Gongol.com Archives: February 2024

Brian Gongol

February 16, 2024

Threats and Hazards The saddest book

One of the saddest books of all time wasn't written to bring anyone down. When Mikhail Gorbachev published "Perestroika" in 1987, he may have paid lip service to the Soviet institutions he inherited (an early subchapter is titled "Turning to Lenin, an Ideological Source of Perestroika"), but it was evident that he was trying to steer a very big ship of state in a very different direction. ■ Gorbachev never got to see his plans through to fulfillment; by the end of 1991, he was out of power and it looked like Russia was on a fast track to liberalization. We know now that it wasn't. ■ The Baltic states -- Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia -- have shown that an escape vector from Soviet Communism was possible to achieve. Their economies have grown enviably, their freedoms are strong, and Estonia has even become a world leader in "digital citizenship". Lithuania's prime minister is a woman born in Generation X, and all three countries cleared the hurdles for EU membership years ago. ■ Russia, by contrast, is ruled by a cruel regime that invades its neighbors with blood lust and murders political prisoners like Alexei Navalny. ■ Russia could have taken a different path, and the consequences of its failure are incalculable. Communism wasted immeasurable potential human happiness, and the failure to escape the hangover from Communism wastes even more. ■ Even worse, the failure to achieve a sustainable transition from the USSR to a liberalized Russian state means that there is no road map left behind for other countries to follow for a similar transition. Most significantly, China will someday reject Communism (it is an inherently unstable and unsustainable regime), and Russia's failure to "pilot test" what a successful post-Communist transition could look like in a country of 140 million will leave matters even worse when China has to do the same with 10 times as many people. ■ Theodore Roosevelt once counseled, "[W]e must face the facts as they are. We must neither surrender ourselves to foolish optimism, nor succumb to a timid and ignoble pessimism." ■ Deep down, people know they are meant to be free. No amount of repression can stop them from reasoning it spontaneously, even if all influence from the outside world is cut off. That ought to be our optimism. ■ But despotic regimes are selfish and cruel and don't often hesitate to destroy their righteous opponents. That is our inescapable pessimism. Navalny saw his fate coming. Ultimately, it is and must be up to Russia to heal itself. But anyone who does the bidding of the irredeemable tyranny there is themselves a disgrace. The evil will fall someday -- but the human happiness sacrificed in the meantime is abominable.

News Holding on to more peripheral friends

Just as it's possible to get too many marketing emails from the same source (no, we don't need to receive your coupons daily), it's also possible to have too much intensive contact with peripheral friends. It leads to burnout, and unfortunately, that's the only gear that most of our social media tools are designed to encourage: Too much, too often. ■ What we need are manageably-periodic friendship encounters. They're relatively easy to cultivate if you do things in the real world (going to church, volunteering at a library, leading a Cub Scout group), but harder to do online. But since we spend so much time online (85% of us daily, and some "almost constantly"), we need tools to make that happen more easily.

Threats and Hazards Let's not sleepwalk into cyber disaster

CBS reports: "Hackers backed by the Chinese government are targeting U.S. water treatment plants and electrical grids, strategically positioning themselves within critical infrastructure systems to 'wreak havoc and cause real-world harm to American citizens and communities'". This is a huge problem, about which we cannot be absent-minded or oblivious.