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

Why Read or Write About the Grand Affairs of Humanity?

I’ve been thinking hard about why I write. It started as an attempt to fix the big things, by explaining what was wrong and how to fix them.

That didn’t work.

Really didn’t work. Almost 100 percent failure.

Unfortunately, much of my writing has continued in this mode: Explain the big wrong things. Didn’t work in the 00’s. Didn’t work in the 10’s. Unlikely to work in the 20s.

I’ve lost a lot of my heart for it. Explaining the world to people makes very little difference to the world, at least when I do it. Predicting trends and events years in advance, same.

So I’m going to change the emphasis of my writing. Oh, there’ll still be grand explainers, but I’m going to write them less with the hope that they’ll change the world, and more so that they help individuals and small groups navigate the world better. That way at least I’m more likely to help people

The big stuff is pretty much locked in now: We’ll see really bad climate change, we’re moving to a two-polar or multi-polar world, surveillance societies will be the norm until collapse, inequality will keep increasing in most countries, etc. Some is more locked in than other stuff; we could, in theory, reverse inequality (and we will, the question is when), but climate change is here to stay, and the international trade order is falling apart.

Back in 2000, when Bush v. Gore happened, my friend Stirling Newberry said, “We’re going to ride this bucket all the way down to hell.”

He was right.

But, as I emphasized yesterday, even in very bad times, some people are doing well, and others are doing better than they might have. Perhaps we’re unlikely to change the big picture, but more of us can change our picture and those of smaller groups.

Knowing how the world works, how governments, large corporations, and billionaires work, and knowing how non-human systems like the environment work, will be useful to those people. You may not be able to change the world (though keep trying if you want, someone will), but you can adapt better or worse to it.

This doesn’t mean I won’t keep writing the bigger pieces. I’ve spent most of my adult life building a world model of which I’m proud. It’s different in some ways from anyone else’s (this doesn’t mean better, though I hope it is better than most), and I want to get it out into the wild. My book “The Construction of Reality” is part of that (and stuck at the editor who is overwhelmed thanks to Covid-19), and there will be other books, long essays, and so on.

Maybe that world view will find an audience in the future or be useful to the future, maybe it won’t, but I want to give it a try.

But on the blog, I’m going to shift the emphasis in articles to not just what’s going to happen but why and try and pull out more of the reasoning so that readers can learn to do the analysis themselves, and can use it plan for and react to the world’s changes over the next few decades.

Things are going to be bad–really bad–for a lot of people. The time is past where most of that can be stopped, and the odds of stopping that which can still be stopped are, in most cases, small, and beyond the reach of individuals.

What is not beyond our reach is helping ourselves, those we care about, and–hopefully–some people beyond that circle.

And it’s in hope of that, and of a future where people and their leaders are willing to do the right things, the good things, that I am going to reorient my writing.

Be well.

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May 26th US Covid Stats


May 27th US Covid Data


  1. V

    I’ve been thinking hard about why I write. It started as an attempt to fix the big things, by explaining what was wrong and how to fix them.

    That didn’t work.

    Really didn’t work. Almost 100% failure.

    Unfortunately much of my writing has continued in this mode: explain the big wrong things. Didn’t work in the 00’s. Didn’t work in the 10’s. Unlikely to work in the 20s.

    I’ve lost a lot of my heart for it. Explaining the world to people makes very little difference to the world, at least when I do it. Predicting trends and events years in advance, same.

    You need to go back to the Tao…it all flows from there…

  2. Ed

    Honestly, I would love to read this shift. I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about the big things like climate change and going, “So how does that change my personal choices?” Most of the time, the answer is “I don’t have a clue.”

    It’s one thing to say we should push back against Neoliberalism or the elites. But I’m not a political activist and am not going to be anytime soon. Sure, I’ll vote and I’ll donate money and from time to time I’ll try to persuade people who are open to listening, but most people aren’t.

    So I’m left wondering whether to expand the vegetable garden, which helps on food security but takes water (and I live in Colorado, which will have water shortages as climate changes). Or how to teach my kids to be adaptable since “go to college, get a good job” isn’t really viable anymore.

    Looking forward to it.

  3. Krystyn Podgajski

    V, I had the same thought for Ian.

    Ian, I love watching your progress. It is easy to get caught up in people being attracted to your writing, but it only attracts people who know or will know. And there are so many more people who cannot know. This is why writing never changes the world. The Dao moves at its own pace.

