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

Humanity’s Completely Broken Feedback Systems

If you want to understand how we got where we are, it’s simple: our strongest feedback systems to our decision making people are telling them “everything’s great, stay on course!”

For over 40 years now the rich have gotten richer. Politicians have gotten richer. Corporate officers, CEOs and executives have gotten richer.

Money is reward, and the reward centers for our elites are going off like a slot machine that constantly pays millions. BLING! BLING! BLING!

Whenever someone says “you should do less of this thing that makes you more money and power”, which is essentially everything that needs to be changed from Covid (making them richer) to climate change (still more oil to pump, baby) to ending pharma patents (Bill Gates says NO) to fixing inequality or feeding hungry people or housing the homeless, well, their fortunes (or bribes) come from making these things worse.

Capitalism is supposed to provide a feedback system. It isn’t the best feedback system, but if forced or allowed to work (and only government can enforce it, which is why rich people can’t be allowed, as they always purchase the government) it makes individuals and corporations who can’t even make a real profit go bankrupt.

But in 2008, Bernanke, whose entire intellectual opus was “how do we make sure another FDR doesn’t happen by making sure the rich never lose their money and power again” started the process of shoveling money down the gullets of the rich. (Greenspan had been piping it in too, but maintained some pretense he wasn’t and tried not to actually print money obviously.)

Every major central bank in the world followed course and all the economic feedback systems broke. No matter what rich idiots did, they would never as a class be allowed to go bankrupt, or even not keep getting richer. Vast money funneled to the rich and inflation showed up exactly where one would expect it, in things the rich were bidding up (yachts, art, luxury apartments) and in whatever they were buying up to get a new revenue stream (housing, most recently, so rent will soon /really/ go thru the roof.)

Now, as I pointed out at the time, the problem with all of this is that the real world exists, and so does a real economy in which items must be manufactured, food grown and products delivered. All of that has to be done in a world with weather, climate, animals, plants and an atmosphere.

Since all the feedback systems put in place by humans had broken (no one in power cared or cares about UN climate reports), we then had to wait for the world to start smacking us around.

That has started, with wildfires and northern hurricanes and so on (and Covid, to some extent), and the logistics system has proven itself to be fragile and easily disrupted exactly as many of us pointed out, while power and water systems and so on show their fragility as well.

But it’s not enough yet, this is all stuff the rich can ignore: have more than one home, have them off the grid, travel by private jet, etc, etc…

So the feedback will continue until it becomes so severe either the Proles do a Versailles on unresponsive elites or the elites feel more endangered than their bank accounts can make up for. (A hundred million+ dollars can buy a LOT of immunity. You may be dead before they feel it.)

This story isn’t new to regular readers, though, but I want to splice it with another thread.


I hate incentives. Loathe them. Every place I ever worked, the incentives did more harm than good. But it’s the mantra, the mindless ideology of our age that incentives work and you should align incentives.

Since we re-engineered our entire society to appear to do that, our societies have gone to shit for everyone but the one to three percent or so, but since feedback to anybody but them doesn’t matter, we continue.

I recently read John Ralston Saul’s “The Unconscious Civilization.” Or, rather, re-read it, but last time I looked at it was in the nineties.

Saul wrote a bunch of non-fiction books and they’re all bad except “The Unconscious Civilization”, which is brilliant. (They’re bad because Saul is of the old humanist tradition that insists on putting in as many references to the greats of the past as possible.)

But Unconscious Civilization is the publication of a series of five lectures by Saul and the limited time forced him to get to the fucking point. So, read it. (It’s scarily right about almost everything.)

One point Saul makes over and over again is the “value of disinterest”. Social decisions cannot be made properly by people who have an interest in them. Cannot be. We have run a 40 year (arguably 200 to 500 year) experiment on this, and it has failed and failed and failed. Elites need moderate negative feedback and to be insulated from the effects of their decisions which benefit groups.

Our society, as Saul points out, is all organized into interest groups, which half the audience is probably thinking is insane, because they think of interests group as things like environmentalist and people who want food aid, and not as corporations. (Though NGOs are definitely corporatist by Saul’s definition.)

People who have a strong interest can’t make good decisions for anyone but themselves about anything they have a strong positive interest in. It’s that simple.

If we want out of this mess, we have to break strong positive incentives. No stock options, for example. No surgeons flying around in private jets.

When someone’s interest is so strong it makes sense for them to burn the world down (and be clear, it did, because most wouldn’t still be here, and many figure their wealth will protect them), interest has failed. Incentives have failed.

Elites must be subject to the effects of their decisions, yes, but primarily on the downside.

It’s hard to see a way out of this now, because there isn’t one.

Instead the way out will be forced. When fear rises to the necessary level, those who betray society as a whole for their own interest will be dealt with. If they’re lucky it will be thru democratic norms, if they aren’t lucky, it will be the justice of the mob. In either case it will be too late to stop the worst of climate change and ecological collapse.

