Scary Math

by | Mar 2, 2022

A couple of weeks ago I finished up Snow Crash

It’s a dystopian-esque sci-fi written by Neal Stephenson. And for anyone interested in thinking about how political power could reorient itself without nation states, it’s a must read. 

While you’re at it, read his book Cryptonomicon too. The plotline involves cryptocurrency but was written a good 10 years before Bitcoin. 

Anyhow, there’s a character in Snow Crash – Raven. And the very idea of this guy blew my mind (spoiler alert). 

Raven was a sovereign. A nation unto himself. But that’s not what got me. 

To preserve his sovereignty, he rode a Harley with a nuclear warhead sitting in the sidecar. The bomb was somehow linked to his vitals. In the event of his death, the bomb would go off. 

To boot, he wasn’t a nice guy. He pissed a lot of people off, some of whom wanted to kill him. But whenever he was in town, the cops (they were a private corporation), would do anything to keep him safe simply so the bomb wouldn’t go off. He could do whatever he wanted, and cops would still protect him. 

I’ve never considered this line of reasoning. It’s Mutually Assured Destruction logic (MAD) taken to the extreme. 

Scrolling through my newsfeed a couple of days ago I came across a line of thinking that also threw me for a loop. 

And pushed the realm of possibilities a little farther than I ever managed to take it on my own…

A Sovereign Putin

The article I came across quoted some Russian TV host as stating, “Why do we need the world, if Russia isn’t there?”

Now, I’ve never considered political calculus like this. Though, in hindsight, that’s probably a result of not taking Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) logic to its extreme.

My entire life, I viewed nuclear weapons as a first strike deterrence because of the inevitable effectiveness of a counterstrike. The tacit agreement was basically “don’t bomb me and I won’t bomb you. We’ll just agree to kill each other in a non-radioactive way.”

But this “principle”, as this guy called it, kicks MAD logic up a whole other notch by implying the following:

  • NATO in Ukraine means the end of Russia
  • A world without Russia is meaningless
  • Given the choice between a meaningless world or no world, he would just as soon have no world

By attributing with certainty “NATO in Ukraine” to the “end of Russia,” he’s suggesting nuclear weapons as a deterrence against any threats. So, “don’t bomb me and I won’t bomb you” becomes “any threat that I somehow view as existential justifies destroying everything.”

Then, yesterday, I read a piece by Newt Gingrich which took this same MAD logic one step further. He suggested that Putin thinks Russia cannot exist without Putin in power. Therefore, by extending the same logic, any threat to Putin’s power justifies going nuclear.

So, according to Newt Gingrich, Putin is Raven.

I can’t say how all this rhetoric squares with the actual political calculation going on in Russia. Certainly, we have as many nut jobs spouting nonsense here in the good ‘ole USA as they have over there. But assumptions hidden with the rhetoric introduces a new line of reasoning that adds a few more scenarios to the current situation. 

And reveals just how deep into chaos the world has wandered. 

Order from Chaos 

Russia is at war with the West. And the nuclear option now evidently extends beyond nuclear deterrence.

Plus, Taiwan looks like a much easier target for China than it did two months ago. Which could open another front of geopolitical agitation.

Authoritarianism is at war with itself (which is always the case). And only a fool would attempt to predict how this chaos unfolds.

Because chaos doesn’t lend itself well to linear thinking. Trying to draw a line from where we are today to where we will be a year from now provides as much information as a climate model predicting decades into the future.

Which is to say such predictions are useless.

Not because chaos equals randomness. It’s doesn’t.

Chaos is a process. One that resolves tension between opposites.

And even if you understood exactly what type of chaotic model to invoke, your prediction would still be widely off the mark because the path those models take are incredibly sensitive to initial conditions. And we can’t possibly measure those initial conditions with the precision necessary to get anywhere close to the right path.

But chaos isn’t permanent. As it resolves tension, it allows a new order to emerge.

Not necessarily capitalized New World Order. But a lowercase order. One that I expect to be dominated by smaller, more stable political spheres of power – maybe like Snow Crash, but probably less dystopian.

And permissionless, anonymous crypto systems will play a big role in allowing that decentralized order to emerge.

P.S. The cost to maintain the existing geopolitical order grows exponentially. It is unsustainable. I want to help you guard against the collapse of unsustainable systems and bet for the future that lies beyond it. You can sign up for my free newsletter today. And for actionable content and insight, you are free to check out The Prosperity Pub channel on Telegram. 

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