    If you have a moment, take a look at this segment from “The Writings of Chuang Tzu”

  4. V

    Krystyn Podgajski

    Chuang Tzu, my favorite teacher…
    I’m reading, The Way of Chuang Tzu (Thomas Merton), for the tenth time, at least…
    Nice timing here…

  5. Ian:

    As someone who has followed your work for many years now and has had many discussions both online and offline with you, I would like to say something frank. I think you have very good goals and a very good model of the world, but it’s a good model in the sense of making a very good telescope and then attempting to see the stars by looking through it at the wrong end, which I think maybe explains at least a little bit of the cause of your frustration. Where I think you went wrong was that you confused your moral aims with the starting point of your analysis and attempted to reason people into feeling differently, paying attention to different things, and acting differently based on that moral analysis of world affairs.

    I’m convinced that the model of the world you’re using would have been more effective if you had looked through it from the perhaps less satisfying perspective of people’s emotional and cultural make-up, how people pay attention to the world, etc. Look through people as a natural object.

    I think you succumbed to a moral dualism about nature and people that is very common on the left — taking the idea of people as moral agents too literally. One of the neoliberal perspective on the world is precisely that they don’t do this — that’s why they can talk about “nudging” etc. and run circles around the left from the perspective of practical politics, whereas the present-day left can’t heap enough opprobrium on that way of approaching people and the world: a fatal weakness.

  6. Joan

    I look forward to this shift and what you write in the future. Your big picture perspectives have always been fascinating to me, even when I’m not 100% in agreement. Yours is one of the voices I think with, per se, so I am eager to see what you come up with in the months and years to come.

  7. Ian Welsh

    Sort of Mandos, but only sort of (I mean, I think you’re half right.) I did assume more moral agency than most people are capable of in the medium term because I did diagnose the problem as partially moral.

    But then so did Confucius and many other very effective reformers. I’m not sure it’s my model precisely, it’s my methods of change and putting too much weight on one person, myself plus trying to move the schedule forward. You can have a more or less correct model but you need leverage and timing, as well, and an understanding of the forces that produce change.

    I don’t give neoliberalism the credit you do, they are an ideology which has been in power for 40 years, and they are no more effective than other ideologies who were in power for similar periods. Once you seize power it’s easy enough to hold power for 40 years, almost everyone does. If they’re still in power in 25 years, then I’ll give them credit.

    The hegemonic ideology falls when it falls, and that has little to do with opposing ideologies, it just doesn’t work that way (unless they’re foreign and use an army). What happens is actually that they collapse as they decay and then there is a fight to see who replaces them.

    This is my actual long term perspective, but I ignored it, mainly because of climate change.

    That was foolish.

    I’ll write a longer piece on this later (aka. I won’t be discussing it at length in comments though I’m happy to chat about it w/you in other ways.)

  8. GlassHammer

    I 100% approve of the change in focus and look forward to the new content.

    I was getting very close to leaving the blog because the bad outcomes are locked in and although your narratives are correct (which is what got me on the site) I just couldn’t apply them, I couldn’t use them. And I need things to be of use, now more than ever.

    My neighbor just recieved his severance last Friday. He is an older guy with a very uphill battle for finding employment. I gave him some contacts I know just on the off chance they are hiring. And since he raises chickens I am paying him now for eggs because every little bit helps.

    The fire is getting closer Ian, I need to spend my time wisely.

  9. bruce wilder

    There’s this thing people do where they tell a story about the past, and the story makes sense and gives meaning to events and experience, and then they turn around to expect a story to predict or control the future. And, in a way, stories do control us, if not so much the outcome of events: culture consists of little else than the stories we tell to dress the rituals of social and political life.

    Most of us want to believe the story so badly that even when we know perfectly well that mechanics must be involved in determining the material outcome, we remain baffled when we witness a contradiction between the story told to distract us and the apparent result. A stage magician demonstrates this as a phenomenon to amuse us. A priest paints over the cycle of a fearful and fragile life with solemnity, while imploring faith in absurd stories.

    I don’t even want to say what an economist does with story. Or, an historian. Scientist? Hmmm. Science is a challenging case, because we want true stories of cause-and-effect, or at least that’s a story we tell about ourselves, seekers of truth and knowledge: science would seem to be replacing superstition, revealing the magician’s “secret”, and gaining actual technical control where we previously only dreamed — those are stories about science. Actual science?

    I flirted with an academic career in economics after an unaccomplished career in economics as a profession. It always irritated me that academic economists would so often insist that we were in the business of seeking explanations, which did not seem very scientific to me. The refusal to be critical of the stories economists sold as doctrine gave away the game in the end. But, I digress.

