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

Angry Interview on Trump, Dark Ages, and Despair

I spent an hour and some talking on Virtually Speaking about Trump, Dark Ages, Jane Jacobs book on Dark Ages and about Despair.

This the angriest interview I’ve ever done, there’s some choppy editing (including a jump at 44 minutes where topic changes without warning), and there is a fair bit of me saying “umm” and so forth as I sort out my answers. I’m not recommending it to everyone, but it’s available if you want to listen. If you read my piece on Jacobs book, a fair bit will be repetitive for you.

Again, this is Angry. Don’t listen if you don’t want to listen to an hour of an angry guy.

If you want something short, smooth, and not angry on dealing with despair, this will work better.


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  1. No not quite angry enough – but getting there.

  2. markfromireland

    You might be interested to know that Maryam is still going strong. Mohammed seems set to become an Ayatollah at an even younger than his father did, as wekk as his studies he’s heavily involved in Sadrist politics and has garnered quite a following. He spent some time in training in Lebanon, and subsequently confirmed his trainers’ high opinion of his abilities by successfully commanding an urban assault group in Syria for a while. Unsurprisingly both of them continue to loath America and Americans with a coldly calculating loathing.

  3. Ian Welsh

    I’m glad they’re both doing well, and glad I’m not an American, though Canada is far too complicit in far too much evil.

  4. Tom

    Moar Anger 🙂

    Actually tame, need more well timed F-bombs.

    Still you hit the main problems. Any even Jane Jacobs books are now on Kindle and I’m going to start reading her.

  5. Webstir

    Now, more than ever, we have as Thoreau stated, become the tools of our tools. Should events ever transpire such that we are cut off from this tool I have on my lap — and virtually everything that depends on it — it doesn’t take a genius to imagine that the loss of knowledge will be orders of magnitude more profound (and rapid) than in the dark ages.

    But as Ian talked about in the despair portion of his talk, I guess I’m not too worried about it personally. As a native western Montanan — and current behind enemy lines N. Idahoan — I’ve learned to become a jack of all trades and master of none. The world could burn and I think I’d be ok. But even though Ian talks about the disconnect between feeling empathy for our in-groups, and apathy for the out-groups, I think I’d still feel a little sad for all you urbanites 🙁

  6. Webstir

    But not so sad that I want you to move here …

  7. markfromireland


    At some point I’d love to read an exploration by you of the difference between responsibility and culpability.

    Yes Canada/Canadians have acquiesced or been actively complicit in much evil and I really mourn the demise of the old Canada that I remember from my time there as a scholarship boy. But you work with what the situation is rather than what it was or could have been and try to improve it.

  8. EmilianoZ

    The yoga is not working?

  9. Ian Welsh

    Meditation/cultivation doesn’t mean you don’t get angry or sad or anything else (well, there are specific states you can achieve, but it’s not necessary). What it means is you don’t stay there. I used to be angry all the time. I ended the interview, 10 minutes later I wasn’t angry.

  10. F-bombs do not make anger – the just show the speaker in powerless. What keeps surprising me, is the inability of Contemporary revolutionaries to engage in one of the fundamental operations: counting. the vision of our “fellow travelers” is that they are the dominant generation. But this is not true at this point, and other means have to be looked into.

    Or you can keep losing, and blaming the system – which is what most of you will do.

    ( )

  11. Webstir


    I’m pretty sure that if the speaker says he’s angry at the time, and reinforces that anger with the word fuck — he’s angry.

    And what does this mean: “the vision of our “fellow travelers” is that they are the dominant generation. But this is not true at this point, and other means have to be looked into.”

    Is that a convoluted way of saying that one generation out numbers the others in getting to the voting booth? Or that, the blue collar voters showed up in greater numbers than the Obama meritocrocrat coalition? I’m confused by your statement.

    I had a law professor who kept the following quote by David McCullough taped to his door:

    “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”

  12. It means he is angry – and can’t do anything about it.

    This is not the Vietnam era – you do not have numbers on your side.

  13. Willy

    If you’re into working out, short intense periods of focused energy, interspersed with long periods of resting and recovery (where the growth actually occurs). Maybe ignoring this was where Mr. Furious had it wrong. Anyways, regarding my reacting to world events… I’ll try to give it a whirl.

  14. StewartM

    I can see you have mellowed some, Ian, over the years, and it’s a good thing. I didn’t think you were particularly angry during the interview (less so than I anticipated), and certainly not unjustifiably so. The targets of your anger richly deserve it, I might have said worse.

    I also am glad that you acknowledge the power-to-responsibility ratio, for yourself and everyone else. From a social science perspective, which is part of my pedigree, it’s rather pointless to blame the little people (like those at DKos often do now). Inside the American media bubble, you have to make a concerted effort to escape the BS, plus you have to know where to look. Many Americans, increasingly struggling to make ends meet, don’t have the time to discover this nor the knowledge of where to look, so they take the BS fed them as true…though (as you say) it’s heartening that many are beginning to believe that so much of what is fed to them is indeed BS. Squealer has been telling them that their lives are so much better now than ever before, and his spiel has worn rather thin…)

  15. Ian Welsh

    The anger was quite clear in my voice when I listened to the interview. Some people find that off-putting, so I mentioned it. The use of the word fuck a few times was a minor thing. Had I not mentioned the anger I’d be hearing about it in the comments in a different way.

    Most humans are effectively powerless over the currents of history, for most of history. It’s worth reading the great men and women who have come before and lived in bad times (and its always bad times for someone) to have this pushed thru. As I said in the ‘cast, the Chinese are particularly clear about it, and also that there are times when no good can be done working for the powers that be.

    None of this means that humans are completely powerless, or that as groups we aren’t powerful or don’t have responsibilities. As Stirling notes, right now, the majority of Americans (and it is a vast majority) want to do the wrong thing; they are objectively cruel people en-masse, and as such there is little that can be done. As such they also do have responsibility as a group, even if each individual’s power and responsibility is miniscule.

    When I speak of power and responsibility I am primarily speaking to those who fought and lost; but the words also have value for those who were on the side of evil, because they put their contribution to evil in context and allow for change and redemption.

  16. StewartM

    As Stirling notes, right now, the majority of Americans (and it is a vast majority) want to do the wrong thing; they are objectively cruel people en-masse, and as such there is little that can be done.

    I cannot agree with this. For starters, even in presidential elections, 40 % of Americans do vote (more like 60 % greater in Congressional) and even for the ones who vote, what is obvious cruelty to you isn’t phrased that way to them. I remember the Iraqi doctor interviewed on FDL that you cited in your interview, and how she hated all Americans for the sanctions, but the matter was never phrased to the American public as “We will kill Iraqi children to get the bad bad Saddam”. Every act of violence or even the effect of economic sanctions is heavily sanitized before presentation on the mass media.

    Vietnam taught lessons to our PTB. To some, the lesson was that we should not get militarily involved without public support, a clearly defined mission and exit strategy, and the like. But to the Dick Cheneys and their ilk, it was we should clamp down on news coverage more, and prevent photos of naked girls running down street after being napalmed hitting the newsstands, or news of any My Lais, or any other ugly scenes that would cause the American public to recoil from the “noble cause”. To them Vietnam meant you should clamp down on dissent harder, and use an all-volunteer military, promote the use of drones and indiscriminate firepower, all to keep the parents of the richer portion of society from having body bags containing their children being shipped back to them. This was done, and Obama has continued doing it. That’s why Chelsea Manning is in jail and no one else got punished.

    Several studies have now shown that America is a plutonomy, that only the interests of the rich matter (which is one of the reasons many have given up voting), and you cannot hold this to be both true and yet blame all this on some character flaw of the non-plutocrats. I don’t believe that Americans are anything special, far from it, but I see no reason to believe if you substituted any other nationality into their shoes you’d get the different behaviors. After all, for the same tribalism you decry rightly in the interview, and for similar information bubble I mentioned above, the Japanese still are in denial of their WWII war crimes some 70-plus years after the fact.

  17. Ian Welsh

    You’re special pleading. War has obvious consequences, and people too lazy to figure out what it means are evil. Voting has consequences and I was alive during Reagan and Clinton’s elections and know that they were run on fucking over poor people and black people and that is was very clear in what they were saying.

    As for the plutonomy argument: America is NOW a plutonomy. How did it become one?

    No. Americans do not get off the hook and if you succeed in getting them off the hook, you are arguing that they do not have the power for change for the better.

    It is a pity that people who make these arguments never get to spend some close-up personal time with America’s victims.

    Close up personal time without any soldiers around to make sure that the victims have to pretend respect for your attempts to avoid responsibility.

    (72% of Americans support war against Iraq –

  18. StewartM


    Sigh. You yourself mention, and correctly, about how the intelligence services lied about Iraqi WMD, then blame the American public for believing that same deliberate misinformation. I blame the people doing the lying far, far, more than the people being deceived. As for the “they should have found out despite being in the disinformation bubblet” argument, I admit it’s possible to escape said bubble, but it takes more work, time, and knowledge than many people have. The just makes Americans no different than any other country, whose populations live in similar disinformation bubbles.

    How did America become a plutonomy? Personally I think it started in 1964, with the Kennedy-Johnson tax cut, which gave the rich the money to lobby for more tax breaks, which in turn allowed them to build the propaganda machine in the 1970s that was laid out in the Powell memorandum Before 1964, the US had one of the more egalitarian distributions of income and wealth then in the world, and that began its unraveling.

    However, you have enough knowledge of history and social science to well know that any big shift like the shift of America towards a plutonomy is achieved via thousands of small decisions, most made with little or no knowledge of the ultimate consequences. The vast majority of people who voted for Nixon, or Reagan, Dubya, Clinton or Obama weren’t knowingly voting for plutonomy, even though that’s what they were objectively voting for. I know for a fact that many who voted for Clinton and Obama thought they were actually voting *against* plutonomy, even though they really weren’t. (Once again, they were being lied to).

    So no, I don’t believe America’s future is or has ever been in the hands of Americans, or at least the vast majority of them, in any knowing way where the issues are clearly spelled out to them. I now see that it was just dumb luck that the US happened to get Lincoln and FDR during its two biggest crises (the Civil War and Depression). No one could have predicted based on their records that these two men would have been as capable as they proved to be. Americans like all humans make decisions based on perceived short-term consequences, often based on bad inputs (i.e., they are lied to) and moreover they are even deceived on the consequences (not only are the effects of US foreign policy sanitized for the public, even domestically, Americans tend to understate how wealth and income inequality when polled). Even when you’re not getting bad inputs and not being deceived on the immediate consequences fathoming what the long-term consequences are of a decision is not trivial. The US interstate highway system might have seemed a good idea in the 1950s, but it was clearly not a good decision long-term, and I very much doubt many foresaw say, climate change then.

    The only saving grace is that our elites, even though they do hold positions of power and influence, often believe bad inputs themselves not because good inputs aren’t available, but from ideology self-interest, are often incompetent (think of Jacob’s “accreditation versus education” argument in regards to their educational pedigrees) and often lie to themselves about the consequences (that is, if they’re not simply sociopaths who don’t care). So they screw up, and things crash. Sometimes the crash allows a reset button to be hit. But nothing lasts forever, and American hegemony won’t either.

  19. Webstir


    Did you listen to the podcast? I agree with Ian when he essentially said there are three types of people in the world:

    1. Those that couldn’t give a shit about anyone but themselves. Read, sociopaths.
    2. Those that do care about other people. Read, humanists.
    3. Those that prove themselves to be psychologically conflicted because they chose sociopathy by the degree of relation to their in group.

    There really is no middle ground between 1 and 2. The conclusion that must be reached logically then, is that silence in the face of an attack on an out group is consent to a degree of sociopathy. And wow, has there ever been a lot of silent consenting in this country.

  20. CMike

    Maybe this is what you were referring to:





    …The largest surviving example of the triumphal arch is the Arch of Constantine, built in Rome in c. 315 CE to commemorate the emperor Constantine’s victory over Maxentius in 312 CE. The arch is typical of the genre and presents a huge 20 metre high rectangular block of masonry consisting of three separate arches: one larger central arch with a shorter and narrower arch on either side. All three arches express the same ratio of height and width. Dividing the arches are four detached Corinthian columns, each stood on a pedestal and topped with an entablature. Above the entablature, and as it were extending the columns, stand four pedestals, each carrying a statue.

    The block or ‘attic’ storey above the arches also presents sculpted panels and an inscription in Latin, a common feature of triumphal arches. Parts of the sculpture were recycled from earlier monuments, notably the panels of the attic which were taken from the Arch of Marcus Aurelius (c. 174 CE) and the inner central arch reliefs which were removed from the Basilica Ulpia in Trajan’s Forum.

    The eight statues are Dacian prisoners and possibly came from the Arch of Domitian. Other panels depict a lion hunt and sacrifices whilst the main frieze scenes commemorate Constantine’s military victories, including the battle with Maxentius.

  21. Ché Pasa

    Blamecasting and victim blaming are typical (not exclusively) American traits. If they can get away with it, they will always accuse or blame someone else rather than consider their own culpability in actions and events.

    The US has a long, long history of scapegoating the Other, whoever is the designated out group or demonized object of hatred and fear, for things they have not done, or because they have done something “bad enough,” but not what they are being scapegoated for. Scapegoating is a (false) cleansing ritual. Again, it’s a way to avoid considering other elements of culpability especially if they touch upon one’s own culpability.

    Making judgments or taking action based in the emotions of anger, fear, hatred or despair rarely turns out well for most people, but it can for some, generally those who know how to manipulate those emotions in others for their own benefit. That’s a fair description of much of our ruling class.

    Call them sociopaths, psychopaths or what you will, names don’t hurt them, and they don’t care.

    If we really want a better future, our ruling class must be tamed one way or another.

