The Long View 2009-01-18: Emergency Measures Against the Phenomenon of John Connor (BPBUH)

Things have been slow with the Long View Re-posting Project of late, but let’s roll into the archive of 2009.

Emergency Measures Against the Phenomenon of John Connor (BPBUH)

May a high time be had by all at Tuesday's presidential inauguration. I begrudge no one the opportunity for a good party, even a very expensive one. Still, it does seem to me that there has not been a presidential inauguration in my lifetime preceeded by so much fanfare. The one public event of any description that created more excitement, it seems to me, was the Bicentennial in 1976.

I was listening to non-stop coverage on NPR this morning of the preparations, and I started to wonder what that station's coverage would be like on this Sunday before the big day if John McCain had been elected. There would have been human-interest stories, of course: a visit to some homeless shelters, no doubt, and perhaps an interview with a spokesman for a group claiming to represent wounded Iraq War veterans. The reporter who actually visited the National Mall would have noted the low turnout at the pre-inaugural events, except for the anti-McCain demonstrations.

But what do we have instead? As Mark Steyn points out, we have an emergency:

What happened last week was that the Bush administration formally declared a federal emergency in the District of Columbia.

So what was it? An ice storm? A hurricane?

No, it's the inauguration of his successor. The inauguration is scheduled to make landfall on Tuesday and wreak havoc all night long,...the mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, put in a request for more federal money...through FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency...The proposition that a new federal administration is itself a federal emergency is almost too perfect an emblem of American government in the 21st century...So a "federal emergency" is no longer a nuclear strike on Cleveland or even a Category Three hurricane, but now a snowfall in New England and an inaugural ball at the Mayflower Hotel....The metastasization of FEMA teaches several lessons – the first and most obvious being that any new government program, agency or entitlement will always outgrow whatever narrow purpose it was created for.

Maybe, but one might note that programs are, at least in theory, programmable; they afford the possibility of control. The breakthrough to fiscal chaos was actually made by the Republican Congress, which stopped even pretending to write serious budgets. They would not allow any regular budgeting for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, preferring to cover the costs through supplemental bills. For that matter, they would not fund budget items for the estimated relief costs of ordinary disasters for the next fiscal year. When the disasters occurred, they would be paid for haphazardly, without such socialist flummery as planning. The late Bush Administration, like the early Obama Administration, seems content to normalize this blood-curdling practice.

But these are small points. The word "emergency" is a term to conjure with in political theory. This snippet from my review of Hardt & Negri's Empire makes the point that emergency is by no means the same as anarchy:

[T]he Empire is Saint Augustine’s City of God. As you might imagine, it’s a tough nut to crack. Like the Roman Empire, it seems to its subjects to be permanent, eternal, and necessary. It has no outside, at least in principle, and internally it distinguishes neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free. It does not rest on conquest, but on consensus. The Empire is the post-historical incarnation of eternal justice. The Empire does not merely happen to exist, like a historically contingent state does; rather, the Empire must exist, at least as an ideal. It closes the gap that opened in the Renaissance between the ethical and the juridical. Its wars are just wars, police actions against opponents who can marshal no principled claims against it. No civil or military stresses remain that might threaten it; the Empire is always in a crisis, so its acts are emergency measures that trump the ordinary law of the sovereignties and corporations that comprise it.

Perhaps it is precisely because the Empire must exist that it never rests easily with contingent state structures, or indeed with mere positive law.

* * *

In physics, too, we find the distinction between shadow and substance.

The conservation of information is a principle of quantum mechanics: the universe cannot "forget" anything, even if particular bits of information cannot be recovered as a practical matter. However, the discovery that black holes evaporate over time as radiation, destroying any information that existed within their event horizons, seemed to contradict this principle. The solution to Hawking's Paradox, as it was called, seems to be that information about the interior of a black hole is encrypted in tiny quantum fluctuations at the event horizon, generating what is essentially a hologram of the interior. Thus, the information inside the black hole is not lost. There had been some speculation that the same could be true of the universe, which has its own "event horizon" in the expanding boundry past which light has not yet expanded since the big bang. Now one of the experiments intended to detect gravity waves has afforded some tentative support for the hypothesis that the universe we see is in fact hologram:

"If the GEO600 result is [not just noise from the apparatus] then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram."...If space-time is a grainy hologram, then you can think of the universe as a sphere whose outer surface is papered in Planck length-sized squares, each containing one bit of information. The holographic principle says that the amount of information papering the outside must match the number of bits contained inside the volume of the universe.

Since the volume of the spherical universe is much bigger than its outer surface, how could this be true? [I]n order to have the same number of bits inside the universe as on the boundary, the world inside must be made up of grains bigger than the Planck length. "Or, to put it another way, a holographic universe is blurry"....

Philosophically-minded readers will immediately be reminded of Plato's Cave, but not perhaps of Kant's distinction between noumenon and phenomenon: the universe that the physical universe encrypts would be knowable, I think. Philosophy aside, don't holograms have all sorts of nifty properties that would have implications for communication and travel in a holographic universe?

* * *

I cannot say that the Terminator series is my favorite science-fiction franchise. Nonetheless, it has a following, and particularly with regard to the character John Connor. He is essentially a messianic figure. A hunted youth now, he will in the apocalyptic future lead a revolt of the human race against the evil robots of the Sky Guard system. Survivalists, I gather, use him as a symbol. However, if you believe this Mahdi Watch posting of Friday, January 16, 2009, "Portrait of the Mahdi as a Young Man," such a person is already believed to exist, and is already behind hunted:

Last year, on the Ides of March, I commented on the Palestinian cleric--`Isa Badwan--whose claim that the Mahdi had been born in 2004 in the Palestinian territories was carried on Hamas' al-Aqsa TV. Comes now an article ("Palestinian Journalist and Intellectual Criticizes Hamas TV Report of Mahdi's Birth & Prediction of Conquest of Rome," by an expatriate Palestian intellectual, Ahmad Abu Matar, to the effect that elements of Hamas are fostering such Mahdist beliefs among the Palestinian masses; Abu Matar mocks not only Badwan--"Since, as most Palestinians are surely aware, the city of Gaza's territory is only 45 square kilometers, it is highly possible that the awaited Palestinian Mahdi, who has already been born, lives within a few meters of the Israeli soldier Gilead Shali"-- but also Iraq's Muqtada al-Sadr, for claiming the U.S. invaded Iraq in order to identify and capture the Mahdi.

This site bears reading.

Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site