I write only for me. This is still true and the only way to write anything good, but it’s also a false dichotomy. Which is to say being passionate about the things I write doesn’t preclude having a focus. And as I said having a tighter focus was another thing that various people who wished me success (or at least claimed to) advised me to do repeatedly. That while what I write is interesting (these are their words not mine), it’s too scattered to attract a dedicated audience. 

I mention all of the foregoing because the time has finally come to do both of these things. I’ve decided on a focus and that focus comes with a new occupation. That occupation is not “philosopher”. Which still strikes me as both arrogant and nebulous, no, the occupation I’ve decided to pursue is eschatologist. Yep, after nearly five decades I’ve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up. Also, I think most of the time I’m going to preface it with the word “aspiring”. And then, of course, there’s this entire post offering a long winded back story,  leavened with numerous caveats, in case anyone feels I’m being too prideful. Though, there is the slim possibility that I’m erring too much the other way. That I’m being too self-effacing, I have written an awful lot on the subject. 

At this point some of you may be screaming, “What subject?!? I don’t actually know what the word “eschatologist” means!” Ahh, yes that’s probably important. An eschatologist is someone who studies eschatology. But you probably already guessed that, and what you’re really interested in is the definition of eschatology. From Wikipedia:

Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity. This concept is commonly referred to as the “end of the world” or “end times“.

In the past eschatology has been almost exclusively a religious term, but as people are starting to realize that there are a lot of ways for the world to end that would have nothing to do with religion, the study of eschatology (even if it’s not labeled as such) has vastly expanded. Now you have things like the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at Cambridge, and books like Our Final Hour and Global Catastrophic Risks, and figures like Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Ćirković (both of whom I quite admire and have mentioned frequently in this space.) Also, despite this modern expansion, I still think religion should be part of the discussion, and as you may have noticed it’s not something I shy away from. 

So, I’ve decided on a focus, does this mean there’s going to be a radical shift in the kinds of subjects I cover going forward? Probably not. I don’t think this decision is going to have all that noticeable of an impact. In fact, if I were to say that this blog has always been about eschatology, I don’t think there would be all that much in what I’ve already written to contradict me. Still, I am hoping for additional clarity, a straighter path going forward, and tighter writing in general.  Also, as I announced last week, I’m going to spend 2020 focused on writing a book, and this clarification will definitely drive that endeavor as well. 

Part of the reason that not much will change, is that I intend to broaden the definition of eschatology both horizontally (to include secular concerns) and vertically (to include not merely the end of the world, but the end of the nation, and beyond that everything which might contribute to either of the foregoing even if that contribution is small.) In other words, this change in focus may seem like a small thing from the perspective of my audience, but I’m hoping that it’s a small thing that compounds, and that five or ten or even twenty years from now a slightly tighter focus will allow me to make a significantly larger impact. Because, while I don’t take the title particularly seriously, I do take the potential threats very seriously, and there are a lot of them. I expect that I’m too worried about most of them, and I hope I’m too worried about all of them, but I doubt it. There are just too many ways for things to go wrong, and only a handful of ways for things to go right.

A final request: I do genuinely want to be as educated and as thoughtful about the study of eschatology (in the very broad sense I’m using the term) as possible. So if you have books you think I should read or education you think I should acquire (I have considered going back to college, but I’m not sure in what) then please pass those suggestions along.

Meanwhile, the jeremiads will continue to flow and I’ll keep sounding the warning about Babylon, whatever form Babylon takes. 

This post invites, nay begs people to dismissively respond to everything I write with, “Ok, Doomer” and you have my permission to do so. However, if you’d like to respond more substantially there’s always the comments, also there’s one other thing…. What was it… Oh yeah, donations.