Thoughts in Between

by Matt Clifford

Matt's Thoughts In Between - Issue #6

Lots of you told me you enjoyed the post from a few weeks ago on how the traditional left-right axis no longer explains the divides in UK (and US) politics. This week, one of my favourite writers, Venkatesh Rao, explores the "culture war" in US politics using a similar 2D map of politics. It's an exceptional essay. 

One of Rao's less bold conclusions is about the "partition" of news sources in culture war. People increasingly believe or disbelieve items based purely on the source. This essay in the always interesting Aeon picks up this theme and considers how we know what (we say) we know. Its (depressing?) conclusion is that it's all about reputation. 

For example, how many of us can really say how we "know" why the moon landings were not faked, other than that the people who say it wasn't have much better reputations than those who say it was? It's a topic worth musing on as the culture war heats up on both sides of the Atlantic. With no shared sense of reputation, can we have a shared sense of facts? (It's worth reading this Tyler Cowen column on conspiracy theories in conjunction)

Related: Another great 2D analysis of US politics

From Russia with... malice?

Russia's direct interventions in the UK are in the news this week, but far more troubling than nerve gas are its apparent ability to launch cyber-attacks on critical Western infrastructure. This rather dense but fascinating overview from a US government source lays out some of how it's done.

If you're wondering what that could look like, this account of an attack on a Saudi petrochemical facility is chilling. I've recently attended two conferences with people from the national security and tech worlds and have been struck by the level of pessimism (from the former group in particular) about our ability to defend ourselves from attacks like these. I'm fascinated by the broader topic of how technology is changing and will change the "natural" size and power of the nation state and I can't help but feel we're just getting started...

Related: Maybe the UK is already too dependent on Russia. Or maybe Russia already owns us?

The EU will brook no competition... for now

On this topic of how states will fare in the 21st century, there was an interesting legal development recently. Aside from some of the more glamorous ideas for circumventing the nation state - from seasteading to charter cities - one thread that got substantial attention last year was "Investor-State Dispute Settlement" (ISDS). Buzzfeed wrote a superb multi-part investigation of this idea; in short, ISDS allows corporations to sue states for actions that damage their interests in what are essentially private courts. 

Interestingly, the European Court of Justice ruled a couple of weeks ago that this mechanism was in violation of EU law. This commentary is pretty heavy going but has some great nuggets of insight, above all that the ruling represents the ECJ "cutting down (quasi-)judicial competitors". I predict that this idea of jurisdictional competition is going to become more and more important as we see non-state, multi-state and existing-state actors struggle for supremacy in the information age. 

Quick links

  1. China, AI and standards: MIT Technology Review discusses the role of international standards in national AI competition, featuring the work of Jeffrey Ding who I mentioned last week. (Or, if you prefer your arms races with physical weapons, check this out)
  2. Singapore - capitalist heaven or socialist utopia? Two differing views by Matt Bruenig and Scott Sumner on the country I think is probably the most interesting in the world right now
  3. The Fed and the crisis: Superb Twitter thread revisiting - ten years on - the Federal Reserve's discussions on the brink of the financial crisis
  4. How to live forever: Long and illuminating FAQ on longevity by Laura Deming
  5. Ambition in the 21st century: I really enjoyed recording this podcast on Entrepreneur First's mission and thesis; it's the first in a series we're making. You can see the video here:

#0 Matt Clifford on Scaling Your Ambition (Full Episode) - YouTube

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Until next week,