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

Why I Rarely Care About The Events Of the Day

There are two forces in history.

The first is weight. Or mass. Or trajectory. The unstoppable force. The US overtaking Britain as the premier industrial power. The two continental powers, Russia and the US, dividing Europe between them, an ancient pattern. Then the US outlasting the USSR because the US’s alliance had more people and resources and better geography.

The rise of China. The inexorable march of global warming and ecological collapse. The financialization and hollowing of a hegemonic power which always follows the decision to do free trade seriously

The second is human decision making at crisis points. Think the Cuban Missile Crisis. There were powerful men in the US who wanted to strike Cuba or Russian ships. If they had done so, there would almost certainly have been a nuclear exchange.

For the first eight or so years I was a blogger, I covered a lot of the “stories of day.” I still cover some, but mostly I use them to illustrate the mass/force/trajectory category.

This is why I don’t discuss the Ukraine war much. I said, day one, that Russia would win, and it is. It was also obvious that anti-Russia sanctions wouldn’t work, because China wouldn’t let Russia be choked out, and China has almost everything Russia needs. The Chinese aren’t, mostly, stupid about such things.

Sometimes a decision by an idiot makes force stronger: Trump and Biden’s chip sanctions on China just sped up the China’s tech climb, for example. Sheer stupidity.

Right now we have a situation in the Middle East where two idiots are putting us in danger of a major regional, or even world war: Netanyahu and Biden. Netanyahu knows Israel is weak and has lost deterrence. Biden won’t restrain him, though he has the power to do so. If a regional war breaks out, even if Israel and the US “win”, they’ll lose, because the US cannot defeat Iran without catastrophic losses or the use of Israeli nukes.

That’s a “human decision at crisis points” situation. Iran is doing most of what it can to avoid a regional conflagaration, but if they hadn’t responded to the embassy attack, nowhere would be safe for them. But Israel wants to draw America in, and Biden, so far, doesn’t seem to be doing enough to stop them.

“The air is thin at the top” means that people at the pinnacle of powerful organizations actually have a lot of power and leeway to do what they want. For a long time liberals argued against this, stating that the President was powerless. No. The President was powerful, there was just a consensus about what to do and the US was powerful enough to, up to a point, “make its own reality.” Not completely: they couldn’t pacify Iraq, for example, or, heck, Vietnam. But they could make a hell of a noise and kill a ton of people and suffer very few consequences. Bush is just fine, thanks.

The key question in “humans making decision at crisis points” right now is whether there’s a great power war during this transition between lead powers. China is on the way up, and America on the way down. China will be the most powerful nation in the world. In some ways it already is. The European/American/Anglo era is ending. The Africans are kicking America and France out, for example. They don’t have to put up with AmeriEuro bullshit any more, because what they need they can get from China, and what they need militarily, they can get from Russia. The prices are better, and the political interference is a lot less.

Mass/Force/Trajectory. Someone was going to wind up ruling Rome as Emperor. Could have been Sulla. Could have been Pompey. Sort of was Caesar (Antony and Octavian used his legacy and troops in their fight, and Octavian won by a whisker. He should have lost the key naval battle.)

As the Roman Emperor hollowed out, it was clear the West would fall. Just a question of when and the specifics, but that it would happen wasn’t in question. When the Europeans hit the Industrial revolution, they conquered about 80% of the world and had the rest under their thumb. A few brilliant men kept the Eastern Roman Empire going (decisions when mass/force is not sure.)


Climate change is happening, will happen and will suck beyond most people’s conceptions. There will be civilization collapse. There will be real famines. There will be massive lack of water. This isn’t in question, we’re just dealing with the specifics. Some regions will do somewhat better than others, so will some groups, but the macro isn’t in doubt.

The reason I get most things right is that I’ve learned (mostly, I still mess up sometimes) to predict sure things. Ukraine cannot win against Russia if sanctions don’t work, and China won’t let sanctions work. Some people follow the war obsessively, day by day. They do good work, and I read some of it, but mostly I don’t care because it’s just the details of an inevitability.

This blog and my writing is mostly about the mass/force/trajectory side of issues. A secondary piece is trying to advise people so they can make good decisions based on knowing what’s coming. The other theme is trying to create the bones of an ideology which will allow humanity to make better decisions in the future: to become a “conscious civilization” able to make rational choices rather than simply being pawns to social forces that civilization creates but so far has been unable to control.

If you’re a regular reader it’s because your interested in those three questions: what’s going to happen, how to adapt, and how (perhaps) to do better in the future.

I feel I write too much of the first and not enough of the third, though I’ve made huge efforts on the “how to do better” issue: with the biggest flurry of articles around 2012 to 2014. I may re-post some of those, since they still stand.

Thanks for going on this journey with me. It mostly sucks, but I’ve always believed it’s better to face unpleasant truths than walk blindfolded into the future.

And while we’re past the point where we will avoid the worst scenarios (except, hopefully, nuclear war), I do still retain some hope that humanity may find better ways in the future.

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China Builds A Temporary Bridge In Seven Days: Baltimore Will Take Years To Rebuild Theirs


Open Thread


  1. marku52

    Been following you for years. Thanks again. I’ll keep following as we learn to “dance among the ruins….”

  2. Willy

    Where I got the situation in Ukraine wrong, was that I’d thought Putin would complete the ‘conquer phase’ nearly as quickly as did the USA in Afghanistan, and that it would be the years-long occupational drain which would do Putin in. Since I was wrong, I’ve had to admit to myself that I’d missed some important variables. It’s the ‘self-admission part’ which is hardest for most recliner thinkers to do.

    It’s possible that The Thinker pose is the one which really does inspire the best theories. The recliner can get so comfy that one tends to fall asleep.

  3. I very much appreciate the writing you do!
    We in North America are on the cusp of ecological disaster. Loss of aquifers and topsoil are going to severely impact food production. The potential for long lasting rain storms and oppressive heat domes due to a weakening Jet Stream are on our horizon. Sea level rise and salt water intrusion into ground water is yet another probable calamity.
    Hand waving and rolling out more electric vehicles will not solve these coming dilemmas.
    And the long term knock on effects of COVID? I fear that COVID can impact judgement. Some of the previously infected are entrusted with nuclear arsenals.
    Good times are ahead …

  4. bruce wilder

    “The air is thin at the top” means that people at the pinnacle of powerful organizations actually have a lot of power and leeway to do what they want.

    But, they face the consequences of a distinct shortage of oxygen! Is that what you meant to say?

    The power of the apex of a pyramid depends on being able to hand out abstract imperatives and have them translated into more concrete, specific action further down the hierarchy. Lots of architectural design and training necessary as a pre-requisite to that.

    Bush, Jr occupying Iraq was Dunning-Krueger all the way down. No one on any level had any idea what they were doing (except Halliburton and Bechtel, who were just stealing). It is a very hollow sort of “power”, but corruption and incompetence are something to which hierarchies are prone as they grow and grow older. And, yet, that’s how we organize civilization in the Industrial Revolution after 1880 or so.

  5. Mark Level

    I think your focus remains relevant, so I continue to follow you in my top 8-10.

    Once in awhile you are wrong, even very wrong on an individual call. A somewhat recent example was the “Pentagon is about to ramp up a draft” piece, which I was far from the only one to call your error on.

    I think your Mass/Force/Trajectory formula is a good lens. It can be applied both sociologically & historically among other ways obviously.

    You made me think about why I am watching the news so constantly, esp. since last October. Part of it is that morbid urge when you’re passing a car crash. Additionally, I think that I’m just so stunned at the Normie majority’s lack of awareness that 100% of every message coming from the top is pure lies, crafted to destroy the audience.

    It reminds me of Network, the shock jock yelling “I’m mad as hell & I’m not gonna take it anymore!” & getting a huge audience . . . but that movie came out in the 70s when I was a youngster, & 5 decades later the Normies continue to sleep the slumber of learned helplessness & indifference, as environmental apocalypse & world war seem to approach. Trump is a bit like the screaming newscaster but 89% incoherent (being kind, it may be much higher), a bizarro world version.

    I can only conclude that even though many of us tried to do as Nietzsche & others did & evolve into something beyond a hedonic simian, we are too few & it made virtually no difference, if any.

  6. Sub-Boreal

    Good points, Ian.

    Back in the days of paper newspapers, I got in the habit of flipping past the front page, and spending most of my time on the business pages.

    Why ignore the front page? Well, it would always be dominated by events that were either (1) totally ephemeral (“Politician Says Something Stupid!”) or (2) the latest manifestation of locked-in relationships that wouldn’t change for decades / centuries / millennia (“Something Blows Up in the Middle East!”).

    OTOH, if you used a careful filter, the highest fact content could be found in the business pages, particularly if you concentrated on stories which had some connection to material realities that would influence pocketbooks. I’m thinking of, for example, the way that insurance companies have provided the most realistic accounting of the costs and risks of climate change and the COVID19 pandemic. This could also be a good place to see what our overlords were saying to each other when they thought that nobody else was paying attention.

  7. VietnamVet

    ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.’ Except they couldn’t do it in the Bush II Administration and absolutely can’t now. The Empire is falling but the Elite Profiteers cannot admit it; no more than the mercenary US military will withdraw its soldiers and contractors from Syria, Iraq or Niger. However, they will skedaddle once their pay stops.

    Donald Trump is one faction of the top 1% — a nationalist American plutocrat. The Empire (the Davos globalists, Praetorian Guard Military and Senior Executives) must jail him or the Empire splinters apart. Everyone else below them exists simply to be exploited and are literally worthless — debt slaves in the new Antebellum America. Europe is de-industrializing without cheap Russian natural gas. Migrants are being imported to replace those too ill to work. In the last month, two of my few outside contacts were with plumbers and a dental assistant who speak Spanish (that I do not understand) so we spoke in broken English.

    Still, it will take a huge external event to push the system over the edge. Right now, it is the spreading closures of global shipping choke points. The Iran Israel War is on a razor’s edge. Evil has been unleashed on the world. 6% of Iran’s ballistic missiles made it through the defense grid. Does Israel believe the 99% propaganda or that Iran can still destroy Israel with conventional multiple maneuverable warheads that costs a billion dollars to defend against with each salvo fired? How will Israel respond? Behind the curtain, Jake Sullivan and Antony Blinken are fighting the already lost battle to remain the global hegemon and prevent the victory of the Axis of Resistance. Either there is a regional nuclear war or there is an armistice and a nation for Palestine behind an effective UN guaranteed DMZ.

    The loss of Middle East petroleum to the West and the resulting gasoline lines will trigger the end. Once social security and pensions are no longer deposited and with hyperinflation, those who have nothing left to lose will overthrow the existing order. Only good government, equality, planning, sharing, and empathy can prevent pollution, famine and illness ultimately overwhelming the earth even if a Nuclear Apocalypse is somehow avoided.

  8. Ian Welsh


    I didn’t say the would be in weeks or months so it’s too early to say I’m wrong about a draft in the US. That’s also not a 90%+ prediction. Still, I think it’s more likely than not.

    Not, of course, that I couldn’t be wrong about it. We’ll see.

    Also it’s a split situation: part of it is weight, but it’ll only be absolutely necessary if the US is determined to get into a great power war. In which case it will be absolutely necessary.

  9. Coops

    I’m wondering how likely it is that a bunch of Bilderberg / Davos / Trilateral commision types decide that a nice little nuclear war, with a nice little nuclear winter after it, is the best wayo to geoengineer our way out of climate change.

  10. Mark Level

    Ian, thanks for responding.

    I’ll quote VietnamVet that Antony Blinken & Jake Sullivan cannot keep the Humpty-Dumpty Empire from cracking apart. I think it would be great if they got desperate enough to attempt a draft. It would make the plebs revolt, only the most insanely right wing would support shipping their children off to die fighting in Syria, Israel, Taiwan or wherever. It would just hasten the fall.

    As a previous post of mine noted, Biden’s latest budget proposal is over 2/3 military, & less than 1/3 for basic infrastructure & social services. Nearly all is going for guns already, next to nothing for butter.