    And, then there’s politics. Politics is not only about stories. There are authority, rules, laws and institutions, not to mention distribution of power and goods. But contested storytelling is a big, central part of it and often seems to control the path politics takes and the outcomes it achieves. “Seems” is doing a lot of work in that sentence, which may be the case where ever story is doing a lot of work.

    I greatly valued Edmund S. Morgan’s Inventing the People for making the fictionalizing an explicit part of political history in a way that did not demand putting aside his reader’s critical faculties. The mastery that figures like Lincoln, FDR, or Churchill demonstrated at historical junctures came down in part to storytelling skill remembered as rhetorical bravado. I know an uncelebrated man who had a role in gay liberation who calls his deliberate sowing of rhetorical seeds over decades a kind of magic.

    I have witnessed in recent years the ability to foist increasingly absurd narratives into American politics from the “center” and the inability of what passes for the left to see or take responsibility for the consequences of their rhetoric. Something is wrong with our critical sense, that the stories we are offered can be of such poor quality and still find consumers. to be continued, no doubt

  10. anon

    Your blog won’t get as many hits as the bloviators writing for corporate “journalism” companies, but I assure you that you have made a more positive contribution to the world than they have. I have been reading your blog for over a decade, and have gained a lot of insight from your posts. I would welcome a shift from focusing on the bigger picture to advise on how your readers can survive the coming collapse of our societies, particularly in failed states like the USA. I also think that writing a few pieces tailored to young people – Millennials and Generation Z – would be good as they are going to be faced with unprecedented challenges going into middle age as they attempt to fix the mess made by their parents and grandparents.

    More and more I have been thinking about my individual needs in this crisis. I’ve done my part for over a decade, voting for leaders who seemed the most committed to fixing climate change and economic inequality without success. Now it is time to focus on what I can do to help myself and the people closest to me make the right investment, economic, and survival decisions. We can’t help everyone. We can’t help the people who partied on packed beaches and swimming pools on Memorial Day weekend. We can’t help people who don’t believe in climate change. Those people made their (very bad and selfish) choice. All we can do is help those who value their lives and the lives of their fellow humans, want help, and actively seek it.

    This morning I read this article: His writing is fairly accurate in what Americans will be faced with in the coming years. All I can do at this point is figure out what are the right decisions for me and my family to weather out the storm with a roof still over our heads.

  11. Willy

    Has there been much effort put into exploring how they do it? With “they” being the corporate persuaders. How do the persuaders coax common people into becoming so materialistically greedy that they’ll completely ignore their own religious strictures, the needs of their children, their own oncoming reality?

    If you’re like me, you consider yourself nothing special, just a regular guy. Yet you have to walk around all day through this idiocracy like some hapless Joe Bauers, feeling like nobody else cares or even knows. I feel like I’m constantly explaining simple things which I’d hoped that other people should easily figure out on their own.

    I think most people here are immune to corporate tactics. We aren’t addicted to shopping on Amazon. We don’t drive the latest dark colored SUV. We don’t sit through endless TV commercials waiting for our next few minutes of movie content to arrive. We know a crappy product when we see it, and a greedy, corrupt and stupid man posturing as some great world leader is painfully obvious to us.

    But if you’re like me, you have a hard time realizing that most people just are aren’t like us. They’re different.

  12. DMC


    “Manufacturing Consent” still relevant after all these years. Or Penn and Teller’s old show “Bullshit!” which was one long demonstration of how easy it is to fool people by a couple of guys who whole livelihood was fooling people.

  13. Dan

    I’d like to hear about all the mistakes you’ve made and all the predictions you’ve gotten wrong.

  14. krake

    “How do the persuaders coax common people into becoming so materialistically greedy that they’ll completely ignore their own religious strictures, the needs of their children, their own oncoming reality?”

    “They” don’t have to coax. All cultures are replicators. This isn’t an arcane premise, or an experiment in jargon.

    Try to bake your grandmother’s carrot herb bread recipe if she has not shown you how, has not recorded it, has not herself learned both the phonemes and the graphemes, the habits and techniques, the shortcuts and algorithms of gesture, articulation, posture and pause needed to retain, demonstrate and (very signigicantly) duplicate her efforts. Try to do so if you have not learned the same, and with enough overlap of grammar, meaning, technique that you are able to filter signal from noise, and to know both the difference, and the contexts which alter their relationship to each other.

    We are, because memory, adept replicators. And we produce robust replication machines (see esp. religion, music, food).

    What the poor and powerless lack isn’t morality, motivation or persuasion. It’s simply a deficit of means.

    Hence: seize the means of production…

  15. krake

    As for “materialistically greedy”: it’s not, I think, a sound premise. Without wading too deeply into the murky waters of philosophy, everything that we can see, use, touch, consume, know is “material”; one might argue this holds true for even thought, light and the void itself. We are all inescapably bound to matter, anyway. There’s no negating the needs this creates.

    Acquisition and desire are amoral. I doubt they are subject to abolition, at any rate. So, if we (whomever that turns out to be) are going to create (a) world(s) that don’t produce capitalist commodities and their captive end users, we have to make sure to stop judging, blaming and moralizing those end users. The rich feed off the capture, the labor, and the conflicts. They monetize and weaponize *everything*.

    Moral fervor and passion plays won’t, don’t and can’t stop them. And we do have to stop them. They are burning the world.

  16. darms

    long-time lurker here, very much appreciate your posts. I gave up on humanity quite some time ago so it’s only me & the missus, no kids & our family (total, all relatives, both sides) is quite small as well. Moved to small town, plenty of water, municipal utility, no fracking anywhere nearby. Temperate so a/c not req’d, locally sourced food available along w/fishing & such. West coast (not CA) so no ugly weather or fires. No debts, low profile, we’ll survive. And when we’re gone, game over. Let the trumpies have their world. They want to shit the bed, fine, let them (& their kids, grandkids, et. al.) lie/live in it…

  17. Ché Pasa


    Adam Curtis, “The Century of the Self” will show you how most Westerners are persuaded to be constant consumers. Or at least they were until the virus… Blame Bernays.

    Adam Curtis’s YouTube channel:

  18. Willy

    As for “materialistically greedy”: it’s not, I think, a sound premise.

    200,000 – 5000 BC: a bear skin, a few kids that live to adulthood, arrows and a share in a couple communal pots.

    1970’s: 1200 square foot home, 3+ kids, 1 station wagon, 1 TV, lots of board games.

    2010’s: 2600 square foot home, 2 kids, an SUV and a Honda Odyssey and a truck, 3 smart TVs, 4 smart phones and various devices.

    2050’s: a bear skin, a few kids that live to adulthood, arrows…

    I think everybody tries to maximize their life. But how much is too much? Me, I’m pretty satisfied with an old truck and some dated possessions including almost nothing trendy, but it seems like almost everybody around me is constantly bragging about their latest major purchases, very few of which seem practical to me.

    Isn’t this drive is used by whatever sociopathic PTB against the rest of us for all kinds of evil. I mean, I dont think that Genghis Khan only promised his fellow riders a little sightseeing.

  19. Willy

    Dan, the other Dan named Marino threw a lot of bad passes. But we don’t remember those so much now do we?

    Do you know somebody who we should be reading who’s right far more often?

  20. krake


    I’d argue that drives and desires have not substantially changed, for documented history. Pre-history is barely available to analysis, or penetration, Graeber and Scott notwithstanding. I’m wary about assumptions back-applied. Look how well retro-fitting Enlightenment historical models worked for pre-Columbian Amazonian and “Cahokian” societies (failed, spectacularly).

    What has changed are the extraction complexes, especially in terms of efficiency, scope and range. And these extraction regimes (in the West, this really began in earbest with Republican Rome, and Delian Athens before it) are hierarchies ruling/managing degrees of captive populations, with considerable set-asides for policing and disciplining their subject-clients.

    Placing the blame on commodity users fails, I believe, to properly assess responsibility – and the best response(s) to those who rule.

  21. marku52

    Long time reader, Thanks for all the words over the years. It does help to hear some one tell you that you aren’t nuts, the world really is going off the rails.

    Best wishes with whatever you choose to do.

  22. Hugh

    We are in a long struggle. We may not win, but that is no reason to give up. If nothing else, there is value in bearing witness.

  23. Willy

    @ Krake,
    Well, the commodity users, I do forgive them. For they know not what they do. But could somebody get me off this goddamned cross already?! They seem to mindlessly make the best of whatever opportunities are promised to them, even if the opportunities never happen or could ruin them in the end. Damned sheeple.

    As for extraction technicians, I do have a cousin who was a staunch Humphrey supporter as a kid, who now gives speeches as a guru of neoliberal style supply chain management. Her less aggressively temperamented siblings haven’t changed much though. Bernies according to their Facebook pages. How she herself changed, I dunno. Damned status jobs that pay well.

    People around here speak of the incompetency of our leadership caste. I’ve known a few who might fit that description. ESTJs they be. Fearless, driven, rational, traditional, tribal-minded, sometimes bullying, and often way out of their depth when it comes to complex problem solving. Their kind may not be heroically leading the tribes defense from wolves anymore, but the ones I know seem to have retained all that innate chutzpah. I find myself walking on eggshells around them, having to pay fake homage to their ‘superior’ abilities which are often not up to a lot of tasks in our complicated society. Damned stuffed shirts.

    Then there are the more intellectual of leaders, like the Clintons and Obamas, who are so (rationalizing?) in their positions that they’re blind to all the statistics. Maybe they have idealistically nutty and/or corrupt advisors, who wear so many merit badges that they’ll always have a job, somewhere. Or maybe these leaders just don’t care because they don’t have the ability. So it’s all a game for them, the only one they’re any good at. Players.

    I’d give all candidates for anything powerful all kinds of public tests for them to prove their abilities. We don’t let just anybody play in the NFL or drive a 797F, now do we? But then I remember that most people like candidates just because of the way they look or make them feel. The guy who can make everything better by raising their taxes usually makes them feel uncomfortable. It’s one less status toy they think they’ll get to buy, one less corporations think they’ll have to sell.

  24. Geoffrey Dewan

    Ian, thanks for all your efforts through the years. Your observations and “big picture” articles I’ve found profoundly helpful in that they’ve continued my lifelong goal of learning how think. It seems to me that every action, big or small, carries the weight of your entire life with it so whatever improves your own life is worth it…to life itself.
    I don’t expect to make big changes in the big world that comes to me but I do try my damndest to make my own actions add to what’s good in life.
    I’m reminded of the guy who went along the beach picking up starfish stranded by the outgoing tide and throwing them back in the ocean. Another person came along and said, “Whats the use of that? You can’t make a difference to these starfish.” and he replied, “I just did for that one”…
    So keep writing and I’ll keep sending money when I can. I always look forward to what you have to say no matter what it is.

  25. Willy

    I’d rather struggle, because it gives me a hobby that fits my personality better than going around playing pooter pranks. And dancing around saying “I told you so!” might be cathartic.

  26. Geoffrey Dewan

    Oh, and a shout out and Amen to Stirling. My personal date for the death of the American Republic has been December 12th, 2000 since it happened. It took me years to process that grief and, in fact, I’ll never get over it. Nor do I think I should.

  27. capelin

    Ian, “Yours is one of the voices I think with”, also. I’m guessing there’s anyways a hundred people like Joan and myself out and about. That’s a pretty good ripple, for starters.

    It’s also useful to think of “success” or lack thereof within context.

    Where would the world be now if there were no ongoing legions of people giving it a go because they care, but still “losing”. Damage control is winning, kinda. Sorta.

    Looking forward to your explorations.

  28. Ché Pasa

    Geoffrey is correct. 12/12/2000 is the date of the death of the US republic. I think most everybody knew it at the time, too. Ever since, the US government has been an empty shell, operating on automatic pilot, as one after another institutions we once relied on falter and fail.

    The outlines of the Empire are forming, but no one has yet arisen worth of the mantle and throne of Emperor. Thus, chaos reigns.

  29. bruce wilder

    December 12th, 2000

    I was a big fan of the Daily Howler in early days of political blogs. (Wikipedia says 1998!)

    I actually thought criticism mattered then. I believed in caution about the consequences of being foolish, collectively as well as individually.

    The left used to be conceited about having higher standards, morally and intellectually; they still have the conceit, but the standards went out the window a long time ago. I was shocked twenty years ago when people shrugged off having an election stolen with only the most cynical legal justification. Now, they want me to vote for a dementia patient — I am not at all confident that much more than half the votes claimed by him were actually cast.

    And, I am less shocked that the DNC would cynically steal an election than that they would be so feckless as to steal it for someone so clearly incapable of doing the job and not feel the least embarrassment.

    Talk about leaders NOT being willing to do the right things!

    That moral agency thing — whether ordinary people possess much moral agency — is a delicate thing. Even the “empathy” construct. I am a scrupulous person ethically, and sensitive to social expressions of emotion. But, I have known criminals and a couple of true psychopaths, who I only recognized because I was instructed by a sympathetic conman. People can have great empathy and use their empathy to manipulate, sell, defraud others. The idea that sociopaths lack empathy is foolish. And, I doubt that it has much relevance to leadership in hierarchical societies. Effective leaders in bureaucracies have enormous emotional intelligence; they have the talents of great novelists tracing out the dynamics of character and drama. The distinction between the sociopath, who may actually be more emotionally attuned to others and the psychopath who is fantasizing gruesome deeds or may just be angry and self-loathing can be vital. No small businessman who has had to operate a public restroom can be in any doubt that minor psychopathy is pretty common among the poor and working class and even middle class. Its expression might be vandalism rather than tax cuts, but there are lots of people who are not happy to go along to get along.

    What seems to me to have changed in my lifetime in American politics is the bedrock sense of self-governance, of being a participant in a community of shared responsibility. As government has become unresponsive to all but the very wealthy, the possibility of participating and the payoff has faded.

    I do not think it is entirely about television.

    There are a whole set of stories beloved on the left about what the Right did to build the neoliberal dystopia. But, the left lost interest in fighting for the working class against the rich, too. Adam Curtis, in one of his classic documentaries focuses on how New York City was brought to heel by Wall Street with a failed bond issue. The new left could not have cared less and socially progressive people were doing art criticism. Contempt for racists excluded essential elements of a coalition that could govern from anywhere below first percentile. The “deplorables” is a political strategy first and foremost.

    I wish Ian had won more battles. I appreciate that he was always committed to the truth. I wish Bernie Sanders had won more battles, too, and that he had stuck to the truth more.

    To me, in a world of uncertainty, seeking to tell the truth is more important than winning power. Preserving testimony to the truth is the most important thing to fight for.

  30. Zachary Smith

    My personal date for the death of the American Republic has been December 12th, 2000 since it happened.

    That was surely a big one, and I still haven’t gotten over it either. Another which I believe hit ME even harder was the realization that the US of A was going to invade Iraq on the basis a total pack of lies. Both parties were in on this up to their ears, and the event following so closely after Bush v. Gore made me finally realize I’d been living in a high-school civics fantasy world for my entire life.

    The US Elites don’t care what anybody thinks anymore, and the savage trampling of Sanders was the most recent example.

  31. dbk

    –The big stuff is pretty much locked in now–

    This is true, I fear, but that doesn’t mean that large-scale trends [and their smaller-scale, community-and-individual consequences] aren’t worth chronicling.

    As a newish reader (past couple of years), for me it’s been comforting to realize I’m not alone in my understanding of the Big Picture, even though I arrived at your basic conclusions via a very different path. You provide people who see things in a way similar to yours moral support, even if we don’t acknowledge this as often as we ought.

    I totally get the sense of frustration (maybe sadness, too?) that your work doesn’t appear to have had much influence, or at least as much as you’d hoped 20 years ago. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. It is.

  32. Hugh

    The death of the American republic has been going on for the last 40 to 50 years, depending on whether you want to date it from when the income share of the lower 80% peaked in 1969 or the first neoliberal salvos of the Carter years. I would note that Ross Perot prefigured Donald Trump, although as whacky as Perot was, he was still massively more substantial than Trump ever was. He nailed it on NAFTA, showed up the bankruptcy and unpopularity of the traditional duopoly, and kicked off the trend of minority Presidents, i.e. those who got less than 50% of the vote.

    Since then we have experienced a succession of events:

    Bush v. Gore
    The Iraq War
    The housing bubble going splat in 2007
    The financial meltdown of 2008
    The great healthcare debate of 2009
    The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf
    Trump’s election in 2016
    Obama’s coup against Sanders
    Add your own.

    I got into blogging because of the Iraq War. Until then I thought that there were still adults in the room, people who could constrain the lies and stupidity of those in power. But what the Iraq War brought home to me was there weren’t any. This is not to say that there aren’t people who know what is what and how to get things done. But they are marginalized. They not only don’t have a place at the table. They aren’t allowed anywhere near it, by anyone in power or either party. What the US has become about, and what Ian, myself, and others, have chronicled is how not to represent the people. And while we concentrate on the US, this is a global phenomenon that plays out in slightly different ways according to local history, religion, and custom.

  33. nihil obstet

    The single public event that signaled to me the end of the Republic was the mass pardons on Iran-Contra that Bush issued in 1992 and the failure of Clinton to prosecute Bush. By national and international law those toads were criminals. There had been plenty of criminality in U.S. government previously, brought to full flower under Nixon, but at least Nixon was ejected from the government. Ford’s pardon was wrong but one could argue that it was anti-climactic and affected only the head. Bush’s pardon effectively said, “We follow no laws and you are protected.” And then Clinton said, “Yep”. And then the Obama dismissed the entire criminality of the second Bush’s crimes with “We will look forward, not back”. Too bad we tortured some folks. And promoted the torturers.

