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 posts.


Almost Nothing


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 15, 2023


  1. Here’s an interesting short post on about collapse. I haven’t read the book it’s from.

    Lead-in sentence: “Why deplore ‘collapse’, when the situation it depicts is most often the disaggregation of a complex, fragile, and typically oppressive state into smaller, decentralized fragments?”

  2. Chuck Mire

    5 types of threat – how those who want to divide us use language to stoke violence:

    Words used in language have consequences.

    “…dangerous speech that paints outsiders as threats “threatoric.” Using this type of dangerous speech allows in-groups to justify violence as a defense against out-groups.

    In America, we are fond of the idiom, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” However, we fail to acknowledge that no one throws those sticks and stones without reason. Threatoric gives us that reason.”

  3. bruce wilder

    I am not sure James C Scott would be a trustworthy narrator, having obsessive hostility to bureaucracy as a personality trait.

    . . . the “Dark Age” of Greece, the “First Intermediate Period” of Egypt, and the decline of Uruk under the Akkadian Empire. Yet there is a strong case to make that such “vacant” periods represented a bolt for freedom by many state subjects and an improvement in human welfare.

    I am suspicious anyway of anyone making sweeping statements about periods of centuries in the remote and largely undocumented past. The Dark Age of Greece actually attracts a lot of interest, but it is “dark”. It is fashionable now to claim this Dark Age or that was somehow “not dark” that civilized culture along with life continued, but such claims also have to overlook the main event.

    One thing we do know about the Dark Age of Greece, aside from the loss of literacy, is that there was considerable decline in population to accompany this bolt for freedom.

    As for Uruk, as I recall it did pretty well under the Akkadian Empire despite the understandable primacy of Akkad and soldiered on as an urban settlement until the Arab Conquest. We tend to forget that Akkad made an impression on political-cultural memory in Mesopotamia that lasted two millenia.

    The thing is, “hydraulic civilization” needed hierarchy for prosaic reasons, to manage systems at scale that in turn supported population at scale and created and diverted surplus to support and feed cities. All human social organization beyond hunter-gatherer tribes seem to lack brakes on reproduction and population growth — hence grand cycles in which population outruns resources, nutrition and public goods standards crumble, hierarchies double-down in collectively, ultimately self-defeating ways. We hardly need the distant mirror of ancient history that witness that progression.

    Scott’s libertarian rants may be entertaining but do not solve any problem.

  4. StewartM

    As Ian has noted, the lurch to rightist populism isn’t confined to the US. From the NYT (posting the full article). To me, this just goes to further show the US’s problem is not isolated, it shows the fundamental incompatibility of capitalism with liberal democracy. As Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

    Interesting that some Israelis are applying for foreign passports as well. It also would seem that Zionism, which is really the Jewish version of Christian nationalism, isn’t compatible with liberal democracy either. All the UK media thus owes Jeremy Corbin an apology.

    By Ian Prasad Philbrick

    Good morning. Israel’s new right-wing government is moving quickly to transform the country.

    A rush to change

    Israel’s government, the most right-wing in its history, is barely three weeks old and already leaving its mark, quickly pressing ahead with legislation that critics fear will erode Israeli democracy. Benjamin Netanyahu has returned as prime minister, this time leading a coalition of conservative, far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties.

    I spoke with Isabel Kershner, a correspondent in The Times’s Jerusalem bureau, about the right’s push to transform Israel.

    Ian: What is the new government trying to accomplish?

    Isabel: The right-wing parties in the coalition are all extremely ideological, and Netanyahu has made a lot of concessions to them. The new minister of national security is an ultranationalist who has been convicted of inciting anti-Arab racism. He got more authority over the police. The new hard-right finance minister is claiming more authority over Jewish settlements and civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank. Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers want more autonomy and more funding for religious students and schools.

    The government is also moving to radically overhaul the judiciary. There’s a perception on the right that the Supreme Court is overly activist and sides with liberals on issues like settlements. Now the coalition wants to give parliament more power to select judges and override Supreme Court rulings. Critics say the coalition’s proposed changes would completely change the nature of Israel’s liberal democracy, which is dynamic but also fragile. Israel doesn’t have a formal constitution; it has basic laws that can be changed with 61 out of 120 votes in the parliament. Netanyahu’s coalition has 64.

    Netanyahu is on trial for corruption. Has that made him more reliant on the far right?

    Israel’s whole political morass — the deadlock that’s produced five elections in four years — is basically because Netanyahu has been indicted on corruption charges but won’t step aside. In the past, Netanyahu preferred to form governments with more centrist or even center-left parties. This time, the centrists refused to align with a prime minister on trial, so Netanyahu was at the mercy of far-right parties after the election. They were the only partners he could form a government with, and they knew that.

    How has the country reacted?

    What’s taken many Israelis by surprise is the dizzying speed and determination with which the new government has moved ahead. That’s really galvanized the opposition. Before the election, the liberal and centrist parties in parliament basically failed to cooperate with each other. Suddenly you’re seeing them sitting together, planning the next demonstration and making radical statements of their own. Yair Lapid, the centrist opposition leader, said the judicial overhaul constituted “extreme regime change” and could eliminate Israeli democracy.

    It reminds me of the mood in the U.S. after Donald Trump got elected.

    There was a pro-L.G.B.T.Q. protest on the day the new government was sworn in, because Netanyahu’s coalition includes some extremely anti-gay lawmakers. There have since been protests, including a big one last night, in Tel Aviv, a more secular, liberal city about an hour from Jerusalem.

    Israel has seen big protests before. In recent years anti-Netanyahu demonstrators protested outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. But that was a much more grass-roots, bottom-up movement. What we’re seeing now is the leaders of the opposition parties calling on people to come out into the streets.

    What does the new government mean for relations with the Palestinians?

    The levels of confidence are below zero. One of the main concerns for the Palestinian Arabs who make up one-fifth of Israel’s citizens is a surge in crime, murders and criminal gang warfare. The previous Israeli government, which for the first time included a small Islamic Arab party in the governing coalition, prioritized fighting crime in conjunction with Arab local authorities. Now the minister overseeing the police has a history of being an anti-Arab activist and provocateur. Meanwhile, the situation regarding the Palestinians in the occupied territories was already tense, and things have quickly become confrontational.

    How has all this left Israelis feeling about the state of their politics?

    Things here feel more polarized than ever, and there’s a lot at stake. The country is split over what kind of democracy Israel should be and how it’s going to relate to Palestinians. Even among the half of the country that did vote for a right-wing party, not all of them are happy. It’s gone a bit further than some of them wanted. Some are throwing their hands up or switching off the news. Anecdotally, I’m hearing about more people applying for foreign passports. Among those who oppose the government, there’s a kind of doomsday feel.

    More about Isabel: She grew up in the United Kingdom, speaks Hebrew and studied Arabic at Oxford University. She spent a gap year in Israel, then another year in Egypt. An early obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict led her to journalism.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén