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People don’t like to talk about it, but Osama won the war on terror. Not Obama, Osama. Bin Laden. The guy in the cave? Hooked to a dialysis machine, supposedly they shot him and threw him off a boat or something. Real bad character back in the day. He got exactly what he was asking for.

The attack of 11 September was a spell. The old bearded dude kicked America right in the “mojo”. The angry disenfranchised reactionaries destroyed the towering phallus of international finance, and everybody saw it. It was a mass murder, a mass sacrifice, with ritual intent. The point of terrorism is to sow fear and doubt and dissent. In this case, it worked.

We haven’t been the same since. We had a series of cartoonish presidents, selected for their ability to outrage and entertain in equal measure. Meanwhile, the police state infiltrated every aspect of our lives, and the disastrous wars multiplied. The ham-handed propaganda of liberty and justice was smeared too thin. The American dream vanished, as dreams will do.

The unipolar world crumbled. We’re in a failed state now, watching in shock as the gangsters loot the palaces. As the promises of the social contract are broken one after another. As th

This is fourth generation war. After muskets, tanks, and planes successively changed the landscape of battle, after the Cold War had ended and no nation could compete with America’s military might, the terrain shifted again. Now small groups of hostile actors, superempowered by tech, can assault the infinite intricacies of the war machine. Instead of attacking soldiers, they attack structures. Buildings, sure, but also belief structures: belief in elections, in unions, in journalists. In asymmetrical warfare, no target is off limits. Win by disconnecting your enemy’s senses from reality. Win by breaking the narrative.

But narratives are memes, and memes are alive. You can breed them, but you can’t control evolution. Bin Laden didn’t get to script the American reaction. He just triggered an avalanche of emotions and narratives that became our undoing. He (and his cult) summoned a chaos monster from the dark place, and we have yet to put it back.

We’ve reached an inflection point for this type of accursed conjury. The newfound powers of the machine men – parsing human emotions and conversations, generating artificial text and faces and voices from their data hoards – are superempowering technologies. Small bands of motivated people will use them to attack the narrative. Not just nation-state hackers, but all the cults and corporate militias that will arise as the USA falls.

Hyper-targeted propaganda is already a reality. We must make an effort to maintain a consensus reality. A world in which we can disagree about opinions, and doubt our sources, without becoming fractured and alienated. The attention miners want you to be unique, to be a demographic of one. The more special you are in their data hoard, the better they can predict and steer your behavior, the more they can charge to pimp out your eyeballs.

Band together instead. Become a clique, a tribe, a flesh-monster with many minds and many mouths. Know who’s real, who you care about and who truly cares about you. Trust their opinions. You don’t have to figure it all out yourself – in fact, you can’t. Expand your identity to include those people you trust, and draw more people into that circle. None of us is an island.

Our connectedness, our trust, that’s our power. That’s why they attack it. The terrorists, all of them, neckties and turbans and badges alike, they fear the strength of a community rooted in shared reality.

If we work together, maybe we can summon a narrative where we don’t kill all life on the planet for profit. Would that be too much to ask, in reality?

Thanks for reading,

– Max


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