Picking a Thread From the Yarn Pile

A lot is happening.

It’s tough to know what to write about, or think about, when events are unfolding at such a rapid pace. Though the high stakes of the upcoming election make it a magnet for attention, this is our least competitive race since ’96, with a hardened electorate unlikely to be moved by any late-breaking events. Trump is fading in the Great Lakes states that gave him his ’16 miracle while Democrats ride four years of outsized voter mobilization and turnout, outperforming in almost every race since ’16.

No race is over until the votes are counted, but if Republicans have to spend millions to hold Texas it’s hard to see how they win this thing. If Trump actually wins a legitimate, defendable victory in this election it will be for reasons no one is seeing, no one is predicting, which show up nowhere in the available data. And before you start talking about “polls getting it wrong” in ’16, let’s remember that the polls were right about everything but black voter turnout in the Great Lakes states, predicting the popular vote margin almost exactly. If the polls are almost as accurate in ’20 as they were in ’16, then Trump is done. Honestly, I’m not following it all that closely.

I’m more interested in the shitshow that follows the election. Trump has left most of the country ungovernable, wrecking the bureaucracy, discrediting the courts, and fostering a death cult mentality among evangelical and less-educated whites.

Democrats and their momentary allies are in a justifiably vengeful mood. Even if Trump loses by the anticipated 8-10 point margin he will insist he’s been robbed. It won’t help him hold the White House, but it will leave the country further wounded, making any near-term reconciliation impossible while fostering Bundy-esque brush fires of redneck resistance and terrorism likely to last beyond the next Administration. Americans have learned to hate each other in ways not seen in living memory. This division is not just an American problem.

Democracies all over the world are facing similar breakdowns between economically successful, culturally diverse urban centers and their bitter, left-behind country cousins. A long period of relative political stability in the liberal democracies is at an end until a new order can be set in place. New governing arrangements seldom arrive peacefully.

Candidly, I’m struggling to pick a thread to pull from such a miserable tangle of events, trends and factors. My attraction to narrative rabbit-trails makes this a very difficult challenge to navigate. These are some of the concepts vying for my attention. Which ones do you think are most relevant/interesting right now?

The biological challenge of living with spectacular volumes of data.

Race as America’s founding ethos, its “load-bearing wall.”

Artificially inflated housing costs as an obstacle to political realignment.

Whiteness, though still central to an American identity, has lost its power to hold the country together.

Can whiteness retain its cultural hold by recruiting enough Hispanics and Asians to the club?

Implications and potential responses to climate change.

Moral panic over social media threatening to obscure larger questions of influence peddling, technology and grassroots politics.

Looming population decline, with demand for land and natural resources already beginning to wane.

A shrinking world is bringing people together, not always in the best ways.

The destabilizing rise of a large, diverse upper middle class, tied together by education, increasingly earning a living in capital as much as wages.

Concentration of economic and cultural power in a few megacities while those cities’ political power lags.

Steeply declining fortunes of rural residents and those who live on more traditional labor.

What else? What am I missing?

46 Comments

  1. Related to the power and technology questions… we really really need to start thinking more about the implications of automation/AI on society.

    My fear is not enough folks are talking about the near-mid term implications of self-driving cars, etc. putting millions of folks out of work. This doesn’t even get to the slightly longer term impacts of AI/”the singularity” where human labor fundamentally may no longer be needed.

    I also feel like so many of our current issues are already tied into this, where low-skill/manual labor is being de-valued in the economy, which leads to things like opiod issues, and lower-educated folks falling for populist charlatans.

  2. What Trump is talking abut now! I also read Trump is trying to get a few state R houses to elect only Trump loyal electors for the electoral college vote. that way those electors will vote Trump no matter how many votes Biden gets!

    From the NY Times:

    “I don’t want to end up in the Supreme Court, and I don’t want to go back to Congress, even though we have an advantage if we go back to Congress. Does everyone understand that?” Mr. Trump told supporters. “I think it’s 26 to 22 or something.”

    “It’s counted one code per state,” he said. “So we actually have an advantage. Oh, they’re going to be thrilled to hear that. I’m sure they’re trying to figure out, ‘How can we break that one?’”

    Mr. Trump appeared to be referring to what is known as a contingent election, in which the House of Representatives chooses the next president if no candidate wins an absolute majority of votes in the Electoral College — an outcome that would be more likely if the results in key states were in dispute. In that case, each state’s House delegation is given one vote, with 26 votes required to win.

    Mr. Trump is correct that Republicans currently control 26 state delegations and Democrats 22, with two effectively tied — although the vote occurs after a new Congress is seated in early January, so those totals could change. (The Senate would choose the vice president separately.)

    1. This is like the only 2020 Red Alert post that I can post with any confidence will not happen. The Supreme Court struck down faithless electors this year:

      https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-rules-faithless-electors-can-t-go-rogue-electoral-n1231394

      And more importantly, the vote wasn’t some 5-4 swingy shit, it was 1-8. Even with 45’s new anointed one, there isn’t much room for the Supreme Court to swing the opposite direction.

      In fact if anything visibly trying to do so in any meaningful manner would probably turn quite a lot of the electorate against the electoral college in general, which the conservatives depend on for even having national power, sooooo….

      This one I think we can dismiss as hot air.

      1. That SCOTUS vote was on whether a state could punish faithless electors, not that faithless electors were incapable of casting a faithless vote.

        https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/06/politics/faithless-electors-supreme-court/index.html

        Time to freak out then? Not really, because as this thread – https://twitter.com/Teri_Kanefield/status/1308923771470966785 – helpfully points out, Trump’s ‘strategy’ here rests on the presumption that he’d keep the election close enough to eke out wins in NC, FL, OH, GA, and AZ (unlikely) and manage to convince one of the GOP-held legislatures in one of the 3 key Midwest states (MI, WI, and PA) to appoint Trump-loyal electors even if Biden takes all 3.

        One problem with that apocalyptic scenario. State laws in all 3 states would require action by both the GOP-held legislature (and signed off on a Democratic governor!) to let the legislature appoint its own electors. That’s is not going to happen.

        But wait, couldn’t shameless Republicans try to eke out a supermajority in a horribly gerrymandered state like WI so they could override Gov. Evers’ veto in January and THEN appoint Trump-loyal electors? A cute scenario, but also no. Federal law requires that all electors meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their votes for President and Vice-President; well before any new legislature would meet.

        Changes could be made to this, but that too would require an act of Congress and approval by a Democratic House. Also not going to happen.

        My apologies for the slight rant, but Aaron initially said, this is just a load of hot air. All it’s meant to do is sow doubt into voters’ minds and try to make them think Trump’s vastly more powerful than he is. As long as we do our part and show up, he’s getting thrown out on his ass in January.

  3. Well Chris, that firewall you talked about a week ago is now gone. Care to walk back your comments about the fascists being rational in their plans?

    I really don’t see how you did not see this coming. You have said for a long time the fascist party now consists only of bigots, grifters, and religious fanatics. Based on that, the only logical choice for the new flunkie had to be the religious fanatic. She is 48. Gorsuch is 53, Kavanaugh is 55. They will form the breakwater that any liberal legal waves will futilely crash against for the next 20-30 years. Oh, and Breyer, he is 82. Not that it really matters in a dictatorship, but odds are pretty high he is replaced in the next 4 years.

    Those that still don’t understand power are getting another lesson. The fascist party is doing what they are doing, because they CAN. It is that simple. There is no underlying plan, no 4D chess. When the fascists have a bulldozer, and the loser party only has placards, the only thing stopping the bulldozer from rolling over the loser party is the bulldozer driver having an ounce of humanity. That is not the case here.

    Oh, and I think all of you should read Bart Gellman’s Atlantic piece about how the House, by law, has to accept the electors that Pennsylvania legislature will be selecting to re-annoint the tyrant. In fact, most, if not all, state legislatures run by fascists can do this.

    But you folks, go ahead and fight the good fight. Organize, plan from now to election day, on maximizing the “vote them out” strategy. I am sure that works, in a functioning democracy.

  4. Those are all great ideas!

    My vote would be for exploring the changing definition of whiteness. Asians, while it’s too much of a stretch to classify them as biologically white, are already considered honorary whites, the “model minority”. I personally believe Latinos will soon be considered white. The language thing isn’t too much of an issue (Irish singing Auld Lang Syne and wearing kilts is now considered charming), and after a couple of generations, immigration isn’t a big issue either.

    I would add another topic: assuming our Trump nightmare is over by January, we’re going to reconcile exactly how America went off the deep end for twenty years (since GWB’s election and 9/11). It will either involve a long, painful look at how the unresolved conflicts of the Civil War (if not our founding principles of genocide against the native populations) are still fresh and need to be dealt with, or it will involve a large-scale forgetting / white washing of the time we went crazy.

    For an example of the latter, I recommend this analysis of cancel culture and a take on how the British have “forgotten” their colonial atrocities (not just in Asia, but in Ireland) by John Dolan aka Gary Brecher aka The War Nerd:
    https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2020/07/the-war-nerd-amateurs-talk-cancel-pros-talk-silence.html

    Sounds like you have quite the work cut out for you, even without me adding to the burden. We your loyal readers wait patiently!

  5. I’m not going to bother responding to Dins anymore, but in light of the Dear Leader’s absolute batshit insanity about not peacefully transferring power today, it is worth taking a moment about what’s going on here.

    As it is with all things Donald Trump, the impulse behind this latest wannabe authoritarian outburst is painfully simple. If there were *truly* some nefarious, genuinely competent scheme to throw out ballots and insert Trumpist electors in case of defeat, why declare that to the public with all the subtlety of a bullhorn?

    Because the intent here isn’t to declare UNLIMITED POWER. For all the bs, Trump’s ploy in this election hasn’t changed one iota. It’s to insert as much doubt and uncertainty into the public consciousness as possible so as to keep as many people from voting as possible – because the Dear Leader doesn’t believe he can win, he can only try to keep Biden from whooping his sorry ass so badly that there’s no doubt that he lost, no matter what shenanigans he might try to pull afterwards.

    Contrary to the assertions of some, Trump is deathly afraid of people voting – and he’s afraid because of the truth that all conmen will do anything and everything to keep people from realizing.

    He’s vulnerable, and more than that he’s weak. Very, very weak. So vote, vote early and then make sure that 5 or 10 of your friends and family vote too. Vote in numbers too big to manipulate and prove Trump’s fear right.

    1. You can ignore me all you like. That does not prove me wrong.

      What you don’t get is the concept of power, and how the tyrant, his cronies and handlers control so much of it now. No one ever accused this crew about being intelligent, or elegant in their evil. All they needed was the willpower to do what others thought were deeds no one would ever consider doing. (stealing from the Kaiser Soze origin story).

