Is U.S. Attorney General Mukasey Truly Oblivious to Accelerating Change?

March 24 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future
Category: Government   Year: 2008   Rating: 8

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey says he is quite surprised by the vast number of potential terrorist threats facing our nation.

In a closed session with reporters last Friday, the leader of the country’s Justice Department stepped up to the plate, exclaiming, “I’m surprised by how surprised I am.”

“It’s surprising how varied [the threat] is, how many directions it comes from, how geographically spread out it is,” he said.

My first reaction to this went something like: “Are you kidding me? Have you never heard of accelerating change, discussed the concept of a flattening world, or noticed how quickly technology is letting people all over the globe do more with limited resources?”

Of course, such statements are likely nothing more than political hyperbole intended to drum-up public support for the big telecom immunity battle currently shaping-up in Washington, in which case it’s at least something I can comprehend and chalk up to politics. But if Mukasey, the Attorney General, is being remotely serious, it indicates a frightening blind spot for accelerating change and possibly a deeper lack of strategic thinking throughout our government, which would not altogether come as a surprise.

Human progress is a double-edged sword. Social evolution constantly allows us to “do more, better, with less”, as systems theorist John Smart puts it. We can direct these new capabilities at improving our economy, finding new cures for new illnesses, improving the quality of human life, or use them to plot more effective terrorism, more quickly destabilize systems, or hoard more resources. The sword can cut both ways.

Now, as we approach the point where the totality of earth-based technology and information will double in less that one human generation (22 years), we must come to terms with the notion that it’s going to become increasingly more difficult to see what’s coming next. This applies both to imagining possible new solutions as well as problems like terrorism. Only by becoming cognizant of accelerating change can nations, groups, families, individuals and the world as a whole hope to formulate, much less achieve desired outcomes. Anything short of understanding our environment and problem sets as best we can is likely to create a slew of unintended consequences, such as increased terrorism, that add to instability and increase the likelihood of more disruptive events. This is an unavoidable reality that applies to everyone, no matter what their political, religious or philosophical orientation.

My sincere hope is that the brains at the critical nodes of government, multi-national businesses and the military-industrial complex are already hip to acceleration, if only to avoid making very bad decisions. Ideally, they’d apply that knowledge to foster positive-sum effects that rapidly grow the pie and broadly transform attitudes by providing actualization pathways, thus reducing the propensity for terrorist activity, rather than bring us all to a breaking point via over-control. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Whatever the underlying reality, I know that I will certainly feel better about the dynamic we’re living in once influential folks like Mukasey start acknowledging the 500 lb. (and growing) gorilla in the room that is acceleration. It’s about time this increasingly obvious concept started to enter the mainstream. Our future depends on it.

(via CNN)

Is Mukasey truly oblivious to accelerating change?

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Comment Thread (2 Responses)

  1. All he was saying was “Be afraid, be very afraid”, because he wants Patriot Act extended. Even if you are one of those who are absolutely sure the Singularity will happen no later than 2029, I don’t see how that article can be used to infer the opinion of Mukasey on accelerating change or price of tea in China. Lets not bring up the whole accelerating change thing every time somebody says that he was surprised by something.

    Posted by: johnfrink   March 24, 2008
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  2. @ johnfrink—Yes, Mukasey was being hyperbolic in service of a political goal. Yes, I am convinced that accelerating change is real and that the writing is on the wall for the near term, barring a dislocating event that derails the trends, which by no means makes me a big-S Singularitarian (I do agree with the concept of many singularities past which it is very difficult to imagine the future, but remain skeptical about one big one). I generally agree with your point about not bringing up accelerating change every time somebody admits surprise re: widespread, distributed unexpected occurrences, but believe that the public words of the AG of the United States bear more scrutiny than the average person. If Mukasey is indeed aware of the accelerating near-term trends that every major business leader on the planet seems to be cognizant of, then why not just come out with it rather then feign disbelief? If he isn’t, well, that’s just a bit frightening to me as a citizen of this big team. In order to attain some elusive peace of mind, I would like to know which of the two is the more accurate reality. Other political figures are torn to shreds over every single word they utter re: immigration, social security, national healthcare, etc. Rather than shake my head in disbelief and simply let it slide, I think it’s high time for acceleration, based on a set of underlying verifiable trends that affect just about everything, to take its rightful place in the dialogue.

    I won’t rub a lack of acceleration cognizance in my mother’s face, but I think it’s entirely appropriate to do so for the AG of the US.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   March 24, 2008
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