Cyreenik Says

November 2017 issues

A social mystery: Why can a run-our-community-into-the-ground government be so stable?

This question comes to mind as the government of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is coming to an end. Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for thirty seven years and during that time its GDP shrank to roughly a third of what it was when he assumed power. Ouch! But in spite of that and many related mismanagements he stayed in power. It was a stable government. Likewise the Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro combo have been running Venezuela for eighteen years and running its economy into the ground in a similar fashion.

What makes this kind of rulership so stable and enduring?

The heart of this populist style longevity is that it plays to instinctive thinking. In particular it plays to the instincts to party hearty while the good times are lasting and to enjoy gaming the system. What the technologically advanced communities have that lets this go on for so long are the abilities to borrow money and to skimp on maintaining infrastructure. These funds can then be used to do the partying and the gaming.

How long the good times can last varies enormously. In the case of Greece after it joined the EU this ruling style ended quickly, in just eight years, when the borrowing ability ran out and became a debt crisis instead. In the cases of Zimbabwe and Venezuela the borrowing and skimping have gone on much longer.

When the borrowing and skimping run out... ah well, time to move on... and change governments.

The moral of this story is that running a technology advanced community is not something instinctive thinking can do well. Instead, this takes learning, lots of learning of the sort that develops strong analytic thinking skills so that good rational answers can be developed and supported. When good analytic thinking is not being used, then "gut feeling" thinking takes over. And gut feeling answers are the sort that will move the economy back to instinctively comfortable agricultural age structures that are also impoverished economies by modern standards.

A pattern of history unfolding: Red Scare and Fem Scare

There are patterns in history, and a familiar and scary one is now starting to unfold in the last part of 2017. It is a repeat of a pattern that unfolded in the US starting in the late 1940's: the 2nd Red Scare.

The Red Scare Pattern

In the aftermath of World War Two there was a dramatic change in thinking about Russia and Communism. Before and during the war the Nazis were the big scary enemy, and during the war itself the Russians became friends, sort of, because they were fighting them too. Then World War Two ended and was replaced in just a couple years with the Cold War -- in which the Russians and Communists became the big enemy.

Following this dramatic social and political switch came Red Scare #2 starting in the late 1940's and lasting well into the 1950's. The icon for this was Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy and the McCarthyism movement that spawned around his activities.

This was a time of moral panic. Lots of people were accused of being overtly Red, covertly Red, or a Red sympathizer (a Pinko), and those accused then had rough times in their work and social relations for the following decade. This was a time of blacklisting people.

One of the important elements of this pattern is that the average person during this scare time was not taking notice that social mores had dramatically changed: during the Great Depression and World War Two the Communists were not the biggest and scariest people to Americans, the Nazis were. Then poof!, during The 2nd Scare they were. And even if the sympathizing a person had engaged in was twenty or thirty years earlier, not current, it still became a major black mark on the person during The Scare.

In the decades after it ended, this Red Scare abuse came to be called McCarthyism, and it became the topic of many books and movies.

The Fem Scare Pattern

Fast forward to the final quarter of 2017. What is matching this Red Scare is a Fem Scare. The dirty laundry that is getting hung out and socially judged is men abusing women in sexual ways. As with the Red Scare much of the abuse getting revealed dates back twenty years or more, to a time when social mores were different. And, as with the Red Scare, this difference is lost on those currently making judgments.

We are at the beginning of this Fem Scare cycle. How big it gets, and how much it unfolds like the Red Scare pattern, we will get to see over the next year, or if it gets really spooky, next decade.

This 5 Dec 17 WSJ article, ‘Let Them Dance…But Not Too Close’: Welcome to the Post-Weinstein Holiday Party Companies aim to avert problem behavior at office parties with a list of ‘don’ts’ and by eliminating open bars by Vanessa Fuhrmans, Joann S. Lublin and Suzanne Vranica, is an example of this scare changing social functions.

From the article, "In a memo titled “Stupid Fun vs. Responsible Fun” that was sent to its 2,600 employees in the U.S. and Canada late Friday, the unit of Interpublic Group of Co s. laid out a number of party “don’ts”—from kissing colleagues under mistletoe to over-the-line gyrating on the dance floor. Posting “Stupid Fun” pictures on social media shouldn’t happen, the memo read, while off-color jokes are a no-no since “someone might be wired.”"

And #metoo becomes Time's Person of the Year.

Add irony

In addition to the scare issues, I find it deeply ironic how much the feminist pendulum has swung since the 1960's in relation to sexual permissiveness. In the 1960's feminists were big supporters of the Sexual Revolution -- this was the Free Love and Woodstock era. In the 2010's feminists are big supporters of the now-emerging neoPuritanism, as in, "Watch out! You can trigger me with touch, talk or a look."

And a final thought: The lips in "Loose lips sink ships." have now taken on an additional meaning.

Computer games: these days it's lots more of the same

It is a phenomenon I have personally experienced. I used to switch my favorite computer games on a yearly basis, but times have changed and these days I have narrowed down to a favorite that I just keep playing over and over. Apparently I'm not alone.

This 11 Nov 17 WSJ article, How Mobile Games Keep Aging Well Strong growth in mobile-game revenues comes mostly from older titles with huge audiences by Dan Gallagher, talks about how widespread this phenomenon is in the mobile gaming marketplace.

From the article, "Internet analytics firm Statista counts nearly 800,000 games in Apple’s App Store alone, so mobile gamers have plenty of choices about where to spend their time. But where they spend their money doesn't shift much. Activision’s “Candy Crush Saga” is in its fifth year of operation, and happens to be the top-grossing iPhone game at the moment, according to App Annie. The game actually rose in the rankings of top-grossing games during the third quarter, outperforming even newer mobile titles from Activision’s King Digital unit, according to Michael Pachter of Wedbush."

Why this monotony? Why has the historic kaleidoscope of game design and play transformed into today's stiff and rigid? Part of the answer is that designers have shifted their focus from creating new gaming styles to making existing styles look and sound more realistic. I see a similar evolution in movie design. The results in both cases are impressive accomplishments, if you are into realism. But I pick my movies based on the story, and I pick my games based on the playing style. Visual realism is low on my list of what impresses me. As an example I find old Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons more entertaining than modern Disney animation efforts like Frozen.

Old hands argue that this is due to ergonomics -- that there are just a handful of ways to tell stories and design games, and all of those have been discovered. I don't think so. I see the difference between these styles as being how much emphasis there is on visual imagination -- there is a whole lot in the early examples, while in the modern examples there is realism instead of imagination. There are a few modern examples of using lots of imagination. One is the T-shirts offered by Snorgtees, but I find these to be few and far between.

I say, lets go back to lots more imagination. Until we do that, I'm happy with oldies but goodies, and based on what the WSJ article is reporting I guess I'm not alone in that thinking.



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