Eugene Linden
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Latest Musing

Imagining a Post Pandemic World

How might a post-pandemic world look and feel? Let’s imagine a creative team at a New York City advertising agency pitching a campaign in 2050 for a new perfume (more than most products, perfumes are sold by attaching to the dreams and aspirations of their times).  The Big Apple, ...

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Latest Book

Deep Past
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Articles by Category
endangered animals
rapid climate change
global deforestation
fragging

Books

Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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The Parrot's Lament
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Silent Partners
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Affluence and Discontent
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The Alms Race
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Apes, Men, & Language
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In an Interconnected World, Niches Get Big


Wednesday June 23, 2021

There’s an excellent article by David Gardner in the online sports magazine The Ringer about niche sports and how social media allows the best players in tiny niche sports -- disc golf, trick archery, e.g. -- to make a living where these players couldn't possibly make much money through exposure in the mainstream media. This is the benign side of a fundamental feature of the internet: it allows tiny constituencies at the far ends of the normal curve to find each other. 

Because the internet connects billions of people, those tiny niches (in percentage terms) can turn out to be very large numbers of people in the aggregate. Large enough to allow players in obscure sports to get multi-million dollar endorsement contracts; large enough to assemble a gigantic mob to invade the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

There’s the rub. This feature of the internet and social media not only allows niche athletes to make a living, but also enables paranoids and psychopaths to hatch plots and recruit. Where in the old days the dangerously deranged might have a hard time connecting with like-minded sociopaths, now an army of such is just a few clicks away.

Which of these two sides of the coin will have the biggest impact on the future?

 

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Short Take

Afghanistan: When Losing is Winning

The stunning, but entirely predictable, collapse of the Afghan military marks the latest installment of our failure to understand what wins wars. Short answer: it’s not weaponry; it’s morale. This pattern of failure goes back 60 years to Vietnam, and even further. We load up corrupt autocrats and war lords with weapons, only to see war profiteers siphon off and distribute the bounty, while the other side pursues their goal with patience, and a deep sense of mission – however wrong-headed we might think that is.

There’s a tell in this pattern. When a superpower continues to hew to a failed strategy of counter insurgency after 60 years of failure, someone must be making out, big time. We don’t need to look very far to see who that is. Defense contractors get to sell the weapons  that we hand over to our feckless allies, and then, after tens of billions of dollars in materiel are left behind as we withdraw, they get to sell all over again as we restock. Thus, losing becomes a win-win strategy. In that sense, winning would be a losing strategy because they don’t get to double-dip. So, once again in Afghanistan, Mission Accomplished!



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