Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Left Behind: Ludd, Beck and the non-tribal roots of tea party rage

It's easy to mock the Palinistas, the Beckians, and the very vanilla Tea Partiers.

Easy, but wrong. They have good reason to be afraid. Their future looks grim. They are also, I think, the misleading face of something bigger.

Misleading, because the melanin-deficiencies of the Beckians makes it too easy to think of their roots purely in terms of the white underclass. I think there's something bigger, more interesting, and more important going on than the historic passing of one particular tribe.

The world is becoming increasingly complex and, for many people, inaccessible. How smart do you have to be to learn and absorb the multiple manifestations and implications of modern mortgage contracts, American health care benefits, mobile phone plans and scams, mortgage derivatives and exotic financial instruments, iPhone synchronization, Facebook and Twitter privacy policies, dysfunctional security procedures, OpenID, Oauth and 200 passwords, modern India, China, tribal Pakistan, your flaky modem, and, for most non-Mac owning Americans, virus infested XP boxes with unpredictable behaviors?

A lot smarter than me.

Most of humanity is being Left Behind by an increasingly incomprehensible world of increasing complexity. We can function in it, we can even prosper in it, but our world is beginning to resemble the world of pre-industrial man. That is, a world of powerful and mysterious forces that may, without obvious reason, aid or smite a mere mortal.

I suspect, in their marrow, the Beckians, like the Luddites before them, feel this. It adds to their fear and anger. This will be something to watch.

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Curmudgeon said...

Complexity doesn't just happen as an inevitable result of progress.

Most of the examples of complexity you cited are examples of contracts between firms and consumers. Consumer contracts have been made too complex for average people to understand as part of deliberate corporate policies to maximize profits by preventing consumers from making informed choices about what they're buying. The only reason cell phone plans, insurance plans, privacy policies, etc, are so complicated is so corporations can rip consumers off.

People aren't being left behind by complexity. They're being ripped off by legalized fraud.

JGF said...

First off, I'm 110% with you on our age of fraud. Fraud comes and goes, and it's very much with us now. I've speculated in past posts about why there's so much fraud now, and why it's taken its current forms and strategies.

Contract fraud can take many forms of course. Years ago it relied on very small print or unreadable language. Now, in the examples, you give, the firms use sheer complexity as a weapon. I've called this the 'complexity attack'.

In our time complexity can be used as a weapon. It also emerges as a side-effect of digital technologies, where complexity is unconstrained by physicality and where viruses are just one driver towards increasing complexity at multiple levels.

So we end up with many drivers of complexity, and lots of it. I think we all react to that in one way or another, but the Beckians feel it very strongly.