      You can keep saying the tyrant is weak, a moron, and incompetent. On a personal level, no question he is. But he is also an idiot savant. He recognized issues that galvanize a massive segment of the electorate, and exploited them, while at the same time knew how to keep his enemies off-balance and at bay. There are extremely few people on the planet that could do what he has done to the u.s. Or rather, was willing to do what he has.

      And while the tyrant hired a enormous amount of incompetents, he has finally got lucky with the crew he has now. Though any of them would fit in seamlessly in 1930’s Germany, barr, meadows, miller, pompeo. mcconnel, to name a few, are far from incompetent. If anyone thinks that the tyrant dreams up all these moves, think again. He barely knows what day it is. But the psychopaths I listed certainly know what’s what.

      I laughed and laughed Sunday night when watching and listening to so many talking heads flatly stating that it would a struggle for the Kentuckystan hitler to garner support for a new judge before Nov 3rd. Less than 24 hours later it was a fait accompli. And yes, I am talking about the pollyanna’s like Toobin, Axlerod, and Frum.

      All one needs to gain power is the will to do what the other guy won’t, and then to exercise that power when one has it, regardless of the consequences. The fascist party has proven that every day since I dunno, forever?

      Lastly, you want proof?

      Watch Saturday who the nominee is. Is it the religious fanatic, or the Cuban, which guarantees Florida and more Hispanic voter overall? Chris says it won’t be the fanatic, because that is not a smart political move. I say will be, because the tyrant does not care about silly ideas like counting votes, and his regime knows that those that control the levers of power, control everything.

      All levels of law enforcement: Check. SCOTUS: Check. Most governors: Check. At least 3 separate propaganda organs: Check. The only entities they don’t have control over are the House and the military. The House has proven how impotent they are, and the military is saying it will sit this one out.

  6. Yeah, for those that say I am a little apocalyptic, lets put a pin in these comments by the tyrant just today (among the hundreds of others that are variations of the same theme over the past 4 years), and revisit them Nov 4th:

    A few hours ago:
    https://apnews.com/8bb28627b03474a3a5ce2454ae3d1639?utm_campaign=SocialFlow&utm_medium=AP&utm_source=Twitter

    A little before the one above:
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-23/trump-says-supreme-court-needs-ninth-justice-to-decide-election

    If you seriously think voting will end this dictatorship, I welcome to you to look at the history of voting in various dictatorships across he planet, over, I dunno, the past 100 years. Or maybe limit it to the most recent elections in russia and belarus.

    The gameplan is set. The tyrant declares himself the winner Nov 3rd, demands that vote-counting be stopped in key states, and SCOTUS backs him. Or the various governors in key states decide to send delegations for the fascist party to the joint session in early Jan. Or any number of other ways as detailed by David Frum in this article.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/how-2020-election-could-go-wrong/614842/

    All backed by SCOTUS.

    But hey, I am sure that this will all work out just fine….

  7. https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/p/we-are-all-algorithms-now?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjoyMzE3OTgzLCJwb3N0X2lkIjoxODk1ODkxLCJfIjoiTjVyekEiLCJpYXQiOjE2MDA0NDg2NzYsImV4cCI6MTYwMDQ1MjI3NiwiaXNzIjoicHViLTYxMzcxIiwic3ViIjoicG9zdC1yZWFjdGlvbiJ9.T2ins9x8caden5PjAGuIaz8YBkOBRSC-CUEjJ9JcbUI
    (Disclaimer: I don’t agree with the author of the article that a EC victory, popular vote loss would be a legitimate win.)

    TLDR: One of the most important things right now is the hacking of our minds by tech. Much of the Internet is set up not to inform us, but to make us click things, because that’s how the people who made it get money. We’re up against biology and economics here. In the long run that’s what should scare us all, not the particular actors who are exploiting today or the particular lies they are spreading. It’s a conservative problem. It’s a progressive problem. It’s a problem for people like myself who don’t fit neatly into either of those camps. Our attention spans are shortening and we’re glued to stuff that makes us angry all the time.

  8. Howdy Chris and gang. Long time no see. I still read, but I rarely comment. It’s been a long 3.5 years.

    Not to be a downer, but reading “If the polls are almost as accurate in ’20 as they were in ’16, then Trump is done. Honestly, I’m not following it all that closely.” elicits a few deja vu feelings about your “Blue Wall” articles in 2016.

    While Biden is nowhere nearly as hated as Hillary, the GOP’s metastasized hate has happily found any number of real and imagined targets. I’m about as likely to meet an Antifa activist or MS13 gang member as I am to meet a polar bear, but evidently, those scoundrels are very prominent in the suburbs.

    Biden’s polling now looks better than Hillary’s at this point in 2016, but as usual, the race is already tightening and it is going to tighten further in battleground states. Barring a huge event in the next month, Biden will win the popular vote, but because the 500,000 people in Wyoming have more electoral power than the 4,000,000 people in Los Angeles, well, we know how that goes.

    Stay safe everyone.

    1. Five years ago, a young lady who had a Masters Degree in Behavioral Neuroscience, and was an Anarcho Communist, who knew people in AntiFa, went on social media, and told 7300 of her friends, fans, and followers, that she was moving into my house.

      Why did a woman with a Masters Degree have so many friends, fans, and followers ???

      Because she was a porno film actress.

