The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: January 2024 Page 1 of 4

Clear Talk About History’s Sweep

I’m fifty-six. I’ll be fifty-seven in less than a month. My hair is white, and my body’s not what it used to be, though in some ways it never was.

My parents were conservatives but I remember back in 1979, they thought Reagan was a bad idea. They were right, but he won, and I was 12 years old, just finished elementary school and about to go to boarding school, as my father had a job in Bangladesh, then the poorest country in the world.

Seventy-nine/eighty is when the world changed. It had been changing before: working class male wages in the US peaked in 68: there was the OPEC crisis, going off gold, stagflation, etc… But it was Thatcher and Reagan who locked in neo-liberalism, which was essentially a looting operation. Sell everything off, burn it all down, turn it into cash and damn the consequences.

And here I am fifty-six watching the end of their crass, stupid and selfish movement. They created the world’s richest rich; transfered the world’s manufacturing base from American allies to China, completely gutted the environment such that we’re now past important tipping points, and they did it with the support of a lot of ordinary folks who wanted to be wealthy without having to work for it thru housing price gains and a stock market that never went down.

Those people: the Reagan Democrats, well, a lot of them won in that they died before the bill came due but the bill is being paid and will be paid by their children, grand-children and great-grand-children.

It was all unnecessary, there were better ways to fix our problems. I’ve written a ton of those articles, so have others, I won’t go into it.

We humans, in the hegemonic power and its satrapies, chose to burn it all down and throw it all away rather than make the necessary changes to create an economy which wouldn’t destroy the planet and which would be good for everyone.

Because of this we’re in classic population over-shoot. Look it up if you don’t know what it is, but basically, animals that overshoot, and we’ve proved ourselves dumb animals, have violent population crashes, and that’s what’s coming.

I write about some topics again and again. I apologize to those who are tired of it. I do so for a couple reasons, the first is that as a mentor once told me “about the time you’re sick of writing it, people are just beginning to get it.”

the second is that I really want you to know. I care about my readers and I want you to get how bad things are going to be: that we’ve passed the peaks and are on the downslide, so that, perhaps, you can do something about it: not to stop it, it isn’t going to be stopped and anyone telling you it will is lying to you, but to prepare and perhaps suffer less.

The sweep of history is fast and slow. It’s slow when you look at a single human life: I’m not going to see the next upswing, I’m too old and not very healthy. It was my curse to be born at the time when an empire decided to destroy itself and the largest environmental disaster in human history was about to happen. I’m lucky, I supposed, compared to those younger than me, most of whom will not see the next upswing either, but won’t have seen some of the good times, even if I didn’t participate in them much.

But the sweep of history is also fast. From Thatcher in 79 to now is forty-five years. That’s not very long. When I read my first economic textbook back in the early 80s, it noted that the US had a trade deficit, but it didn’t matter because American still produced almost everything it needed.

In less than fifty years the greatest industrial power the world had ever seen pissed it away, deliberately. It’s probably not a bad thing, the US was a bad hegemon, though much worse after Reagan than before. The Chinese will start out better and their run will be interrupted by environmental and civilization collapse. The end of American empire is probably bad for me personally, as a Canadian, but I figure it’s a net benefit to the world.

Humanity’s probably going to survive, but the next hundred and fifty years or so are going to be UGLY. Still, if we make it, and I’m betting we will, there will be another side.

I’m not going to stop writing about our problems, but I do want to write my little bit about what a better civilization, during the long emergency and after, might look like, so I’ll try to write more about that.

Thanks to all my readers who have hung on for the ride. I know it hasn’t been the most pleasant: there just hasn’t been much good news to share and that’s not going to change. But that doesn’t mean it’s all gloom, there are some silver linings (like the US going under), and there is some reason to hope for the future and believe that what we do now may influence that future for the better.

Let’s see if we can do that.

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And This God Has Granted To Me, That

I shall live to see the destruction of my enemies.

The great joy of watching the American government be humiliated, over and over again, as their empire collapses.

To watch as those they oppressed cease to fear them, as their enemies circle the old brute, nipping at their heels, tearing at them, as they dies innumerable wounds.

This, God has granted to me.

And so too has God granted to me to watch the end of Neoliberalism. “Greed is good” they screamed, as they strip mined the economy, becoming the richest rich in the world’s history, even as they destroyed the basis of their power.

Soon they will be the rich of undeveloping countries; the rich of India in 1950. Scream at China as they will, nothing will change that they sold the golden geese to china for cash on the barrelhead and two generations of epehemeral wealth.

The Europeans, so smug and so sure of themselves after centuries at the top, as they fall back to being the meaningless backwater of Eurasia that is Europe’s normal state. “But we live in a Garden!” they will wail, as the garden fills with wheels and wrecked cars.

Satraps of their own colony, slaves to America, colonialists who killed hundreds of millions then screamed that their enemies were evil, not them, no, they were the good people, the civilized people.

This, God has granted me to see.

And then, all the capitalists, in all the countries, China, America, Japan, Russia, Europe, India: everywhere. “We can grow infinitely! We’ll always substitute! Technology will save us! We should engineer products to for planned obsolesence! Wealth! Power! Infinity! We are geniuses! This is the best time every and we are the smartest smart people to ever smart!”

And it’s all coming down. Seems that infinite growth on a planet which isn’t infinite doesn’t work out. Seems that places to safely store pollution like CO2 and plastics aren’t infinite on a little green and blue planet. Seems like humans aren’t independent of insects and plants and other animals and plankton: that we’re just one life form and if we kill too many of the others that may not work out for us.

God did not grant to me the power or the voice or the gifts necessary to prevent any of this evil.

But God has granted to me to see the end days of my enemies, and if they are my end days as well, still will I enjoy them.

May Bush, and Bill Clinton and Blair and Pelosi and Obama and Biden all live very long lives, with clear minds, that they might see all they created destroyed.

This God has granted to me, to see the destruction of my enemies and the fall of all they built.

I worked to prevent this, with all my might, and failed, as did all of us who fought against these evils. May what is born after be born of good, and learn from the fall of evil.

But still, I will enjoy what God has granted me.

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The US & Nine Other Nations Now Helping Israel Starve Gazans

So, right after the ICJ enjoined Israel to stop genociding Palestinians, ten nations decided to suspend payments to UNRWA, the agency which feeds Palestinians in Gaza. The excuse is that Israel has accused eight of the 15,000 employees of being complicit in the October 7th attacks.


The only way to win the war is to starve Gazans out, because the Israeli military is too incompetent to win. The countries are major donors and are sufficient to cause real harm to the program:

The countries who have cut funding are: America, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Netherlands, UK, Italy, Australia, Finland and Japan.

The leaders of all these countries are guilty of aiding and abetting a deliberate famine meant to cause a genocide, and all should be tried for crimes against humanity and hung from the neck till dead

The total funding involved is about 700 million dollars out of a 1.1 billion dollar budget. That’s peanuts, and other countries could easily step in and fund UNWRA. We’ll see if any of those who are wringing their hands about genocide do so.

Politically it’s a very cheap way for countries to make big points, but, of course only a few countries in the world who have actually been willing to do anything real: Yemen, South Africa being most prominent.

“Never Again”, it turns out, means, “how can we help commit genocide?”

(Oh, and all those years I was saying the EU was evil? I was right.)

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 28, 2024

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 28, 2024

by Tony Wikrent


Global power shift

Maersk ships in US Navy convoy forced to retreat under Houthi missile attack 

[Trade Winds, via Naked Capitalism 01-26-2024]

As Armchair Warlord noted on X(Twitter): “Lost amid all the other news breaking in the last 24 hours is one particularly disturbing story: the United States Navy lost a battle at sea yesterday.”

[X-Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 01-25-2024]


The Reason China Can’t Stop Its Decline

Among specialists who follow China most closely, the two main causes cited for this new conventional wisdom have been known for years. The first is that China’s growth model has been overreliant on policies such as financial repression and extraordinary levels of investment. Here, repression has nothing to do with the usual political usage of the word. It means, rather, that the state controls domestic interest, exchange rates, and capital outflows in such a way that citizens receive little accrual or benefit from their high rates of savings. Instead, these are captured by the state and channeled into industries that are favored or prioritized by bureaucrats, including many that are state-owned.

Some of the problems that might arise from financial repression can seem apparent even to lay people. Bureaucrats tend to know little about business and are unlikely to be in the best position to make the smartest and nimblest economic bets about the industrial future. Some features of this setup may be less than obvious, though. When the state captures and invests the nation’s savings according to its own whims, capital becomes scarcer and more expensive for private investors. This also suppresses the domestic consumption that most mature economies depend on for growth. Finally, as the state channels more and more investment into industries of its choosing, average return on investment falls. China is now at the point where it must invest huge amounts of capital to produce each new dollar of economic growth, and everything points to this continuing to worsen….

[TW: I included this because of its use of the term “financial repression” in an example of clumsy and terribly inaccurate Western analysis of China.  In fact, financial predators are the very reason the USA industrial base was “hollowed out” inevitably resulting in the inability to produce enough ammunition. or to build safe and cost-effective aircraft.]

Why the World Is Betting Against American Democracy

[Politico, via The Big Picture 01-21-2024]

Ambassadors to Washington warn that the GOP-Democratic divide is endangering America’s national security.

Will Israel Invade Lebanon? Will They Win If They Do?

Hezbollah’s Flag

Lots of reports coming out that an attack is imminent.

Israel is caught in a bind. The constant attacks on settlements and military targets in the north of Israel from Hezbollah in Lebanon have forced settlers to leave. There’s are at least a quarter million internal Israeli refugees, and they can’t return until Hezbollah stops firing. The ongoing war, the problems with trade, the refugees and so on are causing massive budget and economic problems.

Hezbollah won’t stop firing until Israel leaves Gaza, stops bombing it and stops the blockade.

Israel, or rather Netanyahu, needs a win in Gaza or his political career is over.

Hamas won’t give up the hostages until there is a permanent peace and all Israeli troops withdraw from Gaza, but the Israeli project is to occupy at least part of Gaza permanently.

The only way Israel can end the Hezbollah strikes is thus to, in effect, lose the war with Hamas. Such a loss isn’t just the end of Netanyahu’s career, it’s a massive strike to Israel’s legitimacy, and to the myth that Israel is powerful.

And it’s the end of the settler project in the North, since any new settlers (or old ones) will know that they’re there at the sufferance of Hezbollah, which wants them gone and will eventually try and force the issue. Settlers will leave and stop coming if the IDF can’t protect them, and protecting them means having deterrence over Hezbollah

So Israel needs to force Hezbollah to stop attacking without meeting Hezbollah’s demands. They need to prove they can still force Hezbollah to what they want. The threat of force isn’t working any more, so like a bully whose victim won’t give them what they want, they now have to go all in.

Problem is Israel can’t even win against Hamas, who are far weaker than Hezbollah. Hezbollah has 150,000 missiles, many of which can reach Tel Aviv. Israel won’t be able to defeat Hezbollah and they won’t be able to stop the missiles, so to “win” they’ll have to devastate Lebanon’s civilians: mass destruction, like in Gaza.

Problem is, again, that Hezbollah is a LOT stronger than Hamas and has enough missiles with enough range to launch absolutely massive attacks against Tel Aviv. They can take out Israel’s power, their water: everything. Anything that Israel does to Lebanon with air power, Hezbollah can do in return. And Israeli civilian morale is likely to be a lot weaker than Lebanese civilian morale.

Worse, though I don’t believe the Israelis understand this, if they lose the war on the ground, Hezbollah’s strong enough to advance into Israel and take and hold ground.

Israel’s in a bind, and unless they’re a lot stronger than I think they are (they aren’t) or Hezbollah’s a lot weaker, or the US mobilizes for war against Hezbollah, they’re marching into a war they can’t win; a war which will destroy their internal legitimacy by proving the IDF can’t protect civilians and can’t win wars, and which will badly damage and possibly even destroy the settler project and thus the “River to the Sea” for Israel.

Could happen to a country who deserves it, but only with a lot of looking.