For you, a reader, the point is to internalize what went wrong and why, so you understand the conditions in which it will change and do not waste time on actions which won’t help. Moral ‘suasion will not work. The elites will respond to power and fear and nothing else.

If you can’t apply enough of that, or any movement asking for your help indicates their strategy doesn’t involve power and fear, then you need to prepare in other ways. In fact, as an ordinary person, you just need to prepare, because while you can do  your bit you do not have enough power to be determinative.

Politics is unlikely to save you and what you do will not determine if it does. So you must, with others, save yourselves.

(My writing helps pay my rent and buys me food. So please consider subscribing or donating if you like my writing.)


The New Age Of Vertical Integration


The Labor Shortage And the New Criminalization


  1. Mark Pontin

    Ian W: ‘in 2008, Bernanke, whose entire intellectual opus was “how do we make sure another FDR doesn’t happen by making sure the rich never lose their money and power again.”

    And that was exactly what the strategy was. Though Bernanke was just a pawn, whose masters had moved him into place at the Fed as early as 2006, just as Hank Paulson installed himself as Treasury Secretary then, too, and as Obama begun to be pumped up as a presidential candidate at that point, also.

    Who says human beings never learn anything from history?

    Because if you poke through the historical ashes, it’s very clear that the financial powers in the US had worked out what was coming and had begun planning to make sure that there’d be no repeat of an FDR and a New Deal maybe as early as 2004-2005.

  2. different clue

    Here is a little Chris Hedges video with some generalized advice on how to survive in a time of social breakdown and State retreat from supportive engagement with anyone except its upper class owners defined in the most narrow way possible.

    No, Chris Hedges is not dynamic or exciting or entertaining. But its only 2 minutes, so how much could it hurt to watch, really?

  3. Hugh

    I would say that the war on the New Deal began under Carter, really took off under Reagan, and exploded under Clinton. Fed chair Volcker was a Carter appointee (1979). He started the practice of using interest rates to stifle increases in workers’ wages. The Marquette decision in 1978 and the Depository Institutions Deregulation Act of 1980 made usury (one form of rents) legal. Carter also began anti-union moves like deregulating airlines in 1978 and trucking in 1980. And there was also the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, specifically Title VII, which barred federal workers from striking or collectively bargaining over wages, hours, or benefits. Reagan used this to decertify Patco and fire air traffic controllers in 1981. In addition to the grift of his supply-side Reaganomics, he also as he was leaving nominated the libertarian carnie Allen Greenspan as Fed Chair. He remained in that position for 18 1/2 years until 2006. He did not believe in regulating banks but at the same time initiated the Greenspan put which became the model for Bernanke’s mammoth bailout of the rich, the banks, and Wall Street in 2008. And I have to mention Clinton, the death of the New Deal in the Democratic party, and his selection of the pro-finance Robert Rubin and Larry Summers as his Treasury Secretaries. Summers was instrumental in laying the foundations of the 2008 collapse by spearheading the deregulation of derivatives and the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

  4. Plague Species

    My wife and I were watching a YouTube video related to this the other day over morning coffee, and my wife said, “you were way out in front on so much of this.” In this sense, I am (meaning my experience) the future, and no, that’s not me patting myself on the back, quite the contrary in fact. This is just one of so many perturbations rippling their way through the system.

    Well, it’s been confirmed. Two of my wife’s colleagues have tested positive for COVFEFE-45 and one of them, a woman from Ecuador who is in her fifties, is severely sick with the virus. Neither of her colleagues have been vaccinated. One of them, the young black woman in her early twenties, refused to take my wife’s advice and get vaccinated. She instead was influenced by another black woman who works at the school who is a diehard Vaccine Refusenik like my Trump-supporting brother. I believe race probably had a lot to do with my wife’s young black assistant not taking her advice. She took the advice of a “sister” over the advice of “whitey.” It may just cost her her life or her health.

    As a result of this, the school is following the CDC guidelines and my wife is now in quarantine. She will be tested on Saturday to see if she has the virus as all of us in our household will be. She cannot return to in-person teaching for at least two weeks and the same applies to the children and their families — over thirty students in all. We’re keeping our fingers crossed we don’t have the virus and we’re hoping the woman from Ecuador and my wife’s young black assistant don’t have to be hospitalized or don’t contract Long COVFEFE-45.

    It’s bad, folks. Really bad. But that’s just me being paranoid about COVFEFE-45, right? My wife is an Essential, so she doesn’t have the luxury of “working” from home like so many privileged Non-Essentials, as if Non-Essentials actually “work” meaning as if they provide any tangible benefit to society. My wife gets paid a paltry fraction of what Non-Essentials get paid and she can’t even get her first colonoscopy screening because the deductible on our insurance is too high and we can’t afford the out-of-pocket expense let alone any expenses that would accrue from contracting COVFEFE-45. My wife is an unacknowledged, unheralded, involuntary class traitor. She’s pays the true price while other fake class traitors take all the ignominious glory all the way to the bank.

  5. someofparts

    Hope all of you in your household are going to be okay PS.

  6. bruce wilder

    There is “hope” for us all and not much else.

    Outstanding piece, Ian.

  7. Jason

    The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

  8. One reason Incentives can back fire is because they crowd each other out. Some schools/day cares is Israel wanted to reduce the amount parents picked up their kids late by finning them for it. The result was a large increase in parents picking up their kids late. Before the fine parents had a social and moral incentive to pick up their kids on time. When being fined those two incentives were eliminated. The moral and social incentives were stronger and therefore the fine for picking kids up late increased the amount kids were picked up late.

    These days external incentives primary money rule the day. The opioid companies got rich lying about and pushing drugs that killed hundreds of thousands. Their punishment was a small fine that didn’t even approach the money they made.

    One reason the opioid companies could easily lie was because our system has put the corporations who sell the drugs in charge of doing and publishing the research on them. It would be exactly like having Big tobacco in charge of determining if tobacco smoking is safe or not. The hen house is in the wolfs den.

    Pfizer and Moderna have eliminated the placebo groups in their studies by giving them the injections. They claim it is unethical to know the effects of the drugs they sell because to them making money is the only ethic. Incentives for Science and truth have been crowded out. Watching vaccine enthusiasts simultaneously claim we need to follow the science while blocking research, censoring research, and mass repeating logical fallacies is a lessen in denial and cognitive dissonance.

  9. Susan Butler

    Perverse incentives are everywhere because our society is based on rivalrous games. Win-Lose. Profit is our highest value. But the “losers” don’t just drop off the planet. They are still here and resentful. Nora Bateson says we need to make one thing our highest value and most urgent necessity: Feed the babies. And not just with junk food that makes them obese and malnourished. All of the babies. Think about it. This is what women have been all about for tens of thousands of years. And look how much they are respected. Feed the babies. Our civilization has failed at this. What has to change?

  10. Dermot M O Connor

    Ian, I’ve read ‘Voltaire’s Bastards’ and would be interested to know your opinion, thanks!

  11. Purple Library Guy

    On a quick tangent, I’ve seen a lot of articles saying that Covid has made billionaires richer. This is not technically true, except for Jeff Bezos. Covid in and of itself probably has if anything made billionaires poorer.

    Governments shoveling vastly increased masses of money to billionaires, has made billionaires richer. Covid was a good excuse and distraction. It’s “disaster capitalism” as usual. So it’s true that it would not have happened without Covid (or some kind of major disruption). The point being that it’s about elite control over the levers of government . . . and also elite fear of the people.

    If they had no fear of the people, they wouldn’t need excuses and distractions and lies before they handed more money to the rich, they’d just do it. They’d be like “Yeah, we’re taking everything and we’re gonna leave you with nothing and what are you going to do about it?” Instead they try really hard to deceive and divide. They do racism and culture wars and massive PR. Look at the Trumpies–they’re not, for the most part, in favour of the government giving away trillions to billionaires. They’re massively gullible, they can be fooled six ways from Sunday, but they’re not quite gullible enough, at least not any more (in the 80s, yeah) to believe the superrich should be given even more. Instead, Trump fooled them into thinking he was going to DRAIN the swamp, TAKE DOWN the elites. Of course that’s ridiculous, but the point is that’s what right wing populists fool people into believing, and that’s what they HAVE to fool people into believing because they’re deeply afraid of what might happen if the people wise up.

    There is comfort in this. If the people ever do wise up, there may yet be power in that. History suggests it happens now and then.

  12. Kris

    Wondering if others are getting the emails in a clump? i.e. nothing since 7/27 then today 13 entries at once; just started doing this a few months ago – Happy to get them, of course, whenever they arrive.

  13. @Purple Library Guy

    Good point. It is similar to how people who are rich who work in tech or pharmaceuticals are rich because the government funneled money there way. Bill Gates wouldn’t be as rich if the government didn’t use the force of its gun to demand everyone pay Microsoft large mark ups for their patents.
    Bezo’s wouldn’t be as rich if the government hadn’t decided it was okay for him to not pay sales taxes.

    An irony here is that a major complaint from Capitalist America against Communist China is that China doesn’t have the government mandate monopolies enough. We rounded the circle and now the Capitalists are complaining that the Communists are to supportive of free markets. Though of course the idea of free-markets was a bad faith veneer used as propaganda to make sure the masses didn’t adopt the idea that the powerful and rich shouldn’t be so powerful and rich.

  14. justine

    Kris, what emails are you referring to?

