Time to Stop Painting the Deckchairs
America’s elections are deckchairs and another coat of paint won’t help
by Mike Meyer
There’s only so much you can do in these situations. That is the brutal reality that pushes people over the edge into depression, outrage, or, ‘oh shit, I’ll have another drink’. Sadly this is now occurring on all the normal levels plus a few more right up to species extinction.
It’s the layered complexity and very high stakes that is befuddling people. That befuddlement takes the form of denial, fear, anger, and exhaustian. What can you do when a significant portion of the population is not equipped to understand what is happening let alone what needs to be done to successfully transit the future we face?
In the past that segment of the population was simply taxed, pressed ganged into an army, or left to eat cake. As that was the full extent of their potential contribution to any larger cause it meant they were not an issue. Unless they rebelled, usually by leaving. Obviously we no longer have that option. Everyone is involved and must be brought through very large changes in how we all live or it won’t matter and our species will leave the stage.
We can slide this discussion up or down the array of challenges and have, basically, the same conversation with the same existential risk at each level. In the end it comes down to the percentage of the population that can even grasp the nature of problems we face and, of that portion, how many can both visualize what needs to change while realizing that this is not a ‘safe to ignore’ academic argument.
The problem of having no standards in place of more than local preferences in a democratic systems goes back a long way. Socrates had a strong aversion to voting by people without the skill and knowledge to make informed choices. This was certainly upheld by Plato as Socrates was forced to drink hemlock because of a vote by 500 Athenians. Socrates’ point was that voting is a skill and not an intuition.
America is facing one level of potential disaster having allowed a minority of the electorate to be manipulated by a corrupt party and elect a totally incompetent opportunist. The underlying levels of failure in that are illustrative of the far bigger problems we are facing as a species. In this case Trump is just a token fool playing an old game with the only new sophistication provided by Russian social media propaganda.
The rise of racist, fascist and ignorant reaction by part of the population links that problem to the far larger challenges of climate crisis that requires complete planetary, economic, and social transformation. If all we had to deal with was containing a self destructive political reaction it would be bad enough but could be worked out with time. Fascist style outbreaks can last for, at most, a couple of decades but are doomed to either external or internal destruction. We don’t have the time for that and certainly not in the nominally richest and most powerful nation state on the planet.
Besides, it’s embarrassing. But all of these things have traditionally been handled by isolating the sovereign unit that has gotten itself into this mess. If they are minor states you end up with a population that suffers under brutal rule but, with the modern world’s support for national sovereignty, however archaic, we just say it’s their own fault.
North Korea is one example of this with Putin’s Russia, Turkey, and several other states teetering on the edge. A variety of theocratic remnant kingdoms still survive on large natural resource pools being leveraged in exchange for US protection. With the requirement to eliminate fossil fuels as our highest priority we will see the last of these anachronisms in a few years, if we survive.
Interestingly we now have America sliding rapidly into this illustrious group of failed governments with several of its states approaching levels of significant corruption, poverty, and exploitation. Alabama and Georgia seem determined to lurch into the swamp of brutal misogyny waving the flags of ignorance and evil.
This is a result of the collapse of the large, regional nation states as economic globalization, of necessity, dominates. This is also the link to the rise of fascist reactionary movements attempting to guarantee themselves the right to brutalize selected subject populations. The only good point is that attempting to go backward for a range of despicable reasons is proving to be more difficult than the people prone to these fits imagined. But, without strong action, they may still manage to accelerate the extinction of our species.
But, in these complex and layered conditions, simply blocking self destructive acts brings up the problem of how to organize and manage the emerging planetary political entity. And the biggest question, who gets to control this? While that is the real question first it will be somewhat easier to consider who should not be allowed to decide. Portions of any population are ill equipped to make rational decisions about themselves in very new situations such as a highly complex, nonlinear planetary crisis.
The dominant, although increasingly tattered, Western liberal tradition maintains the model of individual rights assuming a vaguely defined level of equality that is mostly ignored. From this came the facetious establishment of individual rights, i.e. intuition, as the equal of education and intellectual diligence in the process of voting for a government. An egregious error by the American founders, still actively forbidden in discussion, was the assumption that only the natural leaders of society would be nominated and elected.
The number of candidates for dumbest person in the the US Congress along with the complete criminal collapse of the party system makes that structural error impossible to ignore. But ignored it will be. The complete ossification of the political culture means that this cannot even be acknowledged let alone questioned.
In simpler ages this could be made to work usually by completely ignoring the assumed equality assumption and handing full voting rights only to a limited class or racial elite. An alternative solution has proven to be symbolic honoring of the liberal tradition by either allowing everyone to vote but ignoring the vote or structuring the electoral system so only safe and ‘legitimate’ votes count. The other option is just to eliminate all the opposition until the population forgets that there could be such a thing and realizes that it is dangerous to vote for anyone but the current leadership.
All of this worked itself out through the 20th century with some actually representative governments following the liberal intent until things got complicated and ignorance became reaction paralyzing administration. With steady technology driven improvements in life for a greater percentage of the population providing a base level of stability, the illusion could be kept alive.
The first two categories have come to grief in frustration and growing outrage at the inevitable corruption embeds itself and began to degrade broad well being. The reactionary population ends up being frightened and tired of exploitation but falls prey to the fascists seeking to exploit them further under the cover of giving them someone to blame and hate for their misery. Or, in the theocratic approach, a thoroughly indoctrinated population accepts suppression and exploitation because whatever mythology they use is the only reality and saying otherwise results in imprisonment or execution.
All of these conditions require isolation and censorship of all communication in these sovereign entities because they are built on bullshit and lies, to put it simply. Their ability to sequester their population is the limit to their power. If they have great wealth in natural resources they can share some of that selectively and maintain rich public services to keep the lid on. If that is not available then a very small elite gets everything and pure force with the absence of information is used to keep the population down.
The Western liberal tradition was a good start but has proven too easy to corrupt with racism and economic exploitation. While many attempts have been made to adjust market economics and elements of capitalism to avoid the growing disaster, this has ultimately failed with complexity and unstoppable corruption. But economics, with the structural failure of insisting profit is all that is needed, and that everyone should vote even though that has never worked in anything but very stable, simple, and understandable situations has brought an end to the once brilliant Western Liberal Tradition.
A major, clear, and understandable crisis can unify a broad population together for their own defense. Once this becomes a public belief it can survive. Again the American experience in WWII and the ability to provide recovery, at great long term profit, for Europe and Japan, sadly, was not a good model. The happy coming together of a whole range of variables made for three decades of good times in North America but taught, what now can be seen as, a fatally flawed lesson while hiding critical structural failings.
By working through the superficial layers down to the more fundamental and chaotic ones it is becoming clear that we are well into early civilizational collapse at cultural and planetary levels. The big kahuna is the climate crisis that has been nibbling at us for most of the last century. This was hidden by rapid technological advance and implementation for resource extraction and agricultural improvement to support our rapid population growth.
Staying at the planetary level, the most difficult to understand for most people, we have crossed the tipping point and are sliding back into poverty only recently reduced for the majority of the population although by no means all. Temperature rise is now directly affecting grain supplies and food resources with acidification destroying sea life. Obviously the already advanced and accelerating sixth extinction, as a fully human caused event, is eliminating a million or so species as I write this.
Denial and delusion is all around us. The more stupid versions are blatantly obvious but are causing the spread of mental illness common to social animals, and primates specifically, in times of fear and rapidly growing stress. As we all know America is leading the way with declining life spans and widespread opioid addiction exacerbating self destructive manipulation by fascist opportunists.
The hope of salvaging the 18th century style nation state in the midst of this is almost certainly a waste of time. And we are so far from anything like democracy and/or republicanism as to not to be able to identify what it looks like. Even if we could identify it is that what we need?
We have a critical reality that is very depressing but trying to soften the knife edge of that reality to keep people from freaking out or giving up is not going to help. That reality is that we will probably lose civilization with serious failures coming in about thirty years.
This should not be a surprise to anyone who reads this here but we are well past the point at which this can be averted. The original United Nations based projections leading to the Paris accords and others were all based on linear projections. It’s been plain for a number of years already that this is not a linear event.
And that is another word for chaos. Things swing wildly and small events can trigger massive change while big events can appear and disappear. Modeling nonlinearity is massively complex itself. So we don’t know what things exhibiting nonlinear change are going to do or not do. And the negative part of that statement is the most troublesome.
We have this in front of us now. The arctic will be ice free very soon. The disappearance of ice, which is white, means that warming accelerates. And we have really only recently realized that there is a growing presence of methane in the atmosphere. We are measuring methane on land and there is something else supplying it. This is probably ocean based methane from thawing but we don’t know because we never set up to measure sea based methane. This might be slow, taking centuries to become serious, or might be very fast.
Whatever now happens, it will be bad or worse randomly. We are already going to 5 degree Celsius in planetary warming. There is no logical way to avoid that whenever it comes but our civilization on this planet will already be gone. Here are the most important sources of where we are. Please read them even if it is hard. We need to begin changing right now and planning like we have never planned in our history. It may not save us but damned if we’ll just die.
The first thing to do is to remove the idiots with no clue from positions of power. We need to set standards for leadership and those standards must be scientific, logical, and wise. No more voting for corrupt representatives who will feather their own nests while we are all dying. They, even the billionaires, will die, too. But that is no solace at all.
Let’s find the best and brightest, with full knowledge of that term, and get them working together will every person on this planet. We must all make it together or we all die anyway.