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

The Democratic Bargain, Abortion and Responsibility

The Problem With Aristocrats Is That They Inflict What They Can Never Suffer

— (someone else, can’t find the original)

The democratic bargain, or really, the bargain of all civilization that is worthy of existing, is based on the idea of resolution of conflict by means other than violence. Band level hunter gatherers are much more egalitarian than we are, and are generally better off on most metrics than anyone except industrial age humans (who they are still better off than in terms of free time, equality, dental health and female hip width) but they usually have higher levels of violence than we do.

Early civilizations were also shockingly violent and extremely cruel, both to their own residents (not citizens, residents) and to those nearby. “An eye for an eye” wasn’t even the law: punishments for crimes were often excessive, feuds were common and often lead to far more death and suffering than the original crime being avenged.

In civilizations and especially in democracy, at least in theory, the idea is that we give up our private right to determine what is right and wrong and especially our private right to take justice into our own hands. In exchange we avoid the evils of vengeance and feuds and reduce the amount of internal violence. (Native Americans might not think that British democracy reduced violence, though, note, nor did Rome’s neighbours think Republican Rome reduced violence towards them.)

In Democracy we elect people to make and enforce our laws, and to implement policy. This is based on the idea that people we elect will act largely in the interests of society as a whole, and thus that more people will be better off. Because it is impossible to make policy or laws without harming at least a few people, those who run society are supposed to be disciplined not by violence but by legal means and thru the ballot box.

However, representative democracy (not direct democracy, which has other failure modes), especially when combined with capitalism, tends to fall into oligarchy. There are multiple forms of oligarchy, an oligarchy isn’t always rich, but under capitalism those with the most money tend to form the core of any oligarchy, even if it has some sort of base in the population. There would be no right wing in America of the current sort, or the world, without the massive financial support of the Koch brothers and other extremely rich individuals.

The end result of this is governments which act against the interests and desires of the majority. The Princeton oligarchy study found that, for all intents and purposes, the opinions of most of the American population have no effect on legislation.

Oligarchies are a form of aristocracy, and aristocracies have three fundamental principles:

  1. Aristocrats are the best people and deserve their wealth, power and privileges.
  2. Aristocrats as a class should never lose their power; and,
  3. Individual aristocrats should never be held responsible for their actions unless they harm other aristocrats or their interests;

There are two issues here.

First, democracies which become aristocratic oligarchies stop acting in the interests of the majority.

Second, the members of an aristocratic oligarchy don’t suffer what they inflict.

For well over 40 years now productivity and wages have not risen together, for example, where before they did. This is a direct result of policy, both legislative (massive tax cuts and regulatory changes) and monetary, central banks acting to “control inflation” by suppressing wages on theory that “wage push inflation” is the only important type of inflation, while also acting to increase asset prices held by the rich, like stocks, bonds and real estate.

Likewise, starting in the 70s many types of drugs were made illegal, but the rich don’t tend to be arrested for doing them, either because their drugs are legal, or by simple lack of enforcement, as with the widespread use of cocaine amongst elites in the 80s and 90s.

I recently read someone claiming that Federal Reserve members had “skin in the game” because they had to live in America, which is a massive misuse of the idea, akin to saying that Jeff Bezos and workers in his warehouses both have interests in common. Well, sort of. Or that just because they are Americans Bill Gates and homeless person both have skin in the game.

Yeah, OK. And the Queen and Boris Johnson have skin in the British game, just like food bank users and people who die from NHS cuts.

In 2008 there was a huge financial crisis, starting in the US, but spreading thru much of the world.

It was caused by the actions of executives in the financial sector and as a result, essentially every brokerage and most banks were, had they taken their losses, bankrupt. If the normal course had been allowed, they would have lost all their money, and thus their power

Aristocrats, as a class, must never lose their money or power. (Money is power, in our societies.)

The Federal Reserve and the Treasury department stepped in, with some legislative help, and saved them. The cost for saving them was, at the time, for America alone, something like 20 trillion dollars.

Some ordinary people were bailed out, but the vast majority weren’t.

Later, when banks foreclosed homes because of the financial crisis’s fallout, they fraudulently signed legal documents, en-masse, stating that they had title to the properties they were foreclosing. They were allowed to foreclose anyway, and they were not prosecuted for this clear crime.

Democracies which become aristocratic oligarchies stop acting in the interests of the majority.

As for the crimes which lead up to the crisis, of which there were many, most of the bubble, especially in the last two years, they were not prosecuted, but instead they were fined for amounts less than they had made, thus immunizing them from criminal penalties.

Aristocrats should never be held responsible for their actions,  unless they hurt other aristocrats.

The one major prosecution was of Bernie Madoff. Madoff had victimized out members of the elite, not the general public.

So, the system operated to save the rich and powerful and when saving them was in opposition to saving regular people it not only didn’t save them, it allowed the rich and powerful to victimize them further.

Much of this was illegal by the law at the time, but a lot of it was legal. Aristocracies make laws that favor those in power. They create policies which favor the already powerful and rich.

And, as the Princeton study showed, they ignore majority opinion if it contradicts elite preference.

Let us now move to abortion, the issue of the day. A majority of the population wanted to keep Roe vs. Wade, by about a 2:1 margin.

Some years ago I asked my father, a very conservative guy, his position on abortion. He said he didn’t like it but believed it should be legal. I asked why. “Because I saw what happened when it was illegal. Rich women got abortions, and poor women didn’t.”

Let us say that abortion becomes effectively illegal. Do you think that the wives, sisters and daughters of the rich and powerful will still have access to them?

We all know the answer.

Aristocrats inflict what they never must suffer.

An example given by, I think, Nassim Taleb, used the Roman Republic. When Hannibal wiped out a huge Roman army at Cannae, one-third of the Roman Senate’s members were killed. They fought in battles.

What important politician or rich person of the last two generations died in any of America’s wars? Most didn’t even fight, including Bush Jr., Trump and Clinton all of whom weaseled out of the Vietnam war using dubious means.

Now let’s bring this back. One of the benefits of civilization is the reduction of violence which comes from prohibiting people from taking vengeance or justice (not the law) into their own hands. The benefit of Democracy is supposed to be that the government acts in the interests of the majority of the population, and liberal democracy it is supposed to also protect the rights of minorites against the majority.

This is what the legitimacy of civilization and democracy rest on. In exchange for these benefits, people don’t make life unpleasant for people with power, they don’t get vengeance themselves and so on.

I’ve seen the argument that protesting outside the houses of Supreme Court justices is illegal. It is. Hiding slaves was illegal. Blacks riding at the front buses was illegal. Strikes were illegal. Almost nothing that the Nazis did was illegal when they did it, because they were in power and made the laws.

What the French aristocracy did before the revolution was legal, and so was what the Russian aristocracy did.

Legality isn’t justice, even in good societies, though sometimes it approximates it.

But when legitimacy is broken: when civilization or democracy or liberalism doesn’t provide what it’s supposed to do, people stop caring so much about what is legal.

Nobody on the supreme court is going to be affected negatively by the loss of Roe. They and their friends and families, all of whom are rich, powerful or both, will still be able to get abortion when needed or when they want them. They, their daughters, wives and sisters will not die of untreated ectopic pregnancies or bleed out from back alley abortions.

And, as a commenter pointed out, the supreme court did rule that protests outside the houses of abortion doctors were constitutionally protected free speech, but protests outside their houses aren’t.

The evil of aristocracy is that aristocrats inflict what they never suffer.

If you are a member of the American elite life has never been better. You are the richest rich the world has ever known, even richer than in the Gilded Age. For over 40 years salaries, stock options, stocks and other assets like real-estate have just gone up and up and up, and when they haven’t the government, often in the form of the Fed, has stepped into to make sure they do.

Meanwhile ordinary people increasingly can’t afford houses, rent or medical care and where one salary could support a 4 person family, now 2 often can’t. (Ignore the official inflation and wage adjusted stats, and focus on reality, the stats don’t tell the picture and everyone knows it.)

Life gets better and better for the elite; the aristocrats and some of their retainer class, and shittier for almost everyone else.

There isn’t really a social contract, but there is legitimacy, and our elites have broken it. Since they have broken it, I will gently suggest that expecting those will die or suffer in large numbers due to their decisions to respect them or their laws is unreasonable.

When Jared Diamond tried to figure out why societies collapse, he dug into many civilization collapses and found out they almost all had one thing in common: the decision makers were cut off from the consequences of their decisions. Things were getting worse for almost everyone else, but everything was good for them, and often even improving, so they did nothing.

Eventually that broke. Sometimes due to environmental collapse; sometimes economic collapse; sometimes invasion; sometimes rebellion; and sometimes a combination or all of them at once.

Our aristocratic oligarchy is inflicting on others what they won’t suffer, even as they enrich themselves and pat themselves on the back about how they deserve everything they have.

That is leading where it always does, and it starts with the loss of legitimacy.

Those who protest rudely when those who will never suffer what they inflict hurt them or kill them, are minor in this context, but they are a sign of what is to come.

And that will be far worse than some judges being made uncomfortable or scared. It will be an age of war and revolution, throughout the world, and it will also be an age where some of their victims decide that if they are to suffer, their victimizers will suffer too.

This means either full on dystopian police states or an age of assassination and rebellion, and probably both.

This is what our aristocrats have sowed, and they will reap it. Alas, so will the rest of us. In the meantime, those who try and intrude on their bubbles and make their displeasure known are actually doing them a favor, offering them one last (and it is very close to last) chance to course correct.

History suggest they won’t, but occasionally it does happen, and we must hope for that occasionally.



Losing Roe And The New Dred Scott


The Fed Wants To Crush Wages So Corporations Can Price Gouge


  1. Blueberry Hill

    The aristocrats favor dispossessed black men over dispossessed women of any color. Weird that. Funny that. Tragic humor.

    Where are the massive protests for the striking down of Roe v Wade? There should be protests as equally as massive and destructive as we saw in 2020. This tells me the BLM protests were insincere and inculcated by the aristocracy through its perception management enforcement division, the CIA, and the CIA doesn’t give a shit about women’s rights, especially poor women’s rights. These creeps should be torn limb from limb and the men in that crowd, their scrotums should be removed and stuffed down their throats.

  2. Ché Pasa

    Democracy is a scam, ok? Yet we continue to live under the illusion that what we, the lower orders, want or need is achievable through some jiggering of the so-called “democracy” that is set up to overwhelmingly favor the rich and powerful and has always been that way.

    I sincerely hope the protesters against overturning Roe — no matter how the overturning is couched — are prepared to be arrested, go to jail, be tortured, fined, and god knows what all in their hundreds and thousands and not ever be satisfied with voting to resolve the issue. Please.

    More than 10,000 were arrested during BLM protests; dozens were killed; hundreds were injured some of whom I knew. You can declare it to be outrage manufactured by the CIA or one of the other three-letter-agencies. Sure. Why not? That doesn’t change the fact that thousands and thousands were arrested, some of them still in jail or prison, hundreds were injured, some severely (like having their eyes shot out and such), dozens were killed.

    It was similar with Occupy. Many thousands arrested, hundreds injured, many tortured in broad daylight in public, some killed all before the encampments were raided and dismantled.

    If the right to bodily autonomy is to be preserved, then I would expect no less rage and direct action in the streets and at the homes of justices — or anywhere else they might be found — and I would expect it to persist indefinitely.

    It’s interesting that the legality or illegality of this sort of action is seemingly more important than the issue itself. I remember a federal trial of a Laotian general and several Hmong elders some years back that was met with fierce and implacable resistance and protest and demonstrations in the streets and courthouse by thousands and thousands of outraged Hmong and their supporters — including some high profile attorneys — who claimed the whole thing was a set up and bogus. They were fearless and determined in their resistance, and hundreds and hundreds were arrested. But still they persisted.

    In the end, the charges were dropped.

    We’ll see if there is that much determination and persistence against the minority that want to deny a woman’s bodily autonomy. That minority has no compunction about forcing anything at all on the rest of us.

  3. Dan Lynch

    Ian said “full on dystopian police states or an age of assassination and rebellion, and probably both.”

    Agree with the bleak political outlook, as least for the U.S. and its sphere of influence (and that’s even before climate change smacks us). But my reading of history is that dystopian states can sometimes endure for hundreds of years. As just one example, slavery in the U.S. went on for a couple hundred years, and even when it ended, you could hardly tell the difference.

    When change does come, it may not be the type of change you and I had in mind. For example, I can easily imagine the Rocky Mountain West seceding and being run by Bundy types. We have seen over and over how the discontent of the poor and working class can be channeled by right wing demagogues like Bundy, Trump, or the Koch libertarians. It’s not that hard to do as even a clown like Trump demonstrated — acknowledge the system is broken, name a scapegoat, and claim to have a solution. (in the U.S., Democrats refuse to acknowledge the system is broken and they sure as hell don’t have solutions).

  4. someofparts

    Not sure if it would even be possible, or how it could be arranged, but a tax strike would actually hurt the ruling reptiles in ways they would notice. Just saying.

  5. anon y'mouse

    Tax strikes do nothing and aren’t possible.

    The IRS has seizure powers that the rest of government only fantasizes about.

    The money is created for a purpose (paying Raytheon, Lockheed et al or bribing foreigners). The government really doesn’t wait for Joe Bob’s check to clear before they do that.

    But they really don’t want the little guy to know that, hence my first sentence above. And the rich pay accountants and lawyers to dispense with paying and any penalties for failure to.

  6. Blueberry Hill

    I think along with Finland and Sweden, American women should join NATO to protect their rights, nay to protect their wombs. Hey NATO, do us all a favor since the Dems won’t and bomb these conservative creeps to hell and back in the name of freedom and democracy. Most of them are Putin-lovers and traitors so good riddance to them.

  7. someofparts

    Anybody who has blood pressure issues, be sure to take your meds before you read this.

  8. Willy

    Democracy starts well enough but over time (I’d say every time), the corrupt powerful will find their way to dominating that democracy and then a renewal purge is necessary. This doesn’t mean that we should replace democracy with an authoritarianism, where the corrupt power then gets to go completely unchecked.
    There are so many historic examples to itemize that you’d hope this would be basic common wisdom by now.

    This is why I approve of them seizing each other’s yachts and us intimidating them en masse at their homes. The point is to keep the focus on the corrupt concentrations of unchecked unpopular power. I don’t go so far as revolutionary violence because of the (usually) wildly unpredictable end results, unless somebody else has a foolproof solution.

    The human problem isn’t with the academics, scientists, idealists, humanists or anybody else capable of at least a basic empathic cause-effect analysis. It’s with the average joe who makes up the monkey brained mob, very large by percentage population, which appears mostly incapable of such, and prefer to be led by tradition, authority, and theistic religion.

  9. Andy

    “The aristocrats favor dispossessed black men over dispossessed women of any color. Weird that. Funny that. Tragic humor. ”

    I think that would be news to a lot of dispossessed black men. Aristocrats favor themselves and any endorsement of this or that group of non-aristocrats is reputation laundering theater designed to make the dispossessed believe the aristos give a crap about them.

    It seems to have worked in you, albeit in a strangely roundabout way.

  10. Willy

    @ someofparts

    I remember Obama speaking of “political realities” as his excuse for not fighting for things he said he’d fight for. I know about supply chain management, which Greg Abbott tried to get away with mismanaging because of his own perceived “political realities”. And then there’s food chain management, sometimes also known as political realities, which I believe to mean that you don’t ever piss off the guys above you on the food chain.

    Sure, if everybody sees the boss as competent you go along to get along. But what if he’s an obvious incompetent? I once saw a project manager and a supervisor, both tough but ethical and both the size of college football linemen, bow before an incompetent VP the size of a towel boy. If the incompetent boss was mentioned, at worst you’d get the slightest smirk or rolling of the eyes. I thought it was cowardly since that VP really needed to go. I never fully understood that behavior. Maybe somebody else can explain.

    It seems like Obama was under somebodies’ thumb. I remember Chris Hedges saying something about how vindictive some of the famous name players on the D side could be, with Rs being even worse, but I can’t remember the source material, that being some time ago. What’s so damned scary?

  11. Andy

    “The human problem isn’t with the academics, scientists, idealists, humanists or anybody else capable of at least a basic empathic cause-effect analysis. It’s with the average joe who makes up the monkey brained mob, very large by percentage population, which appears mostly incapable of such, and prefer to be led by tradition, authority, and theistic religion.”

    The monkey brained mobs get most active when material conditions are degraded and they feel ripped off and betrayed by the system that governs them. There are always demagogues waiting in the wings to amplify mass discontent in unproductive and destructive ways. In the internet age reactionary media and individuals disseminating batshit insane ideas and promoting the scapegoating of people who, like the mob, have no access to power have far more reach and influence than they used to. I have seen many reasonably sane people fall for the nonsense peddled by the political right.

    Watching the reaction to the Ukraine invasion I do wonder how many “academics, scientists, idealists, humanists or anybody else capable of at least a basic empathic cause-effect analysis” are actually making that analysis. I don’t see much evidence of it. Foe every Chomsky and Merasheimer there are a dozen morons aggressively making reckless calls for actions that could potentially doom the human race. The media of course amplifies the latter and many leftists and liberal monkey brainers are fully on board with the hawks.

    The problem with blaming the monkey brainers is that they generally follow the lead of the ruling class. A politics that focuses too much on changing how individuals think rather than changing the material conditions under which they live is doomed to endless splintering, polarizing and infighting.

    The ruling class is currently split between the liberals/neoliberals that back the Democratic Party and its European equivalents and the right wing/reactionary “populists” that back the likes of Trump and Johnson. There are a few other factions but these are the ones with the most power and influence. The political splits in the masses mirror this pattern.

    Given that nobody currently in power is interested in facing reality and would rather double down on failed strategies, demagogic provocations and dangerous zero-sum thinking, with the masses following suit, getting out of this rut will be very difficult.

  12. anon y'mouse

    “The human problem isn’t with the academics, scientists, idealists, humanists or anybody else capable of at least a basic empathic cause-effect analysis.”

    these people are definitely a part of the monkey brained mob and their inability to see that is part of the very problems you discuss.

    PMC brain on steroids. there are no “enlightened” to rely upon. the rot is throughout the society and actually, the more schooled (thus disciplined to keep quiet about the rot and go along with it because it benefits you in the greater system and maintains your place in the pecking order thereof), the worse off you well may be.

    at least the lower orders can claim ignorance and lack of power thus responsibility for what has occurred. but you’re talking about the managers, knowledge workers and all of that which have been complacent as well and not only that, helped the system advance to the state it is. what do you think? that all of the scientists have been acting like conscientious objectors and sitting it out, or have they been working in the tech, research, science “industries” developing ever more ways for corporations and the financiers who use corporate stocks and bonds to control the world and play in the casino.

    we’ve all been complacent to differing degrees. you are not absolved. in fact, you are in a greater state of responsibility, given your supposed “advanced knowledge” about the harms such a system would cause.

  13. Purple Library Guy

    It should be faced that any positive change is unlikely to start in North America. But as the US grasp shrinks, more and more countries will have opportunities to go in different directions. Decarbonization also will increase countries’ capacity for independence, since they will depend mainly on electricity generated at home rather than imported fossil fuels paid for in US$. If I had to bet I’d expect positive change to start in Latin America.

  14. bruce wilder


    well, maybe. doesn’t seem like quite the right word for sinking deeper and deeper into an unreality, a virtual reality matrix constructed of narrative control and financial “innovation”.

    ” the system” is out-of-control, maybe on auto-pilot. a great metaphor has emerged lately in the form of systems of machine-learning Artificial Intelligence. No one knows quite how they work, they were not designed on human-understanding, but rather “trained” themselves on massive datasets, so no one has any idea how to fix them when the mistakes they make are discovered. One explanation for how they go wrong is the suggestion that the massive dataset used for the original training was “contaminated” in some way. (practical takeaway: do not let your Tesla drive you to work.)

    I work with some giant universities and there, administration as a self-licking ice cream cone is completely out of control — burgeoning onto self-created demand that has no relation to the quality or quantity of teaching or education. so maybe not a problem with the real academics, humanists, et cetera, but a problem very much adjacent to same.

    the unreality of narrative control in a politics dominated by professional public relations and disinformation managed by spy shops that can know every minute detail has merged with a thoroughly corrupt and crazily complex financial system just at the moment when capitalist growth is running out of planet. would you take the red pill?

  15. Willy


    I’d just seen a bit about the steep decline in Democrat voters in rural Iowa. D organizers, some progressive, were exhausted and ready to give up. They had no answers against the power of continuous corporate conservative money messaging, all obviously highly dishonest and emotionally manipulative while seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly morphing into an authoritarian demagogue phase some call Fascism.

    You speak of Ukraine, and I see a few leftists rooting for the people instead of the reckless PTB on either side. But I also see others ignoring that the recklessness of Putin, a right-wing demagogue strongman, has little in common with the restraint of his Soviet predecessors and that that sort of authoritarianism could well be the USAs own next phase.

  16. Willy

    anon y’mouse,

    I’ll admit that my “academics, scientists, idealists, humanists or anybody else capable of at least a basic empathic cause-effect analysis” was a very poor description.

    I’m not including Diane Feinstein with her angry old man condescension of climate change concerned schoolchildren, or Susan Collins who called 911 after finding a polite chalk message in front of her home, or Elise Stefanic who blames Biden’s “pedo-grifters” as the root cause of the baby formula shortage.

    These people have either clearly lost their fucking minds or are psychopaths who consider the rest of us dupes.

    I also don’t include corporate con men (Kochs), the well-funded ideologues (Friedmans), billionaire idiot savants (Musk, considering his recent Twitter debacle), or any hopey changey politicians paranoid about “political realities”.

    I speak of the 99%ers (climate scientists), actual other scientists (Sagan, Chomsky, Hawkings), actual humanists (already mentioned) who appear to have all the knowledge but none of the power. I determine the degree of monkey brains by the degree of belief that wealth and power and popularity are all one needs to be considered intellectually credible.

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