  15. different clue

    I am not aware of any Capitalists complaining about how effectively Communist China is working the Capitalism Rackets. The Capitalists have all kinds of investments in China.

    I hear the complaining coming from America’s domestic victims of America’s Capitalists. So far they are stating their complaints as ” China does this, China does that. . . “. But eventually they may sharpen up their complaints to addressing the International Free Trade Conspirators and their American Capitalist Class Comrades, who engineered America into a position where China can ” do this, do that” to America.

    Once the American victim majority knows whom to hate, and why, then the American victim majority will be a step closer to understanding that America’s only hope for survival is to reject the Free Trade System and exclude it from contact with the American political economy. If the only way to effectively reject Free Trade is to round up and exterminate every person within America’s borders who supports Free Trade, then eventually a Movement for Victim Liberation may arise to pursue and implement that extermination-decontamination program. And then America can pursue survival autarky. And neither China nor anyone else will be permitted to “do this, do that” to America ever again.

    ” America has stood up!”

  16. Feral Finster

    TL:DR: power is to sociopaths, what catnip is to cats.

  17. Mark Level

    Quite a cogent and thought-provoking piece from Ian, as usual. I will quibble with an early statement, “Capitalism is supposed to provide a feedback system,” by replying with the obvious, “According to whom?” as it clearly hasn’t for a very long time, if it ever did, though points made elsewhere about the virtual world vs. the world of things, products do seem to point at one reason for the lacking feedback loop . . . And (surprise) I will agree completely with Hugh that the true, directed economic immiseration of the middle classes began with Carter, and expanded with every President since. (Not that Nixon was any friend to the poor or non-white, but he had other priorities, continuing a Southeast Asian war with “honor” for over one term, and targeting “enemies'” via Liddy, the Plumbers and his other Ratfuckers.) The infamous Powell memo of the late 70s is clearly more than coincident with the Carter Neolib outcome . . . Back when I was still teaching US history to high school students I certainly noted to myself the irony that there is an influential think tank, The Hoover Institution, run by the supposed creme de la creme of US academia named for a terrible president who preceded FDR, while there is no FDR Institute with any influence on public policy, despite his election 4 times, etc.! Not at all surprising under late capitalism however, the Very Smart People at Hoover, the American Enterprise (sic) Institute etc. are paid to act for their class and make sure everyone lower on the earnings-status scale is ruthlessly crushed, bit by bit. Jason’s comment regarding “the mind of the oppressed” certainly explains that. Until the spit hits the fan and many (more) people are hungry, not enough minds will shed their denial & engage with the Master Class that is slowly strangling them . . . however, we do seem to be daily closer to that rude and overdue awakening, given the clueless indifference of the Rulers as the decline of late American Empire shudders onward. Indeed the “interesting times” are here, and only the pace of degeneration is up for debate.

  18. different clue

    @Mark Level,

    When things are bad enough for enough non-rich people that they get desperate enough to do something somehow about something, will be ready to follow any leader and take any advice.

    If some of the non-rich people who read blogs like this one have spent their off-line time developing personal off-line survival in a way visible to their friends and neighbors, they might find themselves consulted by people farther from survival and closer to despair about what to do and why. If enough “good people” have achieved visible survivalism, they might have a beneficial effect on those who seek their counsel. Perhaps the survival information which will slowly build up on the Surviving Hard Times thread every Saturday will help enough “good people” to become effective “survival people” to have a real even if small effect on parts of the deeply desperate society around them.

  19. Kris

    Justine – I mean Ian’s blog entries, which I receive by email. I’ve been getting them for years – same email server – and then starting a few months ago I wouldn’t get any for a while and then suddenly get the latest one along with all the intervening ones. Just wondering if it was happening to anyone else – gather not, which is good; will look for the problem elsewhere.

  20. Ian says:

    Saul wrote a bunch of non-fiction books and they’re all bad except “The Unconscious Civilization”, which is brilliant. (They’re bad because Saul is of the old humanist tradition that insists on putting in as many references to the greats of the past as possible.)

    Beg to differ: actually Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards (1992) is razor sharp and clarified things considerably back at the time I read it. He understood neoliberalism (although not under that name) before most. He blamed the MBA but that’s just the priestly training for the deadly cult of neoliberalism.

  21. Temporarily Sane

    @different clue

    “ But eventually they may sharpen up their complaints to addressing the International Free Trade Conspirators and their American Capitalist Class Comrades, who engineered America into a position where China can ” do this, do that” to America.”

    “And then America can pursue survival autarky. And neither China nor anyone else will be permitted to “do this, do that” to America ever again.”

    You’ve swallowed the imperial Kool Aid that says China is “doing something” bad to the USA, that the US needs to stop and contain China because it is somehow preventing the middle and working class citizens of America from prospering.

