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Thursday, May 25, 2017

What a Time to be Alive

For the older generations, it may be deja vu.

To me, it is mesmerizing to see those green t-shirts in the streets:

Not too far from my home, yesterday.

In the background, the Congress, a place I often visit to show around for friends coming to Brasilia the first time. It may be the most famous Oscar Niemeyer's work.

In the foreground, not the police.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The American Unfriend

My son has a little pal at his kindergarten whose father is American. The mother works at our Ministry of Foreign Relations, and they married while she was serving in the USA.

It naturally did happen that we made friendship with them. Mr. American looks to be a bit of a loner, but maybe because he did not ever learn fluent Portuguese, he looked happy to chat with people speaking his mother language.

We used to meet for dinner or some weekend program now and then, for almost two years, until last November.

In previous conversations about the American elections, while Trump looked to have no chance at all of winning, I used to jokingly tell Mr. American that I very much wanted him to win. It would make the next four years far too much entertaining, it was my argument. Though I am not quite sure he ever got it as a joke, for he used to answer in negative and serious ways about such a terrible hypothesis.

Then Trump won. And the next first time I met Mr. American at our kids school, I've got the strangest reaction I've ever had from a former friend. He looked at my eyes, a mix of bewilderment and fear in his eyes, and told me to not ever - ever - talk to him again. Just like that.

I was taken aback for a while. Not only because I could not see any reason for that, but because of that look he gave me. It was a very strange experience.

Then I understood: it was about Trump. He thought I was a Trumpite, which ironically, I am very much not.

I tell this little story above to ask my American friends here (friends? I don't know anymore with Americans :-), how is it going up there? The last two weeks of the news cycle have been spinning ever so fast about Trump 'scandals', I wonder how are people of different opinions interacting. Or am I the only one being unfriended?

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Is Technology Hiding Political Decay?

Perhaps most or all of you had seen this, but I had not. From Arnold Kling almost a decade ago:
Mencius Moldbug proposes a thought experiment.
Imagine that there had been no scientific or technical progress at all during the 20th century. That the government of 2008 had to function with the technical base of 1908..

[Conversely, imagine] what would become of 1908 America, if said continent magically popped up in the mid-Atlantic in 2008, and had to modernize and compete in the global economy - tell a different story. I am very confident that Old America would be the world's leading industrial power within the decade, and I suspect it would attract a lot of immigration from New America. 
...if we imagine the 20th century without technical progress, we see an almost pure century of disaster... 
a decaying system of government has been camouflaged and ameliorated by the advance of technology.
That is, today our elderly are affluent, our poor are more likely to be obese than hungry, and so on, in spite of rather than because of changes in the role of government. Obviously, that point of view is debatable. Still, if you had to choose between 21st-century technology alongside 19th-century government institutions vs. 21st-century government institutions alongside 19th-century technology, you would choose the former, no? If nothing else, the delta in technology is more strongly positive than the delta in government institutions, even if you disagree with Moldbug that the delta for the latter is negative.
Moldbug considers himself a reactionary (way farther right than a conservative) so he would certainly consider the non-technological aspects of last century a disaster.

There's no doubt in my mind that if technology hadn't advanced in the last century or so that white males in the United States would have become far, far worse off, so I'm sure than I'm unable to have a unbiased opinion on this. But from my horribly biased perspective, it does look to me like technological advancements have covered up for a net negative for nearly every group in every region of every country. Without those technological advancements, the world would be a really grim place right now for just about everybody.

It also seems that the wealth created by the technological advancement has enabled us to damage the cultural fabrics of the world without suffering the full effects and, as a result, has left the world in an unfortunately fragile state.