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

Category: Understanding Page 1 of 3

Why Am I Writing About China So Much?

Regular readers will have noted that for the past few years I’ve been writing far more about China than I used to.


The primary purpose of this blog is to explain the world: how it works, how it has worked, and how it will work.

China is probably the most important nation in the world right now: it has the most manufacturing, is about tied for population, is the largest trade partner of the greatest number of nations and leads in most scientific and technological fields.

If you don’t understand China, you don’t understand the world. In the same way that I spent so much time learning about and understanding America, I (and you) need to understand China. I’m so serious about this I’m probably going to learn Manadarin, and if you’re under fifty, I suggest that you should do the same. In ten to fifteen years not speaking Manadarin will be as crippling as not speaking English currently is.

As we move into a multipolar or cold-war period, nations are rising in importance: China, Russia, Iran, Vietnam, and so on. If we don’t understand the internal and external dynamics of those countries, we are ignorant of how the world works in the worst sense of that word.

As this happens, nations are losing importance: all of Europe, America and the Anglosphere, in particular. I live in Canada, I’m a member of the West and the Anglosphere, and of European descent, so I’m concerned with those countries. But maintaining too much of a focus on them would be foolish.

It is also important to understand what other countries are doing and have done right. If China is now the world’s most important nation, why? What is it doing? How are its policies likely to turn out? The same is true of Russia, whose economy is doing better than, say, Europe’s.

Of course, understanding what the West is doing wrong (and the rare things it’s doing right) matters too, but I’ve spent twenty years writing those articles.

The world is changing. To understand it and to operate skillfully within it, we must change with it.

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Why I Rarely Care About The Events Of the Day

There are two forces in history.

The first is weight. Or mass. Or trajectory. The unstoppable force. The US overtaking Britain as the premier industrial power. The two continental powers, Russia and the US, dividing Europe between them, an ancient pattern. Then the US outlasting the USSR because the US’s alliance had more people and resources and better geography.

The rise of China. The inexorable march of global warming and ecological collapse. The financialization and hollowing of a hegemonic power which always follows the decision to do free trade seriously

The second is human decision making at crisis points. Think the Cuban Missile Crisis. There were powerful men in the US who wanted to strike Cuba or Russian ships. If they had done so, there would almost certainly have been a nuclear exchange.

For the first eight or so years I was a blogger, I covered a lot of the “stories of day.” I still cover some, but mostly I use them to illustrate the mass/force/trajectory category.

This is why I don’t discuss the Ukraine war much. I said, day one, that Russia would win, and it is. It was also obvious that anti-Russia sanctions wouldn’t work, because China wouldn’t let Russia be choked out, and China has almost everything Russia needs. The Chinese aren’t, mostly, stupid about such things.

Sometimes a decision by an idiot makes force stronger: Trump and Biden’s chip sanctions on China just sped up the China’s tech climb, for example. Sheer stupidity.

Right now we have a situation in the Middle East where two idiots are putting us in danger of a major regional, or even world war: Netanyahu and Biden. Netanyahu knows Israel is weak and has lost deterrence. Biden won’t restrain him, though he has the power to do so. If a regional war breaks out, even if Israel and the US “win”, they’ll lose, because the US cannot defeat Iran without catastrophic losses or the use of Israeli nukes.

That’s a “human decision at crisis points” situation. Iran is doing most of what it can to avoid a regional conflagaration, but if they hadn’t responded to the embassy attack, nowhere would be safe for them. But Israel wants to draw America in, and Biden, so far, doesn’t seem to be doing enough to stop them.

“The air is thin at the top” means that people at the pinnacle of powerful organizations actually have a lot of power and leeway to do what they want. For a long time liberals argued against this, stating that the President was powerless. No. The President was powerful, there was just a consensus about what to do and the US was powerful enough to, up to a point, “make its own reality.” Not completely: they couldn’t pacify Iraq, for example, or, heck, Vietnam. But they could make a hell of a noise and kill a ton of people and suffer very few consequences. Bush is just fine, thanks.