    America as perennial victim at the mercy of (among others) the godless commies of the Soviet Union, deranged Islamic terrorists, an evil Russian Bond villain or the shifty Chinamen of the CCP is a popular propaganda “trope” because nothing unites the disparate masses like a rotating cast of foreign enemies that can conveniently be blamed for America’s unprovoked regime change wars, disastrous imperial meddling and, in the 2020s, the slow motion destruction of the middle and working classes.

    Except it’s all bullshit. America made its own bed and, like empires before it, is now finding out that sleeping in it ain’t very comfortable at all. But imperial hubris stops honest assessments of the problems it faces in their tracks and instead delivers the tried and true foreign devils script which is eagerly lapped up by the masses including, ironically enough, people who claim not to trust the government or the elites that run it.

    You are absolutely correct that economic globalization and the free trade deals that prop it up are largely to blame for the predicament America finds itself in. Call it neoliberalism, crony capitalism or rentier capitalism, it’s a massive scam that transfers wealth upwards and hollows out the economy. There is your culprit. The problem is the system itself. You don’t need to look any further.

    Of course TPTB who run and benefit from this system are never going to accept responsibility for it not meeting the needs of ordinary Americans. Blaming a foreign nation whose real “crime” is that it didn’t let itself get subjugated by the American Empire serves two purposes. It deflects attention from the actual causes of American social and economic decay and it absolves the system and those who actively support it from any responsibility. “Hey, it’s not our fault…it’s the CCP that done it.” The irony is that America during its heyday implemented policies to protect its economy that are very similar to what China is doing today. What’s good for the goose is apparently not good for the gander. Do as I say, not as I do.

    You don’t have to “like” China or approve of its political system but you and everyone else that has their knickers in a twist over “muh CCP” have to accept that, like every other nation state, it has a right to peacefully develop itself and that a nation of 1.4 billion people is going to have a certain amount of geopolitical influence. (It’s worth noting that before European imperialism took off China and India had the largest economies in the world.)

    The fracas in the West over “allowing” China to develop is a textbook example of imperial hubris on steroids. Additionally, China’s rise to economic prominence has been remarkably bloodless compared to the history of European and American industrialization and these bitter old imperialists don’t have a leg to stand on.

    If the US and its EU vassals think they can “contain” or destroy China they have another thing coming. They will only end up damaging or destroying themselves in a futile effort to push against inertia. China isn’t seeking to dominate them and if they are smart they will respect China’s sovereignty (e.g. shelving the idiotic genocide claims) and work toward solving disagreements via good faith diplomacy instead of issuing threats and ultimatums.

    As for the economic woes faced by the US and the West generally, solving these problems will take a brutally honest reckoning and a conscious decision to put the existential needs of the citizenry first, rather than treating them as an afterthought to be “solved” with massive amounts of propaganda, social engineering and distraction tactics while the ruling class continues taking them to the cleaners.

  22. Modern day court jesters are still providing useful feedback.

    There’s Jimmy Dore, who frequently makes appearances on my youtube feed.

    But I have lost touch with Swami Beyondananda. Enter Kevin Barrett. Kevin Barrett has an article at unz dot com on a recent meme by Beyondananda. It shows a pudgy guy with glasses, and naked except for a big diaper; and the guy from “The Twilight Zone” standing next to him, saying

    Imagine a world where there was a 99.7% chance you would not shit your pants – but you’re forced to wear diapers just in case – not for you – but for others

    Alas, this is not going to be as funny to young folks that have no idea what “The Twilight Zone” is.

  23. Plague Species

    Jesus Christ, here we go with “neoliberalism” again. It’s the standard response to all things discussed. It ALWAYS migrates to “neoliberalism.” For me, at this point, the incessant focus on neoliberalism at the expense of all else reeks of Russian influence because the implication is neoliberalism is a West thing and so if you crush neoliberalism, i.e. crush the West, then the world can heal and thrive and sorry, I’m not actually, that’s just not true but it’s certainly what the Russians and Chinese and North Koreans would have you believe.

    We have already established over and over again, it’s not neoliberalism but Growth that is the issue. Neoliberalism is just one of many permutations of Growth.

    I fully suspect that the nukes could start flying and while they are still enroute, these same peeps will be arguing about neoliberalism until their last scorched breath. Pedantic, much?

    The sky isn’t falling. It’s fallen.

  24. Plague Species

    The problem is the system itself. You don’t need to look any further.

    Right. Exactly. And it’s precisely why Russia and China do not get a free pass or a get-out-of jail card in this discussion. China claims its economy is Market-Based Socialism. Others claim it’s State Capitalism, but I have to laugh because the so-called “market” is decried by Chinese apologists at this venue and yet China claims it is a market-based economy. Market is euphemism for a growth-based economy where Growth is treated like a deity. In fact, inherent in the word economy and all philosophies and policies that emanate from it, is Growth.

