Saturday, May 10, 2008

Catastrophe and revolution

The political and economic system of the United States is doomed. Elect whom you like in November, Clinton, Obama, McCain, the large-scale structural elements forcing a collapse will stay in place. A catastrophic collapse of our society seems inevitable.

The United States is no longer a democracy. I mean this not in the quibbling "It's a republic" sense; I mean that the government is no longer responsive to the will of the people. If the United States were a democracy we would not have invaded Iraq in the first place. Even if we'd invaded in a moment of temporary insanity, we would have been been out by 2006, if not sooner. If the United States were a democracy, George W. Bush — the worst and more importantly the most unpopular President in the history of the nation — would have at the very least been forced to resign (as was Nixon) and at best impeached or even prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

To be even more pessimistic, there's no possible way in an actual democracy Bush would be president in the first place, having actually lost two "elections" that would have shamed Ferdinand Marcos.

Even with the massive propaganda campaign, even with the so-called "liberal" New York Times leading the charge, even with Colin Powell lying his ass off to the United Nations, the invasion of Iraq was still so massively unpopular, and whatever support existed was so thin, that any sensible politician in an actual democracy would have realized that the war would be political suicide. That Blair supported the war, and is now reviled in the UK, just emphasizes my point.

The United States no longer has a free-market economy. While Capitalist economies have usually employed markets with more distributed economic decision-making than communist governments, there is nothing inherent in Capitalism that entails a free market. The definition of Capitalism is that the owners of capital are privileged to restrict the market as they see fit; a truly free market would not privilege anyone but the people as a whole to restrict the markets.

The United States is no longer a civil libertarian society. The Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, FICA, the War on (some) Drugs (used by some people), the ridiculous joke that's been made of the Fourth and Ninth Amendments, the astronomical rate of imprisonment. Need I say more?

The United States no longer employs the rule of law. Bush has explicitly and clearly declared himself and his minions above the law, and the Congress, the Supreme Court and the "opposition" political party have utterly failed to punish him.

The United States no longer has freedom of the press. The press, specifically the commercial media, has become completely dominated by a tiny elite of billionaires. It has become an organ of partisan Republican propaganda differentiable from Pravda only by its sophistication and professionalism (and sometimes not even that).

The above are not just bad in themselves, they are fundamental error-correcting mechanisms. When you lose error-correcting mechanisms, errors accumulate until the only ineluctable error-correcting mechanism — reality — causes a catastrophic failure of the system. Even if we were to elect Obama or Clinton, even if they were completely well-intentioned, even if they had the power to kill with their minds, they could not reverse our path to catastrophic failure. Things will have to get much worse before we can even think about any major structural changes.

Catastrophic failure is bad, but humanity will survive it. We've survived catastrophic failure time and again: World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the Panic of 1873, etc. ad nauseam.

What's more worrisome than the collapse itself is the aftermath. There's only one group ideally positioned to take power after a collapse: Christianist extremists. They've openly infiltrated the US military. Their civilian militias are well-organized, well-disciplined and extremely well-armed, and they enjoy the active tolerance of the Justice Department. They have a definite, elaborate and fanatical political agenda. They have a good 20-30% of the population firmly on their side, which was enough for Hitler after the collapse of the Weimar Republic.

If we're lucky, very lucky, "find a winning lottery ticket in the trash" lucky, some rich bastard like FDR will pull our nuts out of the fire at the 11th hour out of desperate self-preservation. But if FDR had faced a Communist party with the organization and armament of today's Christianists, we might well have ended up with Joe Steele instead.

Perhaps there is, however, some reason for hope.

As well-armed and organized as are the Christianists, their ideology is extremely loopy and insane; by comparison Nazism and Stalinist Communism are models of rational clarity. They're already extremely sectarian; they'll spend as much time and energy fighting each other as they will the rest of us. I don't think there's any alternative but to fight them, but they can be beaten.

[Update: I'm with Tim Kreider: I plan to be drunk off my ass when the shit hits the fan.]


  1. then heinlein will have gotten that prophecy thing down right.

    this link might be of interest:

    (extremely naive) peace--


  2. scott: Can you refresh my memory on Heinlein and prophecy?

    It's no trick to, though, to prophesy without time limits. I'm putting an upper limit on 2012 for the beginning of the end, and 2020 for when the excrement really hits the air conditioning.

  3. Other than the likelihood of Christianist theocrats taking power after the collapse--a contention I am not in a position to assess--everything you say sounds exactly right to me.

  4. I agree with most of what you've said -- but there's one MAJOR thing that I feel I need to get out of the way before I address the actual content of your article: Whatever the machinations of Hitler and Stalin may have been based upon, it most certainly was NOT "Rational Clarity." No "rational" person would order an entire people rounded up, worked to death and exterminated. No "rational" person would kill 15 million of his own countrymen in pursuit of power. Just because something isn't religiously motivated doesn't mean it was motivated by reason. At most, one could claim it was based on a degenerated perversion of reason. Most accurately, though, these actions (especially those of Hitler) were based on pure insanity.

    Now, with that out of the way, I agree that our country has been perverted and is well on its way to a fascist regime wrapped in the guise of a democracy. Where I differ with you is how responsible the PEOPLE are for this state of affairs. All the power that the government has gained at the expense of our civil liberties has been given by the people out of fear. Yes, they lied to us and made us afraid, but we allowed ourselves to be made afraid. We shut our eyes and saw only what Big Brother told us to look at. On some level, the people are responsible for not standing up and looking for the truth.
    I also disagree that we have no freedom of the press. After all: the press can print or broadcast whatever it wants. Which is why they, as well, should be held accountable. They were not FORCED to become propaganda mouthpieces for our corrupt, wanna-be totalitarian regime. They CHOSE to be. Even the notoriously "liberal" publications got swept up in fear and perpetuated Bush's lies without checking or verifying. He was president when 9/11 happened, therefore every stuttering, inarticulate, made-up word out of his mouth must be true.

    You mentioned FDR. That is, in fact, what we need. After Pearl Harbor, FDR said the words that made us the greatest nation in the world: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!

    He didn't tell us that Japan would be making daily bombing runs on our cities if we didn't immediately give over our liberties to the government. He told us that we could fight, we could win and, god damn it, Americans weren't scared of ANY ONE. They were the words of a man trying to help his country through hard times -- trying to build the strength in every man and woman that would be necessary to deal with what we had to do.

    Given that contrast, it is sickening and disheartening that we, as a nation, were not able to see Bush's fear-mongering for what it was: a bid for power that was in opposition to the comparisons that even HE made to Pearl Harbor -- a bid for power that was very similar to that used by Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini.

    What I'm saying is that we CAN turn this around. All we need is a president who will tell us, in no uncertain terms, that we SHOULD NOT FEAR. Fear solves nothing. We need to be strong and we need to fight to preserve our freedom. Someone needs to remind us of one of the principals our nation was founded on: That those would would trade their liberty for safety deserve neither.

    I am proud to say that I always saw Bush's tactics for what they were. But I am deeply shamed that I was unable to convince others. The right person can turn the tide, but it won't happen at the government level...the right person, in the highest post, needs to start the movement at the lowest level, with the people. Only we can change it, but most of us need to be reminded that we can. Whether that person is even running this election or not has yet to be seen.

    But I'm hopeful.

  5. bb--

    the heinlein novella "if this goes on--" written in 1940 may be your cup of tea:

    heinlein's dates of theocracy are quite similar to your own, as you can see.

    the novella is available in the collection 'the past through tomorrow,' copyright 1967.


  6. Ah yes, scott. To the best of my knowledge I've read every word of fiction that Heinlein ever wrote. I may even have exhausted his nonfiction.

  7. Shawn: Whatever the machinations of Hitler and Stalin may have been based upon, it most certainly was NOT "Rational Clarity."

    I understand, Shawn. It's an ironic literary trope, in the vein of, "by comparison Charles Manson is peaceful," or "— Britney Spears is brilliant."

    Where I differ with you is how responsible the PEOPLE are for this state of affairs.

    Note that I didn't myself actually assign any blame.

    All the power that the government has gained at the expense of our civil liberties has been given by the people out of fear.

    Agreed. But people are generally stupid and easily led.

    I mostly agree with the rest of your comments, with the proviso of my greatly elevated cynicism and pessimism.

  8. bb--

    i don't know how old you are, or how old you were when you read heinlein, but his writings were instrumental in forming my political and social paradigms. i told you before i don't vote; 'glory road' did me in on participatory democracy. i consider myself an 'ethical libertarian;' it's not every man/woman for himself/herself, and it's not 'i'm gonna get mine, you can have left overs or you're out of luck,' it's not libertarianism with an advantage-taking drive. rather, it's build consensus, change hearts and minds, move forward as ethically as possible (i know you disagree, but i use the jesus template when possible, both as a guide and as a club for those who 'embrace' it but don't follow it), knowing, as heinlein does, that you're gonna be fucked in the ass in the end, and you better have plan b.

    i don't know about you, but i have plans b, c, and d.

    peace (for as long as possible, until the revolution begins),


  9. scott: I'll be 45 in August. I read my first Heinlein when I was probably 12, and finished reading the bulk of his work in my 20s.

    He's an interesting writer, but I try not to take too much political philosophy from writers of fiction (cough Ayn Rand): They have a tendency to make the world work out the way they think it ought to work out. Truth is always much stranger than fiction.

    I'm with Tim Kreider. When the shit really hits the fan, I hope to be drunk enough that I won't notice much when the goons come for me.

  10. bb--

    my ann rand phase was (blessedly) short.

    when the shit hits the fan, i'll come find you, and save you (and jim elliot).

    that's my theological salvation history model this evening.

    i've been drinking very good wine.

    peace (till the hooch runs out),


  11. oops!!

    my feminine side, shining through...

  12. scott, I don't think you have to worry about Jim Elliott: He has enough armament to knock over a small Central American country.

  13. yeah, but does he have a stash of good hooch?

  14. Jim's got the guns; I've got the liquor; my wife has the lawyers and the money.

  15. So, Y'all are figuring on buying guns and trying to create a small force that could fight back against a Christianist takeover? How serious are you about this?

  16. So, Y'all are figuring on buying guns and trying to create a small force that could fight back against a Christianist takeover? How serious are you about this?

    Personally? I'm not at all serious. I might get a gun so I'm not completely unprepared when the shit hits the fan. But I was raised a good pacifist Quaker; I have no expertise or talent at revolution or any sort of violence.

    Besides, I'm far too public, with my real name right on the blog, to personally consider such direct action.

  17. Your hope the infighting amongst Christians will prevent one group from gaining power is well-founded. Even in the event of a collapse, Christians will have difficulty uniting together. It is not so much that they will want their particular sect to be the one in power, but rather the complete dread that some other (apostate) Christian group could dare be the one in charge.

    Protestants would fear a Catholic theocracy more than a secular government. And vice versa. As much disdain as many Conservative Christians may have for us non-believers, they reserve the real vitriol for liberal Christians. Find them far more dangerous and deceptive to the “true Christian” cause.

    Likewise, liberal Christianity tends to be far more wary (and unfortunately far more quiet) of their Conservative brethren than even we are!

    While many coalitions can band together over single issues (homosexual marriage and abortion); the thought of another Christianity--a non-“true” Christianity—being the one to win out and be in charge would be more than they could bear.

    The only fear I have of them uniting is by giving them a common enemy. It is why the Dawkins and Hitchens and Harris’ are brought up over and over and over—a desire to unite the Christians against the perceived common enemy of the New Atheists.


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