The key question in “humans making decision at crisis points” right now is whether there’s a great power war during this transition between lead powers. China is on the way up, and America on the way down. China will be the most powerful nation in the world. In some ways it already is. The European/American/Anglo era is ending. The Africans are kicking America and France out, for example. They don’t have to put up with AmeriEuro bullshit any more, because what they need they can get from China, and what they need militarily, they can get from Russia. The prices are better, and the political interference is a lot less.

Mass/Force/Trajectory. Someone was going to wind up ruling Rome as Emperor. Could have been Sulla. Could have been Pompey. Sort of was Caesar (Antony and Octavian used his legacy and troops in their fight, and Octavian won by a whisker. He should have lost the key naval battle.)

As the Roman Emperor hollowed out, it was clear the West would fall. Just a question of when and the specifics, but that it would happen wasn’t in question. When the Europeans hit the Industrial revolution, they conquered about 80% of the world and had the rest under their thumb. A few brilliant men kept the Eastern Roman Empire going (decisions when mass/force is not sure.)


Climate change is happening, will happen and will suck beyond most people’s conceptions. There will be civilization collapse. There will be real famines. There will be massive lack of water. This isn’t in question, we’re just dealing with the specifics. Some regions will do somewhat better than others, so will some groups, but the macro isn’t in doubt.

The reason I get most things right is that I’ve learned (mostly, I still mess up sometimes) to predict sure things. Ukraine cannot win against Russia if sanctions don’t work, and China won’t let sanctions work. Some people follow the war obsessively, day by day. They do good work, and I read some of it, but mostly I don’t care because it’s just the details of an inevitability.

This blog and my writing is mostly about the mass/force/trajectory side of issues. A secondary piece is trying to advise people so they can make good decisions based on knowing what’s coming. The other theme is trying to create the bones of an ideology which will allow humanity to make better decisions in the future: to become a “conscious civilization” able to make rational choices rather than simply being pawns to social forces that civilization creates but so far has been unable to control.

If you’re a regular reader it’s because your interested in those three questions: what’s going to happen, how to adapt, and how (perhaps) to do better in the future.

I feel I write too much of the first and not enough of the third, though I’ve made huge efforts on the “how to do better” issue: with the biggest flurry of articles around 2012 to 2014. I may re-post some of those, since they still stand.

Thanks for going on this journey with me. It mostly sucks, but I’ve always believed it’s better to face unpleasant truths than walk blindfolded into the future.

And while we’re past the point where we will avoid the worst scenarios (except, hopefully, nuclear war), I do still retain some hope that humanity may find better ways in the future.

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How We Created A Population Incapable Of Radical Change

One of the defining characteristics of our era is that we believe we are free thinkers, and that we are good at making choices, but we’re wrong.

Our education system, as anyone who had gone through it knows, is about sitting down, not talking unless given permission, and giving the teacher the answer they want, the way they want it. Our adult lives are about giving the boss what they want, the way they want it. This is how we spend most of our time from about age five.

In our lives outside of work, we make choices from menus. We create almost nothing ourselves; the possibilities are predetermined. Even if we help create something that is on one of the menus, we usually work on a small part of it, at best. Our society creates, but as individuals, almost none of us create anything, and almost never anything important.

In our political lives, we again choose from a menu. “This politician or that politician.” Even if we are primary voters, few of us choose the politicians available among the primary possibilities, and if we somehow elect a maverick, they are soon defanged. (See “The Squad” for a good example.)

Our actual lives are about doing what we are told, and choosing from a list of choices created by other people.

We’re followers. Unimaginative followers. It’s not our fault, they got us when we were children and spent the rest of our lives conditioning us. Heck, they condition us, then get us to condition others. Those who are conditioned best become the next group in authority, and condition the next generation (though this is more true for bosses and politicians than teachers, still, teachers are given almost no freedom about what or how they teach).

This isn’t as “ancient as the seas” or anything; our particular pattern is about 150 years old, which is when wage slavery and mass schooling started. Oh, previous eras had other methods, but they had at least partially broken down by the 19th century, which is one reason why new methods were required. The other reason is that the old methods weren’t good at creating wage laborers. Say what you will about peasants and free farmers, they weren’t under close supervision, and they made a lot of their own goods and services.