  25. different clue

    I just left a comment about various treatments for surviving a personal Coronavid infection on the Preparing for Hard Times thread.

    Because Coronavid infection is a very likely very personal hard time which many many people could still face sooner, later or soonest.

  26. Ché Pasa

    Beds to lie in. Imperial hubris. End of this or that. Common themes, true as far as they go but they don’t go far enough.

    The collapse of Afghanistan’s puppet regime in Kabul should have been foregone upon the “final” withdrawal of Imperial troops, and it probably was, but all the hand wringing over it is a bit overwrought, especially given that the prior administration had set a May 1 withdrawal date which would have made the collapse take place all that much sooner. Ah, to the Memory Hole with it! Begone!

    Interesting that India, Pakistan and possibly Iran are sniffing around to fill the breech. By all rights, Pakistan would have the dominant interest as the Taliban are supposedly their creation, and though strict, apparently the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan under Talibanic rule is OK with a significant number of, perhaps even a majority of, Afghanis. Hm. Who’d a thunk. It’s not pleasing to much of anyone else who matters, but what’s it to them? Not their business. They should sit down and shut up.

    Bushies tried hard to reanimate the tired and worn out Anglo-American Imperial Path and it failed miserably. This is feedback that should be paid attention to, both the attempt at re-animation and its failure. For all his ignorance, fury and flailing, Trump seemed to comprehend that even if he did not understand it, and for all his soft-footing, Biden seems to get it, too.

    Almost imperceptibly, both in government and among the Overclass, Our Rulers seem to be coming around. For so many things, it’s too late of course. This they know.

    Their opportunities to do the right thing were decades ago, and they blew through them like the gods they think they are.

    The right thing, to them, is whatever they do and did. And if it’s too late now, too bad.

    Waking up to the consequences isn’t pretty, but oh well.

    Oh the feedbacks are there, been there all along. Paying attention to them has been the perpetual problem.

  27. Jason

    Oh the feedbacks are there, been there all along. Paying attention to them has been the perpetual problem.

    Thanks Che. I’m reminded of a few lines I refer to when I begin feeling my own sense of sanity begin to wane:

    “It’s impossible to live a free and authentic life in American today…our emotions, personalities, and core values have been programmed. The keys to undermining this corrupting influence: Constant ridicule and appeals to conscience.”

    This situation is not necessarily new nor is it unique to the U.S. per se. Science and technology have pushed it into a state of maximum overdrive.

    “Use age-old wisdom to squelch the threat of the new universe dominated by science and technocratic organization.”

  28. Hugh

    I have already begun to see articles about Biden’s loss of Afghanistan. These presume that Afghanistan was ever his or ours to lose. The various Afghans we installed in power had 20 years to put together a functioning state. But they never bothered to try. The Taliban were clever to make deals which allowed them to move as they have into the North but those are still tribal politics. That is they last as long as they are convenient to all the parties. Their past time in power showed that the Taliban had no competence or interest in running a national state. It’s a very poor country and about a third of its population is what we so euphemistically call food insecure. 40% of the population is 14 or younger. About 55% of males can read for some definition of literacy, and 30% of female.

    What I am getting at here is that Afghanistan is a failed state. It wasn’t much of one even when we were propping up its government. And the Taliban are busily demolishing that. Getting food to people so they don’t starve still takes some minimal level of statism to get it done. I just don’t see any indication from the Taliban that they see that as their problem or responsibility.

  29. “Anyone pointing out causes of our problems is a Russian agent/asset. “ -Plague species after someone talks about how the oligarchs use fear of foreigners to distract from the problems the oligarchs cause.

    Anyone else feel the irony in that the Taliban gained power because America helped them overthrow the previous rulers? Afghanistan once had a government who opposed religious theocracy and allowed women and religious minorities to have rights. America decided that government needed to literally be replaced with terrorists.

    Another irony is that America’s invasion of Afghanistan was magnitudes more deadly and costly then the terrorist attacks that justified it. It would be like a child cutting off their arm because a bee stung his finger.

  30. Hugh

    Not that history matters to oakchair, but the Afghan wonder state he refers to is was a Soviet puppet that killed anybody who disagreed with it. And when the USSR thought its grip on Afghanistan was slipping, it invaded the place.

    Re China, the Western neoliberal idea was that developing China economically would lead to political liberalization and vast new markets for Western companies. Neither of these things happened. Nor was this just about hardworking Chinese. There was rampant theft of technology and hardball tactics to acquire it. The government engaged in and still does currency manipulation to make its goods cheaper and undercut competition. And it has bullied anyone it thought it could get away with bullying.

    History is not binary. Just because you might not like the West or the US does not make China good.

  31. Jason

    Alas, this is not going to be as funny to young folks that have no idea what “The Twilight Zone” is.

    The episode “Looks Just Like You” was always one of my favorites. A woman attempts to resist the socially-induced imperative to alter herself physically.