      That being said, I have never met a polar bear

  9. A thread: the end of the natural world as we know it:

    https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/02/why-insect-populations-are-plummeting-and-why-it-matters/

    https://www.cropscience.bayer.com/people-planet/biodiversity/a/economic-value-pollinators

    https://www.techtimes.com/articles/64542/20150630/humans-cause-of-extinction-of-nearly-500-species-since-1900.htm

    Me, I blame the short term nature of capitalism and our willingness to use it as a form of government rather than as an economic belief system that needs regulation.

    1. The tyrant, his cronies, and all other enemies of humanity, among them the chinese and russian leadership WANT to see more Global Warming, in order to accelerate resource extraction in the Arctic.

      Capitalism, pure and simple, is madness. Any system built on unlimited growth inside a closed system, with limited resources, is total and complete madness. But humanity’s innate greed will continue with this system, because that system caters to said greed.

      That is no revelation.

      1. The coming Aristocracy control the government (owning it is more expensive) and can easily pick up and go wherever the environment is still habitable. They will hire whichever mercenaries are the most loyal, and will continue living in gated estates.

        All of this is a feature, not a bug (pardon the pun). The fewer poors using up their planet’s resources, the more they’ll have for themselves.

  10. FIRST
    Do not be too downhearted – we ARE making progress – considerable progress

    While 300 million Americans and 400 million Europeans have only seen a small amount of progress in their lives in the last 20 years (because the 1% have stolen most of it )

    1,400 million Chinese have seen their lives improve in leaps and bounds

    1,000 million others have also seen significant improvements

    We have halved the number of people in extreme poverty and have a chance of eliminating extreme poverty in the next 30 years

    We ARE making progress DESPITE the Orange Cockwomble and his pals

    In America today a single new policy could fix most of your problems

    A Universal basic Income for every adult citizen – $30,000 would be a good number – and half that for kids
    That would life everybody but the mental ill out of poverty and give the American worker the power he/she used to have with the unions

    1. Also, perhaps the single most revolutionary advance in human existence is chugging along quite remarkably. Significant, honest-to-goodness advances in considerably extending the human lifespan are making real progress – and many alive today may well live to see a day when we can make ourselves biologically immortal.

      Just to give a few examples, Dr. Greg Fahy accidentally stumbled onto a cocktail of drugs that was found to actually *reverse* many aspects of biological aging while conducting an experiment to revive the thymus (the master gland of our immune system) in humans. A new trial to expand on the 1st and confirm the results among a wider range of people is already underway.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFg-OMHvI2E&ab_channel=TEDxTalks

      Another riveting development comes from our short-lived friend, the nematode. Fun fact: nematodes are actually used in aging research because they share many of our genes, and because they only live for a few weeks, they’re fantastic for experiments that can give us results that might otherwise take years or decades.

      Scientists have found cellular pathways in the nematode can extend their lifespan up to five times, the equivalent of a human living 400 or 500 years. Drugs that can alter these pathways and extend human lifespan (although to what degree is unclear) are already under development.

      https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200108160338.htm

      Famed Harvard biologist George Church is currently working on gene therapy that can extend the lives of dogs by adding new DNA to their bodies, thus working around the slow march of destruction that, up until now, consumes us all – and he says that he wants to take his work to human beings next.

      https://www.technologyreview.com/2018/05/09/142971/a-stealthy-harvard-startup-wants-to-reverse-aging-in-dogs-and-humans-could-be-next/

      There are many more such examples, far too many to fit within a single response, but the last one I’ll mention is, IMHO, the most profound and far-reaching – the rise of Artificial Intelligence.

      Famed physicist and noted futurist Michio Kaku put it best and quite simply. We’re not so far off from a day when billions of humans are going to have their genomes sequenced (a once ridiculously expensive procedure barely more than a few hundred dollars today and projected to become much cheaper); after which an AI will work tirelessly to scan them all and find the aged genes. Coupled along with sufficient advances in CRISPR-esque technology, each individual person could have their own customized gene therapy to literally repair their bodies and, barring tragedy, allow them to live without limit.

      What was once relegated to the realm of fantasy is quickly becoming a reality.

      1. Humans already live very long lives compared to similar sized mammals – we need to because of our lifestyle

        I suspect that all of the “easy” life extending “switches” are already set to “long” – so that the changes that extend the lives of short lived beasties will not help us

        Not to say it won’t work – just saying it will be more difficult

      2. Even just a few hundred years (let alone unlimited) of additional lifespan presents considerable challenges, not doubt, but I think there are also some significant benefits too.

        I think it’d do wonders for so many of our challenges surrounding the climate debate. Trying to convince a certain segment of the population (read as old people) that this is a serious threat that needs intervention is so often like pulling teeth, and frankly part of the reason is that so many of them just aren’t going to be around to feel the consequences; but what if we turn around in 10 or 15 years and say that, instead of only expecting to live to be 80 or 90, now people can expect to live to be up to 150? I suspect a lot of people’s attitudes would start to change.

      3. If we engineer longer lives before we engineer better democracies, the McConnells and Trumps of the world will seat themselves for literal centuries and the regular people will never get the benefits of genetically protracted lives.

      4. @Aaron Dow: A prospect to send shivers down one’s spine tbs, but I very much doubt Trump’s going to live long enough to see it. Comrade Drumpf is wasting away in front of our eyes. Forget a decade or two ago, he’s not the man he was 4 yrs ago. In the decade or two it’s going to take to really get traction on reversing aging, he’s either going to be dead or talking about Making America Great to his imaginary friend Jim.