The problem with all this should be obvious: When change is required, people who have been conditioned to choose from a menu created other people who spend their entire lives doing what they’re told in the way they’re told to please boss/teacher (or else live a miserable life, as boss and teacher control access to the good life) are not suited to create new choices, or even to choose something radical, something that isn’t on the usual menus they’ve been seeing all their lives.

The consequence is that for people to take action, en masse, we have to reach the point where it’s obvious, to paraphrase Lenin, that none of the choices on offer are safe and that doing something radical is necessary.

But since we’ve been trained solely for choosing from menus, we often choose stupidly. We Brexit under a Conservative like Boris Johnson. We elect a Trump. We keep selecting from whatever’s on the menu, and our only criterion is “this feels like radical change.” Often it isn’t, and if it is, it’s worse than the usual menu.

We recognize radical change is necessary, but lack the judgment to choose or create the right kind, because we’ve never had to make radical choices or to create anything large during our lives. Having never done either, we’re bad at both.

Creating unimaginative followers may please our elites, but it leads to hell when real change is necessary.


The Mass Delusion of Self-Actualization



Don’t part with your illusions: when they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live. — Mark Twain

The latest plague to sweep our planet has seen me thinking hard about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And I’ve concluded that, for roughly the past decade, I’ve been viewing myself with the 20/20 vision that only the truly delusional are capable. I honestly thought that I had attained the stage in my life that Maslow dubbed “self-actualization.” I haven’t. And if you think you have, well, you’re delusional too.

For those unfamiliar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a bit of context. Maslow set out his theory in a paper published in 1943 titled “A Theory of Human Motivation.” In it, he describes a five layer pyramid of ascending human needs beginning with the most basic like clean air and water, food, sleep, and intercourse, of course, because none of would even be here if we didn’t procreate. We’re intrinsically motivated to satisfy these first level needs, and once satisfied, our motivation to action matures to the next level — safety. Once we feel safe, our motivation turns to interpersonal needs. Those satisfied, we seek confirmation of social status from ourselves and others. Finally, we reach the pinnacle where we express the motivations society generally ascribes to what it really means to be human.

I say “what it really means to be human” because we can find examples throughout the social animal world of the four previous motivations. But, are you self-actualized? Are you, really human? Or, just another animal hanging on by your fingernails to a precarious simulacrum of humanity? Only recently, I’ve come to understand it’s the latter. I’ve come to understand we are only as self-actualized as the society we live in allows us to be.

It’s an easy mistake to make when times are good. When happenstance allows one to focus on “individuality.” But let’s break the pyramid down from the top. I can honestly say there is little about me during this pandemic that is feeling particularly creative. Little thought to my ego. True, I’m lucky to be loved, and, in turn, have others in my life that I love. But, as an abstract concept? Or, being motivated to “belong” to anything outside of my family? No — I can’t say that I’m too interested. Rather, I’m stuck squarely at making sure my family and loved ones are safe.

This is the society we live in. This is the society our “best and brightest” have engineered. It is the opposite of resilient, and therefore, the opposite of safe and dependable. As a result, the daily energy I could be exerting toward creativity, spontaneity, and problem solving instead goes into making sure myself and my family are safeguarded against being deprived of their most basic needs. And, as such, it is only logical to conclude that in order to attain self-actualization, I must be prepared to exist as an individual wholly independent from the “system” we’ve created. Everything I need for the survival of my family must exist at arms length. Remember that basic necessity of of sleep? Well, without these assurances in place, I really don’t.

Our world’s systems, despite the many labels we place upon them such as capitalism, socialism, or any number of theologisms is really little more than precaritism. This isn’t a new insight. The “precariat” is a term that has been thrown about in certain circles for some time now. However, it is typically reserved for the poor. But please, show me a self-actualized billionaire and I’ll show you a frightened effete building a bunker in New Zealand.

It took this pandemic to remove the blinders from my eyes. The rich aren’t building bunkers because of Covid-19. They’re building them, perhaps, because of global warming. Or, perhaps mass insurrection. Maybe an asteroid? The point being, those society deems most worthy of attaining the holy grail of self-actualization feel, deep in their bones, that one butterfly flapping its wings in just the right place and time will bring this entire charade to the ground.