    The episode illustrates (nefarious) outside forces working to shape an individual’s own perception of herself – and by extension the larger environment she and everyone else inhabit (which is their reality) – these nefarious forces do this for “the good of society.”

    They win in the end, and she ultimately loses any meaningful sense of autonomy, which is the intent. Without said autonomy, she is much more easily compliant, although she herself still feels like a fully autonomous agent.

    The internal nature of the society’s subjects is one of being in a thoroughly compliant state. The society is structured such that any and all independent thoughts, indeed anything that falls outside of the dictates of the established authorities, is unreal.

    In other words, the society is at a point where the “deviants” aren’t merely laughed at, rather the society is so far gone that the “deviants” – or “independent thinkers” – are experienced as essentially unreal.

    Full spectrum dominance has been achieved.

    Not the first or last time Rod Serling explored these themes, of course!

    Wikipedia actually has a decent write-up of the episode:

  32. Plague Species

    Hugh’s right, Biden can be criticized for many things, but the Taliban taking over Afghanistan is not one of them. That’s b’s fault at Moon of Alabama and all those who are b and MoA fanboys. They clamored for America’s withdrawal and now that Biden has obliged, they’re not satisfied. They want to whine about the Taliban taking over as though they’re goading Biden to backtrack and recommit to occupying Afghanistan. Different clue posted not too long ago that the Chinese and Russians criticized America leaving Afghanistan. They want American mired down in quagmiric Forever Wars. All those criticizing Biden over this are in league with the Chinese and the Russians and if not working for them directly are certainly unwittingly carrying water for them. Repeat after me: “Biden did the right thing withdrawing from Afghanistan.” Say it, and mean it. Because it’s true.

  33. Plague Species

    Modern day court jesters are still providing useful feedback. There’s Jimmy Dore, who frequently makes appearances on my youtube feed.

    That’s not useful feedback. It’s claptrap.

  34. Which state would everyone prefer to live in?

    A theocracy where anyone opposing a conservative version of Islam is killed. Women, and religious minorities have no rights and men must obey the priests. This theocracy is defined as a terrorists organization by America and the world.

    A secular state where women, and religious minorities have equal rights. People in this state defined by America as terrorists are jailed and killed. However according to the CIA and America this state is a soviet puppet state and is a dystopia.

    What do you call it when a country aids its ally with military force when other countries are funding terrorists groups destabilizing the country? A) An evil invasion if it is the Soviets, or B) Peaceful charity when it is the Americans

    Hugh I am sure you are upset that China decided not to enforce government monopolies in order to make billionaires richer, but why should I or anyone else whine because China decided to help people instead of make Bill gates richer?

  35. Soredemos

    @Plague Species

    Thank you for this. “Focusing on the theory of political economy that has dominated for the last fifty years is Russian propaganda” is the funniest thing I think I’ve ever seen posted here.

    Oh wait, you’re serious, aren’t you?


    It’s amazing that we’re, what, almost two years into this and some people still pretend they don’t understand how diseases work.

  36. Hugh

    Thank you, oakchair, for your false choices. And no, I do not want to be “helped” the way China helps Uighurs and Hong Kongers.

  37. nihil obstet

    Not that history matters to oakchair, but the Afghan wonder state he refers to is was a Soviet puppet that killed anybody who disagreed with it. And when the USSR thought its grip on Afghanistan was slipping, it invaded the place.

    I guess history must not matter to me either. Afghanistan borders on the Soviet Union and Islamic elements in Afghanistan were fomenting terrorism among the Muslim republics of the Soviet Union. They didn’t fly airplanes into major buildings in the Soviet’s financial capital, but they did foment terrorism in the country. What’s the decision rule for invading another country on the grounds that it’s a haven for terrorists?

    When the Soviets invaded in support of a secular state which was attempting to break the power of warlords with regard to civil rights such as women’s equality, the U.S. responded with military aid to the men who were simply seeking to live according to their tradition. At least, that’s what the Tom Hanks movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” told us, without explaining that their tradition was deathly for women. What’s the decision rule for supporting internal violence with horrible purpose?

  38. Jason

    I usually recommend “The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society” by Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval as a quite readable “primer” on “neoliberalism.”

    Yet Charles Levinson’s “Vodka Cola” unearthed some of the myriad financial and corporate coordination that went on behind the scenes in the midst of the U.S.-Soviet “cold war.”

    Today, although the Russian menace is kept in vogue in much of the western mind, China is also a quite formidable foe. And, per usual, much or most of the actual behind-the-scenes machinations are obscured.

    That said, it’s not western propaganda to note that China is both intending to, and quickly becoming, a full spectrum surveillance state. Their use of AI is frightening* and it’s only going to proceed along the same lines at an escalating pace, unless the Chinese populace show some sign of resistance. Frankly, they often seem as docile and addicted to techno glitter and distraction as those in the U.S, if not more so.