        You do raise a critical point though. There’s no point in living for as long as we want if our world’s burning down all around us. All the chips are in on this November. We have to win this one, no matter what.

      5. “I very much doubt Trump’s going to live long enough to see it”

        I didn’t say Donald or Mitch. I said the Trumps and McConnell’s of the world.

        There are always going to be people like that around. I mean, half the countries in the world are run by Donalds right now.

        Whereas people like that will always be around, we don’t want them to be around forever, if you get my drift.

      6. Ah, I see it now. My apologies for the mistake.

        Regardless, this is another point on which I think there’s a broader upside. How advantageous is it that all manner of aspiring dictator, authoritarian and wannabe Vladimir Putin (hi, Donald) engage a body politic with as much experience fighting against them as Luke Skywalker had handling a lightsaber in A New Hope? How long has it taken Americans to get a grip on resisting the incarnation of chaos in the WH, and how long might we hope those lessons ingrain themselves in our collective memory before a new generation steps up if things stay as they are?

        Now you’re absolutely right when you make the point that eliminating aging has its downsides in that very, very bad people will take advantage of it along with the good. That said, I argue it’s a net plus for us because the infinitely greater experience and collective memory strip away a key vulnerability that asshats like Trump and Putin exploit in every generation.

      7. “the infinitely greater experience and collective memory strip away a key vulnerability that asshats like Trump and Putin exploit in every generation.”

        I’m kinda curious if that’s true.

        I am not old. Yet I remember when driving on the interstate meant you had to stop off by service stations every few hours to clean all the bugs off the window. That’s no longer the case, because insect populations have been literally decimated by broad- and multi-acrage use of pesticides. The Elders, as it were, should recognize this obvious decline, as well as other strange weather pattern shifts.

        But they’re the ones most likely to deny there’s a problem at all. “It’s just cycles” and all that.

        Also on a more theoretical, perhaps philosophical level, I’m curious how much memory capacity the brain really has. Feels like after a certain point the Elder Citizens will start getting a bit addled.

        By the way, there’s an excellent science fiction movie about this called Zardoz that’s typically not taken seriously because it features Sean Connery in a red diaper, but really it’s a great flick.

      8. With regards to memory, one analysis likens it to being like the equivalent of a digital recorder holding about 3 million hours worth of television. In this scenario, you’d have to keep a television running nonstop for 300 years to run out of capacity – so yeah, our brains are a helluva machine as long as we can keep them running.

        https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-memory-capacity/

        Of all the issues that eliminating aging will require tackling, I honestly don’t think memory is one of them. Whether you’re talking about uploading unnecessary memories into a cloud, biomechanical memory enhancements, or whatever else – as long as we don’t nuke the planet (fingers crossed!), having time in the span of several hundred years is more than enough to reasonably expect a solution before our natural capacity runs out.

      9. Ryan-
        The loss of collective memory isn’t a passive phenomenon. It’s an active forgetting, a willful trashing of experience that no longer fits whatever new paradigm we wish to believe in.

        The atrocities of a specific regime (assuming they win) are usually forgotten within about 5-10 years. That’s not due to people aging out and dying. So people living longer will not prevent it.

        Most Chinese students born after 2000 don’t know about Tiananmen Square. It’s simply not taught in their high school or even college. That’s not because Xi’s memory is failing him and he himself doesn’t remember what happened there.

        The ‘children of the disappeared’ (babies born to protestors that were killed by the military junta) in Argentina literally had their birth history erased by the government: they were given to other families to be adopted, so that they would never ask questions about why their birth parents were killed:
        https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/27/child-argentinas-disappeared-new-family-identity

        Forgetting is an active act. Never forget that 🙂

      10. WX Wall-
        All points well taken, but that’s not what I was talking about. Shameless whitewashing of history (a legitimately horrific act, tbs) is different from people, collectively or otherwise, experiencing something and then actively being able to respond better to it the next time a similar situation shows up.

        To put it rather bluntly, not everyone is a self-interested asshole.

        That said, let’s put this into some context. Let’s say that thanks to Longevity Pill X, the vast majority of Millennials and Gen Z kids are still kicking 200 years from now looking nary a day over 40 (fingers crossed!) and we’ve a presidential election coming up. We’ve a generic Democrat on one side and a competent version of Donald Trump on the other. What are the chances that we’re going to actively forget everything that happened the first time around?

        Admittedly this scenario requires a certain leap of faith, but humans are nothing if not dedicated to their own survival. That isn’t to say people remembering these times, whether 200 or 1,000 years from now, will be a panacea for all our future ills or that a wannabe dictator will never gain power again – but I argue it certainly leaves us better prepared than we otherwise would be.

  11. Hi Jon, I will not claim that scientists are infallible and should never be questioned. Anybody who’s been in the field long enough will have gotten plenty of things wrong. One very important consideration in determining who to trust is this: are they willing to reevaluate and even change their conclusions / recommendations in light of new data? That’s a critical sign of putting truth first.

    So let’s take masks. There was some resistance to the idea that was cultural- it’s common in Asian countries, but not so much here. The first people I saw wearing masks in the Houston region are people working in the Belliare Chinatown on the west side. But the American experts did change course because the data warranted that. I think one of the most heinous things Trump did was the declare that mask wearing was all about saying “fuck you” to him (as opposed to protecting others) and giving his followers permission to be total assholes about it. He could have lead by example on this by endorsing masks as a way to slow the spread and therefore get back to normal sooner.

    As for risks, yes I think some of the experts soft pedaled on the protests. There are some decent guides for evaluating risks that you can use to make your choices. Going to an outdoor protest even with a mask has more risk than staying at home, but less risk than several hours in an indoor bar with no masks.

    Young people shouldn’t assume that they bullet proof, because some of them have serious after effects, like lung scarring and heart inflammation. There’s also the matter of them infecting at risk friends and family. My risk is as low as a middle aged person gets, but I don’t dare go into my parent’s’ house (my father is especially high risk). You can proclaim that America should open back up, but a significant number of people are not going back to business as usual until and unless they feel the pandemic is being brought under control, and that doesn’t happen until we get competent governance. I completely appreciate the economic hardship this is causing many people, which is again why we need people in government who get that this is not the time to complain about spending or keep tax breaks for the rich.

    1. @Fly
      It is true that changing one’s mind is, as a rule, a good sign. I would add to that, nobody should try to be authoritative about something where there is still uncertainty. (There are also people who hedge everything they say as an excuse for whataboutism and general bullshit-spewing, but that’s more in the realm of what Chris calls the right-wing grifters.)

      I read the article and the survey writeup it links to (which was surprisingly legible for an academic writeup, not that I’m upset). I appreciate that someone is asking the question. And much of what’s in that writeup is stuff I could use as talking points, i.e. the protesters relative to everyone else are much lonelier and more disrupted job-wise by the pandemic. There is also, and I’m surprised this doesn’t get mentioned in the article, a finding that protesters are 4-5 times more likely than non-protesters to have had a diagnosed coronavirus case in their household. (Although maybe testing rates differ by party/ideology? I’m genuinely unsure here.)
      Problem is, it’s all online survey data. So there’s halo effect in addition to the inescapable problem of all the interesting variables being correlated. The epid./bio. world saying that outdoors are relatively safe means much more than any attempts to analyze a natural social experiment about protests, because there was no and will be no such experiment.
      The authors say that protest participation is negatively correlated with an increase in infections (they use a ratio, not an absolute number). The graph is very noisy, even for social data. There’s the confounder of the pandemic hitting blue states first and red states second.
      There’s also the confounder you brought it up. Republicans have made a political football out of a disease. Red states thus have a culture problem that increases their susceptibility to this thing. Which I am guessing matters more than any other single factor. And to bounce off that, don’t worry; I have never forgotten that thanks to Trump and co. we are nowhere near the “efficient frontier” of tradeoffs. A competent government that wasn’t evil would have gotten us twice as much virus mitigation, at half the cost.

  12. The election is still worth paying attention to because it rests on HOW professional class white people vote. Not how like red or blue, but how like mailing in on time, making sure their registration is correct after scattering to the wind after COVID-19, and whether or not they trust that their vote will actually be counted.

    This demographic, being directly catered to in most elections and largely under the assumption that even if things get bad, they’ll be fine and can trust the process, may still believe their vote will pretty much be counted and it’s fine. If they do so in large numbers, then on November 4th at 7am Eastern Standard Time Trump will be showing a slight lead in most ‘swing states’ and even some ‘favored blue states’ and he will direct that the count be ended. The largely Republican led North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona will comply. Pennsylvania’s a toss-up and Wisconsin may comply too if it’s not already showing a Biden lead. Aggressive focus on Pennsylvania may have swung it in real numbers to Trump anyway, compliance or not, but both sides will descend and sue and counter sue around Pennsylvania, which will largely swing the election.

    Those suits will go to the Supreme Court faster than most suits, but regardless they’ll be received by a court that is, let us recall:

    > seating 3 Trump appointees, (Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and whoever the GOP seats by this Friday)
    > headed by a justice who has been a lifelong activist against voting rights, (Roberts),
    > and Clarence Thomas, who is dependably about conservative power in all things.

    It really then is a question over whether Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, despite their relationship to Trump, decide the Constitution has to say about handling the vote count, and Alito, who could possibly swing.

    But anyway the point is that modern American politics are such that if there are any demographics who can be surprised because they they assume with any confidence how things should turn out, that demographic is the weak point in the chain that will be exploited. That group is heavily weighted, right now, to be the professional class white people. They simply believe their vote will be counted and that regardless of how bad voting rights get, they’ll at least have a foot in the door.

    Now the risk the GOP runs with that of course is pissing off the professional class white people, who are also the most likely to go nuclear on them. So it means that if the GOP chooses that literally nuclear option, they’ll have to essentially immediately go to work dismantling any route of redress that demographic has in government pretty much the second the Supreme Court announces Trump’s win. So, the coup could be swift and furious.

    The best way to avoid this is for the white professional class voters to doubt their vote will be counted NOW, so that they ensure it’s counted by November 3rd. If Biden has already held the lead by the morning of the 4th, then that situation can be avoided. This is, as far as I’m concerned, the main thing to keep your eye on in terms of electoral news. Outside of that, I agree, it’s hard to talk about what may come because our society currently doesn’t have a future.

    What do I mean by that?

    I don’t mean that events won’t happen and that we have no hope and should just give up all attempt to make the best world possible. I mean the future in its political and philosophical meaning, the Hegelian future that derives from a narrative continuity placed in consensus of a population that believes its heading in a particular direction. Just as the winners write history, the cultural consensus of what a society or a nation even is writes their expectations of a future. Without that consensus we have no future, and what that future will end up being will be written by the winners of the cultures at war in this present. In other words, you and me and all of our like-minded group will write the future once we defeat the people who are trying to destroy it, but to believe that we will inherently win is … not proven historically.

    So without that certitude, it’s not really clear we can comment on what can happen because we don’t know who will control what will.

    When I think back to other times in history when the collective consensus of a shared future was broken by epistemological warfare, the striking thing is that people were prone to write a ton of manifestoes. I think that’s where manifestoes are useful — they’re statements of intent. “Give me the reins of history and I will drive you here.”

    So if you’re looking at all these threads and wondering what to write about, you should probably think less in terms of “how do we comprehend what is happening and what will happen” and more in terms of “what do we commit to doing and make happen?” And the thing that sucks about manifestoes is that once you write one you’re pretty much committed to it in the eyes and judgments of others, so your manifesto has to be pretty final and quite literally fundamentally no really this is not figurative at all but very truthfully put your neck on the line for it.

    Because if you lose then someone else will use their manifesto to cut your head off.

    1. There are practical options that Democrats should consider for constraining the packed conservative courts that are designed to enable republicans to maintain power despite losing elections in future years. Should democrats succeed in taking the Senate (and holding the House (even if T manages to steal the election), consider the following possibilities.

      https://newrepublic.com/article/158992/biden-trump-supreme-court-2020-jurisdiction-stripping?

  13. Good list. My two cents of what I would like to see:

    1. Race as America’s founding ethos, its “load-bearing wall.”
    It wasn’t until I was in college that I became aware of just how much of the wealth of New England depended on the slave trade. It was a real eye-opener to me.

    2. Steeply declining fortunes of rural residents and those who live on more traditional labor.
    This is a heart-breaking problem with no clear solution. A few years back I was in WV for a church service trip. There were many ideas to revive the region presented to our group, and several of them were good ideas, but very small scale…not clear that there was a real solution to the grinding poverty, loss of young people to more prosperous places or the ravages of the opioid epidemic.

    3. Implications and potential responses to climate change.
    The back-burner problem that dwarfs all others.

    I don’t know if anyone is interested in discussing K-12, especially 9-12 education. What makes the most sense for the world we live in now? What should students be expected to know? How do we level the playing field? This is a particular interest of mine to be sure, but from my experience in teaching high school, it just isn’t working for a lot of kids.

  14. “…. if Republicans have to spend millions to hold Texas it’s hard to see how they win this thing.”

    Report from the ground in Houston- I saw a few Trump ads on TV back in June/early July, but I can’t recall seeing any since then. I’ve seen a few Biden ads in the last few weeks. I don’t spend all day watching TV, but if the ad is airing frequently enough, I’m going to see it eventually. The contest over TX-07 takes up most of the political ad time I see. I’ve seen pro-Fletcher ads, pro Hunt ads, and one anti-Hunt ad. Hunt has a nice descendant-of-slaves-graduates-from-West-Pt. back story, but he’s signed on to play on team we’ve-going-to-kill-the-ACA-even-though-we-don’t-have-an-actual-replacement, which I can’t see being a winner in these parts. No Fletcher-is-Pelosi’s-minion!! fear mongering that I’ve seen so far this time, but I expect that will change. The 2nd most prominent set of ads is for TX-02, where I’ve seen pro-Ladjegardian and pro-Crenshaw ads. This one is a heavier lift for the Dems because its one of the most egregiously gerrymandered districts in the state. Recently my district, TX-22, has entered the ad fray. A national group is running an ad attacking GOPer Nehls for some questionable acts in his law enforcement career, and Dem Sri Kulkarni has started running his first ad, which stresses the need to follow the science to get past the pandemic (YAY!).

    The NRCC diverted $ away from Houston recently, although other GOP groups are reported to be getting into the battle next week:

    https://www.texastribune.org/2020/09/18/NRCC-Houston-ads/

  15. The need for labor is going to decline as production gets more automated and more efficient. Jobs requiring originality and detail craft like labor will remain. But few and fewer of us will work in factories. Just like when automation hit farming the labor need is going to go way down. So how do we deal with this , making sure people get what they need and society stays stable. Service jobs has so far taken up the slack but few of those jobs provide a reasonable standard of living. That might be an interesting write.

  16. I remember a good while back you talked about the rise of an itinerant professional class and discussed how they have a shared culture in the various places that they travel around to. I take it that this is the “large, diverse upper middle class, tied together by education, increasingly earning a living in capital as much as wages.”?

    I feel like this, the concentration of economic and cultural power in megacities, and the steeply declining fortunes of rural residents and those who live on more traditional labor are all an issue that’s intertwined in a very messy ball of policy questions. There are a lot of these policy questions. I like to summarize them down to just a handful:

    1) How do we make sure that we don’t end up with grave inequalities that result in a jet-setting itinerant professional upper class with more freedoms, power, and political influence than others who may be tied down to jobs that render them an underclass that only exist make life comfortable for the upper class? The rise of the gig economy has shined a light on some very bad situations, and created very bad situations all its own that’re going to need to be reversed and also prevented in the future.

    2) There are those who’ve only known change and upheaval and moving from place to place all their lives in ways that were harmful to them and just want to stay somewhere. At the same time, there are those who do their best work and feel most at place with long-term structure and routine. How do we ensure that they have a chance to succeed, climb upward economically, and bring their best to the table in a world where plutocrats seem to want everyone to be moving around and changing jobs every couple years?

