It's better to be the king of a small hill, than a prince at a higher elevation.
-- Cobb's Rule #9.
The last book I just finished reading is Bruce Schneier's Liars and Outliers. It is a very interesting and good book which goes into some detail about security, trust, society and all things related to rule following and rule breaking. It's very thorough, not very technical and so truthful that it almost sounds obvious. What's extraordinary about it in retropsect is that Schneier told almost no stories from his personal experience. Good on that security.
Schneier is in my T50 - the list of thinkers that I am limiting myself to hearing out for the rest of my life. It's interesting how he sounds a little bit like a boring Gladwell. Gladwell is such a good writer that he makes everything sound exciting and profound. Schneier quotes almost as much as Gladwell, but not quite - still he mentions other folks in my T50, including Nassim Taleb and Clay Shirky, and even though he didn't mention John Boyd by name, I hear a lot of OODA thinking in his talk about the 'Red Queen Effect'.
At any rate, there are bigger takeaways from this common sense sounding book that I now recongize in my own evolution. And so I remark about it here.
F1 racing has been my metaphor for the kind of work I want to do and am now doing, 15 years later than when I first really wanted to. What it took me a long time to learn is the cost of largeness. What Schneier described very well in his closing chapters is how the cost of communication in large organizations rises with a factor of each incremental person added and there comes a point at which the technologies and processes are unable to sustain any single-minded agenda. This is precisely a characteristic of what I call information thermodynamics, but what I never quite envisioned was the negative aspect. I understood that within a large organization that it costs money to keep the brass informed about how the business is actually operating, and Schneier did make use of the Dunbar Number. But what I thought was the know-have-nots would simply be dragged along with the know-haves. I didn't think that there might be a point at which it drags down the ability of the organization to accomplish *anything*.
In other words, organizations don't get 'too big to fail', there is literally a point at which they get so big that they *must* fail. The nature of that failure is primarily in what I would call an 'open agenda', but not necessarily the failure of the entity. Xerox, for example, once owned American Express. Hard to believe, but true. While I was working there, ostensibly for the workstation business, Xerox' most profitable division was VanKampen Merritt Investments. They were playing money games on Wall Street but failing to be Xerox, the innovative product company. Soon, small companies like the PC printer division of HP and a company called Adobe kicked Xerox' in what used to be some of their core competencies.
So, as certain people predicted several years ago, my disinterest in politics has left me to be a Libertarian. But I suppose as I have been called a RINO, then I may be a LINO as well. Except that there's no such thing as a LINO because libertarians seem to have the good sense to know they won't rule, and since they won't - the don't have pretenses to ideological fidelity - or at least they don't bother enforcing a party line.
It occurred to me this week that you probably could run America with half a million people. That if we were really connected on Facebook Next, and you paid us 600 times our annual salaries, we could take care of 600 people each and we would all do just fine.
Combine all this and what do you get? Well I get an idea that The System is permanently broken and that when it really comes down to it, there is no such thing as a nation of 300 million. Somewhere around whatever we were in the 1950s in breaks and there is the active nation and there is the passive nation. America keeps struggling to have all of us in the active nation with a real nationalism, but in the next 20 years that's going to break dramatically and we will split into the active nation and the passive nation. We will be more of a civilization than a society and the fakery of all patriotism will be exposed. Not that patriotism is false but patriotism that scales will break. Of course the great news is that we won't amend the Constitution, because that's too difficult. Put another way, democracy > 200 million is a Wicked Problem.
I expect that significant liberal and libertarian subgroups of the American population will have money enough to support the Elon Musks of the world and that they will come to build their cars for our markets. So long as personality and dynamism wants to be rich as in American rich, the active patriots will win the day. And we need fewer of them than we think, I think. I'm fairly confident of this rather in the same way that Vannavar Bush was confident that we wouldn't blow ourselves up with nukes.
Conservatives aren't who they think they are, by the way. If they think the country is going to hell, it's simply because they think we're all in the same handbasket. As they discover that virtue will out, they will relax. This young generation has had its fair share of douchebags and they won't put up with it despite of all their other wimpy sensitivities. The free love to remain free and they will put down their celery sticks and fight when it comes down to it.
All of this is to say that the Fifty States are in for some real big fun and the Feds are going to have their asses handed to them. I am confident of this - because the states will fail and get right first. Experts will have their way again in the future and bullshit will walk. This is my optimism for the future of everything. We have too many cultural memories to forget how free we have been. That which is too big will fail, the small, smart and agile will perservere, there will be no Idiocracy, because the majority simply will not be clued in, and they will not be able to chain the minds of those who know.