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

Open Thread

Use to discuss topics unrelated to recent threads (aka. no Ukraine.)


Three Principles for Ukraine & for Great Power Politics


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 6, 2022


  1. bruce wilder

    News too late to motivate good policy? From the NYT today:
    The coronavirus invades cells in the penis and testicles of monkeys, researchers discover.

  2. Trinity

    We are getting to the point where the problems are coming faster than they can be solved, and I don’t mean just climate change. And it’s increasingly clear (to me, anyway) that our poorly structured organizations are increasingly unable to respond.

    Every week I find new evidence not only is our current way of life unsustainable (kinda “duh”), but that we are performing in ways that will lead to our own demise. We do this through the ways in which we organize, which have been fixed now for quite some time. The assembly line, the long distance supply chains, the rigid government and management hierarchies, these are not only detrimental to our health and our lives, it’s becoming clear they create more problems than they solve. I’m thinking about this outside of the economic inequalities we are enduring, but these fixed structures clearly only benefit the topmost tiers and therefore also reinforce economic inequality. And this is why they are so attractive, and why they have remained in place.

    Meanwhile, Nature continues to evolve. Even when we think we’ve destroyed it, tamed it, vanquished it, life finds a way. Areas thought to be devoid of life for millennia (or a couple of decades) are “suddenly” teeming with life again.

    Our organizations only “evolve” in the sense they devour smaller companies, cutting off entire supply chains and reducing overall quality of the goods produced, while also squelching innovation by eliminating competition at the same time. Or our “public servants” are paid to rewrite/bypass the laws and regulations that eliminate all competition or anything else that stands between them and the funds they need to control of the world.

    We end up with flimsy products (that are extremely profitable to the few), or foodstuffs and produce that are tasteless and lacking important nutrients, or services performed not by experts but by poorly trained (and poorly paid) “workers” who perform like robots, unable by dictate from management to do anything except the very specific tasks they were trained to do. This increasing loss of (autonomous) expertise can’t be good for the future.

    None of this is sustainable, in any sense of that word, and it also means we need to evolve pretty much everything we do. I think what the oligarchs seek is to end evolution of everything except themselves. We cannot evolve our bodies or minds, which take many thousands of years. But we can evolve our thoughts, and perhaps find ways to remove the chains of the past that bind us.

  3. Trinity

    If every country was doing what China is doing, testing and retesting alternative solutions to problems in an iterative (and wishfully egalitarian) fashion, we would not be in this position. If the knowledge that these processes generated was captured and shared, we would not be where we are now. I guarantee that such knowledge would include something like: “don’t let sociopaths be in charge!” We need a new way forward, or we will find ourselves living permanently in their increasingly delusional and quite false fantasy of both their omnipotence and their sanity.

    So while I may (or may not) agree with what other countries are doing, alternatives to TINA are badly needed. The counterbalance that Russia and China provide are much needed through the alternatives they demonstrate. It’s not that these alternatives are perfect, it’s that they are needed for comparative purposes, test cases, or “use cases”. For learning what works and what doesn’t, for learning what we shouldn’t do, and should do. The very existence of Russia and China (and Cuba, and many others) as alternative ways to organize and administrate are necessary if we wish to secure a better future for ourselves and the Earth.

  4. StewartM


    Most of the problems you describe are due to the West handing the power over their economies to the capitalist investor class, a class who knows nothing and can create nothing, and, more than anyone else (and far more than the workers at the bottom) ironically resembles Ayn Rand’s unthinking ‘herd’ focused on short-term rewards and the future be damned.

    They have been running individual Western firms into the ditch for some decades now; is there any wonder why they are doing it now to entire societies?

  5. different clue


    I came up with a word a few years ago for the problem you describe. I decided to call it the Crisis Crisis. Too many crises to keep up. Each crisis making several other crises worse. The Crisis Crisis.

    The upside of that is that there is a crisis for every taste in crises. The best people who are motivated to “not give up” can do is to find the crisis they know the most about and think they can do something about, and do something about that crisis. People will do their personal best work on the crisis they believe in the most and know the most about.

    It won’t be helpful for people from the different crisis-action groups to try raiding eachothers’ groups for converts to their own group. That would just waste and divert energy from each crisis-action group member doing their best work on their own crises. Perhaps every now and then the crisis action groups can send delegates to big inter-crisis meeting to share notes on how they are addressing their respective crises and how some solutions to one crisis might also be co-parallel-purposed to address some intertwined co-crises.

  6. bruce wilder

    the continuous crisis of crises manifests to us as hyperreality, a simulation of reality or, if you prefer, a blending of the actual with the fictional that leaves the observer/participant unable to distinguish where fiction leaves off and reality begins. So much of the world we live in and experience is artifactual — a virtual representation made by social institutions — that we have lost track of the grounding of nature and physics and biology that must lie beyond the curtain drawn on the stage where our human dramas play out.

    Our hyper-real shared construction of reality takes the movie, The Matrix, as a blueprint. Living inside hyperreality is both emotionally intense and leaves us cut off from control of any of the levers that allow people to affect and control processes in the real and actual world. It is all symbolic manipulation — as Lambert might say — in the hyperreal: the use of systems of notation and language not to reason or calculate, but only to tell stories and enchant and control by ritual (enhanced perhaps by sleight-of-hand in the exchange of money (that most powerful symbolic unreality!) for value (the bath of subjectivity).

    We become addicted to the unambiguous simplifications of propaganda promising an exciting world of fairy tales and comic books, where wishes are fulfilled and evil, manifest in costume far from home, can be defeated by a pure-hearted hero.

    Meanwhile, back in reality, if we meet the enemy, “She is Us!” and we are disappointed to learn that the world we were born into and made worse can no longer be returned at the Service Desk at CostCo for a later, undamaged model.

  7. someofparts

    Everything is about to change.

    The Achilles heel of the crowd that rule the global economy and this nation is that they create weakness all around themselves to amplify their own power. Domestically they plan to let covid run rampant and weaken/kill off their own working class. The destruction they have caused overseas is even worse. Now they are going beyond their previous extremes of destruction, bullying allies who have healthy economies into embracing sanctions that will wreck them as well.

    We are in an escalating battle between a US hegemon that wreaks destruction everywhere and nations of the Asian continent that have built thriving, prosperous economies. The US expects to bring Asia to it’s knees with sanctions, but this can only backfire, as the damage to the American sphere will be greater than the damage it inflicts on it’s rivals.

    The hysterical kabuki in Ukraine is a desperate effort to sidestep the fact that Russia and China can now offer trading partners better deals than are available from the US. For bonus points, it also distracts domestic populations from the failures of their own rulers.

    It looks like extremes of global hardship are ahead of us with collapsing economies and mass starvation on a heretofore unseen scale, while our pitiless leaders launch escalating repression and censorship campaigns to forestall their inevitable defeat. Once all the carnage has exhausted and beggared the perpetrators, populations that have been starved and misled will be no match for regimes where people have been allowed to thrive.

    Death is a sad, hard business for a single person. It is exponentially worse for entire nations. But the death of what is broken and worn out is necessary to clear the way for something new to be born. It is not unreasonable to expect new regimes to be an improvement over what they supplant.

  8. Soichero Rocks

    A perverse permutation of Pan’s Labyrinth bruce, writ large if you please. What an excellent movie.

    In 1944 Falangist Spain, a girl, fascinated with fairy-tales, is sent along with her pregnant mother to live with her new stepfather, a ruthless captain of the Spanish army. During the night, she meets a fairy who takes her to an old faun in the center of the labyrinth. He tells her she’s a princess, but must prove her royalty by surviving three gruesome tasks. If she fails, she will never prove herself to be the true princess and will never see her real father, the king, again.

    Few would dispute that ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is one of the best foreign language films of the 2000s, but I would go one step further and argue that it’s also one of the best modern day fantasy/adventure films in general. There aren’t many films that manage to blur the lines between fantasy and reality as effectively as ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. The effortless transition between the real world and the underworld and the way the two worlds are interlinked really is something special and I’ve never seen it done as well before.

  9. Trinity

    Bruce, your post is fantastic, right up until the “She is us.”

    This is a world designed by man, not woman. And as StewartM unfortunately demonstrates, this world is also a world in which men explain the world to women in the usual (and mostly wrong) cause-effect model.

    I mean no disrespect to anyone (really, I don’t). I take no offense, it’s more a sense of weariness at the way this explaining shuts down what to me is a needed discussion.

    We occupy a world designed and created by insane white men who lack empathy, a world where women are designated second-class status and therefore patronized and/or ignored. There is a reason they designed a society in which half the population are maligned, subjugated, and sidelined. It’s just another of their lies, but also one to which we have been habituated over centuries, to the peril of us all. Yet it is what it is right now, and so we deal with it as best we can, each in their own way. And yet we need to get to the point where we stop accepting any of their lies as truth.

    The hyper reality Bruce describes so well also tries to tell us that we have no power, no choice, that it is futile to resist the Borg. This is just as much a lie as all the rest of it. As long as we keep believing we are powerless we will remain enthralled by their deliberate and targeted theater. Yet I know we are not as powerless as we collectively think, as I once, in my own personal misery, also thought. I was wrong, very wrong. We actually have more power, individually or collectively, than they do. They know this. We are what they fear more than anything.

    We cannot change the insane (I know this to be a fact); it cannot be done. Even dead, the legacy of their insanity and their corruption lives on. I know this to also be a fact. There is really only one thing we can change: ourselves. We have power, but only over ourselves and what we think and do, and especially how we respond to them but more importantly, to each other.

    There are reasons they spin these specific lies. There are specific reasons for all their lies. They work hard to make us believe there is no alternative, and that this world they’ve constructed is what we need, what we “deserve”. They spin doctor everything so we will think it’s all to our benefit, also a lie.

    It’s not just about seeing through the lies, in which this blog, Ian especially and also so many of you, collectively do so well. That’s only part of the answer. The next step is to know, beyond any doubt, that we deserve a better world (and the world deserves a better us). Until that happens, nothing will change.

  10. Lex

    It’s hard to avoid Ukraine since the effects of that are well beyond the geographic borders of the conflict zone at this point. Yesterday Russia adopted a law which allows Russian entities with contracted debt to foreign countries taking part in the sanctions regime to pay off that debt in rubles to Russian banks. Those funds will be controlled by the Russian government and payment to the creditors will require dealing with the Russian government.

    So the crushing of the ruble by international finance is realistically undermined, right? Large swaths of Russian debt can be cleared for pennies on the dollar now and international finance is in a bind. I don’t know enough macroeconomics to know whether this strengthens the ruble internally (or at least reduces inflation) by “removing” a lot of rubles from the market by putting them into escrow accounts.

    It certainly seems like one side of this larger conflict has gamed out a lot of scenarios and has a variety of options to counter economic warfare while the other has assumed outcomes and is proceeding in a reactive, ad hoc manner. Did DC/London/Berlin just assume that Moscow would fold and that was the entirety of the “plan”? Based on the ever-shifting details and exceptions to the “sanctions from hell” I’m beginning to wonder if there was an actual plan for sanctions beyond naming them. And some of the economic actions appear to be profoundly self-destructive over the longer term. The US has now frozen the foreign currency reserves of two nations in the last six months. One would expect that other nations will start considering their options.

    A similar story is playing out militarily. If you were in charge of Poland or Hungary, what’s your current calculation on NATO’s response to hostilities with Russia. Will it let you hang the way it has with Ukraine? How about if you’re in charge of defending Taiwan? If you’re India you have the US bullying you to abide by sanctions that will hurt you, but note that S. Korea is granted exemption from the sanctions regime.

    It’s probably worth considering a hypothetically historical perspective on the secondary effects of the conflict. And from that perspective it is hard to argue anything except that the US has been exposed as a naked emperor. It appears unable to actually enforce its will; does not actually support it’s supposed allies; doesn’t have an actual plan except protecting itself. And now it is not the only game in town, although of course the new game may well be no better than the old one but the old one has been pretty well exposed as worthless to everyone except DC (and maybe London).

  11. different clue


    A scenario-parable once occurred to me. You can bring a ten ton elephant to the Washington Monument and have it push on one side of the Washington Monument till forever and the Monument will never fall over. Or you can bring ten tons of moles and gophers to the Washington Monument and have them dig all the soil out from under one side of the Washington Monument and eventually, after a long enough time, it will fall over. Or you can bring ten tons of demonstrators and protesters to the Washington Monument and have them march around it till forever waving their little signs at it and squeaking their squeaky little squeaks at it. It will never respond. It can’t hear them. It don’t gots no ears, you dig?

    Is there room in your understanding of power and anti-power for the use and application of that little scenario/parable?

    Is there room in the feminine view of pooled interpersonal personal power for non-violent “violence” and “violent” non-violence? Legal and non-kinetic methods for millions of people to wage a slow silent scorched earth, parched earth, frozen earth war of power-degradation and power-attrition against the holders of power?

  12. Trinity

    DC, I have no idea where you are going with this, it’s not clear to me.

    I can’t speak for feminists, as I’m not one, have never even read a book by one, and I have no idea what they talk about or complain about, or say. When I came of age, everybody had to work just to get by. It’s been that way my entire adult life. I used to tell my son stories about how, in most of the neighborhoods I grew up, no one’s mother worked. We’ve also talked about this here before. My neighborhoods may have been the exception, but that’s all I knew. I’ve been working since I was 18, and as a single mom, sometimes multiple jobs at once. I never had time or inclination to be a feminist.

    But it is still a good question: exactly why did a bunch of powerful white men back in the day decide that women couldn’t learn to read, or vote, or own property? I’m honestly curious about this, what were they thinking, their rationale? To me the best answer needs to come from men, not women. It’s obviously still going on today, in a different form. Just ask the women in Texas.

    The point being that we are still dealing with all these past really bad decisions made by a tiny minority of the population. Does that sound familiar at all? So shouldn’t we answer these types of questions? To me, it’s a critical need to answer them, else what? Else it will happen again (and again, and again, and again). We don’t seem to be learning.

    So I’m genuinely sorry if you are offended by what I say. (I honestly can’t tell.) It’s not personal, if that helps. These are just things I think we need to learn from, and thoroughly understand, if we are ever to do something about them now, or prevent them happening again.

  13. different clue


    I am not personally offended by anything you said. I assumed you are a feminist because ” it is men’s fault” is a key feminist prime belief directive. Since that is your belief, I wondered whether ” we can only change ourself” left any room for effective interpersonal action designed to tear down and destroy the holder of power and their power system. Or whether it only offers an emotional retreat into personal belief in personal moral superiority combined with seeking personal psychological refuge from a power-system world against which the morally superior individual can do nothing effective.

    So I was offering an opportunity for you to explain how or whether your understanding of things offered any hope for people who develop their “real power” can use that “real power” to tear down and destroy the social classloads of people who currently excercise power against the majority of creation.

  14. Trinity


    I never said it was mens fault. If anything, I’m the one harping about logical fallacies ascribing attributes to an entire group when it’s a small minority that have the attribute. Which is the case now just as it was then. There’s a pattern here.

    I’m pretty sure I was clear: you can’t change them. You also can’t destroy them, as their children are prepared to pick up where they left off after they are gone.

    Circumstances will eventually change them, but we cannot. We can wait around, and see if we live long enough for another FDR to appear, or we can change ourselves, meaning we need to make sure this never happens again. I think it was you who riffed the whole “tune out, turn off” or maybe not.

    We’ve had to change our expectations for the rest of our lives, this is especially true for young people, and that’s becoming almost a daily occurrence as yet another expectation for our future falls by the wayside. Yeah, this makes me angry, too.

    But maybe the other thing we need to change is to stop turning ephemeral online discussions into yet another battle between us nobodies. That’s playing right into their hands. Maybe we could even stop negatively assuming and then labelling people like us, who have no power but want change, and then maybe we can get down to the business of figuring out what we CAN change.

    And maybe, just maybe, we could stop aiming our displaced anger at the easiest, handiest, apparently weakest nobody sitting right next to us, and instead convert all that energy into something a little more positive, or at least useful. Like all those weird words you invent that are sometimes oddly beautiful.

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