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

Siphon the System Thinking Doesn’t Work Against Nature

We live in a very, very rich society.

Oh, many people are poor, and real poverty, whether in the “Global South” or first-world backwaters, but our society throws off vast wealth. We could, essentially trivially, feed, house, and clothe everyone and give them a decent life. We have that sort of surplus, and far, far more.

In healthy societies, or societies where elites are scared of outside forces (whether human or natural), the emphasis is on growing the pie, on making the society stronger and richer so that it can survive the forces of which the elites and the population (perhaps) are wary. Unproductive use of resources is frowned on, something you can find even in English common law, where if land or property wasn’t being used, after a time it could be taken by someone who would use it productively.

In fantastically wealthy ages, where elites are sure they are secure from all enemies, they concentrate on fighting over the wealth, or, the pie.

The Gilded Age is a good example. The Americans and Brits of the early to mid 1800s were concerned with growing the pie; they didn’t feel invincible or untouchable. But after Britain had secured its second Empire, and painted more of the map than any other nation in history, and after the US had its civil war, broke the natives, and crushed the Spanish and Mexicans, the US and Britain felt they had it made. There were no real threats left.

So, the countries turned inside. They concentrated on taking from others, on amassing wealth. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire was created by by buying out (often at terrible prices) the existing oil industry. It wasn’t creation of something new; it was consolidation in one man’s hands, of what was already there, so that he could reap the benefits.

England’s middle class in 1850 was the envy of the world. By World War I, the average Englishman had been so impoverished that huge swathes of potential soldiers had to be turned away from service in the armed forces. The rich imtiserated the middle class, crushed the farmers as best they could, and fought amongst each other to see who would rule the roost. (In this, they were less collegial than our rich are — far more willing to throw former members of the elite out entirely.)

To put it simply, there was far more money and power to be gained by grabbing a bigger slice of the pie than by growing it.

In the US, this wasn’t fatal; there was a lot of stolen land, and there was still plenty of room for elites to grow new things, even if it wasn’t the emphasis.

In Britain, it led to a fatal decline which is still ongoing; we can see now that Britain probably won’t even stay the “United Kingdom” —- odds are good Scotland will leave, and to add insult to injury, they’ll lose Northern Ireland as well. It is even possible, in the next 40 years or so, that Wales might leave.

From the behemoth astride the world, to a pathetic country that can’t even keep its heartland together.

For our purposes, however, the point is simpler: If you want to rule over other people, you must, in the words of Lois McMaster Bujold, rule their imagination. The greatest of men and women could lose everything tomorrow if their subjects simply stopped believing in their subjugation — and who has how much is entirely a matter of convincing other people to give it to you and let you keep it. Even when it’s a matter of force, you must convince the enforcing class to do what you say and to point the guns and use the prisons on the “right’ people.

It is true that growing the pie requires a fair bit of ruling over other people’s imaginations, but real increases in societal wealth require actually dealing with the world as it is; conquering people who resist, inventing and building steam engines, figuring out how to grow more food on the same land, and so on.

Just getting people to give you more of what already exists, what was created by other people and is produced by a system created by humans of the past, however, is pure imagination work. If people believe it is true, it is. You’re only dealing with human psychology and mass psychology.

Of course, a real world still exists; sometimes its people who don’t buy into your story. This is why China and the US are going to cold war and maybe real war, because neither is willing to live in the world created by the others fictions and ideals.

Then there is nature. It doesn’t matter if you believe that carbon and methane heat up the planet. They do and they will. It doesn’t matter what you think about Covid, if you un-mask and don’t quarantine people who have it, or came in contact with those who do, and if you don’t contact trace, and so on and so forth, then it will act like any other pandemic disease and keep mutating and spreading.

You can’t just manipulate other people’s beliefs about Covid and expect it to go away.

And so, people who have spent their entire lives doing nothing but manipulating other people’s beliefs are incapable of dealing with Covid or climate change. Covid doesn’t “listen to them.” Covid doesn’t care what they say.

Same with climate change. The forest will burn, regardless of what you say to the trees or to the weather.

Our elites, trained only to manipulate other people, are incapable of dealing with real-world events that can’t be controlled simply by controlling other people’s beliefs.

And so we will burn, and cough, and Covid will become endemic as the world slides towards collapse.

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


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 4, 2021


The Spread of New Covid Variants


  1. Jessica

    “The middle class of England in 1850 was the envy of the world, by World War I the average Englishman had been so impoverished that huge quantities had to be turned away from service in the armed forces.”

    Was that the middle class turned away from the military or the working class?

  2. Hugh

    It is no longer just our elites or the Right who ignore even ridicule reality when it becomes inconvenient. Almost everyone does it now. If everyone has their own reality, then there is no reality — except there is. But if only your reality counts, you don’t need to deal with consistency, or logic, or evidence. And if and when reality becomes inescapable, just blame all the bad stuff that is the product of your denial on your usual suspects. Nothing will be solved, but you will feel righteous and justified. And that’s what really important, isn’t it?

  3. someofparts

    Media around here has made my boomer friends so stupid that I need to get a new dog to have some intelligent company.

  4. Plague Species

    Drunken stuffed pigs with fireworks celebrating their captivity. Always a pleasure.

  5. Plague Species

    Unproductive use of resources is frowned on, something you can find even in English common law, where if land or property wasn’t being used, after a time it could be taken by someone who would use it productively.

    We’ll have to redefine, or for once define, what is actually productive and what should actually be produced. Raising beef for ten fast food hamburger joints per block is not productive nor is it something that should be produced. Same goes for so many useless products created that are a waste of productivity and a waste of resources.

  6. Temporarily Sane

    We live in a rich world.

    There are very few poor countries but there are many poor people. Countries in the global south that are routinely called “poor” by western economists, politicians and the media are almost all wealthy countries whose people are being ripped off by multinational corporations and the World Bank/IMF in conjunction with their own traitorous elites.

    If these countries could free themselves from the yoke of western imperialism and finance capitalism and manage their own affairs in the interests of their majority populations, their people would be far more prosperous than they are now.

    This is what China did post-1949. The US-led empire is ideologically opposed to any country that isn’t under its control achieving prosperity for its people as this challenges the myth that western finance capital represents the pinnacle of human achievement.

    Hence, America’s rabid animosity toward any country that refuses to relinquish its sovereignty to the empire.

    Western elites are incompetent and can’t even manage a comparatively mild pandemic in part because they weakened the state in favor of empowering corporations and financial institutions, and they are monomaniacally obsessed with maintaining their hegemonic stranglehold over the entire world.

    Keeping the majority of the world weak and its people poor is the only way the “advanced” west can hang on to its decrepit empire. But economic power is shifting East and South, the natives at home are getting increasingly restless and China is presenting a credible evolving alternative to western decay.

    But all of this is kind of a moot point as it’s pretty much inevitable that the planet cooking off and increased competition for dwindling resources are going to make life increasingly unpleasant for billions of people around the globe, regardless of how the current power shifts play out.

    Given how the covid pandemic has outed the “advanced” nations as absolutely useless it’s debatable whether their elites will be able to overcome their blind spots and avoid total disaster. If they were smart (lol) they’d at least try to cooperate in good faith with China and Russia on climate and economic issues and see where that leads.

    Best case scenario it increases the world’s chance of avoiding an apocalyptic breakdown. There are no guarantees that it would amount to anything of course, but not even trying and continuing with business as usual definitely guarantees that all kinds of worst case scenarios will become reality.

    Personally, I don’t think “our” elites have it in them. They are too far gone. The weirdness and culture war stuff that’s playing out online and offline isn’t just a run of the mill sociopolitical conflict that can be solved by electing a new leader or government or tweaking the system around the edges. It’s a symptom of a slowly collapsing society and it’s not going to get better unless the people in charge fundamentally change how they do things.

    I hope I’m wrong about this but I just can’t picture the current crop of clowns overcoming their ideological blinders. Can you imagine Biden, Johnson and Trudeau and the other G7 leaders (or any of the opposition parties and politicians in these countries) radically changing course and admitting that they need to improve the economic lot of the people they were elected to represent? Can you imagine them collaborating to strengthen the civilian state and reining in the power of the billionaires and the rest of the capitalist class? Can you imagine them shutting down the military industrial complex welfare trough, dissolving NATO and drafting an actual defense policy? Can you imagine them repealing the PATRIOT Act and all the post-9/11 “anti-terror” laws that give them the ability to set up an instant police state and indefinitely jail anyone they label a “domestic extremist” and a threat to “national security”?

    Yeah neither can I. I think it’s safe to say that we are pretty much fucked.

  7. Mel

    … early to mid 1800s …, yes? After Napoleon had been defeated and industrialization began to kick into high gear?

  8. bruce wilder

    I am not impressed with your potted history of social solidarity between the working classes and the upper classes (including the middle classes) in Britain. It was both a much longer and a much more complicated story reaching back into the Protestant reformation in Tudor England and Stuart Scotland. The Empire, too, had a much longer history reaching back to the planting of Ireland and the East India Company and the North American colonies — all 17th century developments.

    The callous carelessness of the upper classes and their fierce contempt for the lower classes combined with a determination to exploit them through poverty and domination, only occasionally relieved by other considerations and by political pressure for social and economic reform from below.

    1850 is a date fraught with these contradictions: the liberal “middle classes” made wealthy by the capitalism of the industrial revolution had achieved a partial political reform around 1832, achieving parity of privilege with the landed aristocracy and landed gentry, but excluding the working classes, who got workhouses instead. Nutritional standards and urban public health declined markedly as factory cities grew. By 1850, a genocide of the Irish peasantry was underway and Parliament was barely persuaded to repeal the Corn Laws that kept wages from feeding the working classes with imported grain. The Chartist movement demanding democratic reform would be frustrated. By most measures, 1850 would be a low point with improvement from there slow going indeed.

  9. Ian Welsh

    Yes, Bruce, I oversimplified and since you’ve read my other posts on industrialization in Britain, you know that I know the details.

  10. NR

    For our purposes, however, the point is simpler: if you want to rule over other people, you must, in the words of Lois McMaster Bujold, rule their imagination.

    Case in point: the way Ronald Reagan convinced working-class white people that cutting taxes on rich people would make them richer and more prosperous, something a lot of them still believe today.

  11. Willy

    Ronald Reagan convinced working-class white people that cutting taxes on rich people would make them richer and more prosperous, something a lot of them still believe today.

    Reagan was sitting on the lap of the elites, playing ventriloquist dummy. I saw a ventriloquist act once. While I had a helluva time convincing my friends that it wasn’t the dummy doing the talking, I hid my envy about the dummy being paid well.

  12. synoia

    I saw no mention of Greed. Always considered the most venal or the seven deadlysin, because it has no limits.

    A shining example of this Greed is Neo Liberalism, where others have remarked it was a direct assault on Unions and Workers in the affluent industrial west.

