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

Denial Of Reality

One of the defining features of our civilization is that we deny what we don’t want to believe is true if it’s inconvenient to us.

Covid has been the most recent example, with the World Health Organization (WHO) taking two years to admit that it was an airborne virus, insisting it spread thru droplets. I daresay that refusal to admit reality cost a couple million people their lives.

Back in the 2000’s a number of us warned about the housing/sub-prime bubble for years. (A correspondent said he found 42 people who publicly predicted the crash.) It was obvious just from looking at charts, it was classic bubble formation.

I made two predictions about the market. The first was for late 2005. I based that on the supposition that the Federal Reserve, looking at the chart, would act. It was the last moment to do so. But the Federal Reserve believed there was no bubble, because markets are efficient, so they did nothing.

Reality denial.

It was one of my first lessons in “our elites are incompetent” (also venal and evil).

I then predicted October of 2007 about a year in advance and got that one right. A friend of mine who knows far more about economics thought it would be later, because the Fed would hold it off till after the election to help Bush. I disagreed, he thought they were still competent.

So, denial of reality and incompetence.

The grand-daddy of reality denial in the modern era is, of course, climate change. We’ve known about it for a long time, one friend has traced elite knowledge back to the 50s, and I can assure you that by the 70s and 80s knowledge was widespread and there was real alarm.

We did…. nothing, while pretending we were.

Recently WHO has said there is no longer a Covid emergency. I actually have some sympathy for what they’re saying: we’ve decided to just let it continue, and there’s evidence there are less deaths, and since no one is treating it as an emergency I suppose the emergency is over.

But we refuse to deal with the fact that it’s causing Long Covid and that repeated infections do damage to the brain, cardiovascular system and immune system, often non-symptomatic to start and that excess deaths are still highly elevated in most countries.

We’ve basically decided to ignore a mass crippling event. We can’t even be bothered to put filters in classrooms and other public areas, and hospitals are stopping mandating masks and most don’t have air filtration. (If you we won’t even put air filtration in hospitals and schools we clearly don’t give a fuck.)

And, of course, new variants emerge and there’s no reason to assume none of them will have an increase in lethality. The most recent “Arcturus” variant, while not more lethal appears far more infectious than previous variants, which were already in the running for the most virulent diseases in history.

We sort of acknowledge it exists, with a massive denialist cohort, the sort who keep insisting it’s just as bad as the flu, and then we do, effectively, nothing, after an initial, completely incompetent series of measures in the first year and a half, which because of their incompetence, discredited intervention. (Remember that 2 years of WHO claiming that Covid wasn’t airborne.)

There are plenty of other examples. I remember writing back in 2009 that if things continued as they were Americans would lose their abortion rights. I was pilloried for it. Similarly when Obama got rid of Dean at the DNC I said it was the end of the 50 state policy, and again I was savagely attacked for it, including both pushback from the White House and by commenters at FDL and Daily Kos.

Then there was all the pretense that Afghanistan could be won, or the 72% of Americans who thought that Iraq had WMD. (Well they did have some chemical weapons, but that’s not what anyone meant.)

That China is the largest economy in the world in the ways that matter is another thing most people are still in denial about, along with the fact that America is losing its tech lead.

I suppose you could say “well Ian, we admit reality and then do nothing” but actions are what count, and based on actions we’re in complete denial about our major problems, and when denial is still even remotely possible, we continue with it. I can’t count the number of people I run into who are still climate-change denialists, even as we have wildfires and every week leads to some decades old temperature record being broken.

This era is right up there with the last decades of the Western Roman Empire for stupidity and incompetence. The difference is that the scale is global and the problems are bigger than barbarian invasions.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 7, 2023


Europe Needs To Re-evaluate Its Importance And Its American Vassalization


  1. someofparts

    Jane Jacobs
    Dark Age Ahead

    “pinpoints five pillars of our culture that are in serious decay: community and family; higher education; the effective practice of science; taxation, and government; and the self-regulation of the learned professions”

    and this –

    “I was savagely attacked for it, including both pushback from the White House and by commenters at FDL and Daily Kos”

    So FDL is gone, Daily Kos is a fetid swamp that decent people avoid and in the White House they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time anymore. A pox on them all.

    If you were unscrupulous you could probably raise some funding for the site just by telling people who your detractors are.

  2. different clue

    If NaCap is totally up to date in its reporting, then the WHO’s official website stii proudly proclaims that covid is NOT airborne. If indeed WHO stii says that, after all that is known, it can no longer be considere invincible ignorance or stubborn pride. It can only be considered a deliberate effort to buy covid time to spread all over the earth and to become permanent.

    People like Fauci and Gebreyesus remind me of Science Officer Ash in the movie ” Alien” .

  3. Curt Kastens

    “Covid has been the most recent example, with the World Health Organization (WHO) taking two years to admit that it was an airborne virus, insisting it spread thru droplets. I daresay that refusal to admit reality cost a couple million people their lives.”

    I was aware of this stupidity in the summer of 2020. So called experts can not really have been that stupid to deny that it was an airborne desease. To me this denial was clear evidence of not acting in good faith.

    Ian, did you ever consider the possibilty that that the experts at the WHO (and other health institutions) were not stupid but just not acting in good faith?

    I did. I concluded that this detail about how the virus was spread was not an honest mistake but a deliberate lie. When people are not acting in good faith it is usually because they have something embarrasing to hide. Of course an implication of very intellegent people not acting in good faith is that they are acting to further a conspiracy.

    Then another thing that I remember that really sent alarm bells ringing for me was during the panic the radio announcers on German government radio stations would report the number of people who died from or with the Coronavirus. When it is put like that it is hard not to wonder who much exaguration is going on. Later a study came out that said 90% died FROM Covid and 10% with Covid. But if the symptoms leading to death caused by covid are a continuim of symptoms there would be no subjective line to draw in the sand. Anyways by then anything any experts said about the pandemic carried no credibility with me. It looked from my view point that the whole pandemic was an example or shoddy and mostly corrupt science.

    People are in denial about climate change, about resource deplition, about the idea that the US and and western european countries are democratic countries. They are even in denial about the fact that the US could have paid repatriations to decsendents of slavery, if they ever thought about the issue at all.

    But the corona virus pandemic is not a very good example to use to show that people are in denial about something important. Because the reality is that people might be in denial about how they were suckered.

  4. GlassHammer

    The Tech revolution didn’t produce a leap forward in human capability, it produced morons who spend all day making life altering decisions off Power Point slides.

    We have known that the modern systems we use make us sloppy thinkers but we didn’t care to address it.

    And now that AI is here we can look forward to not thinking at all and just letting a computer sort it out.

    I mean just look at our leaders and ask yourself “Can AI really be much worse than this?”

  5. VietnamVet

    I was late to the game. It was in 2014 when the Maidan Coup in Ukraine opened my eyes. It is clear that the Obama Administration and the Heir Apparent, Hillary Clinton, wanted a regime change in Russia and war was the only way to do it. I was in denial earlier because my retirement in Suburbia is paid for with my government pension which will be the first thing to go when the Western Empire collapses just like the Soviet Union.

    Those who are selected by the ruling oligarchy to be influential make millions like Janet Yellen or Ginni Thomas. They have to believe the propaganda. Party Apparatchik know that the $900,000 dollars Russia spent on Facebook overwhelmed the 9 billion dollars Hillary Clinton spent on her losing campaign.

    “US jury finds Donald Trump sexually abused E Jean Carroll”. Some powerful people really do not want him to be the 2024 GOP Presidential candidate.

    The British Columbia wildfires last year and Alberta this year are harbingers of the Climate Change. Yesterday, I saw six Central American women walking on the sidewalk downhill from my home while being forced to drive out to risk COVID infection to go to the nearby hospital. This clearly is my personal writing on the wall that the coming changes are not good.

