Recently, some of you might have seen a charlatan known as Peter Zeihan on ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’. In case you haven’t, here is the link for that episode. While I am not sure if it was Zeihan’s first appearance on that show, it was certainly his biggest recent public exposure. FYI- I have been familiar with this character for some years now because of his frequent guest spots on other “alternative” talk shows on YouTube. But getting back to his recent appearance on the Rogan show, more than a few people found Rogan’s promotion of this character a bit odd, since he usually promotes those with an anti-establishment bent. In case you don’t know, Peter Zeihan’s origin story is deeply intertwined with various fronts and NGOs funded by three letter agencies. Do a search about Zeihan’s connection to Stratfor and look at the background of those who have promotes him in the past. I could write an entire series of posts about his various connection with a lot of interesting and shady characters.
So let us talk about how I realized that Zeihan was a three letter agency plant and shill actively promoted by them from almost the first time I saw him. Yes.. I realized that he was a shill the first time I came across him. Let us begin with the first classic sign that a public figure is an inauthentic plant or scammer. Anybody who talks very fast or with excessive confidence and certainty is either a moron or a scammer. If the person is not obviously a moron, he or she is almost certainly a scammer. This is especially true if person claims expertise about anything involving complex systems. So what do I mean by complex systems and how are they different from simple systems?
The best way to understand the difference between them is to ask two questions : 1) Is the system made up of a few basic types or classes of physical units or concepts? For example- thermodynamics as taught in high school and undergraduate courses tries to model aggregate properties for large assemblies of molecules (or atoms) using algebra and statistics to provide results that are close to reality. The same is true for maths where the fundamental rules of numerical operations are clearly documented, logical and have been subject to tons of pedantic analysis in the past. My point is that it is far easier to be certain about predicted results in areas such as mathematics, physics and chemistry than something such as weather, climate or animal physiology. A corollary of this rule is that any predictions about truly complex systems such the economy and political course of nations is largely wishful thinking.
Now let us move to the next point of difference between simple and complex systems. As the question: Does the system have potential for emergent behavior? Here is an example to help you understand this better.. The ‘Ideal Gas’ law taught in high school thermodynamics works for a large list of gases under a fairly large range of conditions because the behavior of molecules (or atoms) for most common gases is within 5% of what is predicted by ideal gas particles AND they do not display emergent behavior such as polymerizing or decomposition at high temperatures or pressures. The same cannot be said about a complex system such as climate since anything from small changes in temperature, surface reflectivity, atmospheric water vapor, air currents, ocean currents etc will alter the others in nonlinear and unpredictable ways.
By now, you will have probably figured out that making accurate predictions about truly complex systems such as human societies and nations is an exercise in futility. At best, it is possible to predict the most likely pathways these systems will go down and the probability they will do so. For example, we can say with a good degree of certainty that the USA of 2030 will be noticeably more administratively fragmented than the one of 2020. However, nobody can tell you with certainty whether a given administrative function will be localized or not, or at which admin level. In my case, I was able to say (as early as 2002) that China would be the predominant industrial power and largest economy (measured in real purchasing power) by 2022. But as you know some parts of that prediction came true before the others and in some cases it took a couple of years to realize that that had passed certain thresholds.
Talking about China.. do you know that Zeihan predicted the collapse of China within a decade in 2010. If you don’t believe me- just have a look at the receipts. Have a look at the rest of his “predictions” (esp about countries such as Iran, Japan, Indian, Turkey etc) and you will see that most of his predictions were wildly inaccurate and the ones which were not totally wrong were either ongoing changes or obvious trends. So why would people listen to a charlatan such as Zeihan, given he sucks so badly at his job? To understand this apparent puzzle, you have to look at what he is really selling. For starters, Zeihan is not selling his ability to model and predict the future- because he has none. Instead he is selling reassurance to people living in the declining West, especially USA, that the status quo will remain largely unchanged. Zeihan is the political science version of charlatans peddling “miraculous” cures to people dying from terminal illnesses such as various cancers. He is selling false hope to people living in a decaying and dying West, and there is a large market for that right now.
You might have noticed that Zeihan seems to find worthless and spurious data points to denigrate all countries other than USA, and to a lesser extent the West. Why would that be the case? Can you say with a straight face that the degree and rise of political polarization, dismal performance of health care system and its rising costs, dismal trends in higher education, unaffordable housing prices, dismal job prospects, dismal fertility patterns in native born Americans, high numbers for “deaths of despair” and many other obvious negative trends in USA are not going to severely compromise the ability of this country to exist as functionally unified entity in the upcoming decade? Do you really think that massive immigration from poor countries in south and central America can fix all of these systematic problems? Can you comprehend the choke points for a country than can no longer manufacture Tylenol, Ibuprofen and common antibiotics or manufacture refrigerators and light bulbs?
Zeihan’s real “skill”, if you can call it that, is his ability to regurgitate cherry picked/ distorted/ fabricated data to provide reassurance to aging Americans that they are blessed to be living in the “best country in the world”. He is just another fast-talking charlatan like Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens and their equivalents on the left. At best Zeihan is a source of entertainment to people like me because he constantly displays his lack of knowledge about the internal politics and situation in countries ranging from China, Russia, India and Japan to smaller ones such as Mexico and Argentina. For example, he is unable to comprehend that the relation between the government and corporations is fundamentally different in East Asia compared to USA. Long story short, governments in East Asian countries (esp China) dictate to corporations rather than the other way around. Also, unlike in the West- bureaucracies in East-Asia do employ tons of competent people and give them considerable autonomy. Then again, his target audience is mostly white Americans (esp the older ones) who want to believe things won’t go down the drain- even when every sign around them is screaming otherwise. But none of this matters to Zeihan and his ilk, because when the time comes they will just move on to their next scam.
What do you think? Comments?
He's a self promoter who seems to deliberately exploit the confirmation of a segment of the US elite. That's his entire act in a nutshell. A prototypical charlatan. You could hardly find anyone that more readily fits the meaning of charlatan short of say Jordan Peterson or Elon Musk. Self promoting charlatan, feeds the confirmation bias of his audience/customers. Somewhat equal parts annoying and entertaining.