    The first precept is that they rule because we (as a collective, not necessarily individually) let them. The more we let them, the worse — for us — their rule becomes and the less we can do about it without generalized upheaval/dislocation.

    The second precept is that it usually takes one of their own kind to bring the ruling class to heel, or alternatively, to bring them down.
    Thus an argument can be made that Trump is the One — to take on our more and more destructive/insane ruling class and be the transformative figure we seek and need. The argument doesn’t stand up under scrutiny, but it’s pleasing to think it might be true. Because, damn, things can’t go on like they have been going, can they? Anyone who can shake up the status quo has to be better than someone who would merely tweak it.

    The problems with this concept are monumental; recent history in the United States alone should disprove it. It actually matters who shakes up the status quo and to what purpose — as well as in what context.

    Anger and hatred will cloud your judgment to the point where any shaker-upper will do. The outcome is liable to be worse than if nothing were done, but as long as that worse outcome hasn’t come yet or it won’t directly affect you negatively (as a collective or individually), what’s to worry, right? Something bad may indeed come, but as always it could be worse.

    In fact, you might be one of the lucky ones who comes out ahead from the chaos. You never know.

    As for those who don’t come out ahead, oh well, they would have suffered anyway. Or someone else would have suffered in their place. Too bad, so sad.

    Even during the worst of the gilded age colonial-imperial era outspoken members of the ruling class were nay-saying what was going on, condemning the practitioners of the worst abuses and calling for reform, some even put their lives and fortunes on the line to ensure a better future for others.

    We don’t see that now. Even if they believe things are going to hell in a handbasket, Our Betters, as a rule, will not stand in the way.

    It’s really up to us — if anything is to be done at all.


  22. Hugh

    My view is if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.

    I would also say that in extreme situations, the people who are acting the most normal are the most abnormal.

  23. realitychecker

    It’s obvious to me, and should be to anyone with any capacity for clear thought, that the LIES are central to all the horribles we carry on about.

    So, why is there such silence as to how to deliver appropriate consequences to the humans who deliberately promote those life-destroying lies?

    Until we address this bottom-line question, all else is empty bloviating.

    Sorry, folks, but that’s your reality check for the day.

  24. GH

    “As Stirling notes, right now, the majority of Americans (and it is a vast majority) want to do the wrong thing; they are objectively cruel people en-masse, and as such there is little that can be done.”

    The coldness and cruelty isn’t going to dissipate as life in the U.S. becomes increasingly unpleasant. Suffering doesn’t make people more empathic and rational, it makes them less so.

    What can you do when you live in a country where the character/morality of its people is low and about to get worse?

  25. realitychecker

    @ GH

    “What can you do when you live in a country where the character/morality of its people is low and about to get worse?”

    “Character” and “morality” are conceptual constructs which vary widely from person to person, and are thus not good measurements of anything. It seems to me that what you are really protesting is the perceived cruelty of behavior, which is fair enough.

    BUT, if the behavior is the issue, then how can you evaluate it without reference to all the deliberate misinformation, PR, and spinning that shapes that behavior? I would submit that you really can’t.

    So, once again, why the thundering silence all around as to how we might shape the behavior of the liars and their enablers via actual consequences for their choices and actions?

    The degree of denial as to this question speaks volumes. And it ain’t good. In fact, it drives me to despair for our future as free beings.

  26. Willy

    I’m not a historian (not having the time to be one), but am still curious about polar opposite icons of liberalism and conservatism. I think of Nicolás Gómez Dávila and Teddy Roosevelt. Both survived sickly but privileged childhoods. But in adulthood one chose a life cocooned in a library compulsively writing cynical aphorisms, while the other chose a life of “bully!”. Maybe it’d just be a study of inborn temperaments, but WTF?

    Completely agree with the decline in general character/morality, and the continuously ongoing struggle between sociopathy and humanism. Trickle down from prevailing prominent leadership (of all kinds) is an obvious variable. And having worked in both multinationals and mom-n-pop outfits, can see another variable there. And there’s the hitting bottom thing which much of the mob needs to personally experience for themselves, to finally ‘get it’.

    I’m curious about the humanists antidote against sociopathy. Fairly obvious how they do it. How do we undo it?

  27. Tom W Harris

    Hey Marky,

    You still have a couple days left to smuggle Maryam and Mohammed into the US so they can kill a bunch of gaze, joos, Xtians or other infidels.

  28. Patricia

    Thanks, Ian. That was excellent, beginning to end.

  29. Brook

    What’s funny is I’ve recommended this interview to quite a few people b/c I found it uplifting. I guess anger can be translated also as potency. I esp appreciated the bit at the end, “stop with the despair.”

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