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

The Psychological Difficulty of Radicalization

“Radical” is a slur word in most of our discourse. “A radical” is someone who thinks society needs truly fundamental changes. If you are a democrat in a monarchy or a one-party state, you’re a radical. If you believe in equal rights in a state with rights based on rank, you’re a radical. If you believe in fascism in a democratic state, you are also a radical, and if you want to go back to women not having the vote and blacks only being able to vote in theory, you’re a radical, though we tend to call that style of radical a reactionary or sometimes a Republican.

Another kind of radical, perhaps the most common in our society, though still rare, is the type that believes that capitalism has to go away; that fundamental economic relationships shouldn’t be determined through markets controlled by capitalists. (You can be for markets, and against capitalism, weirdly, though it’s rare.)

It’s clear our societies have failed. We pretend they haven’t because the final collapse hasn’t happened, but that’s like saying that the Titanic hadn’t sunk after it hit the iceberg. Technically true, but believing it will get you hurt, bad. Might be good if other people believe it, though, while you sprint for the lifeboats.

The argument for this is tedious, and I’ve made it many times so I won’t bother here.

In the face of a failed society, trust in leaders is insane. Crazed. They’ve obviously run society off a cliff, and they either are okay with that or are incompetent, or both. (And the smart ones are selling you the line that everything is okay while they sprint for the lifeboats: a.k.a., New Zealand.)

For over ten years now I’ve been telling Americans to get out. Oh, it’s not that the US is the only developed nation heading for failed state status — for all intents and purposes there are no exceptions, not even Sainted New Zealand, but the US is one of the leaders in the failed-state race (Britain’s another), and I have a lot of American readers. If you’re going to have everything go sideways into a propeller, better later than sooner.

But most Americans won’t or can’t get out, and Musk and Bezo’s dreams of escape to space aren’t going to happen for humanity en-masse, not in time.

We’re all in a big ship, and it’s going down. Some areas are already underwater, others will be soon, and the entire thing is going to sink.

And we have no lifeboats. We could, perhaps, have built some, if we’d started 30 to 40 years ago with massive investments, but we didn’t, and if our leaders were that able, they’d have been able to save the ship, since that’s when they had to act.

But this article isn’t about how “we are fucked,” it’s about how “too many of us refuse to admit it and that it means we need radical change.”

And one of the big reasons for this is the need for “Daddy.” One of the big hurdles preventing radicalization is that becoming radicalized means you realize you can’t trust your leaders at all. That they have fucked up, betrayed you, or both. That they are bad, evil people who not only aren’t acting in your best interest, but are your enemies.

I’ve been pounding this issue for a couple  years, and some regular readers are probably sick of it. I am.

But it matters. If you don’t accept, psychologically and intellectually, who your enemies are, you can’t protect yourself from them. If you don’t accept, psychologically and intellectually, that your leaders are your enemies, you can’t properly take action on your own, with friends, family, and other groups — because at some level, you’re still thinking that government or corporations will come through and take care of things.

All your life, government and corporations have taken care of you. They’ve often been abusive parents, but they have made sure there’s food available to buy, streets to walk and drive on, laws, jobs, etc, etc. They run almost everything and you’re dependent on them for almost everything just like  you were dependent on your parents and teachers when you were a child.

Bad parents still feed and house you. They’re monsters, but monsters who kept you alive. Children love their abusive parents even as they fear and hate them, and the same screwed up psychology pertains to business and government leaders, and those they lead.

An entire life’s conditioning works against radicalization in anyone for whom the system has even slightly worked.

But the fact of the matter is that if we want to handle climate change, environmental collapse, or any of our other problems (“handle” doesn’t mean “stop,” but many problems are essentially trivial, and could be fixed any time our leadership wants to, like health care or spam calls), that means we need radical change. We need to change our system completely, and we need to get rid of our entire current leadership class, all of whom have proved their incompetence and ill will.

That’s radical. That’s a leap.

And that’s hard.

But acknowledging that there will be no real help from above until radical change happens is necessary, for the world, and if we can’t change them before they defenestrate themselves after trying to shove us all out the window first, to protect and care for yourselves in the face of a malign government and corporate class.

Corporate and government daddies and mommies aren’t going to save you. They’re the ones hurting you. They’re the ones making your life hell and destroying your world.

Accept that at your core.



Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 23, 2022


The Joy of Reading & the Discovery of a New Author (Nero Wolfe Edition)


  1. DMC

    This is the thing I have the hardest time convincing people of, that the system is beyond repair and that really FUNDAMENTAL changes have to occur and RIGHT NOW!! They just go “Oh we just need to elect more Democrats and then they’ll pass laws that actually do any good, and we’ll be SAVED!” and I just want to knock them down and shriek at them “The gunnels are awash, and you want to hold an election to form a committee to inquire if the ship has pumps and if it may be prudent to man them!!” And I am talking otherwise intelligent people who SEEM to understand that climate change plus Covid plus WW3 are matters for concern but are willing to wait 30 or 40 years for the Democrats and incremental change. They’re concerned about voting rights, not the fact that public opinion has ~0% influence on government policy, while the Plutocratic oligarchs set ~100% of the policy. They can’t seem to imagine that we’re well on our way to a “Mad Max” scenario in, say, the next 10 years, rather than some foggy distant 60 years from now. Makes the survivalist crowd seem reasonable by comparison. At least they grasp the gravity of the situation.

  2. Anon

    Regarding leaving the US,
    does anyone have any ideas of which countries
    have at least some chance of being relatively OK in the future ?

  3. Alphonse

    DMC: Exactly.

    How do you even talk to someone when they take the party line as gospel? They are incapable of contemplating that authorities and the media are routinely dishonest. Catalogue the censorship and lies: they will nod their heads and snap right back to laser focused belief of the next Breaking News fiction that comes along. This is my interpretation of the Big Lie: when the lie is big enough, it is impossible to talk people out of it. The costs for them are just too high.

    There are those who disbelieve, but most of them snap into knee-jerk rejection. Authorities lied about masks, the lab leak hypothesis, vaccines and transmission, etc. – so the pandemic is a hoax, and climate change is too (it has crossed my mind – lies on that scale seem possible now). Though I have a lot more sympathy (and hope) for this group than the orthodox one.

    No-one is willing to live with uncertainty and doubt. But what else can you do when the sources of information are thoroughly compromised? Our bias is inaction in the face of an uncertain future. Even if I know collapse is coming, can I be confident of WHEN it is not suicidal to let go of our position in the zombie economy?

    I’m reading David Fleming. He seems to be arguing for a common culture and society built from the bottom up. right now are institutions are so corrupt that it would take decades to fix or replace them were that even possible within a self-reinforcing network of perverse incentives. Even at a community level we’re so atomized that there is no foundation for collective action. On top of which, tragically, Covid could not be better designed to keep people apart.

    All I can think is to form relationships with other people and try to be prepared to seize the opportunity when events force people out of their ruts. Assuming that will happen. It didn’t with Covid. All ran to daddy, then engineered hatred exploded solidarity.

  4. Astrid


    I’m assuming that you are USian. If you were European you would have more options open to you.

    If you’re not able to line up a legal local job, call up substantial financial resources to establish yourself, or capable of living a global nomad lifestyle, escape is not really an option. You might squeak into an ancestry based claim if you have an Irish grandparent or a male line Italian ancestor, I believe there are some good options for Japanese and Spanish/Portuguese ancestry claims. Search for”visa” on

    If you are young and have sought after skills, I’d look at Western Europe or East Asia. Maybe Australia or New Zealand. They may be hit harder by climate change but seem to have more cohesive and functional societies. I would bet on them lasting longer and surviving collapse more gracefully. It helps to move to a different where you won’t stand out or be targeted or blamed. Definitely don’t be known as an American. If you’re entrepreneurial, look up the Dutch American friendship agreement as an option. I believe there are a number of other temporary visa schemes to attract global nomad after start of Covid. Latin America might be okay if you can buy your home, keep your costs down, and maintain enough (non-tourism) income to get by. If you’re young, a degree program in Europe might be a good pathway to emigration. If you have a medical or computer science background, you will be able to move much more easily.

    I’m looking at the Portuguese golden visa, if that’s still available in a few years. I don’t think I can persuade my husband and parents to jump in the scheme immediately so I don’t expect it to be there when I’m ready. China is an option for me and potentially my husband (thankfully an engineer with somewhat in demand skillset), but he will need a lot more socialization to seriously consider the idea (it may come down to living a relatively normal life in China or live with 3 strains of Covid a year for the rest of our of our lives). He doesn’t know the language and doesn’t like to be 14 hours and 21 day quarantine from family and friends for the rest of his life. I would never have considered settling in China before 2020, but now I’m seriously considering it. We have more money, skills, and connections than most, but I would not put my chance of escaping above 50%. And even if I do, my family, our friends, and our lives, are still here. You can’t ever really escape.

  5. anon

    I’ve told friends with kids to make sure that they learn foreign languages and have skills that will be transferable and valuable to other developed nations. It’s not easy to gain citizenship or permanent residency in most developed nations. Despite the flaws in US immigration, it is one of the easiest “developed” nation to come to. I have lived abroad, loved it, but it’s also difficult to assimilate to cultures and learn foreign languages that are vastly different from your own. I have met parents who struggle with cultural and language barriers with their children who were born in a different country. Being an immigrant is far from easy even if you are a well educated expat. That being said, if I could move abroad again to a job that paid as much as I make in the USA, I would take the opportunity. I haven’t ruled out going abroad again, but it becomes more difficult if you have family obligations, such as taking care of elderly parents, a spouse and children who are resistant to leaving, or having extended family that you don’t want to leave. But take the opportunity now if you are an educated professional who can get a good paying job in another country. I imagine it will become more difficult in the future to move abroad as countries that have their sh*t together won’t want to let in riffraff from other countries, and that includes riffraff from the USA.

  6. Ché Pasa

    Ian, how stable is Toronto over the medium term? From down here in the Lower Forty-Eight, Canada — all of Canada but the rainforests of the Pacific — seems like near-paradise. Your Government still sort-of works. Your oligarchs and their goons are only savages toward the First Nations (pity, that), and despite their extensive environmental destruction, there is so much there (to exploit or not) and there are so few people that society’s survival for most Canadians over the medium term — say till 2100 or so — seems assured.

    Not unlike the case with the squillionaires’ bolt holes in the upper Rockies of the US and “Sainted New Zealand” (heh) across the wide open sea. They aren’t going to make it to Mars, that’s for sure. Doubt even one of them will make it to orbit at this rate.

    The escape routes are closing down, though.

    Out here in the wilderness of New Mexico, at the end of some of the supply chains, we’re experiencing slow but steady shutting down of various vital (well…) services. Like the local pharmacy that closed suddenly last November. Rumor has it, it closed because of the Rapture. It was run by strict constructionist evangelicals who — according to rumour — were called by their Divinity to take heed and take cover. The End Times are here. I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but that’s what I’m hearing.

    It wouldn’t be the first or only case of its kind.

    Water is still our main concern out here. So long as the pumps keep going — ie: so long as there is electricity — we should be OK. So long as there is rain and snow on the mountains, the aquifer gets recharged. Climate change may result in more rain and snow. Or less. It’s not clear yet. There are farms, there are ranches. Food is still available at the grocery store, and when it’s not — which most of us expect to be the case within the next five to ten years — we can and will fall back on what’s grown and raised locally. There are few enough people in this area (at least for now) to make that a viable option. If there’s a sudden inundation of urban refugees, however… all bets are off.

    Internet may not be viable for the medium-long term. Then what? Many places will be essentially cut off from the www. Cell phones might not work, either. Then what? We’ve become so dependent on these things. What happens when they don’t work anymore?

    We have a land-line, but the truth is, it’s less reliable than our cell phones. So. We expect to have to revert to The Way It Was prior. We even stocked away a couple of manual typewriters!

    One of the things that’s being considered by the radicals around here (actually, most are perfectly normal…) is to Stop Paying. This came up during the GFC and it’s come up again. Most of us are in debt, and that debt is a crushing burden on some/many. So. Stop Paying. What are they going to do? What, really, can they do when push comes to shove? If enough of us Stop Paying, the answer is effectively: nothing. They can try, of course, but in the end, they lose.

    Like the Big Quit — which is effectively a slow-moving General Strike — Stop Paying becomes a squeeze on the Overclass. One of several mechanisms available to the masses. There are more.

    Keep your spirits up. It ain’t over till it’s over.

  7. Mary Bennett

    Americans don’t transplant very well. I take your point about the corrupt leadership, but, right now, most of those touting themselves as replacements for the current leadership are both corrupt and stupid. The far left is still living in its’ Marxist fantasyland. This faction, through its’ allies in the media and the academy, has been trying to push Marxist ideology on us for nearly a hundred years now without success. Meanwhile the MAGA crowd simply needs to grow up. No, guys, emotional maturity that stopped at puberty is NOT attractive and NOT OK. “Jesus might love you, but I don’t.” Us grownups, boring, I know, have real lives and real responsibilities, and no time or patience for your whining.

  8. John

    The US government tried unsuccessfully to kill me in the fall of 1968 when I got my draft notice for the Army. Through luck and privilege I avoided death at that time. I did not avoid the Army, just the killing fields. Never have forgotten that.
    My degree in German led me to a fairly good knowledge of what happened there in the first half of the 20th Century.
    I recently have encountered Post Doom videos by Michael Dowd. His many discussions about the predicament of collapse have been very helpful. There really is no escape from the consequences of Carbon 450 or 500 and above.
    He acknowledges that most people don’t want to hear about it. Calls the denial adaptive inattention.
    Yes, our government and capitalism is killing us. The killing is just not evenly distributed yet…to paraphrase William Gibson.
    I remember the old soul song of my youth, Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide, baby by Martha and the Vandellas.
    More true today than ever before.

  9. Astrid

    I’ll be radical and in the future make all major life decisions based on astrology. Billionaires are the only radicals left in the system and they believe in astrology and fat less rigorous nonsense (transhumanism).

    My astrology minded friend tells me that were all doomed once Pluto returns on February 22, 2022. So one should plan for a Covid superspreader orgy/dinner party/children’s play date 1-3 days before that for maximum enjoyment and good health.

  10. DMC

    I lived in the Czech Republic for 7 years, ending about 5 years ago. If you have English as a second language certification, you stand a pretty reasonable chance of getting a job there. The pay isn’t much but the cost of living is really low. And if you have even a little income in dollars, you can get by in relative comfort.

  11. different clue

    At a population of 350 million plus, most Americans can’t get out. Number one, where are 350 million plus Americans even going to fit?

    And most Americans don’t have transferrable skills or money which any not-America country doesn’t already have its own self.

    So ” get out of America” was never going to apply to more than a hundred thousand or so ultra-transferrable Americans anyway. The rest are here for the duration regardless . . . unless you mean the mass-movement of starving refugees from America and Mexico and Central America and the Caribbean into Canada. That would be so many refugees that Canada would run out of machine gun bullets before the rest of us ran out of refugees. If that is what you mean by “leave”, that will happen in the fullness of time. But that will involve Mexicans and Central Americans and Caribbeans ( and everybody from the “old world” sneaking into America in order to join the refugee surge). Not just Americans. And that won’t happen till End Game Time.

    In the meantime, those 100,000 or so self-removable Americans who failed to self-remove may have made a bad choice. Darwin may take them.

    As to the rest of us, there are two sides: change-seekers and change-stoppers. Either neither side will ever quite defeat the other, in which case the American future is just an ever worsening version of the American present . . . . until End Game Time.
    If one side can march to victory on a road of the other side’s bones, with precisely zero individuals from the other side permitted to remain physically alive, then America will change one basic way or the other, depending on which side wins the war of Survival for One Side through Extinction of the Other Side.

  12. Ché Pasa

    As DC says, “getting out” of America is not an option for most of us, and even if it were, what would it mean? Invading Canada, right? Just like we’re told the Brown Hordes are invading the USofA from the south. Or the Saracen refugees are filling up the empty spaces in Europe.

    Instead, we’re seeing movement away from current or potential urban disaster areas into some of the emptier rural areas. This has been going on for a long time, but it really accelerated during the early months of the pandemic. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t stopped. But a complication is that the oligarchs are buying up as much property in flyover country as they can get their hands on, thwarting some of the initial enthusiasm for de-urbanizing ourselves.

    Realistically, most urbanites and suburbanites can’t leave where they are, either. Stuck.

    The radical activists right here and now are almost all members of the white petit bourgeoisie. Let’s understand this is a very small minority of USAians, and it’s largely a creation of recent times, primarily since the onset of the Reagan era accelerating with Clinton’s de-industrialization and Bush-the-lesser’s “Ownership Society.” That’s who our radicals are. They may be deeply ignorant, but they are not uneducated. They may pretend to personal wealth but they are deeply in debt and beholden to their bankers (much like farmers have always been). They may run their own businesses, but often not well, partly because of the demands of their lenders. Many tens of thousands of their businesses were eliminated or gobbled up by the Overclass during the pretend “lockdowns” that they and many others whine about. From appearances and affect, that was the real purpose of the “lockdowns” in any case, not control of the virus — which obviously is not under control and likely won’t be.

    The various payments made to members of the bourgeoisie and the underclass were sometimes used to buy drugs, guns and ammunition — how about that — rather than to put food on the table and such like. Some of those payments paid for a trip to DC on January 6 for “wild times.” You think any payment like that will ever go out again, no matter how bad conditions get? Not on your life. Not even for the children.

    The ratchet is tightening on the lower orders. And it’s not going to let up. Long past time for a spanner in the works, no?

    But as the old song says, “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”

  13. Oregoncharles

    ” (You can be for markets, and against capitalism, weirdly, though it’s rare.)”
    Maybe not so rare, since this would include Richard Wolff, worker-ownership socialists.
    Here’s how it works:

    Markets and capitalism are not the same thing; they aren’t even the same KIND of thing. Capitalism is a form of OWNERSHIP, in which ownership and control are separate from the people operating the enterprise. Some of them may be owners, but they would still be in control even if not. Since it’s designed to concentrate power in private hands, it’s rather like feudalism, which it grew out of. Another way to define it is the wage relationship; I think that’s equivalent.

    Markets, on the other hand, have little to do with ownership; they’re feedback systems that serve (when they function properly) to coordinate the various parts of the economy (people, enterprises, etc.) via prices. . They have requirements: e.g., the units have to be small in relation to the market (otherwise you get monopolies), information has to be fairly evenly available (one reason there can’t be a market in healthcare), and someone has to enforce contracts and create money.

    Imagine for a moment that our economy is based on worker-controlled enterprises (hence, not capitalist); how do you coordinate them? The Soviets tried using a central bureaucracy to make the decisions; turns out that’s a lot like feudalism, too. The bureaucrats are not the workers. And on the other hand, capitalism concentrates power, leading very quickly to monopolies and cancelling markets, as we experience.

    Of course, all that is pretty visionary; it isn’t at all clear how we get there from here. But it isn’t all that weird, or uncommon; the US Green Party has endorsed it.

  14. Oregoncharles

    Oops, I scrambled a sentence: “Some of them may be owners, but they would still be in control even if not. ” should be:’
    Some of the owners may also be workers, but they would still be in control even if not. Control and production are separable.

  15. bruce wilder

    “Radical” implies advocacy about “root” or fundamental matters relating to the political, economic and social systems in which humans are deeply embedded.

    I will not comment on the psychological challenges, but I believe the cognitive challenges overawe most of us and rightly so. “Its complicated” is an excuse by those who perhaps do not really care, but is also always true about most things, which none of us fully understand. Cautious, incremental reforms may seem safer than destabilizing systemic change for good reason.

    I do not think the advocates of Monty Python socialism understand much at all. Theirs isn’t radicalism so much as despair.

  16. Ian Welsh

    Cautious changes may seem wiser WHEN your current system isn’t driving the world towards ecological collapse.

    At that point, modest changes to the current system are insanity.

  17. bruce. wilder

    with the current system driving the world towards ecological collapse, modest changes to the current system are insanity

    certainly, changes insufficient to stave off ecological collapse or simply irrelevant to the case constitute a kind of collective insanity.

    my own view of what is necessary is radical and fundamental: i think humans would have to collectively radically reduce the use of all energy, not just “fossil fuels”, but everything because every use of energy produces waste and a key fundamental problem is that the capacity of earth’s natural systems to assimilate waste is seriously overtaxed. it follows from this insight (if that’s what it is), that radical and aggressive measures of energy conservation of all kinds are urgent and should be the highest priority to imagine, devise and implement.

    in light of this specific understanding of what is required, it follows that the organization of the political economy will have to be radically re-organized to accomplish the radical reduction of all energy use.

    all I am adding to the argument here is that there is a strong tension between cognitive insufficiency and psychological denial.

    cognitive clarity and truth-telling are the only antidotes i can imagine to psychological denial.

    there are some really big obstacles to cognitive clarity — the vast majority of people have very little idea of how the economy is architected and organized as it is, let alone how it could be re-structured to accomplish a radical reduction in energy use. some of the heuristics — “a world made by hand” steampunk or faith in the power of cheap solar panels, as examples, are not very helpful. i have tried to read the IPCC reports as they have been issued and the economics in them are so stupid and unhelpful that it makes me want to puke. the whole world ought to be engaged right now in thinking thru how we reduce the human impact on the natural world — and not just making feel-good gestures in that general direction but making coordinated efforts to reach necessary thresholds.

    as you say, there are no lifeboats. there’s no where to flee, no effective escape. and, the stupid continues.

    it is not as if the lying and the stupid doesn’t dominate every other aspect of American and global politics. maybe if we could get over our dependency issues, we could get past the stupid — I don’t know. still, i think the effort to overcome the stupid is as good a strategic play as we have: first, overcome the stupid, then the lying, and then confront the fear and anxiety

  18. bruce wilder

    the thing is, having figured out that energy conservation — policies to majorly reduce all energy use by human civilization and reduce energy use by huge increments in the near-term and constrain energy use in the very long-term — look around at the discourse on the challenges posed by climate change and see how much of that discourse recognizes this basic, foundational or root necessity.

    here is a root necessity, the sine qua non for an effective radicalism, where a radical approach is absolutely required to avoid catastrophe. maybe not the only such in the circumstances, and not perfectly framed for all seasons and dialects — i not arguing for dogma — but here is a root necessity and who “gets it”? how many “get it”?

    i see a great many well-intentioned analyses of the economic problem or policy challenges of climate change and impending ecological collapse that specifically concern energy policy and energy transition to reduce greenhouse emissions and mitigate climate change, and in these analyses of energy production and use, the possibility of reducing energy use is not even a considered option.

    that is some galactic league stupid, that is. and that is before even addressing the failure of the well-intentioned to see that climate change, ecological collapse and resource depletion as one, big problem. or, the problem of the discourse contributions by the sociopaths in politics. and all the problems of misdirected and ill-conceived radicalism that pile up next to paralyzing moderation blocking the path to collective action to avoid catastrophic consequences of . . . blindly doing what we do and letting it add up

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