The world we live in has never been one of anything more than basic animal motivations. And so I conclude, the ability to attain self-actualization isn’t what it means to be human — the ability to lie to ourselves is. Delusion, get behind me.

The Telecom Revolution Is Mostly Authoritarian

All major communications advances have had both liberating and authoritarian uses. And, I believe, every one has been stronger on the authoritarian side than on the liberating side.

(Originally published Jan 3, 2018. Back to the top, because this needs to be re-emphasized.)

Writing improved access to knowledge, but it was primarily used by nobles and temples to track slaves, debt, and workers wages (in grain). It enabled centralized states and a vast web of debt-slavery (with interest rates in Mesopotamia often at 30 percent or so.) Without writing, centralized states always amounted to feudal states; with writing, central administration, and bureaucracy were possible.

Taxes could be tracked, property assigned, and citizens could, in effect, have files (and very often did).

The telegram, which triggered the real beginning of the modern telecom revolution, centralized control in capitals. Viceroys and governors lost power, rebellions were more easily crushed (because news could travel fast) and companies could be run from HQ far better.

Each continued step in the electronic telecom revolution has continued the centralization, and the invention of recording devices and video cameras made possible a type of surveillance not possible before.

The problem with prior surveillance states was that they required a lot of people. They were inefficient. Paying everyone to watch everyone else has sharp limits. It also doesn’t record everything: What you were doing 14 years ago at 2:17pm in the afternoon is not usually available to be used against you now, when circumstances have changed, and something “on you” is needed.

Modern computer networks, which allow files to be easily shared, mean that your life is available to anyone with access, which increasingly, due to all the leaks, means anyone who really wants to know.

These records already control a vast amount of your life: Your credit score is used not just to determine how much money you can borrow, but often by landlords to see if they will rent to you, and by companies to decide if they will hire you. A criminal record makes almost all good jobs unavailable, and you can’t just “leave town” to avoid that.

China is putting together a central scoring system which will give every single citizen a number. Spend a lot of time playing computer games? Lower score. Have friends who say bad things about the government online? Worse score. And so on.

Meanwhile, the combination of security cameras everywhere and biometric recognition systems based on face, gait, and even infrared profile, means that combined with AI, where you are all the time can be tracked and stored. Cameras increasingly have audio attached.

And heck, most people in the first world now voluntarily carry a phone with them which acts both as a tracking device and a bug (turning the microphone on to listen to you is trivial).

Online, everything you do is tracked: where you go, what you buy, who your friends are, what sort of words you say, what your political opinions are, and so on. This information, while it still misfires often, can generally tell if you’re sick, what you’re sick with, what you want to buy, how your finances are doing, if you’re pregnant or have a young child, and far more besides. It will only get more all-encompassing as AI and algos improve, and as more information is hooked into the web.

It takes quite a bit of work now to go dark, and a great deal of work to leave your past behind. Even faking your death is harder than it used to be.

Further, computer networks make centralized control far, far easier. Even telephones in the age of expensive, long distance calls were not as good as what we have now. You can run Shanghai from Beijing or New York: or New York or San Francisco from Shanghai.

There has been a liberatory effect, best understood by those of us old enough to remember before the internet was widely available: It amounts to “information at our fingertips,” and it is far more a good than a bad. No longer, if we don’t know and don’t have a book at our fingertips, do we have to find an expert or run to a library for most inquires. If we want to learn about many things, including advanced topics like engineering or law, we need only an internet connection.

This is a real increase in freedom from experts.

But this is outweighed by the horrors of close supervision, as in Amazon warehouses, where workers are tracked not even minute by minute, but in seconds per task, by remote electronic supervision.

This is hell. This is the sort of supervision that could be used only rarely, at great cost, in the old world, because the supervisor had to be right there, with you.

Meanwhile, drones assassinate people in every continent but Australia (I think) and Antarctica, from central control in America. This easy assassination is something no one could do 30 years ago.