    When an empire gets to this point at some crux moment they lose the basic faith everyone (lazy) maintains for the system & it implodes, so people break away to the margins. Currently the margins are either open fascism (the Trumpers) of the lefty stuff that has been my values since my mid-teens & is (per polling) now very popular with everyone under 35 or so who has to work a crappy job that allows them to survive only if they live with mom or dad, or suffer under crippling college debts (thanks President Joe!) that they’ll maybe pay off in their early 50s if they’re “successful”. This is untenable.

    Nobody but the most abject peasant-slaves will “sacrifice” (esp. to the point of risking their lives) for regimes of this type, so being forced into fighting wars is a non-starter. Additionally you know as well as I do that Barron Trump & people at that level won’t be forced to fight those wars which will further deflate general confidence and the barely existent support for the status quo.

    The comfortable, affluent, mainly but not exclusively white PMC will be the only group supporting the eternal war state. But their numbers are declining also.

    Your recent piece on the end of the US Hegemonic Empire was superb, that’s where we are at, the “band-aid” of a war draft would just widen the gaping wound that is voter disillusionment & anger. I cannot know what straw will break the camel’s back, though I think the usual Crash/Recession we get during Pres. election years later this summer or fall will push things further that way.

    It’s true that in the electoral realm of our faux democracy there are no credible alternatives, the people who I support (e.g. Jill Stein, the Greens of DSA) get something like 2-4% of the vote so there’s no meaningful opposition. But the current situation is untenable & it will break, sooner or later.

  11. Jan Wiklund

    Though I think, like Daniel Kahnemann, that people won’t learn to make better decisions. They are just too much wish-thinkers, biased by ideology and false assumptions.

    At least, it is a cyclical phenomenon. The West did better decisions between 1945 and 1975 (except, of course, the stupid reliance on cheap oil) than it has done since. But even civilizations grow old and senile, in this case because capitalist grow into rentiers, with such a thick padding of money between themselves and the world that they don’t need to know how it works. Take away the rentierization process, and perhaps decisions will be better…

  12. Chris West

    I’m pretty sure that it’s possible to create a conscious society, but it can’t be any bigger than Dunbar’s number. A global, or hell, even a continental or national society can’t achieve that kind of direction or cohesion without manipulative social constructs and general coercion. Guess I’ll see you in the funny papers.

  13. Bill R

    Thank you for your thoughtfulness and the calm way you make your assessment. I would very much like to see your posts from 2012 to 2014 that you mentioned.

  14. Mary Bennet

    Mr. Welch, I do very much appreciate and respect your writing, but there are points in this essay with which I must respectfully disagree. I think there are many, I would say influences in human history, not just two. Furthermore, it is easy for a Canadian not to worry much about Ukraine; your government has not been colonized by a resentful Mittel European diaspora out for revenge against Russia the hated enemy. At this point, shouting at the top of our online lungs that We Don’t Want This is about the only play us ordinary citizens have left. Demonstrations are no longer effective because a bought and paid for media won’t report them, and the governing classes have learned how to insert their paid agitators to perform acts of violence which discredit the entire project.

    Biden cannot ” stop” Netanyahoo, nothing short of assassination can stop that madman. Biden’s donors and handlers won’t stand for that, much as they themselves might like to be rid of him.

  15. someofparts

    I guess my regard for the writing you do is clear from the fact that I have visited this site every day for decades.

    In my corner of the material world being smug and clueless is universal. There isn’t a living soul in my circle that could participate in comments here if their lives depended on it … which they kind of do, come to think of it … but no matter.

    This site isn’t mere recreation for me, it is a lifeline.

  16. different clue

    Canada does have a Ukrainian Diaspora, though I don’t know how big it is. But it might qualify as a vengeful hater of Russia. ( I remember once one of the Canadian Provinces had a Premier named Roy Romano, which I thought was a Ukrainian name, but I could have been wrong about that.)

    I think one sign to watch for of a ” delamination of the mind” at work in the US would be if one or more states were to form and start building up a State Guard, which would function sort of like the National Guard, but not in the least supported by the FedGov and not in the least subject to FedGov call-up. Also, if more bunches of States start forming interstate compacts to work on region-specific problems which not all States share. Somewhat in the spirit of the Great Lakes Compact.
    If America starts seriously delaminating, the Great Lakes Compact States could become a United States of Great Lakestan, or the Free Lakestan Republic, or some such thing.

    And what if West Virginia changed its name to Appalachia? The Great State of Appalachia. And what if the State of Appalachia invited any county in other Appalachian States which shared a border with the Great State of Appalachia . . . to seccede from their current State and join the Great State of Appalachia? Thinking big now . . . what if all the hilly mountain states and/or regions in the Eastern USA became part of the Great State of Appalachia? In the event of a delamination and a breakup of the US as we now know it, the State of Appalachia could become the Republic of Appalachia.

    The State Motto could be Appalachia! A Madagascar of the Mind. All the border signs could say . . . Welcome to Appalachia: America’s Tibet.

    What happens if/when enough Americans decide that ” America doesn’t work anymore. Its an idea whose time is gone. It was nice while it lasted.”

  17. mago

    As Randy Newman observed back in the 80’s, “it’s lonely at the top”.

    Of course he also sang about short people and LA and you can take your clothes off but leave your hat on.

    A few might get those references, but no matter.

    Randy couldn’t get away with that shit nowadays, except maybe for the lonely at the top song, because there’s lots of self pity among the self anointed.

  18. Ian Welsh

    Still a strong cultural value that one should not say they are good at something. Nowhere near as strong as in Nordic countries, though.

  19. different clue

    I first found out about this site from Riverdaughter’s The Confluence. That was quite a few years ago.

    I began reading this site and found some things I did not agree with at all. But it occurred to me that I could either come here seeking validation and not getting it, or I could come here seeking information and brain challenges.

    I am grateful for the decision to pre-moderate every comment before allowing it or not. That is what Colonel Lang always did at his blog, and The Twisted Genius continues to do it that way. It makes for a better quality comments section). I would note that Ian Welsh is a lot more permissive than many premoderated blogs about letting comments in as long as they follow basic rules of politeness. ( And one has to be pretty impolite to have a comment not published.) It wasn’t until two commenters started demanding that Ian Welsh write things to validate their views on certain things and stuff that one was told that he would get no validation here, and the other was allowed to quietly figure it out and noisily self-remove himself. I only remember one person actually being banned, and that was someone called “Peter” after he wrote a backed-up flooding toilet of a comment.

    Someone who often gets it right is worth reading or listening too, whether they offer a sense of validation or not. I have not done a detailed study of Beau of the Fifth Column’s predictions to know how many or what percent he has gotten right. I know that some people have felt severely disvalidated and let down by his support for the Ukraine side in the Ukraine-Russia War. But I continue to find a few of his videos interesting to watch/hear within my fairly hard screen-time access limits. For example, here is an interesting one speculating and just barely if-then predicting about how Speaker Johnson’s little difficulty with the MAGAnon Caucus within his own Party will work out. In that spirit I offer the link to it. Anyone who does not want to hear it can just not-click the link.

    ( By the way, if anyone dares me to produce even one, just one, Beau video that I dislike and reject, I am prepared to find and offer a link to that one, and say why I dislike and reject it).

  20. Ian Welsh

    I think I’ve banned 8 or 9 people total in the fifteen years of this blog’s existence, though to be fair most of those have been in the last five years. When I started moderating some people left who weren’t banned because so many of their comments weren’t getting thru, but nowadays most posts don’t have any comments requiring moderation–though again to be fair, there are less commenters and less comments.

    In large part that’s because the troll/ad-hom wagons don’t get going, and I think the overall quality of comments and commenters is way up. In the old days I barely even read my own comment section, now I do and I think most of the comments are worth reading.

    I try not to censor many comments: the main issue is ad-homs, secondarily naked racism and sexism and just being very nasty or extremely crude. There are a couple commenters I disagree with almost 100%, but as long as they are polite, I think it’s good to have them here.

    A lot of what we discuss here matters. People are being hurt, badly, and it’s natural that people will get worked up. I sure do sometimes.

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