    The only resolution is a full scale war, because it was labor intensive. This moght change with robotic armies. Currently, however, robots are more expensive than people. for one because they are not self healing.

    I expect Climate Chamge will change much, and I view COVID as a leading indicator of the future, both in spotty success to rule and , maintain current health and population density.

    Further, exploitation of current increasingly rare mineral resources will put a significant damper on machine based civilization.

    It is somewhat obvious to me that hymars will go the way of the dinosaurs, not because of some large meteor strike, but because of a limit on exploitable minerals and water.

    Consequently I believe that Intelligence as we Humans practice it is an evolutionary dead end.

  13. n

    In healthy societies . . .Unproductive use of resources is frowned on, something you can find even in English common law, where if land or property wasn’t being used, after a time it could be taken by someone who would use it productively.

    This principle justifies the settler nations’ confiscating indigenous lands and resources. It also lies behind manipulations of patent, copyright, and licensing monopolies. Productivity is not necessarily the goal. In fact, I think that our problem is too much productivity now, since we suffer from few shortages.

    We need to break the absolute fetishism of so called “property rights” which mandates that the state use its monopoly on violence to maintain the ‘power of the rich. I’d rather use different language and arguments.

  14. Ché Pasa

    Manipulation of “truth” I suppose goes on all the time. Our beliefs are dependent on who we are, where we are, when we are, and how well or poorly we’re educated.

    The situation now, though, is one in which radically opposed notions of “truth” or “what is” are believed due to proliferation of opposing viewpoints that are exploited politically and financially for gain — primarily the gain of power. On the surface, it’s chaotic. But below (or is it above) the surface, the struggle is straightforward — who will rule, regardless of belief about “truth.”

    The situation wasn’t all that different prior to the Enlightenment. Maybe we’re headed to a New Enlightenment. Then again, maybe not.

  15. Hugh

    “Radically opposed notions of truth”

    That is often not the case. With 2 + 2 = 4 or climate change there is one side that is real, and that’s it. Then there are issues like better lives for people, wanting this, and defending all the things that won’t lead to this.

  16. bruce wilder

    I wasn’t trying to be a pedant, Ian. I was indirectly saying your argument, without the oversimplification, is incoherent. I could have taken up the example of Rockefeller and Standard Oil as also not cleanly supporting your argument, once the complication is allowed that Rockefeller’s strategy turned on taming the wasteful boom-and-bust chaos of the early commodity markets for raw petroleum and petroleum products and then, building on the foundation of that stability, elaborating a vast infrastructure for extraction, refining and distribution.

    There is a paradox at the core of capitalism, inherent in the concept of property ownership as the political right to exclude others from using the capital wealth, when the accumulation of productive capital constitutes sunk-costs that should not earn an efficient return. It is magnified by the concept that ownership of capital property carries the political right to command wage labor in its application to production and distribution and magnified further by the elaboration of systems of financial capital outside of regulation by the state for public purposes.

    Transactions of putative exchange that are tantamount to highway robbery, can be disguised by the combination of financialization and ideology. I am completely with you on that.

    An ethical analysis that restores our confidence that we can distinguish adequately a public good from private subversion of the general welfare is desperately needed.

    I do not think we get there by this oversimplification.

  17. Plague Species

    I don’t see South Korea or China EVER relinquishing their steel industry to foreign interests, yet that is precisely what America did. The distinguishing characteristic of Capitalism is that profit, a sizable ROI, comes before all else and that includes country and political ideology. Capital transcend political parties and uses any and all such organizations as a means to its end which is growth in perpetuity. It burns both ends of the candle. It’s always a Win-Win for it.

  18. Synoptocon

    You’ve mis-specified the problem. This isn’t just elites manipulating perceptions – that happens, yes, but that’s a symptom rather than the disease. Potent factor, but not by itself determinative.

    Really this is a very substantial part of the populace that is so insulated from reality they have the luxury of believing whatever they wish and ready access to communications channels to find others and co-create their beliefs.

    Previously every village had an idiot, now every idiot is part of a movement (at least one).

  19. Stirling Newberry

    England peak, as a factory floor, in the 1850s. The question is “what are you going to do with peak production?” They built an empire and tried to marry off children to royal houses. It lasted them for 100 years.

    America peak in the 1950s, primarily by avoiding the early losses of global wars while still being an attrition power. Lesson: if you want to win slow, get other people to fight the early part of the war. Wins until it does not: eventually you become the largest power. We want “freedom.” Ask whether this is a “good” to COVID-19 victims.

    China is now coming to peak factory floor. They want control of their people. This does not work well, ask Nazi Germany and militarist Japan.

    Lesson: the US is playing badly but our next in line is playing even worse.

  20. Astrid

    As Temporarily Sane stated, the coming years will be hard for any society to weather. And just because China’s rise had been peaceful and lawful doesn’t mean it will necessarily stay that way.

    Still, Germany and Japan actually did fine with their modernization in authoritarian lines from 1850 to 1939. The wheels came off because Germans started a fight with the ascendent USSR and the Japanese started a fight with the ascendent USA. If they kept to onlyfighting the old colonial powers of France and UK (and the Dutch and Belgians and maybe the Danes) for their possessions, they might still be flying the their 1930s era flags today.

  21. Ché Pasa



    I’m sure Hugh knows this, and he knows it was a very successful campaign in the Soviet Union, even though mathematically it was false.

    It was propaganda. But it also was propaganda that in some measure was true.