    3) How do we prevent a monoculture that leans toward whiteness from erasing diversity in art, food, architecture, and more? You know what I’m talking about: The various upscale gastropubs, restaurants with “elevated”/fusion cuisine that make finding the original traditional difficult, gentrified near-identical neighborhoods and shopping centers, aesthetic and design choices, and so forth. How do we prevent this sameness that seems like it was built out to ensure that North American and European white people have some places that they know are “safe” to go to or be around from taking away the various diverse things that makes cities great?

    These are the kinds of forward-looking topics for which I really want (and honestly need) to see some optimistic scenario-building and hypotheticals.

  17. This does have connections to things you’ve listed, but the way our education system has failed so many people deserves its own mention. Being a scientist, I am beyond dismayed at how many people are dismissing the epidemiologists as a pandemic has claimed 200K+ lives, devastated large segments of the economy, and up ended our lives. The fact that we have people throwing public temper tantrums over a little thing like wearing a mask outside your house tells we that the willful ignorance is at the highest threat level, as in you cannot sustain a society long term. But that’s still nothing compared to what climate change had in store for us.

    The 2nd big failure is the widespread ignorance of American history, which is one of the main reasons we can’t fight off all the White supremacist demons of the past. Take the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 and the destruction of Black Wall Street. I never learned about it in school, not even in college. But even more shocking is the story of a Black elected official (can’t remember who off the top of my head, and I’m doing a quick post on the iPhone), who grew up in Tulsa, head about this for the first time in a college class, and his first reaction was this can’t be true, because I grew up in Tulsa and nobody told me about it.

    On a different note, I do expect Boss Tweet to try to overturn an election result that does not favor him. In that case we need to copy those brave people in Hong Kong and Belarus. General strike. Shut it all down.

    1. I lived through the tumultuous sixties. When the elite realize their skin will be at risk they will decide compromise is better than facing the angry mob. I am hoping we can bring our poorer cousins into the prosperity. It is in all of our long range interest to do so. Society will not survive the kind of unrest if we do not. I am pretty sure Joe will try to do that. But this is not going to be solve just at the Federal Level. It will take many governments, companies and individuals working on this problem to get this done. And it will have to be done simultaneously dealing with other big problems like climate change.

    2. @ Fly – I know I said most of this a couple months back and we more or less agreed to disagree about a lot of it, so I’ll understand if you don’t want to respond, but:

      My faith in epidemiologists (read: my faith in institutional knowledge) has gone down substantially since March. First there was the pivot on masks. I’m rather proud of having done a couple hours’ research in the right places and coming up with a pro-mask stance 2-3 weeks before the health world and media did. But it’s scary; they made a lie so transparent that a mildly interested layperson could see that it was probably wrong.
      They did this again by refusing to investigate BLM protests as a transmission vector. Again, I don’t have a degree in virology, but my understanding is that having a bunch of people crammed together helps airborne viruses spread, even if wearing masks and being outdoors mitigates that. (Why couldn’t they have made phone calls or hand-written letters instead?) Adding to that, they wanted to blame a surge in cases on 4th of July gatherings. Which no doubt were bad too, but in context it sure looks like an attempt to deflect blame from Blueland onto Redland. Similar story with the Sturgis Rally.
      Then there’s the fearmongering exaggeration of the danger, and people calling for lockdown to keep going on. There is the media’s alarmist bias at play here, but I think a lot of it is (in this case medical) researchers blowing the thing they study totally out of proportion. They don’t balance the need to slow/contain C-19 against any other concern. To use the the driving analogy, there’s a reason we don’t have a national speed limit of 10mph to save lives. (Being in my early 20s, I will also say that I am irritated at every outlet which uses the anecdotal evidence of one teen dead from COVID to try making me personally afraid of the virus. I take steps to not spread the thing to others, but let’s get real. For young people this thing blends in with dozens of other miniscule risks. The Interstate scares me more, and I still use it. I do not appreciate the attempt to scare me into doing things I was already doing by virtue of being a halfway decent citizen.)
      (Btw, I like having the lockdown for 2-4 weeks. Past that, I don’t think it was justified. That time came at immense economic and mental health cost, and we didn’t get much use out of it. And let’s not forget that the biggest supporters of lockdown were those who could work from home instead of getting laid off.)

      I understand the need to designate knowledge specialists and take them at their word. If I could make all of America read one book it would be Tom Nichols’s The Death of Expertise. But my perception is that the people upon whom we rely to create and disseminate knowledge are increasingly more interested in forging political grenades than they are in discovering truth. When they assert things that anyone can see is false, it doesn’t make me think I should trust them on the things I *can’t* fact-check.

      1. Most of my reply ended up above, but this is relevant:

        https://news.northeastern.edu/2020/08/11/racial-justice-protests-were-not-a-major-cause-of-covid-19-infection-surges-new-national-study-finds/

        The data is still being crunched, but the emerging consensus is that indoors with no masks is your biggest risk of super-spreading. Evaluation of the effects of any single event, whether it is the Sturgis rally or an individual BLM protest, will become clearer once enough time has passed to allow the trends to be seen.

      2. Under 17 America is a pluralistic entity. (I hate the term ‘majority-minority’. Aside from being clunky, I feel it’s misleading and divisive) How will America’s understanding of whiteness and race evolve as year by year the country changes from a society with a white majority to a society with a plurality? I’m heartened by the fact that among white males, GOP is weakest among the under 30 set, suggesting maybe that as older more frightened cohorts die off, maybe the browning of America will become less of a stressor?

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