The price of expelling Israel from Palestine will be huge, but Israel is on that road.

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The ICJ Ruling On Israeli Genocide In Gaza

So, the ICJ has ruled:

Indicates the following provisional measures:
(1) By fifteen votes to two,
The State of Israel shall, in accordance with its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this Convention, in particular:

– 25 –
(a) killing members of the group;
(b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical
destruction in whole or in part; and
(d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group

The state of Israel shall ensure WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT that its MILITARY does NOT commit any acts described in point 1.

The court will rule on whether or not a genocide is occurring in a month, at which point a lot more Palestinians will be dead, including from the Israeli engineered famine.

When Russia invaded the Ukraine, the ICJ ordered Russia out one month after the original invasion.

Of course, Russia ignored the ruling, just as Israel will—the genocide will continue, evidence will be destroyed and humanitarian assistance will not be provided.

The ICJ ruling matters because Israel survives due to support from the US and Europe. When that support goes away, so will Israel. Their crimes are not possible without the US shipping them arms 24/7, and their economy needs assistance from the West.

Anything that chips away at the support of various internal political groups in Western countries for the Israeli project thus matters because Israel support is a domestic issue.

Although people don’t like to come out and say it, there are a lot of rich Jews (no, don’t, this is backed up by the statistics) and a lot of them are Zionists, and money is political power. In the US evangelical Christians also support Israel. There is a lot of money and a lot of votes for politicians in letting Israel ethnic cleanse and genocide Palestinians.

(This does not, obviously, mean Jews are bad, or even Evangelical Christians. It means Zionists are bad, and there tend to be more Zionists in those two groups.)

Domestic political support in places like the US, Germany and France for Zionism is what matters. Anything that cuts away at the legitimacy of Zionism is thus dangerous to the ethnic cleansing and genocide program. Europeans, in particular, like to think they support international law and even the US drones on about the “rules based order” constantly.

Elites, at first, were unified in support of Israel’s actions in Gaza. The reason is simple: it’s seen as career and political suicide to oppose Zionism, and this perception is largely correct. Over time, however, Israel’s actions became so grossly disproportionate and their targeting of civilians, schools, hospitals and even children and babies, that more and more members of the elite felt they couldn’t support Israel.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll speak out against genocide, it means, in practice, that they are mostly silent: caught between the fact that opposing Israel is career suicide and that supporting an obvious genocide may also come back to haunt them.

Still, if they have cover, many of them would like to just abandon Israel. They don’t like being put in this position, and Israel has been particularly naked about its crimes: screaming them to heavens for all to see and making plausible deniability all but impossible.

So, the ICJ ruling is still a good thing, not because it can or will be enforced, but because it makes the cost of supporting Israel just a little higher.

And the day the West won’t or can’t support Israel, is the day their little apartheid state is done.


Your Greatest Enjoyment

A few memories stand out for me:

Age 5 or so, on the beach, kneeling on a rocky granite outcropping. The tide is out, and the rock has many small basins still full of water. In one of them a few small fish, silver and a sort of reddish gold, swim in circles. I stare, fascinated.

A tiny room in the third story of an old house. The woman I’m in love with, a psychology major, is doing her her homework, sprawled on her bed. I’m tucked into an alcove, knees up against my chest, reading a book. We aren’t talking or touching, but I’m warm in a cold room, my eyes are soft, and both of us are perfectly aware of the other.

I’m eighteen, running on 4th Avenue. The sun is shining, people are out shopping. I zip past a mirrored wall and turn my head to watch myself run. My form is flawless: my knees come up parallel to the ground, I’m running about a five minute mile, almost effortlessly, muscles warm and relaxed. I’ve done about eight miles; two to go. Sweet.

Now, or in the past, what have you enjoyed most? Write in comments, or email me if you don’t want to share widely.


Construction of Reality: Interaction Ritual

Three Chapters from the preview remain after this one:

9.The Ritual Masters (How rituals create different types and classes of people)

10. The Ideologues (How identity is tied into story, ideology and meaning)

11. Reign of the Ideologues (How ideology is used to create civilizations and the payoffs for ideologues)

We have, so far, talked mostly about more obvious rituals like worship or signing the national anthem or saluting the flag.

But there is another class of ritual, interaction ritual(x). Interaction rituals are the small, repetitive ways you live your life. Think of meeting a friend: you greet each other, you ask how each of you are doing, you commiserate if the news is bad or you congratulate them if it is good, and when you leave you say goodbye. Depending on your culture you may hug them or kiss them on the cheek when meeting and leaving.

As suggested before, try this experiment, next time you meet a friend: don’t say goodbye. If your culture requires a gesture of physical affection, avoid it.

Feels awkward, doesn’t it? Feels wrong.

This specific ritual affirms that each of you is important to the other: worthy of consideration and affection.

We go thru this same form with strangers we interact with, but without most of the obligations. Next time the store clerk asks you how your day was, don’t answer.

A slight feeling of awkwardness, but nothing like doing that to a friend. And, in fact, the rules are different, when they ask you, aren’t expected to actually tell them, “well my Dad died today and I feel awful”, though if you do, most people will react with appropriate commiseration.

Interaction ritual is a subset of repetitive behaviour, but it is important because it happens with other people, and breaking the expectations of an interaction ritual feels awkward or embarrassing.

We’ll discuss interaction ritual in school in a later chapter, but remember how you act towards teachers and how they act to you? Different, eh? See how service workers act around the people they serve. Servants are the most extreme case: a servant always acts as if those he or she serve owns the space around them. They are unobtrusive, apologetic: the world belongs to the masters, not to them.(X)

Think about asking your boss for a raise or having to speak to a crowd. Imagine turning to the stranger in the elevator and saying something to them, even something nice “I love what you’ve done with your hair!”

Oops. You’ve just violated an interaction ritual: that put into close quarters with strangers, we will ignore them, not intrude further on their space.

Or just move closer to someone than feels comfortable. Or stand slightly further from someone than your relationship suggests. If you stand too close they’ll usually step away. Wait 30 seconds, take a slight step forwards. You can actually walk people dozens of feet across a room this way, but beware, they are likely to get angry, hurt, or scared. Possibly all three.

Interaction ritual is how social reality is reified every single day. It sets our relationships with other people, and it keeps them relatively stable, changing mostly as our roles, and thus, how we are supposed to act in such rituals, change.

Your co-worker becomes boss, and suddenly she has a desk which faces her door, rather than away from the door of her cubicle. The desk is, by default, thus, between you and her every time you approach her in her office. She asks you to sit or she doesn’t: that is her choice. People come to her for permission and she gives it or denies it. The very process of people asking her for permission means different interactions, and over time they will change her feeling of who she is. They will also change her former co-workers feelings towards her. If they don’t, she will likely fail as a boss.

Interaction ritual is endless and varied and entire books have been written about it.(x) The simplest way to see if social behaviour is interaction ritual is to change it: act differently and see if it feels bad or makes other people upset. Walk into the CEOs office without asking permission from her secretary. Sit down without being invited. Say, “hey Mary, how ya doing today.”

Well, do all this only if you’re about to quit or just have, so you don’t get fired.

But more subtle variations are all around us. In common speech, we call this violating etiquette. In a culture with strong queuing rules cut in near the front of the line, say.

Frost. Or worse.

Violating some ritual requirements is dangerous: cutting the line can, at the most extreme end, get you punched. Refusing to bump fists with the rowdy young man can make him and his friends decide you’re stuck up, and that can lead to violence. Even when it doesn’t, as with having a friendly chat with your CEO without permission, calling her by her first name and lighting up a cigarette without her permission, violating interaction rituals can mess your life up.

Failure at interaction ritual tells people you are not of the tribe, not to be trusted. You don’t act right.

So interaction ritual makes you into a certain sort of person both because successful interactions are rewarded, and because you will be punished for not going along. And if you insist on not going along too much, it will usually cut you off from power and money and influence.

That’s how successful ritual regimes work: they reward those who comply, and sanction those who don’t.

Bearing that in mind, let us talk about those who benefit most from rituals, their masters.


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