    We see similar kinds of thought manipulation all the time, thanks in part to the pervasiveness of the Bernays system of persuasion. If someone, anyone, can get you to think and believe a certain way then for you and those who think and believe what you do, you believe the “truth” regardless of science or rationality or objective reality.

  22. different clue


    Many Westernistic Moderndustrial people confuse Westernistic Moderndustrial civilization with “humanity”. They mistake the “no future” which the Moderndustrialist Westernistians have created for themselves and eachother and everything they can tear down with them as they power-descend into terrain, as being a “no future” which humanity has created.

    Some little out-of-the-way human groups have maintained a low-resource low-energy way of life unto this very day. They may well survive the Bonfire of Moderndustrial Man. I think of groups such as the ba Mbuti Pigmies in the Ituri Rain Forest, the Aymara Alpaca herders in Bolivia, etc. If they are the last humans surviving, then humanity survives, and the future of humanity will be in their strong hands.

    If part of the future includes lower oxygen levels in the atmosphere, I can think of three human groups I have read about which are already pre-adapted to lower oxygen levels by virtue of their adaptation to living at high elevation. They are the Ethiopian Highlanders (maybe) and certainly the Andean Mountain Indians and the Tibetans/Sherpas/etc. Perhaps the Intellectual Activist Classes among those three peoples should set up a Triple-Ethnic 3-Way-Dating-Service to get some people from those three groups meeting and mating to produce young with all-3 sets of low-oxygen-tolerance genetics.

    When the oxygen levels get low enough that all us lowlanders die off, then the High Mountain peoples, and especially their carefully bred-up 3-way combination descendants, will come down out of their mountains and inherit the lowlands.

  23. Astrid

    Different Clue,

    We’ll all be dead long from everything else before O2 availability becomes a problem. Denver’s atmosphere is 85% of that at sea level and very few people even notices.

    High altitude peoples, even comparatively hardy ones from Papua New Guinea Highlands, are far more vulnerable to climate change than run of the mill humans, since they tend to be less tolerant of high heat/humidity and their immune system is adapted to a different environment than whatever climate change brings them.

    The best bet for getting past a tight bottleneck would be herding peoples of the Eurasian steppes. They have mobility and general adaptability and a cultural toolkit largely perfected 3,000 years ago. They can expand north into the Arctic circle or travel with the seasons as opportunities arise. They are very good at making war against other populations. I would be very afraid of them.

  24. Astrid

    Hugh’s world view is that two 2s must equal 4.
    Even if there is a minus sign or division sign between the numbers or if the numbers are right next to each other. So if the result is 0 or 1 or 22, troll math must be afoot.

    Really this explains so much about the “believe science” crowd and the ” never Trump” crowd. They imprinted fragments of formulas with basis in reality and take it as gospel, then gets mad when others use others start writing up different formulas and come to different conclusions.

  25. Willy

    Hugh is no troll and you seem far from qualified to determine one. One can discern the abilities of others by the news and commentary sources they seem to unequivocally support. Yours seem less than impressive.

  26. Willy

    Personally I like “parasites” better than “siphoning the system”. IMO Pithier and better understood by the saner of Trumpers who might actually understand the climate change is no hoax and that getting a vax is our best bet for containing Coronavirus mutations, no matter what Dear Leader Wannabe says.

  27. Astrid


    Read what I wrote. I didn’t call Hugh a troll, I said he calls other people trolls for merely stating different information than what’s on his face set and for reaching different conclusions. He indubitably does this, over and over again, on basically every thread.

    You’re the one who strung me along on the other thread ( ) asking me to prove a negative, asked me for evidence, and then turnaround and said you can’t be bothered to read what I pulled together for you, because you’re too busy. Yeah, too busy to check if the claims you keep repeating are true or not.

    I had thought that even though your thinking seems very stunted, that you’re basically an honest person who is trying to be truthful to himself. As I’ve indicated in the other thread, I am learning (slowly and painfully, one interaction at a time) even if you’re not.

  28. Astrid

    (Well, one thing is for sure. If I was the wumao that I’m constantly being accused of being, the CPC is very lenient on smartphone use induced terrible grammar/autocorrect errors that I’m so prone to.)

  29. Hugh

    The problem is not different information. It is reality versus fantasy. It is the covid pandemic versus covid is a hoax. It is climate change is an existential threat now versus it’s no big deal. It is fantasy China versus the real dictatorial, authoritarian one.

    The problem is people throwing reality out the door the moment it becomes Inconvenient or contradicts their prejudices. We can’t solve problems this way. And that’s the curse of our times. When people are given the choice between the comfort of their prejudices and an uncomfortable truth, their prejudices win every time. And we get these upside down defenses of why their prejudice is the real truth.

  30. Willy

    And now Astrid never called Hugh a troll and my thinking is stunted. Who made you the commentary judge?

    I parsed your Grayzone. Max has a rep for embracing the anti-American, for siding with American opposition, even if the leadership of America’s opposition is as bad or worse than America’s is. You’d almost think that an enemy of his enemy really is his friend.

    Yeah, that reputation will play well with American independents trying to decide between mixed economy realists and “The Left Hates America!” crowds. This almost seems like yet another underhanded plutocratic scheme to me.

    Some say Max lives far larger than his speculated donations seem to imply, leading some to wonder about who or what it is which might be that’s making up the difference. Chinese, Russian, or Venezuelan funding perhaps? And then in a world where everybody’s a detective but only a few are any good at it, he’d certainly have a market niche available for him.

