Rod Nordland in the NYT has your Monday must-read article out on Afghanistan. He gives a great view of the state of play as we enter the ending weeks
I'll let the author, BJ Campbell, set it up for you. For those who recall my still VERY valid "drums on the Rhine" post from a few years ago, you'll see why I like this.
I’m not a writer by trade. I’m a stormwater hydrologist, and in my opinion, a pretty good one. Hydrology is the science of tracking water as it moves through the water cycle, from ocean evaporation through cloud formation, precipitation, groundwater infiltration, runoff, evapotranspiration, riverine hydraulics, and the time series behavior of reservoirs. It is a deep and fascinating field, but one of its most relevant applications to our lives is delineating floodplain boundaries.
To determine a floodplain boundary, we first identify a “storm event” that concerns us. We use historical rainfall data and some statistical magic to calculate the worst storm event a place is likely to experience in a 100-year time span, probabilistically speaking, and we call that the “100-year storm.” There’s a push in the field to quit calling it that, because it confuses the muggles, so now we often say something like “the storm which has a 1% chance of happening in any given year.” Then we take that rainfall data, judiciously apply more math, and turn it into a flow rate in a river. Then we do hydraulics (more math) to determine how deep the river will have to be to carry that much water, and we draw a line on a map.
You should have seen this line, if you’ve ever bought a house near a floodplain. If you bought a house near a floodplain and were not shown this line, contact me professionally to ensure you didn’t make a terrible mistake.
We don’t buy houses in the floodplain if we can help it, because we are risk averse, even though the chance of it flooding in any given year is only 1%. Why? We will live in the house longer than one year. Over the 30-year life of a mortgage, the chance of the house flooding at least once vastly exceeds 1%, because every year is another roll of the dice. It’s not cumulative, though. The mathematics for back-calculating the odds is called a Bernoulli Process. Here’s what it looks like:If you have trouble with the math, read the whole article and then come back, he covers it in words as well.
This is where it gets interesting.
Now let’s talk about a bigger, nastier disaster than a flood.
...we ... have good sources of data on when the group of people on the piece of dirt we currently call the USA attempt to overthrow the ruling government. It’s happened twice since colonization. The first one, the American Revolution, succeeded. The second one, the Civil War, failed. But they are both qualifying events. Now we can do math.
Stepping through this, the average year for colony establishment is 1678, which is 340 years ago. Two qualifying events in 340 years is a 0.5882% annual chance of nationwide violent revolution against the ruling government. Do the same math as we did above with the floodplains, in precisely the same way, and we see a 37% chance that any American of average life expectancy will experience at least one nationwide violent revolution.
This is a bigger chance than your floodplain-bound home flooding during your mortgage.But wait ... there's more;
Or we could look at a broader historical brush. Since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, there have been 465 sovereign nations which no longer exist, and that doesn’t even count colonies, secessionist states, or annexed countries. Even if we presume that half of these nation-state transitions were peaceful, which is probably a vast over-estimation, that’s still an average of one violent state transition every 2.43 years.
If we look at raw dialectic alone, we reach dismal conclusions. “Do you think the United States will exist forever and until the end of time?” Clearly any reasonable answer must be “no.” So at that point, we’re not talking “if,” but “when.” If you don’t believe my presumed probability, cook up your own, based on whatever givens and data pool you’d like, and plug it in. The equations are right up there. Steelman my argument in whatever way you like, and the answer will still probably scare you.Thing is, in very recent memory we have an example of a relatively modern nation imploding.
In 2010, 8.5 million tourists visited Syria, accounting for 14% of their entire GDP. Eight years later, they have almost half a million dead citizens, and ten million more displaced into Europe. They didn’t see this coming, because if they did, they would have fled sooner. Nobody notices the signs of impending doom unless they’re looking carefully.At least we don't have any warning signs, eh?
Pretend you’re someone with your eyes on the horizon. What would you be looking for, exactly? Increasing partisanship. Civil disorder. Coup rhetoric. A widening wealth gap. A further entrenching oligarchy. Dysfunctional governance. The rise of violent extremist ideologies such as Nazism and Communism. Violent street protests. People marching with masks and dressing like the Italian Blackshirts. Attempts at large scale political assassination. Any one of those might not necessarily be the canary in the coal mine, but all of them in aggregate might be alarming to someone with their eyes on the horizon. Someone with disproportionate faith in the state is naturally inclined to disregard these sorts of events as a cognitive bias, while someone with little faith in the state might take these signs to mean they should buy a few more boxes of ammunition.I don't know about you, but I already have my bolt-hole ... I mean "hunting property" ... a couple of hours from the nearest big city and 30-min from the nearest interstate.