This is technology with hellishly authoritarian potential, and history tells us it will be used that way. The printing press may have broken much of the power of the Catholic Church, but it also led to states we still call absolutist.

The same will be true of these telecom technologies, especially combined with AI behavioural pattern recognition.

The bet, on the part of elites, is that this tech breaks the inefficiency problem of classical authoritarian surveillance states: Only a few people, comparatively, are needed. It will require a few percent of the population at most, not the previously necessary twenty to thirty percent for true comprehensive surveillance (with all the possibilities of petty corruption that then ensue: The USSR’s surveillance was extensive and, eventually, worthless.)

There is a widespread myth in our society that Progress is always Good.

It is not. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it isn’t. Generally, it is mixed, with bad dominating.

Right now, in much of the world, the good of the telecom revolution seems poised to be swamped by the bad (and this is without even discussing the data coming in showing that the more time you spend on your phone/computer, the unhappier you are. This data is not mixed, it is virtually all bad.)

Technology which can be used by elites to make other humans inferior, will be. It always has been, and it always will be, and the only way that is challenged is by commoners rising up, often violently, to insist otherwise.

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How to Be Happy in Bad Times

Last year, the New York Times had a profile of two people marrying: one 98, the other 94. They met in gym, they’re both active and happy despite their age.

What is their “secret?”

“People always ask what it is that keeps us young,” Mr. Mann said. “Of course, one part of it is medical science, but the bigger part is that we live worry-free lives; we do not let anything we cannot control bother us in the least.”

All times are bad times. Bad stuff is happening to a lot of people, somewhere in the world, and in your country. Oh, some times are worse times: the An-Lushan rebellion, say. WWII. The Great Depression. The Sea-People invasions that destroyed almost all civilization in the Europe and the Middle East, and so on. The Congo today.

And it may be that, as a species, we have a big one coming down the line. I’ve seen reasonable scenarios where climate change and ecological collapse get bad in less than a decade. I’ve seen scenarios where it takes a hundred years. My current over/under is about 40 years from now and has been for a long time. The science is creeping towards shorter and shorter numbers. (40 years is about where I expect us to start losing continental coastal cities.)

There are a variety of other problems, economic, technological, social, and political, and they are going to be aggravated by our environmental issues, though environmental issues may also make some of the worst stuff unlikely, or destroy bad civilizational choices like panopticon societies. (China is definitely going to have one. In certain cities, it almost does alread–held back only by the technical problem of way too much information. Other societies will too, the UK isn’t far behind in London.)

So it is entirely rational, in one sense, to despair for the future. Lots of bad shit coming down the pike, and anyone who takes their blinders off and looks can see it.

But it is not rational to despair and become depressed because of stuff you do not control.

And you do not control the environment, the economy, or politics.

You are one of seven billion people, and unless you are part of an elite of maybe 1,000 people, you have no real power. Maybe you’re part of the million or so people who have power locally. If so, use it well to help your locale. But even then, you aren’t stopping the big forces coming down the line; all you can do is prepare somewhat better and for more people.

Your responsibility can never be more or less than your power. Look at how much power you have over anything, including yourself, and that is the extent of your responsibility. Even when it comes to yourself, your power is not infinite. You don’t, for example, have direct control over your thoughts and feelings, though through various methods you have some indirect control and ability to slowly change the preponderance.

A clear recognition of what you can control and what you cannot control; of the exact extent of your power, allows you to relax. You don’t control it, don’t sweat it.

Of course this is easier said than done. It is unlikely that you can change to be that way overnight. But you can change to be that way over time, in part by simply remembering that worrying about things you don’t control is pointless.


And remember, death and suffering are not optional. They happen to everyone. The schedule has some flex–when you die and suffer, but only some. You may have some influence over the amount of both, but other suffering will happen completely out of the blue, taking you by surprise.


That which you cannot control, you should not care about. That doesn’t mean pain won’t happen, it means you won’t add to it with worry and self-blame. You didn’t cause climate change. You may be the proximate cause of your suffering or death, but you did not invent either suffering or death. So—


Everything ends. Everything. Nothing is eternal.

This is, however, as true of everything bad as everything good.

And remember also that the good is always around too. Food that tastes good and satisfies. Love. Beauty. The satisfaction of a soft bed (hopefully). The good times pass and return, just as the bad times do.

And everyone dies, and everything ends, and in that is freedom.

Your worry hurts you and helps no one else. By all means do things. If you can make a difference, and want to, go ahead. But once that all is done—

Don’t worry and be happy.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

You Will Never Be Free of Identity Politics

(MANDOS POST, people who don’t want to read things they disagree with please stop here)

I don’t normally watch horror movies, but I made an exception and recently watched the horror film Get Out. It’s a horror-satire movie that constructs its underlying trope from the concept of racist microaggressions, and it’s one of the best films I’ve seen all year, if not the best, period. It’s a Stepford Wives style of horror, in which a young black man discovers that his well-meaning-seeming white inlaws-to-be believe in human improvement by the literal supplantation of black identities with white ones and the submergence of the black identity into a spiritual void called the “Sunken Place” — a literal sort of black/white solidarity where, of course, the white opinion matters more.

The privileged white horror-family in question is conceived of as stereotypical rich politically-correct liberal Obama voters, but the main character himself is a relatively successful young photographer who had access to that kind of company through his work, starting from less privileged roots and with black friends still living the working-class life, and his working-class black best friend — who correctly names and identifies the microaggressions and where they were leading — is his only lifeline in the entire story. The illustration clearly intended by the director (well-known black comedian Jordan Peele) is that even when a black person in America manages to succeed on white terms, that in itself is not just, not sustainable, not sufficient.

That was a movie, but the point is illustrated periodically in real life — and occasionally in famous, very public rows.  Some of you may remember that a few years ago, there was a row over Oprah Winfrey’s attempted purchase of a very expensive handbag, worth twice or more than what some of her viewers make in a year, from a shop in Switzerland, wherein Oprah believed that she had been discriminated against by the saleswoman for being a black buyer in a fancy store. Many could easily view this as a rich woman publicly bullying an innocent, ordinary-income shop attendant for a social faux pas, possibly based on ignorance of the American media landscape. A class analysis. But for people of colour, the incident is instead evidence that, even if one is doing well economically, one is still one of them, that the incident was no accident even if the saleswoman had no conscious intention of discriminating.

That sense that even under relatively positive overall circumstances, how one is treated in life is nevertheless conditioned on the sufferance of the majority/dominant community unless one erases one’s entire particularity (and even then) is not a trivial feeling. It is a continuous burden, a headwind in life, and one that cannot be erased by exhortations to class solidarty and and one-sided demands to put the material advantages of class solidarity as prior to the domain of conflict called “identity politics.” Class solidarity does not erase those conflicts, does not remedy them, does not alone create a long-term, sustainable basis for rectification of discrimination. Minority groups remain vulnerable even when the dream of a more just economy is realized.

The only way to proceed is to recognize that, while the working-class American black has a cause in common with the working-class American white, she or he also has a cause in common with a rich woman like Oprah Winfrey, one that can be neither ignored, denied, or erased. And the only way that class solidarity can take full precedence over that is when whites agree to disarm their own identity politics without demanding that blacks and other minority politics disarm theirs.

Essential Insanity

Image by Nesster

Image by Nesster

Walk with me a while and imagine you are mad. Crazy. Insane. It’s an interesting sort of insanity–you see the world as something other than it is. You are dead convinced that people are out to get you, but these people have almost no means to harm you and fear your retaliation greatly, because you’re a powerful person and they are weak.

You believe that you are hale and hearty; but in fact you’re ghastly, obese and ill. You think you’re rich, but in fact you’re poor. You think you have the best doctor around, but in fact your doctor is worse than almost every other doctor and charges 50 percent more than them. You think you’re tough, and you certainly haven’t let the fact that two ninety pound weaklings seem to be able to stand up to you get in the way of that.

You think that you have the most advanced technological toys, that what you have is the best, and once you did, but these days everyone else seems to have more advanced stuff.

The illness goes deeper though, a deep decay in your brain. The parts of your brain that make most of the decisions for your body think everything is wonderful. They seem only able to take in sensations from the taste buds these days, and for the last thirty years you’ve been on a rich diet. So they think everything’s great. Your once lean body, packed with muscles, has been replaced by a flaccid one, paunchy and fat, but somehow the key parts of your brain don’t know that. They don’t feel your sore back, they don’t hear the broken down breathing, and they don’t see the gut hanging over your belt.

The you I’m referring to, as I’m sure many have figured out by now, is the US. For years, I’ve been writing for the US and observing it carefully, and I’ve found it one of the most interesting problems I’ve encountered in my life. Because America and Americans are very unpredictable. Now, of course, the first thing I thought was, “It’s me,” and in a sense, that’s true.

But here’s the thing: I have a very good record of predicting what will happen in Somalia, or Afghanistan, or Iraq. And when I get it wrong, I can look back and easily figure out why. Yet, I’ve never visited any of those countries and, really, I know very little about them. On the other hand, I grew up imbibing American media, know American history well, have visited America a number of times and spent eight years in jobs that required me to deal with multiple Americans daily.

Odd. Very odd. And something I’ve discussed with other foreign observers of American society and politics.

The first clue to what was wrong came around the time of the Iraq war. It was obvious, dead obvious, to everyone outside of the US and to US citizens who were spending a lot of time parsing news, that the war was a joke and that Saddam had no nukes and was no threat to the US. Most Americans, however, didn’t get that. The reason, of course, was propaganda.

Fair enough. Every country whips its citizens into war hysteria with propaganda. But what was truly remarkable wasn’t that, it was that somehow the majority of Americans, over 70 percent, thought that Iraq was behind 9/11. Iraq, of course, had nothing to do with 9/11. Nothing.

Remarkable. Americans went along with going to war with Iraq then because they thought Iraq had attacked them and had nukes and could attack them again. A complete propaganda tissue of lies. But if you believe it all, well, of course Iraq needed to be attacked.

What looked to the rest of the world as crazy was entirely logical. It was, however, still insane. If I see a tentacled monster from the fourth dimension attack me and I respond by grabbing a knife and slashing apart my next door neighbour who’s waving at me, well, I had a logical, coherent reason for what I did, but I still murdered him, and I’m still insane.

This is the first type of insanity in the US and it runs deep. I often feel like I spend more time correcting outright lies, outright propaganda, than anything else. Just this week I had to explain to a left-wing blogger (who should know better) that single payer health insurance is cheaper and gives better results than private insurance system. Now in the US, this is somehow still in doubt, but that’s insane–this isn’t in question. Every other western nation that has single payer insurance spends about 1/3 less than the US and has as good health metrics or better either in most or all categories. This isn’t something that’s up in the air, this isn’t something that is unsettled. This is a bloody FACT.

Americans think they are the most technologically advanced society in the world, yet the US does not have the fastest broadband, the fastest trains, the best cellphones, the most advanced consumer electronics (go to Japan and you’ll see what I mean) or the most advanced green energy technology.

In the primary season, Ron Paul was repeatedly cut out of media coverage and John Edwards was hardly covered. The majority of Americans thought that Edwards was running as the most right-wing of the Democratic candidates. Huckabee was constantly called a populist when his signature tax program would gut the middle class and slap the poor onto a fiscal rack.

And, when all is said and done, politicians are still running on slashing taxes and having that make up for itself, while the US runs a balance of payments higher than any other country post World War II has ever done without going into an economic crash.

That’s one type of insanity–thinking the world is something that it isn’t.

The second type is worse, in a sense. When Diamond wrote his book on why societies collapse he came to the conclusion that it occurred when elites weren’t experiencing the same things as the majority of the society–when they were isolated from the problems and challenges the society was facing.

For 30 years, ordinary Americans haven’t had a raise. And despite all the lies, Americans are beginning to get that.

But, for the people in charge, the last thirty years have been absolutely wonderful. Seriously, things haven’t been this good since the 1890’s and the 1920’s. Everyone they know–their families, their mistresses and toyboys, their friends–is doing well. Wall Street paid even larger bonuses for 2007, the year they ran the ship into the shore, than they did in 2006 when their bonuses equalled the raises of 80 million Americans. Multiple CEOs walked away from companies they had bankrupted with golden parachutes in excess of 50 million. And if you can find a senator who isn’t a millionaire, (except maybe Bernie Sanders) you let me know.

Life has been great. The fact that America is physically unhealthy, falling behind technologically, hemorrhaging good jobs, and that ordinary Americans are in debt up to their eyebrows, haven’t seen a raise in 30 years, and live in mortal fear of getting ill–because even if they have insurance, it doesn’t cover the necessary care–means nothing to the decision-making part of America because it hasn’t experienced it. America’s elites are doing fine, thanks. All they can taste or remember is the caviar and champagne they swill to celebrate how wonderful they are and how much they deserve all the money federal policy has given them.

This is the second insanity of the US: The decision making apparatus in the US is disconnected from the results of their decisions. They make sure they get paid, that they’re wealthy, and let the rest of society go to hell. In the end, of course, most of them will find that the money isn’t theirs, and that what they’ve stolen is worth very little if the US has a real financial crisis.

The third insanity is simpler: It’s the wealth effect. At the end of World War II, the US had about half the world’s economy. Admittedly that’s because Europe had been bombed into oblivion, but even when Europe rebuilt. the US was still far, far ahead. The US was insanely rich and powerful. See, when you’re rich you can do stupid and unproductive things for a long time. There are plenty of examples of this but the two most obvious ones are the US military and the War on Drugs.

The War on Drugs hasn’t reduced the number of junkies or drugs on the street in any noticeable way. It has increased the US’s prison population to the highest per capita level in the world, however. It has cost hundreds of billions of dollars. It has gutted civil liberties (the War on Terror is just the War on Drugs on crack, after all). And after 30 years, does anyone seriously say, “Wait, this doesn’t work, it costs billions of dollars and it makes us a society of prisons?” Of course not, if anything people compete to be “tough on crime.” What’s the definition of insanity, again? Doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting different results?

Then there’s the US military. It costs, oh, about as much as everyone else in the world’s military combined. It seems to be at best in a stalemate and probably losing two wars against a bunch of rabble whose total budgets probably wouldn’t equal a tenth of one percent of a US appropriations bill. And it is justified as “defending” America even though there is no nation in the entire world which could invade the US if the US had one tenth the military.

But the US could (not can, they are now unaffordable, but could) afford to have a big shiny military and lots of prisons, so it does. Lots of people get rich off of both of them, lots of rural whites get to lock up urban blacks and lots of communities that wouldn’t exist otherwise get to survive courtesy of the unneeded military bases and prisons which should never have been built.

Insane–believing things that aren’t true.

Insane–decision makers are cut off from the consequences of their decisions and in fact are getting reverse feedback, as things get worse for most Americans and as America gets weaker and poorer, they are the richest they’ve ever been.

Insane–so rich that no one will stop doing things that clearly don’t work and are harmful, because people are making money off the insanity.

All of this is what makes predicting the US so surreal. It’s not just about knowing what the facts are and then thinking “Okay, how would people respond to that?” You have to know what the facts are, what the population thinks the facts are, what the elites think the facts are, who’s making money off of it, and then ask yourself if these facts are having any real effect on the elites and if that effect is enough to outweigh the money they’re making off of failure (how many of them have children serving in Iraq? Right, not urgent to fix).

And then you have to go back to the facts and ask yourself, “What effect will these have even if they’re being ignored?” Facts are ugly things, they tend not to go away.

All of which makes the US damn near impenetrable, often enough even to Americans.

But here’s what I do know–you can get away with being nuts as long as enough people are benefiting from you being insane. When the credit cards are all maxed out, when the relatives have stolen even the furniture, suddenly all the enablers go away, and the kneebreakers or the men in white pay you a visit. At that point, you can live in the real world, or you can go to the asylum.

I wonder which way the US will go?

(Originally Posted at FDL January 20, 2008)

(Second repost, last one was May 5, 2009. This is, IMO, one of the more important posts I ever wrote.)

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