    What is most scary is living within the blast radius of a US Joint Base which is probably fourth on Russia’s target list. At least it will be quick. OG’s leaks are quite clear. The Deep State is quite aware that Ukraine cannot seize Crimea because Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons in its defense. The drone attack on the Kremlin is the latest escalation. The only way to avoid a global nuclear war is a UN armistice and making the Donbas a DMZ manned by Eastern Europeans, Ukraine retains Odessa and Black Sea access, and China negotiates the ceasefire.

    Peace is only possible if the West acknowledges that this is again a multipolar world. “Strong fences make good neighbors.” The recent failure of three of the four largest US banks, the Western sanctions on a third of the global economy, energy inflation, resource depletion, climate change, offshoring, and de-dollarization, all indicate that North America will become around eleven backwater nuclear armed feudal ethnic autocracies if a global nuclear war is avoided. The current global neoliberal capitalists have no incentive to restore the western democratic republics . They need to be forced if we are to survive.

  6. Purple Library Guy

    Just read an article noting that virtually none of the newspaper coverage in Alberta about the wildfires ever mentions the phrase “climate change”. Apparently they say “unprecedented” a lot, but steer well clear of mentioning anything about WHY it’s unprecedented. Coincidentally I’m sure, all the papers in Alberta (and most major papers in Canada) are owned by the same right wing, oil-friendly corporation: Postmedia.

    But we don’t have propaganda in Western liberal democracies. Perish the thought!

    Secondary note, mention of Iraq and WMD reminds me of an old joke.

    US foreign policy establishment: “We know Saddam has weapons of mass destruction!”
    “How do you know?”
    “We kept the receipts!”

  7. anon

    Hospitals dropping mask mandates is the scariest thing of all since Covid started. I do not feel safe having to take off my mask to undergo surgery, knowing that these same nurses and doctors don’t wear masks outside the operating room and could be giving me Covid while I’m under anesthesia.

    I’d like to hear your prediction for what will happen next in the real estate market.

  8. StewartM

    Why do people deny reality? When reality conflicts with their ideology.

    I’m with Tony Wikret on this one. For the past forty years, going on 50, we have embraced an economic ideology that is not evidenced-based at all (in fact, many of its more extreme advocates, the Austrian School, sneer at any empirical approach at all). Thus, as Tony posted about a month ago, we tweak the inflation and GDP numbers to say this ideology made us richer when it fact it likely made the US poorer in aggregate, and certainly poorer by the median.

    We say that “markets will fix the problem” when they don’t–well, at least not the gamed, non-competitive markets we pretend are “free”. (I’m posting this from Vietnam, and I can show you paradoxically in a nominally communist country what a ‘free market’ looks like–there are dozens if not hundreds of pharmacies, dentists, doctors, hotels, restaurants, laundromats, convenience stores, etc., within 5 km of me in every direction. And moreover independent outfits, few chains. No wonder how Asia has both lower inflation rates while having lower employment rates–something the Fed’s ideology says is impossible–because here you actually have real market competition that keeps a lid on prices…not a few giant corps who (wink wink nod nod) ‘compete’ against each other).

    Insofar as climate change, I think the denial is because we would have to drastically alter the Western economies of the past 40 years to fix the problem. Moreover, we’d have to change our way of living–plow up the suburbs, transition to mass transit, transition away from fossil fuels, and much much more. Instead of sprawl we’d need to relocate inside cities, to allow the sprawl to become reforested and thus a carbon sink again. And to accomplish all this would require (horrors) some kind of economic planning.

    Easier to believe that millions of choices made only with a short-term focus (‘death bet’) will do the job, eh? Camille Paglia lost me on this one, I read in Wikipedia that she’s now a climate change denier, ridiculing ‘the left’ over ‘leaving out biology’ in gender studies while claiming the mantle of science over climate change. Well, Camille, there is a hell of a lot of data to support climate science, and moreover there’s plenty of scientific data to support a more fluid concept of gender (there are five biological genders, and moreover there have been well-studied examples of people being born as girls and then spontaneously changing into boys at the onset of puberty, which for them not unsurprisingly is a major psychological shock).