  34. steeleweed

    There’s a reason Montaigne advocated tending one’s garden as the proper way to live. There is a place for “big picture” views but we don’t live intimately with the whole world on a day-to-day basis. Whether or not we “think globally”, we act/live locally. Joe Bageant was once criticized for bringing up “anecdotal evidence” and replied, “Most of us live anecdotal lives in an anecdotal world. We survive by our wits and observations. What we see happening to us and others around us is what we know as life, the on-the-ground stuff we must deal with or be dealt out of the game.” Humanity has not survived and achieved our current position because of competition but because of cooperation at the most basic levels – families, friends, local communities. Any culture-wide, nation-wide, world-wide mindset and practices have to start somewhere Lowering your aim may prove more valuable in the long run. Good luck.

  35. Willy

    Bruce, are you confusing empathy with observational skills? Both bird watchers and duck hunters are often good observers. Yet one admires and the other kills. I think the difference in behavior involves empathy, culture, and rationalization.

    Psychopathy is a subset of sociopathy. The latter is a behavior, the former is a born behavior which is considered incorrigible by the experts.

    Everybody has some psychopath inside of them, given the right circumstances. It’s the ‘drive for best survival’ instinct, which is usually held in check by innate empathic emotions and by environmental circumstance.

    For personal example, as a young adult I had a ‘pet’ garden slug which I enjoyed observing. I ate summertime dinners outside my rental home and I noticed that slug emerging every evening from its hidey hole. I’d throw a scrap of food like a watermelon rind near it to see how long it would take to detect it. I called it Sluggy. One day I found it squashed into the ground. My visiting cousin admitted to the murder of my slimy little friend, and a part of me loathed him for doing such a terrible thing. Years later, with a home and garden if my own, I was exasperated by all the slug damage I was experiencing and commenced to squashing them myself. I noticed that they’re cannibals and will eat the remains of their own kind, so I’d use the carcass piles as bait and would repeatedly go out to crush them. I felt pretty good about all the slug mass murder I was doing, to such a disgusting creature. I’d even cackle to myself about crushing them all and hearing the lamentations of their women-men. The exercising of personal power feels good. And mine wasn’t being held in check by empathy anymore, having been rationalized away.

    I’ve seen true psychopaths in the workplace. A true psychopath is born to enjoy creating chaos. It’s the common theme amongst them all. The smart ones never make it obvious because they know they’re so vastly outnumbered by normals, so they fake empathic displays. They care nothing about society or culture. But the socially successful ones have learned how to camouflage themselves by mimicking the behavior of their prey. Like a good duck hunter. The ones I knew in the office were also pretty good at changing office societies and cultures, to bring out the worst in people. Very bad apples they were, a cultural poison.

  36. Marcus Gardner

    I was once a part of an intensive group, one of whose guidelines was to “speak personally and specifically.” Through that, I learned that speaking in generalities about humanity, people, or the world is generally a great way to lubricate self-deception and get further from one’s actual truth. Why look at myself and my part in things when it’s so much more captivating to hand-wave and pontificate?

    That being said, I do think, even if “truth” can never be divorced from the personal, that there is a place for generalities and commentary on the grand affairs. It’s just that – to do that, while also sorting out one’s own circuitous personal relationship to it all, is an extremely tricky affair, perhaps not one for those who aren’t already prone to self-reflection.

  37. Willy

    Just because bias is a strategy for conserving cognitive resources, doesn’t mean predators aren’t out to use your own biases against you.

    I went down the dark path of studying psychopathy when I did the big WTF?! after dealing with one in the worlkplace. I tried guilt, empathy, reason, negotiation… you name it. And every little strategy I tried to resolve our conflict and modify his behavior was, the end of the day, only ever used by the other against me. He’d pretend to be my new best friend, to want to reconcile for really real this time, and then wack me over the head when I gave in. Even if it got totally irrational, with at great personal risk to themselves, it didn’t matter. It was like some kind of obsessive game or something. It seemed that the only thing in it for the other was the thrill of the hunt. And then the light bulb in my head turned on.

    As a kid I remember a commotion outside my bedroom window. It sounded like a bully and a victim. I looked outside and sure enough, saw a big kid and a small kid. But then I realized that the small kid was the bully. The big kid kept yelling at the small kid to “Just stop it!” “I don’t know who the hell are but you’re frickin crazy!” And then the big kid would push the little kid down or headlock him or punch him. But the little kid would just keep getting right back up and throw rocks at his head again. Apparently, the big kid was just walking home from the playfield and happened to walk in front of the wrong house. And now he was a target for a bored psychopath. I knew of the little kid. He was TR, the one nobody was allowed to play with. In later years I got to know his cousin, who said that his was the weirdest family. As a 16 year old his sister who I worked with at a grocery store enticed a 35 year old manager into cheating on his wife and ruined his relationship, family and career, before moving on to somebody else. She had an strange manipulative coldness about her. TR wound up in prison. Bad parenting or financial stress? Not according to the cousin. Their father was a moderately successful attorney.

