Beyond the Material

March 23, 2008

I’ve been reading a book suggested to me by a Rabbi whose class I’ve been going to lately called World Mask. It’s very good and like any book describing a non-material view of the universe, it’s mind bending in the extreme.

I noticed an interesting parallel this afternoon with another mind-bender of a book I read a while back called The Singularity Is Near. Ray Kurzweil, the futurist author of Singularity who’s built quite a following for himself, describes a future based on the observation that technology increases at an exponential, rather than linear rate. Ultimately, he thinks that an upcoming burst of technological advancement (AI, plus nano technology etc) is going to, to paraphrase, “spread intelligence throughout the universe” by converting existences’ matter into a part of an intelligent uber-AI system where every bit of matter is part of the all-knowing whole.

The weird parallel? In many ways, one aspect of Judaism’s view of existence, the non-material aspects of which World Mask delves into, is that that’s already true.

Update: A lot of people think Kurz is drastically underestimating how tough it is to figure out the brain.  Good summary of the argument in wired here.

The new top two primary has even more profound implications for single party legislative seats. Districts where one party or the other utterly dominates are common and the political laws of nature say they’re going to be represented by someone either really liberal or really conservative. But, consider the following scenario:

The Tale of an Eastern Washington “Populist”

“A legislative seat opens up in a heavily Republican Eastern Washington district. A traditionally Democratic group – say SEIU – recruits a candidate who supports them on major labor issues. SEIU cherry picks a few other traditionally Democratic interest groups to play too and they pour money and expertise into their chosen champion while simultaneously making sure that no serious Democrat files, which wasn’t likely anyway.

Through savvy campaigning and a built-in base, the SEIU candidate finishes second and squares off in the general against a conventional Republican. Now, we’ve got a real fight on our hands. Nearly all the Democrats in the district go to the SEIU candidate who has still got an R by his name and makes a serious play for independents and a slice of the GOP vote. He could easily win under those circumstances, while under the old blanket primary, he wouldn’t have had a shot.”

Business groups, who’ve been collectively experiencing a case of Stockholm Syndrome under Democratic control of the state capitol, can do the same thing in Seattle area Democratic strongholds by fielding socially liberal, economically more conservative candidates. Right now, liberal groups don’t have much incentive to play in GOP primaries because Democrats control so many seats, but business groups desperately need some influence, and will be truly thrown to the sharks if Dino doesn’t win the gubernatorial race.

Washington’s new top-two primary system that was unexpectedly saved by the Supreme Court today opens the door to some deeply subversive political tactics. Now, instead of influencing fights between parties, interest groups can leverage their political juice in fights within the parties. Get ready for labor backed Eastern Washington GOPers and business funded Seattle Democrats.

Obama’s speech today was the best he could do under the circumstances and will help staunch the bleeding he’s suffered over the episode. It was a fairly deft attempt to move the conversation back to his main theme (“Vote for me and thy dreams of unity shall be fulfilled”) and should help move the issue out of the press. Still it’s one more episode in the steady drip, drip, drip that we’ll be seeing until November and staunching the bleeding isn’t the same as healing a wound.

The still simmering Rezko scandal will sting a lot more over the long term, and if Obama could have diffused it with cheap, cheap words he would have by now. Why? Because it cuts to the core of his appeal.

An interesting difference between the two scandals is that one is primarily an earned media scandal, and the other has a strong paid media component. A controversy like Wright only has legs as long as it’s in the news and viral circuit, but Rezko is tailor made for hard hitting campaign ads later in the cycle.