Friday, November 27, 2015

Daesh/ISIS and existential threats

Dear J.,

There's a medium-sized fight going on right now in the policy space about whether to prioritize military spending or fiscal prudence, and whether or not the U.S. should get involved directly in fighting Daesh/ISIS in Syria. I don't know if you've heard about that fight, but a major decision factor is whether or not ISIS is an existential threat to the U.S. or if that is just panicky overreaction to a threat which is still far militarily weaker than, say, Italy.

For me, here's the thing about Daesh/ISIS: I don't know if they're an existential threat to the U.S. because I don't know what it would take to destroy us, practically speaking. I don't know why the economy works in the first place and I don't know what it would take to break it. Say somebody launches a cyber attack that takes down 50% of the power plants in the U.S. for six months and crashes the databases of half of the Fortune 500 companies, losing a lot of financial data in the process. Or if somebody does an EMP over New York, and another over Los Angeles, that destroys 90% of all electronics in those areas. Neither of these things will physically kill all the people in the U.S., but does either of them push us into a Great Depression? My answer: I have no idea. I can believe in scenario where we're up and running again in a year, and I can believe in a scenario where the country dissolves into mass chaos (unemployment, Ferguson-style rioting, martial law declared, backlash against martial law). I don't REALLY believe in the mass chaos scenario, in the same way that as a kid I never really thought my parents would get a divorce, but that disbelief is founded more in emotional inertia than logical analysis.

I don't know if Daesh/ISIS is an existential threat because I don't know what an existential threat to the nation looks like any more. We're fragile.

See also 3 Nephi 8, where the murder of the chief judge destroyed the government: "And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land." Looking at the fault lines in America, that pattern (in response to a different stimulus) is not at all implausible. I guess we'll see, huh?

Happy American Thanksgiving, by the way! See you tomorrow.


If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.

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