  38. krake

    The reality of human cruelty does not explain the success of capitalism, rent-taking or repression.

    To focus on the individual cases is to obscure the systemic organization of the world towards extinction for the benefit of a class of people, many of them in family groups, who are not individually or necessarily cruel, and who see their own successes and vitality as the lens through which to judge the history of the planet.

    They don’t understand themselves as evil; they cannot be diagnosed at a distance. Their awareness of the rest of us, and it’s sharp in proximity but otherwise very fuzzy, is that we have all vaguely failed to be more fully human.

    They don’t experience themselves as wrong. They are cleary the winners. And we fail ourselves, and maybe the human future, worrying their morality, the sliding scales of evil, or how to beat them at unwinnable contests of power, persuasion and control.

    They still need our bodies. And while that need yet exists – and it won’t for much longer – we have the capacity and (I think) the obligation to throw them down. It won’t be pretty. It will suck. The scrimshaw birdmen of the world will scold and squawk and bang their beaks against the gates they keep. So what. That type only has ears for itself.

    The work needs doing, even by the timid and the fearful.

    It gets done, or all that will remain, unfolding now, right now, before the coming generation ever gets its chance, are technofascist ghosts in a lunatic machine.

    We owe this debt. To the human world, and maybe even more to the wild ones.

  39. Hugh

    Speaking of psychopaths, I couldn’t help being amused at Mark Zuckerberg getting on his high horse criticizing Jack Dorsey of twitter for putting a pretty anodyne factcheck up on another attempt by Trump to fix the 2020 election by squelching mail-in voting.

    Facebook’s Zuckerberg and Sandberg would sell children online if they thought they could make a buck at it. I am sure there have been other duos as evil, Bush-Cheney comes to mind, but those two rank way up there.

  40. bruce wilder

    Willy: Bruce, are you confusing empathy with observational skills? Both bird watchers and duck hunters are often good observers. Yet one admires and the other kills. I think the difference in behavior involves empathy, culture, and rationalization.

    Psychopathy is a subset of sociopathy. The latter is a behavior, the former is a born behavior which is considered incorrigible by the experts.

    Psychological terms are a treacherous way to approach trying to understand the etiology of the destructive and self-destructive behavior of others.

    I mentioned that a conman friend showed me once that a mutual acquaintance was a psychopath in the sense that he had an inner fantasy life centered around vivid dreams of horribly killing people, fantasies that had sexualized elements. The conman did this by engaging in casual conversation and drawing the psycho out subtly. It was quite a dramatic demonstration and frightening in its way.

    I fully credit what you say about sociopaths in business. I have taught in business schools a few times and a surprising number of the best “cases” used in teaching touch on the issue. Students are typically oblivious or the earnestness of the school culture prevents enough cynicism to appreciate the “moral” of the story. I remember a case about an executive who restructured a successful product development team at a toy company. The restructuring plainly aimed to destroy the team but the case did a good job of recreating the fog of good intentions rationalizing the intervention. Most students never seemed to grasp what was going on, let alone why the executive might selfishly want to sabotage the company he worked for.

    But, I am not comfortable with attributing a lack of empathy. I think most people are empathy-challenged. They are not imaginative enough and too narcissistic to have much empathy. Father Greg Boyle, founder of Home Boy Industries, which addresses the needs of former gang members and ex-convicts, is very articulate concerning the inability of middle class people to fathom the experience or motivations of some homeboy with tattoos who behaves violently. And, it matters to public policy. The inability of many people to “empathize” in the abstract (almost a contradiction in terms?) has profound effects on public policy in many areas. It seems to me that the ability to empathize is a fairly rare skill, not a universal capacity, and as a skill, as likely to be used to manipulate as any skill. As a candidate foundation for ethics, it fails the test of plausibility. Hitler liked dogs and had a devoted mistress.

    I have seen quite a few people disparage Trump as “deranged” or “mentally disturbed”. Such medicalization is disturbing to me. I think he shows clear indications of a well-defined syndrome, hypomania. But don’t hold your breath waiting for such a specific and well-defined diagnosis, even from credentialed advocates for that point of view. It is his character that disturbs me and there is no diagnosis for that, though authoritarian and social-dominance orientation are labels that pull together his political attitudes and inclinations.

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