Somewhere during the week, I had become convinced that 2020 was a Dan Brown novel. That it was some secret piece of fiction he’d been working on; maybe a spin-off of the novel “Inferno”.
I’d written two other drafts, all of which I left incomplete because… well 2020. The sheer audacity of this month to bring up issue after issue…after issue… It’s intriguing in the most annoying way possible. Because you’re almost certainly interested in the plot that is our timeline. But the fact that its meaning, its purpose, is so incomprehensible even up to its end, is frustrating.
My mind’s a complete mess at the moment and it seems like I’m not the only one feeling this way.
I’m trying to predict the next part of the plot—something I earnestly believe to be aliens revealing themselves to be time travelers instead. But as of now, I find myself with these questions:
Is it ever right to wish death upon someone?
Will America survive the upcoming decade?
If America does not survive, does China take over its place? What would such a world look like?
The first question comes in light of the president of the United States getting the Coronavirus: This is also in light of the pandemic whose severity he downplayed, consciously leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of people just so he may preserve his presidency.
There’s a moral dilemma playing out especially on Twitter. Do you wish death on such a man? A man who throughout his life has scammed and profited from the misery of others? One who so casually let thousands of people die?
It isn’t merely that though is it? Prior to this latest debacle, the man showed every intent to undermine American democracy for his own selfish interests. All these signs hinted at the rise of authoritarian rule by someone who has to grapple with the prospect of life behind bars.
I am reminded of Sapolsky’s rumination over the prospect of what he’d do to Hitler if he had him in his grasp. He had no qualms about the fact that he would see to it that he had the most miserable death.
Quite obviously Trump reaches nowhere near the level of cruelty that Hitler displayed and I wouldn’t make any claims about that. But the sheer absence of morality is apparent. Currently, given the direction of things, I find myself ambivalent about the path of his life. I care only that it does not negatively impact the lives of the billions of people that live world wide.
That said, Trump is certainly a symptom of a deeper rot.
As tumors tend to be the manifestation of underlying genetic defects, so too are America’s underlying institutions to blame for the rise of the phenomenon that is Trump.
Peter Turchin is a scholar who made use of Complexity Theory( basically applied Math) to predict the current turmoil we face. In an opinion piece, he published back in July he talks about the underlying motivations that prompted his prediction.
From our research, we had a question we wanted to answer: Does inequality breed instability?
Granted, some degree of inequality is probably unavoidable, and may not even be bad; for example, most human beings agree that those who work harder should be rewarded for their efforts. The problem arises, we theorized, when inequality increases beyond the level that most people would consider fair…
During the past four decades, while the U.S. economy has grown very substantially, wages of most Americans stagnated and even declined. If we look at the median wage – how much a “typical” worker makes – and divide that by the GDP per capita, this indicator has been declining for decades; it has now fallen to historically low levels. This means that economic growth is not benefiting the majority of the American population. And it’s not just economic well-being that has been declining: Life expectancies of large swaths of the American population have started to decline, as well. Is it surprising that a feeling of pessimism now pervades our society?
Yes, the U.S.‘s economy grew significantly over the past four decades, but one outcome of that is the creation of three to five times as many millionaires, billionaires. Many – including the new millionaires, naturally enough – don’t see this as a problem. And they could have a case, had the wealth of the top 1 per cent grown in parallel with the wealth of the median earner. But that’s not what happened.
But the most outstanding and even more serious aspect of Turchin’s observation was that these wealthy individuals had been converting their massive economic wealth into political power:
There is another, subtler and even more serious problem with too many millionaires. Our theory suggests that a certain proportion of people with great wealth will decide to convert their economic power into political power at some point in their lives; in other words, they either run for office themselves or invest in candidates of their choice. Four times as many millionaires, compared with 40 years ago, means that four times as many are now involved in politics. There are many more candidates, but the number of power positions hasn’t changed: There are still 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 100 senators and just one U.S. president. When intra-elite competition reaches such a feverish pitch, it generates many more losers than before. Cutthroat competition corrodes the co-operation on which our societies are based, while the social norms that govern the smooth functioning of a democracy unravel. Ultimately, increasing numbers of those who cannot get ahead by legitimate means feel abandoned by the institutions, often becoming radicals and revolutionaries who aim to overthrow the unjust regime, as they perceive it, by any means necessary.
This is consistent with the observations we see in much of western society today.
I find it as such sad to still see opinions like those below, that ignores the fact that the subsequent polarization is nothing but a manifestation of the inability of those in power to satisfy the needs of the average person. These sort of “takes” often portray those with ideological leanings as what ails society, when almost all evidence proves it to be the “elites” like Graham, who see themselves as being more “level-headed” and whose actions and self-rationalizations result in such radicals. He quite evidently takes the issue personally and accidentally misconstrues the position of many who favor redistribution.
October 3rd 20203 Retweets18 Likes
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A lot has been said on people like Graham and their take on inequality but I find no article better than Holly Wood’s, a cultural sociologist who easily dissects claims made by those like Graham.
In her piece titled “Paul Graham has accidentally explained everything wrong with Silicon Valley’s world view”, she says:
For him, a better future is one where a team of eight guys makes billions of dollars with an invention that replaces thousands of people currently earning livable wages with automation. If those people lose their jobs, they’re just collateral that got in the way of progress. This is a bizarre way of saying that the only thing keeping people poor is their inability to capitalize on their future obsolescence.
Yes, sitting down to predict one’s own demise is a lot to ask the vast majority of struggling Americans who just want to get through their workday so they can feed their kids and maybe afford rent. And yet, a millionaire is asking this. Without irony.
Because he needs to legitimize his wealth inequality.
In his singular defense of Silicon Valley Ideology, Paul Graham would have you believe our entire economy should run on startups. I think Paul Graham believes this is democracy. This ability to start a company, he assumes, is equally accessible to everyone, and this presumed equality of opportunity legitimizes gross wealth inequality. If some people are rich, it’s because they were driven to do what you are too lazy to do.
Never mind if you don’t actually want to run a startup because you’re a nurse and you believe saving lives and caring for people adds value to society. Screw you, really.
My rebuke shouldn’t be taken as a disdain for the work of Graham. It’s more like an acknowledgment of the fact that he still lives in the time of his youth when neoliberalism had just dawned and Milton Friedman blessed the sanctity of shareholder greed. That world sadly isn’t suited for the magnitude of the threats we face.
As someone who values entrepreneurship and the sort of technologies that arise from it, I’ve been increasingly dismayed by the fact that SV is able to produce things we want but not things we need. An issue made apparent by this pandemic.
The upward redistribution of wealth has been striking too, and this time unlike what Graham and others claim, cannot merely be attributed to Wall Street. This theft, unlike many others, is also far more direct in its nature as well.
It can only get worse as former American presidential candidate, Andrew Yang made note of. I find that there has been no one able to depict the sort of consequences of said institutional rot as much as Yang. In his book “The War On Normal People”, published in 2017, Yang predicts almost everything that has taken place in America these past few months:
Could extreme behavior in some places even precede a political breakup of the country? One can imagine California, the most racially diverse, progressive, and wealthy state, holding a referendum to secede in response to events elsewhere in the country that are perceived as atavistic and regressive. There is already a nascent movement among technologists, libertarians, and others in California to secede on economic grounds, including the recent “Yes California” movement pushing “Calexit” and the California National Party—about one-third of Californians supported secession in a recent poll, up considerably from earlier levels. California would be the sixth-largest economy in the world as a separate country. If there were a successful vote, two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of states would be required to approve it under the Constitution, which today seems impossible. However, California’s departure would permanently tilt the country’s political balance, which could be appealing to the party in power. Such a vote could also prompt a reprisal or punishment. Texas likewise has a long history of secessionist movements.
This was reminiscent of what was happening at the dawn of the pandemic.
As the mindset of scarcity spreads and deepens, people’s executive functioning will erode. It takes self-control to resist base impulses. Racism and misogyny will become more and more pervasive even as it is policed in certain sectors.
Contributing to the discord will be a climate that equates opposing ideas or speech to violence and hate. Righteousness can fuel abhorrent behavior, and many react with a shocking level of vitriol and contempt for conflicting viewpoints and the people who hold them. Hatred is easy, as is condemnation. Addressing the conditions that breed hatred is very hard. As more communities experience the same phenomena the catalysts will be varied and the reactions intense. Attacking other people will be a lot easier than attacking the system.
This has been reminiscent of the subsequent days after George Floyd’s death.
All this he believed would come about as a result of automation, not a pandemic. But the full extent of his vision hasn’t yet manifested. It still may, as the pandemic still seems to be accelerating the sort of automation he described.
More recently when talking about the way forward, he remarks—as have some others —on the flawed worship of markets:
It sounds silly to need to say these things, and yet here we are, in 2020, still chasing stock market returns and gross domestic product growth as our mental health and opportunities evaporate. The nation adopted GDP more than 75 years ago, and even then, its creator, Simon Kuznets, said it was a terrible measurement of national well-being. A century later, it is even more true.
If America is to survive, it will have to ditch its belief in markets as the sole solution to everything. It will have to move past the belief of not merely small government, but more appropriately, incompetent government.
But how will it do so, when a gerontocracy exists; when those in power cannot see the world in any way but that which they experienced it when they were younger; an elite that further accrues power as it ages and may carry all that potential for change with them into their graves.
Meanwhile, China, and the CCP rises.
The pandemic—whose full nature the CCP failed to disclose—started in China. But it is indeed recovering. Why? Because it blatantly used authoritarian power to force its people into quarantine. And unlike the rest of the world, it was able to supplement its robust governmental power with technological might to match.
I already covered its increasing use of Surveillance technology so make sure to check that out.
All this is worrying. China shows no signs of becoming less authoritarian. It’s currently undertaking mass genocide of the Uighurs. It’s subverted whatever democracy was left in Hong Kong. Something even American “progressive” journals no longer seem to care about, a fact emphasized by the lack of air time over this piece.
However, nothing may enhance its power more than its engagement in a sort of neo-colonialism of Africa. A scheme that thrives primarily on entrapping nations in insurmountable sums of debt. In doing so, it seems to make use of the youngest continent on earth to bolster its own political clout.
All this with no consequence.
America despite its own authoritarian tendencies, still maintained a strong facade of western democratic values. One it (ironically) imposed on the rest of the world. The result has been the rise of a vast number of democracies.
I doubt this will last.
Many countries looked to America as a model of economic growth, but they never realized its lack of stability, until now. As such, no longer do foreigners view America as the place to be. Its biggest source of innovation(immigration), the one thing that defined it is dying.
Every passing day since the beginning of the year, I found myself asking whether America would make it through the decade. This past week, I realized it may quite possibly not be the case.
Now I just ask of 2020, “what next?” What could be more surprising than the revelation of the “greatest nation on earth” being nothing more than fraud? It may be unsurprising for many who have followed the story thus far.
The power vacuum that will be left may:
Lead to a geopolitical scramble for power.
Result in the succinct emergence of China as the world leader. It may define the new world order as a result of its ability to be antifragile to the pandemic’s economic effects.
Given what’s taking place within its own backyard, whatever may come out of world domination by China, is bound to be dystopic.
There’s all this and I haven’t even touched Climate Change yet…
Perhaps, Dan Brown is indeed writing this story, if so, at least give us a heads-up on those aliens. If so, give us a hint on the possible world wars given what’s taking place between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Just give us a heads up, for like many of you, while engrossed and captivated by the story of it all, I find myself tired of the twists, I just want some closure.
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