  9. Ian Welsh

    Back in the 2000s I kept close track of economic stats and news. I kept my own spreadsheets and had a couple of my own indices. After 2009 I stopped doing that, since no one paid attention it didn’t seem worth all the work. So I can’t really make housing predictions right now, though I may do a dive on the economy soon.

  10. Bukko Boomeranger

    It was no secret to anybody who was halfway paying attention in the early 2000s that housing was in a bubble that was destined to blow. The Economist magazine, to which I used to subscribe, had one of their multi-story centre-of-the-mag investigative reports about it in mid-2004. I was not as much into economics then (I still thought politics mattered) but the reams of detail were enough to convince me.

    My wife-at-the-time and I were living in San Francisco then and planning to leave the country if Bush II got re-elected, because our consciences wouldn’t let us live any longer in such a warlike country. (He did, and we did.) Our impetus for emigrating was made stronger by the thoughts that our really nice hilltop house with a 180-degree over the Pacific was doomed to go down in value, but that we’d be able to cash in our chips if we bailed in time. (As it turned out, home prices in S.F. were knocked back for a bit, but when I was last in San Fran in 2018, the old place was worth $1.3 million, according to Zillow — $400K more than we got for it 12 years prior. But I ain’t complainin’. We exited with a sweet financial cushion.)

    Anyway, it’s always good to pay attention to reality, and have confidence in one’s beliefs. Easier to do when one is born American, because we are acculturated to be arrogant and self-assured. I haven’t caught Covid yet either — wearing an N-95 mask as I type this because I’m in a library. Agree with you on your other points too. However, what tempers my view is that the people with opposite views on all sorts of things, especially Covid, think that THEY are seeing reality, and we are the ones in denial. Truth will eventually “out” as the saying goes, but it often takes years…

  11. bruce wilder

    Incompetence is a term I have used in rants before.

    I do not think TPTB were in denial about the coming financial crisis in early 2000s. The orchestration of Bernanke’s rise shows clearly the smart money knew what was was going to be needed (for someone’s self-interested idea of “need”). Bernanke “foamed the runway” with liquidity early on, but that plan backfired, setting off a global explosion in commodities prices. Pulling back on liquidity allowed commodity prices to return to earth, but that fall in prices formed a general deflation for a very short period but long enough to exacerbate a general banking crisis.

    At this point, I think the balance of probabilities favors some essential truth in the Wuhan Lab leak of gain-of-function research. Even if you dismiss that speculation, it is clear that the pandemic was exploited ruthlessly to profit massively from “vaccines” of dubious efficacy while suppressing honest efforts to find effective mitigation and treatment methods.

    The pursuit of war against Russia, China and Iran has been in the works for a long, long time. You can fault Victoria Nuland for anything but professional skill and work ethic; she’s been pursuing this policy for a long time. The only ones in denial are those in Media and the general population who refuse to pay attention or remember anything.

    On climate change, I always thought the economic challenge was beyond collective human capacity, either to conceive or respond to responsibly. I cannot reject the idea that the TPTB are decided on population reduction and climate engineering.

    If Fox News is willing to cancel but not actually fire Tucker Carlson just to suppress a populist voice, even a right-wing one, it seems pretty clear our masters mean to control the narrative.

  12. Dan Lynch

    When I was a kid growing up in the Bible Belt, I came to the conclusion that most people were insane. At that time, I had not yet become familiar with the legal definition of sanity as knowing the difference between “right and wrong” — I still don’t care for that definition — instead, as my kid-self saw it, sanity was knowing the difference between fact and fiction, between reality and fairy tale. I still think that my definition of sanity is a pretty good definition. And as Ian points out, denial of fact is commonplace. Human nature tends to believe what it wants to believe. Confirmation bias, they call it.

    None of us are immune from confirmation bias. I believe I am a saner and do more critical thinking than most, but sometimes I still catch myself believing what I want to believe, instead of facing an unpleasant truth.

  13. bruce wilder

    “The narrative” is killing our collective ability to think critically and now AI arrives to flood the political discourse with mass-automated production of b.s., supplemented with images and video synthesized by “prompt engineers”. There is no institutional platform remaining to finance the careers of moderate or radical thinkers, academics, journalists, politicians. Reason and ideas do not matter as long as “the narrative” can obscure critical insight with attacks on imagined personal character supported by tribal dogmas.

  14. Purple Library Guy

    Mr. Wilder, nobody in charge of anything wants population reduction. Except in China. They should, but they don’t. They are wedded to the idea that economic growth, and more importantly their ever increasing wealth, requires ever more poor people to exploit. And they resolutely ignore all issues of carrying capacity, just as they do every other problem that requires conceiving of nature/the world as NOT a free and infinite resource in order to solve it.

  15. Mark Level

    Stewart M– Camille Paglia has been a stupid, arrogant bigot for a very long time! She had a brief run, maybe 3-5 years I would estimate (it’s so long ago I can’t be exact) when as a contrarian thinker she was somewhat original and interesting– but either it went to her head or something in her brain just broke, imho!! I recall and old friend who was Lefty and then became an Alt-Right Nazi who transitioned to bigotry & social/gender issues warfare about the same time as Camille, & quoted her regularly and repeatedly as a “cool” fascist type. Sadly, I can’t even call him a Neo-Nazi. He loved to brag about his genetic test showing he was “98% German” (absurd, but whatevs–), got into the mysticism of the sinister WWII era Italian fascist “Magi,” Count Julius Evola!! Evola is a Nietzschean inspired fascist (I won’t agree that his take on Nietzsche is sound, it’s distorted) & was offered a post in the Mussolini government by Benito himself, but turned it down because B.M. was not sincerely fascist enough in Evola’s eyes!! He did however work for the German Reich and was hit by an allied bomb and seriously disabled late in the war, barely ambulatory, so I guess karma does hit sometimes . . . Anyway, Paglia, Count Evola and my former friend, a pile of fake “Ubermensch” wanna-bes! (My ex-friend was such a wimp that one time in the S.F. Mission district BART station, some dude came up and tried to mug him, and his response was to fall down on his back on the ground, kick his long legs up at the mugger and scream!! It did work, however, the mugger decided not to get down on the floor with him & dig thru his pockets, went on to less shrieking & hystrical prey.) Most Nazis are all talk unless they outnumber you 2 to 1 or better, I learned back in the 80s punk scene. Since this whole thread is about Denial of Reality it is interesting that the neofascists remain perhaps the most absurd cosplay representatives thereof, pining for the glories of a Reich that collapsed in drug addiction & genocide. Comics superhero nerds are cooler and more manly than the majority of Neo-fascists apart from a few of the old school types (Hell’s Angels, e.g.) who were genuinely blue collar and tough.

  16. NR

    “US jury finds Donald Trump sexually abused E Jean Carroll”. Some powerful people really do not want him to be the 2024 GOP Presidential candidate.

    Or maybe, and I know this is a crazy idea but bear with me here, just maybe the guy who said “I grab ’em by the pussy and they can’t do anything about it because I’m famous” is actually a sexual predator?

  17. Feral Finster

    What all of these denials have in common is that they coincide with what people of influence and authority want at the time.

  18. Willy

    There’s denial of reality and then there’s just not giving a shit. As in, we deny reality and they don’t give a shit.

    I saw a bit where Dave Chappelle said he knew that Trump would become popular after proclaiming that the system was rigged, when neither Obama nor Clinton really ever did, at least not in any meaningful way. Be nice if Chapelle would’ve said something more about Trumps public behavior after that proclamation, his basically doing nothing about rigged systems except for displaying how vulgarly he could revel in it out in plain sight.

    Anybody who gets out and pays attention has experienced rigged systems going on all over the place. I’d detail my little story about the two college validictorious geeks I knew who deserved Ivy League educations but were declined, while a not-so-studious party boy who reeked of mediocrity got advanced Ivy League degrees just because his parents were professors. But I’m not in the mood just yet.

    The point is, I still to this day feel a sense of respect whenever somebody claims to be Ivy League, or have a PhD, or a manager over hundreds… when I know damned well that the way things are, I really need to know “the rest of the story” if I’m to make any kind of accurate assessment of their true capabilities. Talk about denial. Of a cultural conditioning that’s been very effective.

    And I haven’t even gotten to my daily rant about who it is that gets into actual positions of national power. We’ve got Ivy Leaguer Elise Stefanik, stench defender of the obviously idiotic grifter George Santos. And Ivy Leaguer Ted Cruz who just cant quit smearing greasy corrupt feces all over the place. But we do have the honorable Mike Parson governor of Missouri, who has no college degree, who’s helped take the “show me state” to the land of the babbling dipshit. So I suppose it could be worse.

    Hmm… I should probably summarize a point to all that. Maybe it’s that we the people are in denial and they the Powers That Be know full well but just don’t give a shit. Not most of them. Maybe we need to be a bit more skeptical about who it is that gets to be worthy of so-called “American success”. In other words, if you see somebody stepping out of their brand-new Mercedes, suspicion should be the first emotion felt. Odds are they’re just another corrupt moron.

  19. Ché Pasa

    Reality? Huh. It’s a matter of opinion, no? Whose reality? Each of us has our own Reality, somewhat different from everyone else’s. In some ways our perceptions create Reality itself. On the other hand, what’s really there is something else altogether, or it might be nothing at all.

    When Our Betters start playing with these notions — as we know they do — it opens a Pandora’s Box because they are forever jockeying for position among themselves, and what matters (to them) is how to use the Unreality of Reality to to their personal advantage while disadvantaging us and everyone else.

    So you get denial of the obvious Realities that otherwise would be widely agreed-to. Like the looming financial crises and climate catastrophes and the vast, bloody absurdities of the various wars, invasions, revolutions, and what have you. Someone is profiting from it . Not just money, though that’s important, but position, power, ability to create some version of Reality for themselves and confuse everyone else.

    I think now it’s not so much that they don’t care. They do care, but they care more about their own benefit and much less about ours. Maybe there is something we can do to more greatly unify our collective sense of Reality, quite separate from theirs’, and thus — perhaps — have somewhat greater control of our fate, but I’m not optimistic so long as media and opinionators are so fragmented on the one hand and have such a powerful grip on our perceptions.

    Maybe it’s a pendulum thing. And we have to wait for the swing to come back around our way. But by then, it might be too late.

  20. different clue


    There has been for years a blogger named Dr. Housing Bubble who has been tracking housing issues in the State of California, though with only occasional attention beyond it.
    He is still blogging.

  21. mago

    @che pasa:
    a pendulum swing as a pendulum do

  22. StewartM

    Mark Level

    She had a brief run, maybe 3-5 years I would estimate (it’s so long ago I can’t be exact) when as a contrarian thinker she was somewhat original and interesting

    She was always a mixed bag to me. At her best, she would have you laughing with agreement. But the very next moment she’s be so ‘full of it’ you’d be rolling your eyes. But looking at the Wikipedia entry (after seeing her pontificate in some Youtubes with Jordan Friggin’ Peterson, of all people) I concluded she’s backpedaled from her best observations and doubled-down on her worst. Moreover, she’s still beating the same dead horses as 30 years ago (Foucault, the Parisians, etc).

    But climate change? She has no expertise whatever in that. She has no credentials to evaluate the data, not unless she’s actually spent a few months/years learning the topic, which I doubt.

    Mind you, this is a problem with philosophers and ‘social critics’ in general. It’s why I’ve never been able to completely read anything by Nietzsche, nor even a book defending his philosophy, because so much of it throws out as starting points ‘truths’ that you’re supposed to nod your head and swallow that aren’t true–and if the building blocks of an argument aren’t sound, neither is the edifice created from them.

  23. different clue


    I thought of a phrase for someone who is still beating dead horses after 30 years . . .

    . . . beating the fading stain where a dead horse used to be.

  24. capelin

    There’s a lot of it about. We’re into the exponential growth stage.

    Bigger more obvious lies, those in denial doubling down.

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