Conditions: Clear skies and 32° C.
Location: The ancient shore of Laurentia.
The Story So Far… And now we are eight. Welcome, subscribers new and old, to this week’s edition of Five Futures.
I’ve been back at work this week, and what reading time I have is currently severely curtailed by a review of various IT security frameworks (hello NIST Special Publication 800-53, my old friend)… A process that I suspect is going to dominate my time for the next couple of months.
It’s probably a good thing that I’m in read-only mode (heh) right now, as I’ve got two more trips coming up in rapid succession. First up is a week in Idaho on family business, followed immediately by three days in Vegas for a conference. Right now I don’t think any of that should interfere with our regularly scheduled programming, but if the next newsletter is late, now you know what happened.
Crossing Beringia… The conventional narrative concerning human arrival in the Americas posits that ancient peoples entered North America 13,500 year ago, give-or-take, by walking across Beringia, a low, flat grassland between Siberia and Alaska that was exposed at the end of the last glacial maximum (and would subsequently be re-submerged as all of that ice melted). This tidy narrative has been slowly falling apart over the last few years though, and now a detailed reconstruction of Beringia’s environment has revealed that the area was inhospitable until 12,600 years ago.
People were living in the Americas before that date though, so how did they get here? That’s a bit of a mystery, though a popular hypothesis seems to be that they came down the Pacific coast instead (this is consistent with a recent find on Calvert Island in Canada). So far everyone is being very careful not to talk about boats (probably because the earliest known boat dates from thousands of years after this period), but circumstantial evidence for boat use tens, and perhaps even hundreds, of thousands of years before the colonization of the Americas is becoming quite compelling. Certainly boats would be consistent with how rapidly people appear to have spread along the Americas’ western seaboard.
The Dark Enlightenment… Last week I spent a good chunk of the newsletter considering the ramifications of the Journal of American Greatness and its impact on modern (US) conservative thought. In particular, I was struck by a number of similarities between the writing in the Journal and that found within Dark Enlightenment circles.
While I was aware at the time that the Journal had shuttered its doors, I was not aware that in doing so its contributors had announced that it was all a joke. Sort of.
The Journal of American Greatness began some months ago, to a large extent anyway, as an inside joke. At a certain point its audience expanded beyond any of our expectations. It also ceased to be a joke. Thus it no longer makes sense to continue it in its current form. No journal is meant to last forever, and this one won’t try to. We’ve decided to call it a day.
The inspiration for this journal was a profound discomfort with the mode of thought that has come to dominate political discourse — an ideological mode that makes nonsense of the reality of American life. The unanticipated recognition that we have received, however, also makes clear that many others similarly felt the desirability of breaking out of conservatism’s self-imposed intellectual stagnation. Should any such market for our ideas exist in the future, we may participate in it. But we will do so in a different way.
Color me… Confused? Unconvinced? While the Journal’s authors start out by calling it an “inside joke”, the rest of their farewell note certainly doesn’t make it sound like they were joking. And even if it was all an elaborate hoax, it appears to have had a very real effect on US conservative thought.
I honestly don’t know what to make of this.
Gawker and Peter Thiel… The fight between Gawker and Peter Thiel by way of Hulk Hogan has been one of those situations where you’re really not sure who to root for… Do I want to line up behind the salacious pseudo-tabloid? Or would I rather ally myself with a multi-billionaire with delusions of vampirism? Oh, the choices!
Honestly, I can’t muster any tears for the demise Gawker… While Gawker Media bought a number of web properties, like io9, that I’m quite fond of, their central business was composed of the worst kind of titillating, paparazzi bullshit. The world will probably be better off without them.
But… But… But… The way this has happened is profoundly troubling. The constant need to produce content and plummeting budgets have made it all but impossible for modern news outlets to double-check every piece with their lawyers, which makes them particularly vulnerable to walking grudges with deep pockets. And now that Peter Thiel has shown the way, it’s hard to imagine even the largest organizations not taking a second look at any stories that might threaten or offend the powerful.
Of course, this is less of a new development than a re-development, as similar dynamics existed during the Gilded Age. (Though at that time many newspapers were just out-right owned by the elite… Oh, wait.) So perhaps this is more a reversion to the mean when it comes to the role of the news media? I can’t say that I find that thought very comforting either…
Tabby’s Star… Tabby’s Star continues to get weirder, and at this point the only explanations we seem to be left with are
- Some sort of bizarre configuration of multiple improbably astronomical events and objects,
- Some kind of new physics, or
Of course, nobody wants to say aliens. It would be an extraordinary claim, and one with no other evidence than the star’s epically strange behavior. But as a number of less cautious folks have pointed out, it sure does look like what you’d expect to see during a species’ transition to a Type II civilization…
I kind of hope that the more prosaic explanations win out, however. Tabby’s Star is less than 1500 light years away, and here’s no reason to think that a civilization capable of modifying its home star is going to have much difficulty with such distances. If the behavior of Tabby’s Star is caused by an emerging Type II civilization, then I hope they follow some version of the Prime Directive, as the alternatives are profoundly dark…
That’s all for this week. Obviously still experimenting with formatting and approach.
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