    As a Sagan fan, I loved his “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” bit. Ad hominem towards those who disagree is not evidence. I have no issue with others being entitled to their views, or even if they think they’re entitled to their own facts. That part can be entertaining. And I’m aware that even the worst of self-important buffoons can come up with some good stuff, from time to time. But I do have my limits about their other behaviors.

  31. Astrid


    Serious question. Have you ever been to China or Russia or Iran or Syria? I’m not even talking about Xinjiang or Chechnya or Donbass or Idlib. Just Shanghai or Shenzhen or Moscow or Tehran. If so, when did you visit and how long did you stay? Do you speak any of the local anguages? Can you read Russian or Chinese or Farsi or Arabic?

    If not, where the hell are you getting your truth from and what makes you confident that you know better than locals and people who know the areas for decades? If you’re so confident about your truth, why can’t you tell me what is factually wrong with my specific assertions, rather than just call me a troll and/or slink away until you resurface on the next thread like you always do?

    Is it because you do exactly what I’m accusing you of doing, which is taking it as gospel that 2 and 2 must equal 4, but don’t actually know enough about math signs to know that 2 and 2 in an equation can also equal other things? I called you a racist because of your white man’s burden-isms but I’m beginning to think that’s too generous an interpretation. Racism requires adherence to certain ideological constructs. I’m beginning to think you’re too stupid to be a full fledged racist

  32. Astrid


    How do you know that the leadership of America’s opposition is as bad as you think it is? Is it based on impressions you formed from watching MSM and regularly repeated truisms about how bad such and such is? Do you have any evidence that TGZ is factually wrong? Or is it just cuz you don’t like their anti-US imperialism bent.

    Max and others at TGZ have repeatedly said they don’t take any money from foreign governments. I take them at their word because if they did, somebody would have exposed it, rather than do baseless smear like TYT. Max published quite a few decently selling books and is the son of Sydney Blumenthal, it seems reasonable that this plus donations (I made one, with my own money, even) can afford him a house down payment and mortgage in the poorest ward in DC (

    I don’t know much about Latin America beyond what I learned from history books, but that’s enough to make me doubt good USian intent on any Latin American country, every. For Russia and Iran, I have/had close friends ( people who emigrated in 1980s, so they have no love of the regimes) tell me about the old country and I know the MSM narrative never fully matched up with what they were telling me. As for China, I have personal experience going back decades. What I read in TGZ lines up far better than what I’ve read in MSM. It’s not the whole picture, but it makes more sense than what MSM is telling me. It seems quite a few NC non-Chinese commenters with hands on knowledge about China agrees with TGZ, which increases my trust of it as a source.

    That’s what I got. I’m not forcing you to agree with me, but if you actually have good reasons to doubt TGZ or reasonable basis to continue with your anti-China comments, I genuinely would like to know. I have changed my mind many times in many topics, based on learning new information.

    But given your past behavior, I’m not going to get my hopes up.

  33. Gaianne


    Clear, concise, on point.
    Thank you.


  34. someofparts

    Astrid – If you start your own website or decide to take your commentary elsewhere, please let me

  35. Hugh

    Astrid has no argument so she appoints herself gatekeeper. 2 + 2 = 4 no longer unless we can check off all the boxes in whatever list she dreams up.

    It would never occur to her that the blogosphere came into being as a way of democratizing debate, eliminating sterile appeals to authority, and leveling the playing field so that it was the argument, not the credentials, that counted.

    It is a sad fact that we have gone so far backwards from the blogosphere of 12-15 years ago. Now instead of argument and ideas, we just have the left wing version of conspiracy theories, prejudice, and fantasies.

  36. Astrid


    15 years ago I thought Ezra Klein had some good ideas and Paul Krugman was worth reading and a Democrat could pull the US out of Iraq and bring the peace dividend home. I thought that the economy wasn’t completely rigged for the 1%. I thought America was wrong on some things but still wanted to do good in the world. I believed the MSM when it says Russia and China did horrible things to their own citizens, and that it was my friends in China who didn’t get the big picture. I believed it was still possible to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

    I was a fucking idiot. But I paid attention, I learned. I hope that in another 15 years, I will still be alive and maybe thinking of this version of me as a fucking idiot.

    But as stupid and self absorbed and gullible as I’ve been at times in my life, I can never compete with you. The amount of reflexive projection necessary to pull off what you do, I’m truly in awe. I used to think of you as one of my PMC friend’s online persona, but none of my friends can come even close.

  37. Astrid


    You’re really too kind. Maybe one of these days I’ll pull out of my current funk and create that discussion subreddit in case Yves clamps down on further or Ian gets tired of my thread jacking ways.

    I’m just a very cut rate Catelin Johnstone with mild untreated ADHD and uncomfortably high lifetime exposure to the PMC, so I would probably make for a terrible blogger.

  38. bruce wilder

    ah for the days of yore, when Ezra Klein seemed smart and idealistic and Paul Krugman seemed trustworthy and insightful. we were so young, weren’t we?

    i do not understand what Hugh gets out of his insults, but I know that Astrid often says what I want to say, better and I am content to remain silent on many topics as a result

  39. Plague Species

    Bruce’s approval of “Astrid” is actually quite validating for me. It confirms my suspicions. Cloaked fascism is so cowardly. At least the Nazis were unabashed and didn’t hide it and instead flaunted it so we could know thy enemy.

    Remember, all this painstaking effort on their part is to get fascists elected and reelected. To endear you to fascism as the answer to the neoliberal PMC. Bannonism. As he cavorts on multi million dollar yachts with Chinese spies who’ve come out of the water.

  40. Plague Species I would probably make for a terrible blogger.

    Oh pshaw. Don’t undersell yourself. You’re too modest, really. You would be an excellent blogger in the vein of a Jimmie Howie Kunstler. You would be to blogging what Epstein was to high finance.

    I have a name or possible names for your blog should you choose to accept this assignment. MAGA Intellectuals or Sleeping With Swine. Huzzah!

  41. Astrid

    I keep banging on about China for 2 reasons.

    First is that it’s very dangerous for western politicians to constantly talk about war with a nuclear armed power. Even if it is all for show and even if the Chinese leadership is skillful, a few misunderstood assumptions by the pre-stupidified US politico-thinktank-military industrial complex could mean game over for most of the human planet.

    Secondly, just like the Soviet Union during the Cold War, China’s success shines the light to the lie of neoliberalism’s There Is No Alternative. US idiots can demonize USSR and China all they want, but China present credible alternatives to rentier capitalism. China grew pie amazingly fast, its government is dynamic and constantly tinkering and improving even if it makes plenty of mistakes along the way, its people can see improvements in their lives with their own eyes. A smarter US government like the one we had for 35 years after WWII knew it had to compete with the USSR by offering its working class a better life. Unfortunately what we have now seems to settle for electronic surveillance and brainwashing the masses into believing contemporary China is a terrible dystopia, while the kleptocrats bust out everything of value abetted by the Fed and their bought clown politicians in Congress.

    Still, China offers an alternative to other countries that are not so brainwashed and so far down the road to neofeudalism.

    As for China’s rise, yes, it came with a ton of corruption, pollution, labor exploitation, terrible demographics, wealth disparity, and regionalism (I had a Shanghai Hukou and US green card holder recently tell me that Shanghai Hukou is harder to get of the two) but Deng and the CPC post-Mao leadership felt it was a price they had to pay to effectively develop their economy and avoid the pitfalls of USSR or India style command economy development. Now that China has developed, they are focusing on development in poorer economic regions (they’ve been banging the drum for 20 years, but now even garment factory workers in regional cities in Xinjiang can make $250 dollars a month. A decade ago Shanghai new college graduate were making that much.) They’re improving the notoriously bad healthcare infrastructure (so many stories of people being denied care for lack of money and angry relatives knifing hospital staff), education system, elder care, corruption, and pollution control.

    Their foreign policy is guided by Lee Kuan Yew’s blueprint of non-intervention abroad. This wasn’t just some special Chinese virtue (because they Cultural Revolution really messed up whatever there was of Chinese traditional values, which accounts for much of the Chinese bad manners abroad stories. )
    The CPC made a conscious effort and consulted the “only successful dictator” in Asia to forge something that they see working. They might compete with Taiwan on international recognition by small obscure countries (our vacation to Belize, one of the few countries to recognize Taiwan at the time, offered some amusing insights on the dynamic of Belizean tour operator feeling like they missed out on Chinese tourist money).

    They do have disputes with neighbors but those are blown wildly out of scale by Western media. For example, the Chinese and Indians agreed to fight with no artillery at the border to avoid escalation. That’s why the recent border skirmish was fought with clubs and result in keeping the status quo. This is all while India hosts the Tibetan “government in exile” for over 60 years. Would the US behave so well if Canada or Mexico has been hosting a China funded and internationally recognized CA-NV-AZ-NM government in exile for the last 60 years? This isn’t to say there aren’t many points of conflict and disputes, China, India, Nepal, and Bhutan control most of headwaters in south, southeast, and east Asia. There’s going to many conflicts going forward, no guarantee they will solve it equitably or well, but at least they haven’t given up their brains like the USUKEU elite. But what China is doing certainly doesn’t seem worse than US damming of the Colorado and using up all the water before it reaches the ocean. China send willing to talk to its neighbors as equals, if only because it knows those countries can run to USA if China is too unfair.

    China’s culture also has a long way to go. The movies and TV programs of the last 20 years is mind bogglingly awful, compared to some pretty good stuff from the late 80s and the 90s and even early aughts. Everybody follows Korean soap operas because the Chinese stuff is so bad. Still, everyone in big cities can get VPN and the under 40s can understand English just fine, so the last time I was there I was trying to persuade my friends to watch Rick and Morty (terrible captioning). Somehow they prefer the really bad, in my opinion, Stephen Chow Journey to the West mash ups. Yuck.

  42. Astrid


    I have a few guesses on what motivated Hugh and his background. But I don’t want to behave like PS and wildly speculate about other people’s actual lives. Hugh does expend an amazing amount of energy to not see things. Like I said, he reminds of some people I know IRL.

  43. Hugh

    Astrid and Bruce should get a room. They illustrate what Trumpism looks like on the left.

    It’s just their prejudices and obsessions over and over again. No analysis, no insight.

    The Democrats are worthless, and the Republicans are evil. But say anything about the Republicans’ fascist tendencies and suddenly you are a Democratic operative. And Astrid’s idea of China is that while it is the greatest most wonderfulest country on the planet, it is not supremely perfect, just nearly.

    Progressives need to show why they should be taken seriously. Showing they are as fact free as any Trumper solves nothing and wastes time we don’t have.

  44. Astrid

    Haha, Bruce and I disagree on plenty of things. But he is knowledgeable and believable and perceptive on many topics and I would be honored to be lumped in with him.

    I hate Democrats not because I’m Republican. I hate them because they’re Republican. And Hugh is the worst kind of gaslighting, self loathing, self deceiving “I’m not a Republican” Republican. He’s happy to give up civil liberties, support new wars and sanctions, support a man who has been destroying the American working class for 5 decades, lie and slander others, support the security state, wish death and misery on his fellow Americans for failing to fall in line, support corporate censorship… All so he could be “not a Republican”.

  45. Plague Species

    Astrid and Bruce should get a room. They illustrate what Trumpism looks like on the left.

    I don’t perceive them as left in any way. But they do prefer leftish haunts and I believe that is to influence wayward leftists by being opaque about what they really are.

  46. Astrid

    I’m just fascinated by Hugh’s reference to “facts”. His”facts” and my lack of “facts”.

    I’ve cited to specific incidents in history and revealing incidents in my life, I’ve referenced widely acknowledged trends and facts in the ground acknowledged by all parties. I have references sources and I’ve had to defend those sources. I referenced specific reasons why I chose to believe one side over the over. I acknowledged by biases and preferences but generally try to understand other peoples’positions. Is my writing so bad that this is not coming through? Or are they all not “facts” as defined by Hugh?

    Now his facts. I repeatedly asked Hugh for his facts. Asked for information that can change my mind to support his positions. He constantly references “facts”, but I’m having heck of a time identifying facts in what he writes and sources for his facts. Is my reading comprehension that bad that I missed all the facts? Or is it because I don’t understand what Hugh means by”facts”?

  47. Willy

    BadEmpenada seems reasonable and balanced. He’s able to hold more than a few variables in his head:

  48. bruce wilder

    I am sure most commenters have seen this, but it is worth reading as an antidote to black-and-white thinking that makes it hard to be realistic, while not backing someone’s propaganda narrative.

    I do not know enough to arbitrate all the world’s conflicts from my armchair, but I recognize the moral addiction to thinking one can recognize the good guys and root for them to some effect.

    I am sorry that my country has gone over to a dark side of fantasy goodness disguising impotent and counterproductive interventions. I am not ready to apologize for China though.

  49. Willy

    Progressives need to show why they should be taken seriously. Showing they are as fact free as any Trumper solves nothing and wastes time we don’t have.
    Hopefully not paraphrasing wrongly, but as I remember, Ian has stated that intelligence (or perceptive wisdom) comes as much from a disciplined ability to absorb emotionally painful facts, as it does other (seemingly more intuitively) important variables like an aptitude for abstract reasoning. It’s not your IQ but your discipline, stupids.

    It is a sad fact that we have gone so far backwards from the blogosphere of 12-15 years ago. Now instead of argument and ideas, we just have the left wing version of conspiracy theories, prejudice, and fantasies.
    I’ve theorized that it’s fueled by a human need for cognitive closure, which almost everybody has. Emotionally disturbing realities are hardest to live with when they go unresolved with no seeming end in sight. To gain relief, the undisciplined risks being tempted by “really great brain” ubermensch and sanctioned demogogues who proclaim to have all the answers and know exactly who the exact enemy is who we can then fight.

    When I put my own conspiracy hat on, seeing all those ample opportunities for grifting, it’s easy to see grifters everywhere looking to take advantage for their own personal gain, including in the progressive blogosphere. I’ve tried suggesting that we all look back to proven history for practical examples of what works, but am met with skepticism by the usual suspects who (conspiracy hat on again) say that’s no answer but they also have no answers. Not very inspiring.

  50. Astrid


    That article is very light on facts and very heavy on basically saying, so much has been said about the Xinjiang genocide that some of it had got to be true.

    It brushes of the terrorist activities committed by the ETIM and their connections to Saudi and Turkey. It brushes off the presence of ETIM fighters who fought in Afghanistan and Syria and vow to commit genocide against Hans in Xinjiang. It doesn’t acknowledge that the whole Uighur genocide story was basically coming out of Adrian Zenz’s “research” and a handful of NED associated separatists with a track record of easily provable lies. It’s ignoring that sanctions on Xinjiang causes suffering for people of Xinjiang.

    Is China’s conduct in Xinjiang and Tibet perfect? No, the Chinese I know acknowledge that there tight security and”sensitivity”. The Chinese justice system is hardly know to go easy on anyone, so they believe some sorry if repression occurs. But that’s very different from anything like genocide or even systematic injustices against Uighurs. They also know Uighurs and other ethnicities minorities have priority access to education and jobs.

    Where is the genocide? Amnesty international is claiming 3 million Uighurs or a quarter of the Uighur population, without any real support to back it up. Can a country actually keep that many people locked up and still allow tourists to go through and capture the happy Uighur videos? Wouldn’t there be a flood of refugees and not just a couple thousand jihadis?

    What is the alternative to Chinese control of Xinjiang? Do you think ETIM, backed by US and Turkey, would do better for the people of Xinjiang, which includes about 50% non-Uighurs, some of whom have history in the region going back further than the Uighurs.

    I’m not surprised by The Nation doing this. Every so often they publish a decent article but really they’re all in on the Democratic party and one of their best known writers said she’d vote for Biden even if he raped her. Jacobin had long taken its place in cultural relevancy.

    I don’t think the Chinese care about American apologies. American words stopped having meaning years ago and American promised are not worth the electrons they’re tweeted on. I think they’re mostly just looking to peacefully contain the USA until it implodes under the weight of its own contradictions.

  51. Astrid

    I think there was an very intentional decision to not focus on specific China defenders and charges, since it seems like they’re all been debunked and it sounds like the author is honest enough to not repeat known falsehoods. So instead we see a lot of handwaved, half disclosures, painting China defenders and China accusers as glass half full/half empty scenario.

    I also don’t see where he supported his belief that genocide occurred. He waivers it off as though it’s not relevant but it’s a really serious charge. It’s that Palestinians usually don’t even use against Israel, even though with clear documentation of Nakba, settlers forcing people out of homes, hate filled rallies, bombs targeting of hospitals and schools, mob attacks on individuals and soldiers shooting unarmed civilians. So blithely accusing the Chinese of genocide on handwaves and “I don’t want to get into the weeds here” is pretty bad.

    Yes, sometimes we look too hard for black and white where it doesn’t exist. But if we don’t at least intellectually accept that both sides may not be equally culpable and not in the same ways, we can end up calling both navy and blush “gray”.

  52. Willy

    Why not just admit that unchecked power always concentrates and it sucks?

  53. bruce wilder

    I do not have the ability to ascertain the facts on the ground, as they say, nor do I think I have available trustworthy reporters.

    “Genocide” ought to have a high threshold for application, but people who like their own outrage are typically fond of hyperbole — go figure.

    I am actually worried about what I perceive to be a loss of integrity in elite journalism — among readers as much as reporters. Neither readers nor publishers seem to care much about whether journalists show any interest in evading deceptive manipulation by the powerful.

  54. Astrid

    Because that saying is meaningless without context? Because it’s probably not true? (Thinking of rule of Augustus to what came before. Also Singapore. Also China pre and post 1949. There are far worse things than what I assume your thinking of as”unchecked power”)

    But it doesn’t even matter whether the Chinese did anything or not. Nevermind the power structure. Even if they were as bad as Saddam, who was indeed a very very bad man, especially in the 1980s, the US still has no standing to dictate morality and invade a country half a world away under false pretenses.

    But that’s not even really the point. It’s possible to have good faith arguments and disagree. My point is that the main article is not arguing in good faith. He’s doing something that superficially seems fair minded, but is actually just retreading the same anti-China like without substantive evidence. Those words have consequences. I hold him and his publisher to it.

  55. Astrid


    Just saw your last comment. Fair enough. We can’t know the truth, sometimes even if we see it with our own eyes we can’t be sure. We’re always making guesses and sometimes we’re will fail despite our best efforts. For myself I think it is useful to establish opinions even when there is uncertainty and I acknowledge that I may have to suffer the embarrassment of later admitting that I’m wrong.

    Still, that article sets of some klaxons for me and so I’ve wrote them down. I think the vagueness of his evidence is what bugs me, because the debunkings by TGZ and the Chinese bloggers are not vague, they specifically address the US charges of genocide. If he disagrees with them or think there’s more undebunked evidence that is persuasive, the onus is on him to be specific and convincing. The vagueness combined with calling it genocide sets me off absolutely. It’s such a loaded term that it shouldn’t be used lightly. Couple that with the loaded implication of calling people in the anti-anti-Chiba side genocide deniers, it’s a really ugly thing to say when two of the most prominent critics are the Jewish Max Blumenthal and Aaron Mate. Not backing it up with rigorous evidence and discussing and going on and on about generalities is really bad in my book.

    I don’t know Xinjiang directly, though I know Chinese people that visited there who I can trust to be honest with me, and they mention heighten security and scrutiny but nothing that rises to the level of genocide or systematic ethnic cleansing. These are people who openly talk to me about CPC mishandling of other issues and CPC corruption. This syncs with what I know about the reporting out of Xinjiang, a lot of tearful accounts and vague or eye popping claims, but very little footage of the sort we’ve seen with other ethnic cleansing type situations in Kashmir or Gaza. If the oppression was really there, it would be muttered about within China and there would be footage of it. The lack of footage and TGZ’s evidence about the source of the 1-2-3 million Uighur claim makes me think it’s not there.

  56. Astrid


    Do also take a look at the comments for the article. I’m glad to see it wasn’t just my bias that’s making me see the problems I see with the article.

  57. Astrid

    I still hold journalism to the ideals I was taught in my childhood. This means I trust very very few, though I read much more with a skeptical eye. I wonder if I want to go back to 2006. That felt like a more honest and honorable time, but was it? Maybe I would just go back and but all the Amazon stocks and bitcoins I can get my hands on, then maybe I can pay Ian a living wage and get some good people together.

  58. Astrid

    Oh, this tweet from Max Blumenthal is even better. This guy is an associate of Zenz and praised Zenz’s work. Now it all makes sense.

    Yeah, gonna call this guy a complete black hat. Midnight black, extra matt.

  59. Astrid

    Ha, it looks like Yves blocked me for pointing out the badness of The Nation article. She didn’t yet disappear 3 comments that I had up and let another one through so she could make a rather incoherent point, but anything new I post ( even “testing” on an old thread) doesn’t go to moderation but disappears. Honestly kinda surprised it took this long since I usual post in response to someone else’s bad take. I am disappointed that David, PlutoniumKun, and the Rev Kev approved of the article, as I generally trust their comments but this certainly makes me wonder what else they accept conventional wisdom on.

    Here’s my disappeared response to her:

    Calling Jews (or Armenians) “genocide deniers” is pretty strong stuff in my book, especially when one of them has a father who barely survived the Holocaust.

    I am not sure how Yves’s acquaintance’s knowledge about laogai camps or forced sterilization changes anything I pointed out. Those didn’t target one group and were methods used on the entire population of China, albeit I don’t think sterilization were ever used against Uighurs. Just because they’re not Western approved methods doesn’t make it genocide proximate. This is akin to calling British targeting and jailing of IRA genocide. Or US targeting of gang members genocide.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén