Getting Back 2 Good

If you’ve been following my inane tweets and non-technical blog posts for any length of time since 2015, you likely know the 2016 election cycle broke me more than just a tad, with each subsequent month of the Trump presidency adding a bit more breakage. My brain is constantly trying to make sense of the systems of the world, from the micro (small personal/home things) to the macro (global-scale things). There’s a Marvel character (no, this isn’t about “Cap”), Karnak, who’s chief ability is that he can see the flaws in all things, and it’s the closest analogy I can make to how deep down the rabbit hole my brain goes with this global-systems analysis. There’s always been a deep seated need to grasp the “why”, and “how” of any “what” (which, combined with being adept with silicon-laced glowing rectangles, explains the gravitation towards cybersecurity, though all my research scientist mates out there have that same Columbo-esque desire to get to the bottom of things).

I really thought I knew the histories and trajectories of a decent percentage of the “what”s in these world systems, believing that a slew of modern critial events, like Obama’s two-term presidency (to point to just one), were clear signs of the progress society had been making, despite the laundry list of overt divisions and inequities that remain. Even though we’ve lived in a rural Maine town for many years, I was blindsighted by the massive public support and normalization of hate, largely based on fear. For some reason, it was easy to dismiss partisan games in Congress as just the way things get done in a suboptimal system. It was too easy to compartmentalize the fact that supposedly decent folks, like my in-laws, hung on every word influencers like Rush Limbaugh and FOX News hosts spewed, thinking that it’s just a fringe element feeding off of such tainted information flows.

When signs of the then-impending pandemic first emerged, I naively thought it was going to be a catalyst for positive change. I thought even someone as narcissistic as Trump and his minions would see the need to unite folks under a banner of helping to ensure we protected as many people from the ravages of Covid as possible, and lead a coordinated, global effort to create and distribute treatments and vaccines as quickly as possible. I believed I knew how solid our CDC was, and saw so many talented scientists use their skills to model and explain various outcome paths, based on how we approached the handling of thie virus. I knew Bush helped orchestrate an initial modern pandemic playbook and that Obama built upon it, and that it was actually quite good.

Then I saw that we, collectively, just don’t care if scores of people are sickened and/or die. I heard so-called leaders say that the economy is more important than human life; heard entitled citizens that wearing a piece of cloth or paper over your mouth and nose was too much of a sacrifice to make; read countless stories from even so-called faith leaders that refraining from large indoor gatherings for a while, and periodically, to help ensure we don’t overwhelm our emergency medical systems and crush the healthcare workers in them was Nazi-like oppression. And, I saw the last leader of the free world (since we’ve now permanantly ceded that position to random agents of chaos) actively downplay and subvert the crisis, leading millions to follow his lead, which ultimately leads to the impending 1 million needlessly lost lives.

When those signals emerged in March of 2020, the break got a bit worse (picture one of those window or lake-ice cracks that spider out with each additional vibration), as it did with the drumbeat of terrible event of 2020 (of which there were many).

Like I suspect was the case with many readers (assuming there are many readers), I plain-up cried (the good kind) when Biden officially won the 2020 election. I foolishly thought, like so many others, that the sinking ship was at the start of being righted, and we’d be on a slow path towards sailing again.

Then, January 6th, 2021 happened. Since then, I’ve seen state, after state vie for the “Most Failed State” top spot. I’ve seen faith leaders and communities give their all to see who can be the worst possible verison of themselves. And, I’ve seen even the most stalwart among us declare the pandemic over because they’ve no stamina left to make any effort into caring for or about the least of us and those who provide medical care to our communities.

Talk about being broken.

We have this term in cybersecurity called “fuzzing”. It’s a technique where you send inputs into an application that it is not really designed to handle (e.g. imagine sending the entirety of Webster’s dictionary to a simple date field), and then doing this repeatedly to see if you can get the application to crash, change expected behavior, or end up in a state where you can compromise it. The events of 2015 through this very day feel like this has been/is one massive fuzz against the all the clear-thinking, decent members of society; and my human operating system just plain crashed.

In the spirit of “I can do this all day”, I may have been/be broken, but was/am not content to remain that way.

  • I’ve read more tomes than you would possibly believe if I were to list them out.

  • I’ve listened to so many podcasts that I was expecting Apple’s Health app to counsel me to, perhaps, shut off all audio devices for a month or two.

  • I’ve filled my RSS reader with feeds from exceptionally gifted humans who, too, have been trying to make sense of what has happened and where we are going.

  • (I’ve also prayed, walked, rode (bike), de-screened, socmed sabbaticaled, read more fiction than ever before, and intensified healthy cooking/eating to try to balance out all the bad inputs.)

I’ve done all this because I feel compelled to not only just understand (I actually need to understand), but also help fix this situation we’re in. Selfishly, a large part of that desire to leave a better world behind for my kids and our new grandson.

Of late, I’ve seen most of my input sources devolve into the same thing: chronicling the end of America as most modern folks know it. They’ve gone from working to make sense of why/how we got here and what can be done about it to doing the same thing we all pretty much did during 2016-2019: shaking our heads at every bad news item and noting how bat guano crazy the individual behind the bad news was. Not exactly hope-filling. In fact, I could sum up things up with two lines from Matchbox 20’s “Back 2 Good”

“And everyone here’s to blame
And everyone here gets caught up in the pleasure of the pain”

A recent entry into the aforementioned tomes was Jeremy W. Peters’ book “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted”. I’ve been a bit more choosy in what “Jan 6” analysis tomes I toss coin at, and was dismayed yet-another reporter was releasing a book, but I listened to the little voice, and dropped an Audible credit on it and I has been a literal Godsend.

A big reason for remaining broken is that there were many missing (key) system components. You can’t identify the failure modes without seeing the complete system, and Jeremy managed to fill in (most of) those gaps. He did an amazing job going back far enough, and walking through the event trees paintakingly enough that I could actually feel the puzzle pieces fitting into place. Where there were once clouds, there is now clear sky. Items with chasms between them now have bridges.

Having the systems functionally and nearly fully documented has been immensely theraputic. It’s astonishing to realize just how many personal mental processing cores had been dedicated to this problem. It’s also all kinds of amazing to have to have some of the cognitive processor faculties back to do things like code for fun, again.

Since this is not a book review (nor a book itself), I won’t go into each and every component that was made clear. That’s not really the point of this post.

I guess the first point is that if 2015-2022 also broke you in some way, realize you’re not alone. I don’t think anyone was fully (or even partially) prepared for what we all ended up enduring and continue to endure. Hopefully knowing you’re normal, and that there we broken folk are legion will help quell at least that part of being broken.

The second point is that there was a rhyme and reason to how we got to where we are now. It is, perhaps, more of a crass limerick than poetic rhyme, and the reasons aren’t great, but events weren’t random and they did not emerge from nowhere.

The third and last point is that knowing there are “why”s and “how”s to the “what”s means it is possible to work on forging compensating controls (i.e. there can be concrete actions we can take to make things better and setup hedges to prevent us from heading down similar chaotic paths). We’re still not on a great collective path forward, and there’s no magic wand we can wave to make things better. But, we all can make individual and incremental progress in our own ways. For some, like me, it may mean breaking out of some comfort zones to do things you would not normally do. For others, it may be applying aligned talents to triaged areasm, doing what you can to make even the smallest thing a tiny bit better. We’re not going to A-bomb our way out of this conflcit. It’s going to take a long period of incremental, positive change.

If you’re still working on figuring out what went awry, I highly recommend Jeremy’s book. You can also reach out if you need some personal reassurance that all is not, in fact, lost. Unlike the hopeless ending of the aforenoted Matchbox 20 song, I do, in fact, believe there is a way of “getting back to good” and, for me, that journey starts now.

I close with a heartfelt thank you for the patience and kindness many folks have shown and expressed over this period. You’ve done more than you can possibly know.

Cover image from Data-Driven Security
Amazon Author Page

2 Comments Getting Back 2 Good

  1. Pingback: Getting Again 2 Good – Safety Boulevard – hqwallbase

  2. mmaechler

    Thank you; good to read you kept hope and see good reasons for it, inspite – 1.Cor.13,13


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