    A commenter on NC remarked recently that western intelligence has a backdoor into every piece of equipment produced by western companies. If you can listen to the routers, you can listen to everything.

    Huawei refused to provide these backdoors to western intelligence.

    So “the west” is concerned it will find itself in a situation whereby it is prevented from both listening to, and manipulating, large swaths of the globe (where only Huawei et al might operate).

    This coincides with the work of Whitney Webb and others, who have produced documents from the Pentagon et al that clearly state both the U.S. military’s awareness, and fear, of China’s growth and intentions in the technological arena.

    The U.S. military also state the same intentions for the United States, though they do not anticipate that the majority of the United States population, given the country’s historical tolerance for greater personal freedoms, will be as easily persuaded to adopt the more top-down, vertically-integrated, full spectrum technologically-mediated-and-surveilled society that China is currently ahead of the game in implementing.

    This – a lack of acquiescence on the part of much of the U.S. populace – is seen by U.S. military and intelligence as an obstacle to overcome, not an asset of the United States population at large.

    For China’s part, much of their population sees the advances as extending their own personal autonomy, and certainly their aspirations. Many U.S. citizens experienced similar feelings when the internet burst on the public scene here in the nineties.

    It might be remembered that China’s internet has never had the degree of freedom the United States’ once did. In this sense, the Chinese authorities have an easier baseline to work from, technologically anyway.

    **Phil Agre’s “Toward a Critical Technical Practice: Lessons Learned in Trying to Reform AI” will never be out of date because it correctly insists that if you’re going to have AI at all – and this basic concept can be extended to any and all frameworks humans operate under, but it’s imperative to the technology of 0’s and 1’s – if you’re going to have AI at all, you have to constantly separate yourself from its seemingly glorious manifestations. Yet it’s near impossible to work in the field without coming to confuse, at least on some level, the representations with the things they represent.

  39. Plague Species

    I guess history must not matter to me either. Afghanistan borders on the Soviet Union and Islamic elements in Afghanistan were fomenting terrorism among the Muslim republics of the Soviet Union. They didn’t fly airplanes into major buildings in the Soviet’s financial capital, but they did foment terrorism in the country. What’s the decision rule for invading another country on the grounds that it’s a haven for terrorists?

    This is not the reason the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan anymore than it was the REAL reason America did. The Soviet Union invaded because it was losing its influence in Afghanistan while America was gaining influence. I still can’t figure out the REAL reason America invaded except it needed a war somewhere and Afghanistan was available.

  40. different clue

    From the little bit I have read about “b” at Moon of Alabama, “b” appears to be some kind of legacy West German military officer. “b” is also some kind of a Marxist, and clearly an antiAmericanitic culture-racist antiAmericanite.

    He is one of those spiteful scum filth garbage people who took delight in America being attrited and degraded through engagment in Afghanistan, and desperately wants to get America re-engaged there all over again for another 20 year round of attrition and degradement. I hope “b” gets a lifelong case of athlete’s foot all over his eyeballs for wanting America back in Afghanistan all over again.

    President Biden did the right thing here. He has agreed to be the designated sin-eater when the accusation fly around over “who lost Afghanistan”. If weepy liberal performative scum like Hillary and Chelsea Clinton care so much about “womens’ rights” in Afghanistan, let them go to Afghanistan personally and go join a group which affects to call itself the Revolutionary Afghan Womens’ Association ( RAWA).

  41. Richard B McGee

    On the subject of feedbacks, how should we be thinking about climate engineering research? Most of the opposition focuses on moral hazard: people will latch on to any magic bullet that enables them to extend their profligacy one more day.

    But what if we’ve already reached a tipping point where even radical reductions in carbon emissions alone can’t avert an eco-catastrophe? We won’t know if we’ve passed such a milestone until it’s too late. It’s similar to a market top: only obvious in retrospect.

    Given such uncertainty, shouldn’t governments be making a substantial investment in research?

    Despite the folly of the human race, it would be tragic to risk the loss of thousands of years of accumulated knowledge. The tragedy is magnified by the fact that the human race had the absolute means to lift itself out of the mire, and blew it. The true moral hazard is blowing this opportunity for another thousand years.

  42. don

    @different clue

    the Clinton women were quite conceivably too personally ambitious for reasons suboptimally far from the just well-being of the nation and world, but I think they are far from scum . i can’t see that calling them such effectively makes your argument more persuasive nor dignifies you or it more this blog, i think, stands out wonderfully for calling our attentions and efforts to highly needy causes, but the self-indulgent nastiness of which there is too much detracts from the desperately needed work and mutual calls to effort and mobilization

  43. Soredemos

    @different clue

    …what are you even babbling about? I have criticisms of b, but he isn’t advocating for the US to stay in Afghanistan. You’re just making shit up.

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