Progress Report 2

An 1871 cartoon portraying the Irish Threat.

What new or updated mythology can we assemble to replace the role of white supremacy? What will knit us together as a nation if whiteness has faded beyond critical mass?

Over the past few weeks I’ve stepped back from posting to hash through this question at length. The research has been fascinating and surprising.

One interesting conclusion stands out – white supremacy is not our founding mythology. Though African slavery dates back to our earliest colonial days, it took another century for the concept of “race” to emerge. And notion of whiteness as a unifying identity, more powerful than religious or ethnic identities, didn’t begin to emerge until about the Civil War. It took decades longer (about the 1920’s) for the idea to rise to dominance.

If this true, it suggests that racism and white supremacy are not as irreplaceable as some would assume. Americans have derived meaning and community from other mythologies in the past, which suggests we could adapt new ones.

Here’s how the project looks up to this point.

Dawn of Post-White America: It’s Better and Worse Than You Think

It is easier to destroy a unifying myth than to replace it.

White Supremacy Lives in System 1

White Supremacy is a mythology, a collection of shared narratives, many of a religious or spiritual nature, out of which our mental model of the world is formed. What it gives us, in addition to our innate definitions of “us” and “them,” is an evolutionary burden we call “implicit bias,” unconscious attitudes or stereotypes which distort our reasoning.

Why We Need Shared Myths

We inherently distrust information from people who reject our core mythologies. Absent a shared mythology we cannot even a share an empirical reality. People will not trust a set of alleged facts unless they share a mythological framework defining truth.

Half Devil, Half Child: The World Through White Eyes

We have to understand why we invented whiteness in the first place, and quickly, if we’re going to replace it with something better. That begins with understanding what white supremacy is, and what it isn’t.
White supremacy isn’t a policy preference, a statement of fact, or a personal preference. It isn’t a set of beliefs, though a belief system often grows out of it. White supremacy has no rational basis, no dependence on facts or evidence. White supremacy isn’t bigotry. It isn’t hatred of blacks. White supremacy is a mythology attaching superior value to cultural artifacts defined as “white,” and inferiority, immorality and threat to anything seen as “black.”
At the core of this mythology is an unconscious aesthetic. Like our innate emotional response to certain colors or sounds, or our reaction to facial gestures, white supremacy embeds cultural cues, categorizing inputs, concepts or values we see as “white” as inherently good. Anything perceived as “black” is inherently menacing, corrupt, criminal or dangerous.

How Racial Slavery Developed

Early 17th century colonists had not yet adopted the concept of chattel slavery or race-based slavery. For that matter, they hadn’t imagined into being the concept of race itself.
Once Virginia made official its commitment to Caribbean-style race slavery, the rest of the colonies were forced to face the matter directly. All embraced race-based chattel slavery, at least until the years leading up to the American Revolution.
Race, as a concept, evolved out of economic demands.
Race slavery needed a mythological foundation, a narrative system that would ensure its support among the broader population. Contrary to popular belief, this foundation never quite coalesced. Whiteness, as a unifying mythology, developed much more slowly than blackness.

America Before White Supremacy: Anglo-Saxonism in the North

History always looks like a straight line.
America was not always dominated by a white supremacist ethic, and it need not necessarily be dominated by this mythology into the future. Its evolution demonstrates how power shapes our perception of the world.
From about the time of the English Civil War to the late 18th century, England was developing a national mythology that came to be described as Anglo-Saxonism.
Mythology follows power, and power in 18th century England needed a national identity that would meld the new Protestant states into alliance against their Catholic enemies.
When 18th century English parliamentarians thought about threats to their world, they weren’t thinking about race as much as religion.
White supremacy emerged later in the American experience, and across the British Empire, to meet a set of needs that matured in the 19th century, out of strands that had been present earlier. Likewise, we can adapt a successor mythology out of the best ideological strands developed by our predecessors.

Cavalier Mythology in the Antebellum South

The Anglo-Saxonist mythology that spread in the earliest northern colonies didn’t resonate in the plantation economies that developed later in the South. There, a rival “Cavalier” mythology derived from the losers in England’s Civil War took hold.
Their “Cavalier” mythology rested on an ancient code of martial honor and aristocratic hierarchy. It was suspicious of the Enlightenment, prioritized authority over liberty, and was marked by a romantic ideal of agricultural life over the grubby concerns of mercantile and industrial interests. Slavery fit comfortably inside this aristocratic ethic, but landless whites didn’t. This would cause problems.
Myths follow power. Powerful people in the Antebellum South feared landless whites almost as much as they feared their slaves. They struggled and largely failed to construct a mythology that could successfully bring white people together in a unifying identity.

Crackup: How Antebellum Mythologies North and South Collapsed

Before there was QAnon, the target of our persistent, seemingly innate “Satanic baby-killing sex cabal” archetype were Catholics, especially Jesuits. Ireland in our mid-19th century imagination was what Latin America or the Middle East are for Americans today, a distant, incomprehensible hellhole of violence and instability, pouring forth destitute masses who “don’t share our values.”
[Author] Monk quickly faded away but her book inspired a flood of similar works, a whole industry of gothic porn for prudes, loaded down with anti-Catholic hysteria. That genre pitched a sexualized, blood libel paranoia, identical almost down to the word to the tropes in today’s QAnon, fueling waves of ethnic violence.
Thanks to this hysterical wave of nativism, the Congress elected in 1854 was split among six different political parties. Abraham Lincoln expressed his frustration with this crisis in 1855:
“As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes and foreigners and Catholics.””
Ironically, this failure in the Northern states to adapt their mythology to accept new Catholic immigrants would bring slavery to the fore as a national issue. A wave of anti-Catholic porn in the North would kick off a chain of events that would eventually doom slavery in the South.

Birth of a Nation: The Rise of White Supremacy

Why White Supremacy Failed

College and the Toxic Myth of Merit

Wokeness Is Missing a ‘Theory of Us’

The Coming Wave of Political Violence

A New American Mythology

44 Comments

  1. Totally OT, but… I’ve been enjoying Chris Gage and Christine Albert’s livestreams — longtime Austin musicians and thoroughly charming people on every Monday and Friday at 8C, with guests on Mondays.

    Chris apparently had a regular Monday night gig at Donn’s Depot in downtown Austin for many years. I look forward to being there in person when all this is over.

  2. I really look forward to the rest of your pieces, especially about college and wokeness.

    I’d make a few points here:
    I don’t think you can unify humans without defining an “other” to hate. As long as that “other” is someone outside the nation (however you define the nation) then the “nation” is considered unified. But if that “other” is someone you consider part of the “nation” then you’ll say that the mythology is dividing, not uniting “us”.

    IOW, there are two sides of this coin: the unifying mythology that you focus on, and exactly who you think belongs within the “nation” you wish to unify. I think you need to state explicitly who belongs in this “nation”. I’m not trying to be pedantic. This is really important. In the past, for example, Native Americans weren’t considered part of our nation. Indeed, legally, they’re still considered their own “nations” that happen to have exceedingly tight relationships with the USA. The Articles of Confederation were written with the distinct notion that each state was basically its own “nation” and only a few tasks were to be handled by a centralized Federal government. At that point, a Boston resident probably felt closer to English Pilgrims than to the scots-Irish or Germans in Pennsylvania.

    These questions are not settled: are illegal immigrants part of our “nation”? How about non-citizen legal immigrants? Many Democrats no longer view Southerners as part of their “nation”; ironically, that helps unify Californians and New Yorkers who otherwise barely understand each other. Conversely, believing in climate change means you believe that, at least in some sense, everyone in this world is part of a “nation” and we must take care of everyone. If you graduate from Harvard Business School and need a job, you’re more likely to turn to a fellow Alum in Hong Kong than your neighbor down the street. What is his notion of “nationality”?

    Trump devised a national mythology based on hating illegal immigrants, foreigners, and “the deep state” (Which was viewed as an Un-American fifth column within our borders). A surprising number of minorities and women came together with white men and coalesced around this mythology. Depending on your definition of nation, Trump can be viewed as a unifier (he certainly beat out every other Republican, and every Democrat in 2016).

    So before you start looking for a mythology, perhaps you can answer: who exactly do you want to unify? And then, maybe we can work backwards to figure out what is common among those groups that we can use to tie them [us] together. This is a decidedly utilitarian view of crafting a mythology, rather than starting with first principles, morals, psychology, etc. And if you use this method, you could no longer say “my myth is better / more moral / etc than yours”, and be content with simply saying “it works better than yours”. But national myths have a decidedly utilitarian purpose any: they allow for coalition building to get things done. If that wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t be talking about national myths anyway.

    2) A historical example that you might find interesting: India was never a nation until the British conquered it. Until then, it was a set of numerous kingdoms, who were at war with each other, and didn’t even share much of a culture such as food, social customs, or even language. And the divergences within Hinduism are so vast as to make your Christian Protestant vs Catholic schism seem triflingly absurd to fight about.

    The British who still think they “helped civilize” India with their horrific colonial practices still cling to this point. And Winston Churchill never wanted to give independence to India because he figured they would break up back into their warring kingdoms and conflicts driven by race, religion, language, ancient (many thousands of years) divisions, etc. He would have been right, except the British made one mistake that turned out to be a blessing in disguise: they partitioned India and created Pakistan. Instantly, all those warring sides coalesced into a unified hatred of this new country (and they did the same).

    Pakistan’s founding myth was as a Muslim nation: if you were Muslim and you believed religion trumped any cultural, linguistic, or historic differences, then you migrated to Pakistan. And if, regardless of religion, you believed that a nation should be based on secular principles and tolerant of all religions, then you migrated to India. Now, these weren’t absolutely pure myths (India has plenty of sectarian violence to this day; Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, believed in a Muslim state that was still democratic and protected minorities). But they were strong enough to cause the largest (and most violent) internal migration in the history of any country at the time of Partition. People were literally self-sorting based on the national myth they chose to believe.

    It’s ironic but I think true: if the British had left India unified, it probably would have split up into a bunch of small, warring states; a sort of Asian balkans. By splitting the colony, they allowed the creation of a powerful “other” that unified the resulting nations.

    And this is why I think you need to define who you include in your nation. It’s not always obvious. In the early days after partition, when India and Pakistan were literally at war with each other, diplomatic talks were often held by Generals in the opposing armies who could reminisce about finding in the same units together against the British. When Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, met Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister of Pakistan, they exchanged school report cards: Singh had been born in pre-Partition Pakistan, and Musharraf had been born in pre-Partition India, and so they gave each other their old school’s report cards as gifts.

    3) I wish you godspeed on this project, because if we don’t define a unifying mythology soon, Trump’s mythology will win by default. The Democrats, with their descent down the rabbit hole of identity politics and wokeness will soon challenge the very idea of having a unifying myth. While I support the quest of marginalized communities to have their needs and issues understood and addressed, and their differences respected and celebrated, this is rapidly turning from “you and I are different, so let’s understand, cherish, and help each other” to “you and I are so different, we can’t possibly be on the same side on anything.”

    At least the Republicans only see a division between white people and everyone else. Democrats are starting to see in fractals: a never ending pattern of divisions that doesn’t stop no matter how deep you go.

    1. WX, your characterization of the Democratic party tickled me. You chose different words, of course; Will Rogers never heard of fractals. But other than the vocabulary difference (BTW, I like your characterization), I think he beat you to it by about a hundred years.

      Sadly, I think it’s like some of the things we see in software: It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

    2. This is the part that’s making me nervous about the whole project: “So before you start looking for a mythology, perhaps you can answer: who exactly do you want to unify? And then, maybe we can work backwards to figure out what is common among those groups that we can use to tie them [us] together.”

      It has occurred to me that we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion, or have experienced the Trump Administration, if there was still a Soviet Union. That “other” was quite a gift. The need for an other seems indispensable and troubling.

      1. Internal others are almost always inherently bad.

        External others are almost, well, inherently bad.

        I’m no fan of Ronald Reagan. In fact, I’d place a lot of the blame on the current collapse of this country on Reagan. And I was calling the Trump Administration’s 4th year the 40th year of the Reagan Revolution instead.

        But, he got one thing right, and I’ll quote it (from 1987):

        “Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”

        So, the “best” “others” would be the humans who are inciting violence and war. Of course the problem is that about half of Americans would fit into that group of “others”.

      2. Why is it troubling though? I’ll make an analogy: communists think capitalism is inevitably bad and must be completely extinguished. Capitalists, on the other hand, view it as a powerful force that can be used for good if properly regulated and channeled.

        Creating a national myth is the same thing. Hitler created a national myth around racial superiority and injustices the rest of Europe imposed on Germany after WWI. We can agree that was bad. But Japan has a similar myth around racial purity that has served as a powerful cohesive force for a thousand years. Sure, they never sent their racial minorities to gas chambers, but they didn’t need to: Japan has less than 2% non-Japanese population. And their notion of racial superiority is a lot “softer” than Hitler’s, presented more as a cultural pride while hiding the discriminatory aspects from daily view.

        I would argue that Japan used that myth of racial superiority far better than Germany (aside from the egregious mistake of siding with Germany in WWII). Part of the reason for Japan’s famous social cohesion and sense of community is because they have a very narrow definition of who is Japanese, and actively keep out anyone who isn’t one. In the 1980s and 90s, there were plenty of American articles admiring their ability to cooperate and advance as a nation, whether it was through their govt/private partnerships, the commitment of their corporations to their employees, the social fabric that emphasized community over American’s emphasis on individuality, etc. But no one wants to say that the basis of that was a sense of racial superiority that never went away even after being defeated in WWII. It’s sort of like how the non-polarized, supposedly golden era of unity and comity in America in the 50s and 60s was based on a general agreement to keep blacks out of that society.

        I view it this way Chris: the notion of an in-group and out-group is ingrained in all of us. Ever since we were chimps living in colonies in the plains of Africa, the only way we survived was developing the social graces to live in a group without killing each other, and that meant defining an “other” that could be the object of our hatred instead of our immediate neighbor.

        If we define the in- and out- groups right, it will be a powerful force for keeping our society together, and as long as our elites allow us to channel our hatred of the out-group in “safe” ways (we were allowed to make plenty of Rocky vs the Russians and Red Dawn type movies, but any General who was seen as too reckless about nuclear war would be pushed out of the leadership) then it can be a good thing. Our hatred of the Soviets allowed us to stay unified as a country, as you mentioned. It also allowed us to rebuild Europe and Japan. We basically gave away money and expertise, while providing a defense guarantee basically for free, all in the name of preventing communism from spreading. And while we also committed atrocities in that name as well (Vietnam, plus a hundred low-intensity conflicts around the globe), overall, perhaps the time from the end of WWII to the fall of the USSR was not too bad for America and the world?

  3. Longtime lurker and first post here. I used to reach out to you from time to on Facebook Chris before I deleted it. While we are having problems from the GOP in it`s current state of dysfunction. I believe they are at their high water mark with less than half a tank of gas in their car, $45 in their pocket, no job, A baby`s moma ( Tea Party/Christian Nationalists ) demanding child support, and a maxed out credit card of demographics they cant make the payments on that are coming due.

    In the next Presidential election, in 2024, Two big elements of their main core of voters will reach the maximum tipping point mortality wise and begin checking out in droves. All remaining Silent Generation voters will be aged 79-96. Out of this group, it`s mostly women left with an average lifespan of 81.1 years. You can probably conservatively subtract 2-3 million votes from the GOP`s 2020 tallies by the time 2024 comes around.

    The next group, The Baby Boomers, will start to be in their late 70`s in 2024, and have an age range of 78- 60. The average lifespan for a white male in the US is 76.1 years old. Around this time, that group which is so vital to all GOP campaigns should start checking out at an accelerated pace.

    Can the GOP replicate 74-75 Million votes again in 2024? Even with Trump as the nominee? I`d say there is a high probability they wont even break 70 million. Which means they will have to reduce Democratic turnout in ways far greater than they have been doing. That 81 million vote tally can only stay about the same -or- go up. I dont expect any measurable amount to peel off and vote GOP, dont see the young & new voters drifting towards the GOP, and I don’t see the Democrats having an enthusiasm gap unless they self sabotage with a well planned way to do so. To target reduce and win a narrow electoral college victory will take measure so drastic and odious that would only work if the GOP controlled the White House with competent leadership.

    The GOP is pinning their hopes that 2022 will be another 2014 for them. Again, I dont see the Democratic voters being “unenthused” and staying home. I think it will be like 1998, and the GOP loses seats and the Dems slightly expand their majorities.

    In Summary, the more Republicans the Democrats can vote out of office in `22 &`24, the fewer they will have to “mop up” in 2026-2030.

    1. John-
      You should never depend on demographics to hand you an election. That just means you’re avoiding the dirty work of crafting a popular policy platform, or organizing and turning out your coalition.

      To answer specifically: the Republicans don’t have to jettison on iota of Trump’s ideology. They only have to double down on the isolationist, economic populism part of it. This is much harder for Democrats to do, since part of their appeal to upper middle class suburbanites is precisely their global, transnational perspective. Indeed, in most of Europe, it’s right-wing, racist, and neo-Nazi parties that are the most populist, while liberal parties tend to be more global / free trade / interventionist. Nativism and populism go together hand-in-hand. Whenever the Republicans figure this out, they will come back roaring.

      What Bernie and Trump both demonstrated is that the largest electoral group right now is the people seething with rage about the ruling class i.e. DC and Wall St, who got away with killing the economy in 2008, and who are now getting away with killing the economy with their quarantines. In both cases, govt handed over trillions to soothe the discomfort of Wall St. billionaires who could no longer afford their second yacht. Meanwhile Main St. Americans were / are being thrown out of their houses, losing their jobs, and dying in backed up ambulances and politicians just shrug their shoulders. They can keep working while “quarantining” on their yacht moored in the Caribbean, while their kids get their zoom lessons from their private tutors while playing on the sun deck. Meanwhile, ordinary Americans have to work for minimum wage as an Uber driver, making deliveries and riding with dozens of strangers every day, while their child basically loses a year of education and falls further behind.

      I can’t predict what party, Dem or Republican, will win in 2024, but I am 75% certain of what their slogan will / should be: Eat The Rich. Already, guys like Marco Rubio are figuring out how to graft that message onto Trump’s base coalition. It’s not a hard task.

      1. “ You should never depend on demographics to hand you an election. That just means you’re avoiding the dirty work of crafting a popular policy platform, or organizing and turning out your coalition.”

        This x1000000! The youth voting percentages have been improving, but they need to be higher. Older voters still turn out in the highest percentages and it’s not a good idea to assume enough of them will just die off in time to hand you a win. There’s also the issue of why some blocs of non-White voters had a lot of Trump voters, despite his obvious racism. 2020 was a wake up call- no easy wins.

      2. WX, how is it accurate to say that the largest electoral group is those who are seething with rage? Maybe 73m voters, but the majority? I’m not trying to look through rose-colored glasses here, but the electoral majority clearly picked the Democratic Party president. What this really means is likely deeper than I can fathom. Where I am in total agreement with you is that the democrats large tent is going to mske it difficult to find unanimity of purpose. It is not enough to simply “hate T”. I , for one, am going to give Biden more time. If democratic leadership decides to play too nice with republicans, then you’re right. Personally, I am ready for some real hardball here. The alternative is too grim to fathom.

        This breaking story is interesting for what it tells us about the House Republican leadership.

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/31/gop-rep-kinzinger-start-new-pac-challenge-partys-trump-supporters/

      3. Mary-
        In 2016, both parties had standard-bearer establishment candidates that had overwhelmingly dominant leads in fundraising, party backing, organizing infrastructure, etc, and were expected to cruise through the primaries (Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton). Both establishment candidates faced surprise insurgent candidates who were underfunded, poorly organized, and weren’t even part of the party, both running on a platform of economic grievance (albeit with important differences). Despite the establishments of both parties throwing everything they could at them, one insurgent toppled the establishment candidate, and the other insurgent came incredibly close to doing so. In hindsight, the Dems should have let their insurgent win the primary, since their establishment candidate lost in the general.

        IMHO, I would argue that’s a pretty powerful endorsement of the idea that economic populism was the most popular and powerful force in the 2016 elections (unfortunately, it was split between the 2 parties, but still managed to win one primary, nearly win the other, and ultimately win the general). Note, I’m not saying that was the only reason for people supporting Sanders or Trump. Then again, Clinton and Trump (and Biden) supporters have numerous reasons for their support too. But when you combine the economic populists within the Sanders and Trump camps, and realize how big that was without any money or attention paid to organizing and turning out that group by the party establishment, then I do think they form the largest voting bloc (all you need is a plurality to win).

        And in 2020, I’d say most of the candidates running on the Dem primary would have agreed with me. They all tried to get in front of that mob and call it a parade. Medicare-for-all went from being an idea derided as looney-tunes extreme left to something the majority of Dem candidates supported (though notably not Biden). Many of them scrambled to support Warren’s call for a wealth tax.

        And on the Republican side, no one is calling to reverse Trump’s re-negotiation of NAFTA, or de-escalate the trade war with China.

        If the Republicans had a primary, I bet you’d have seen plenty of former “free market, capitalist” candidates start talking about economic injustice. In 2024, I bet we’ll see them out in force. That said, you and I may not like their populist policies, which would probably include things like restricting immigration — something Sanders supports, and more odious prescriptions.

  4. You wrote: At the core of this mythology is an unconscious aesthetic.

    That is an interesting sentence.

    I’m not sure why, but it reminds me of a character in a book I read over 40 years ago.

    The same fellow who wrote The Natural (also a Robert Redford movie), Bernard Malamud, also wrote The Fixer.

    In that book, a Jew is accused of killing a Catholic boy to drink his blood (?). Perhaps; the details of the story are lost to me, but the main character’s faith in logical thought — common sense, some might say — remain.

    This is how I remember it. At every set back, the main character clings more fiercely to his belief that common sense, logical thought, will ultimately save him.

    My heart broke for him each time. All around him is rage and illogic. He seems so naive, unconscious even, about the forces against him.

    So, if one’s aesthetic is unconscious, how does the possessor of that aesthetic change it?

    If one’s country’s opponents are not conscious of their aesthetic, what policy advances move them into change? Into ceasing what they can’t see?

    1. “So, if one’s aesthetic is unconscious, how does the possessor of that aesthetic change it?”

      That’s really the heart of the problem, isn’t it?

      I think there are two dimensions to this problem. The first is how to bend the myth-making process to evoke “better” mythologies out of people. The second one is weird and unpredictable – the relatively sudden emergence of a ‘mass-educated class,’ something humanity has never before experienced, who are actually pretty jaded about mythologies and marginally harder to program. They live their workaday lives churning away in “System 2 thinking” and are meaningfully less influenceable. By extension, they seem to also be less governable in some troubling ways.

      My approach to the question leans heavily on George Lakoff along with Carl Jung, with a twist delivered by Kahneman and Tversky with their System 1&2 stuff.

      Picture a piano. Each key is an archetype. According to Jung (and with some confirmation from later research) those keys are limited in number and universal across the human experience, but they can be arranged in a nearly infinite variety of ways.

      When someone plays a country tune or a Chopin etude on that piano it may evoke subconscious responses in some people that others don’t experience. Different arrangements might bring tears, dancing or shouting, based on what was already present in the subconscious of the hearer. You can influence the behavior of a crowd by changing what song they hear.

      Lots of people are competing for space at that collective piano. Some of them are on CNN or an HBO talk show. Others write little niche blogs like this one. Very powerful people have a lot of influence over who gets heard above the noise, and therefore who gets to choose the tune and pick the dance.

      Conservatives have been complaining about this process for much longer than I’ve been alive because conservatives seem to get the importance of our culture-makers more than liberals do. Liberals tend to imagine that logical arguments have more power than they actually do. Conservatives have little or no faith in logic and they’ve been terrified for generation about their loss of influence over America’s “cultural elite.”

      This bit is from an already written (not posted) piece:

      “Shelley insisted that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Artists were the architects of 19th century nationalism, quickly building the foundations of that mythology out of cultural artifacts, knitting older myths into new heroes, stories and ideals. In 1850, a German nation was a laughably impossible idea. Just twenty years later it defeated the French and captured Paris. Germany was fashioned by poets and artists. Politicians built nations on artists’ foundations.”

      How do you change how people perceive the world? Change the composition of their aesthetic. The future is being written on Netflix, HBO, Sony Pictures, and a million little blogs.

      Myths follow power. Powerful people have extra votes over what we all hear and see. They have already been moving this culture measurably left. The power that’s been transforming the country is centered mostly in entertainment and media. We are already the country that “media elites” were envisioning roughly 30 years ago. There’s a lot more work to do, but we’ve seen how ‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’ With the caveat that the real power lies with the folks deciding which poets to publish.

      For all our frustration with those who still have their heads in Jim Crow America, this country has been living through a neck-snapping earthquake of social transformation since the ’60’s and it’s only accelerating. That change has been led in large part by our cultural leaders, with our political leaders following behind. TV, movies, radio and magazines questioned unquestionable pillars of our social order and they fell one after the next.

      Then you add social media to this maelstrom and the pace of change is staggering. Our mythologies are in fact evolving very quickly. The people left behind are the people most insulated from the world.

      Then you have this sudden emergence of a mass educated class and the picture gets really weird. People who live and work around “System 2” functioning all day are a lot less suggestible than folks who rarely engage System 2. One might expect these folks would be more rational, but what seems to be emerging is that they’re simply better judges of their own personal interests. It seems to be hard to steer them toward any collective goal.

      So these folks may be less likely to go all in on something stupid like QAnon, and they make up the bulk of whites who consider themselves “liberal” or “progressive,” but they’ll fight tooth and nail to block affordable housing that might reduce their home value by 1%, and they have enough influence and understanding of the process to wield outsized influence. They’re all about tearing down Confederate monuments while opposing any form of tax increase, or anything else that might cause them material discomfort. Changing the tune moves them less than it would for people who are more unconscious (and less cynical). It’s a funky dynamic and I don’t feel confident about how it will play out.

      Anyway, that’s just a quick draft. A more though-out version is on the way.

  5. Chris, I get it. You are a historian in spirit, if not by profession. Vast, deeply researched manifestos on how the insane states of muricastan got to where it is today is important in order to make any lasting changes. But any changes like that are generational.

    The U.S. does not have that long. A few hours ago the fascist party stated they will not convict the tyrant, even though he planned on killing a some of their colleagues a few weeks ago.

    What can be done today, and tomorrow, to destroy the fascist party, the tyrant, and his death cult? What steps should Biden take to wipe them out? You talk about bringing the hammer down on them when they inevitably attempt to, or actually succeed, in killing some Dem’s.

    Is Biden prepared to execute hundreds of the fascist’s and death cult’s leaders, imprison for life thousands others? Because as far as I can see, that is the only thing that will slow the cancer. The cancer can’t be removed completely now, but it could be forced into remission for maybe a decade, if the brutal, necessary steps were taken.

    1. The US was a radically different country in 1868 from what it was in 1860. Like, should have had a new name and new flag different. It was a radically different country in 1945 from what it had been in 1929.

      In 1965, there were 26 states where a woman couldn’t get birth control without her husband’s permission. Several states still prohibited the pill outright. In 1974 a woman still couldn’t get a credit card in most states without her husband signing off.

      The NFL didn’t have a black starting quarterback until 1980.

      Life comes at you pretty fast.

      1. Yeah, the 1st case you mentioned involved a civil war. The 2nd one involved a global depression and global war. The other things you mentioned DID take generations to change.

        So what are going to be the triggers and process to reverse the path of the US, before the next election? Because 2024, or even 2022, are going to cement the country’s decent into fascism. Biden won by a hair because the fascists were incompetent. They won’t be the next time, and are already making more huge strides in vote suppression in key states, and have in the past few days proclaimed their fealty to the tyrant.

      2. An irreversible explosion in information technology will be the trigger that reshapes the world in the coming decades, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. Ray Kurzweil believes the eventual advent of ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence) will bring about a Technological Singularity, beyond which no one can know what will happen.

        Fantastical concepts like immortality and saturating the universe with so-called computronium might only be the beginning in such a world. Perhaps hyper advanced civilizations do in fact exist elsewhere and we’re just too immature in our technology to see them. Maybe we can even see beyond the boundary of death itself.

        Pack your bags, it’s gonna be one helluva ride.

      3. Ryan, Skynet going online and nuking the human race might happen tomorrow, it might happen in 20 years. I am still waiting on nuclear fusion as an economically viable energy source, decades after it was proposed.

        But the fascist party taking power and never giving it back, well, that has some very defined dates and milestones, and they are here, now.

        The most logical option is the removal of the death cult’s leader. His Secret Service detail is nothing like what it was. And if you horrified at that thought, you best have a long hard think about what happens if the tyrant is not removed.

      4. “Something happening” to the former Dear Leader does nothing to address the culture of lies, misinformation, and open contempt for civilized society that left the door open for him to begin with. Either you deal with that or you’re just tilting at windmills.

      5. Ryan, the big problems require big, well-thought out solutions, that take a long time to implement and take effect. I agree dealing with the madness in the death cult has to be dealt with on a systemic level.

        I also believe that more immediate, superficial operations must take place. Strategic and tactical solutions.

        Or, surgery to remove the immediate cancerous tumor, them chemo for a longer term solution.

      6. Dins, what you propose, as well as those who propose the same solution to their fear of Pelosi or AOC or any of a host of targets is based on the fallacy of the “Great Man Theory of History” and has no relationship to how the human super-organism really works. It doesn’t matter what happens to any individual no matter how prominent, once the emotional contagion is loosed across the social network (I don’t mean Facebook or Twitter, I mean our network of contacts of which these tools are a only a part) it will operate independent of any single personality.

        Here’s an analogy: Take a wave in a stadium. Any single individual can sit it out and yet have no discernible effect.

        Check these out:
        Linked by Albert-László Barabási
        Connected by Nicholas A. Christakis and James Fowler

        As an aside and IMHO, Conspiracy theories and political violence arise when our mental maps of reality (our mythologies) no longer explain our lived experience.

    2. Ryan, killing Hitler in any time between 1932 and 1938 would have likely avoided WWII, or at least delayed it. No doubt there was a cabal of of competent, horribly evil men that surrounded him, and one would certainly tried to take up the torch, but none had his charisma.

      Same thing with this tyrant. I will ask again. What is more dangerous: A death cult with a dead leader as a martyr, or the same death cult with a completely functional leader?

      The sycophant mccarthy yesterday just reinforced that the tyrant still controls the fascists. He will remain in a position of power for as long as he breathes. Because it is becoming more clear every day he will not even be charged with crimes, let alone be convicted in the Senate.

  6. I think this post misses the point. Unless I missed it, I don’t see where the “real” reason for white supremacy is discussed.

    White supremacy came into being because the elites saw they could use it to their advantage to keep their wealth and power. In the South, plantation owners and other wealthy businessmen were very worried about the newly freed slaves joining up with the landless uneducated white working class to overthrow the social and economic order. So they did everything they could to foment dissention between the groups to ensure they were fighting each other and among one another so that they would not fight them and overturn such order.

    This included perpetrating the fraud that whites were superior to other races including former slaves. It worked. The landless uneducated whites of the South saw the former slaves and not the elites as their enemy. And you see the results of it today. The elites were able to keep all the power and and all the money while many states of the Confederacy including Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi are among the poorest in the Union with the lowest education rates in the Union. This is not an accident. This was done on purpose to keep these groups down.

    While it is nice to think that we will eventually get past white supremacy, I am not that naïve. If you are a white working class person in this country, you have not received a real raise in a generation, can’t afford a vacation, health care or retirement, and probably live paycheck to paycheck. Your marriage (if you are even married) is probably not good, your children may be on drugs but if not, their futures do not look good and you basically have nothing to look forward to. It’s why they fell for Trump. And they blame the Democrats by the way for their troubles.

    But they do know one thing – society considers them to be at least one rung up on the social ladder above African Americans and Hispanics so at least they know they have that going for them. They are not going to let white supremacy go as a result if none of their other problems never change.

      1. Ken,

        I don’t disagree with Kevin Drum. I am just saying there are always going to be those who are white supremacists or who will use white supremacy to keep their treasure and power and to believe otherwise is naive. In fact, I think it will accelerate. The GOP no longer offers any policies to make the lives of anyone other than the ultra wealthy better off. In a normal world, that would mean destruction for them election after election at the ballot box. But they are prospering because they have turned to white supremacy to bring in the those who will not otherwise vote GOP due to their for economic policies.

        As the GOP completely abandons policy in the post-Trump years because only a sliver of the country agrees with them, expect them to double and triple down on white supremacy to squeeze out every last vote from the white working class and others sympathetic to white supremacy in order to stay relevant.

    1. That is foreshadowed in the already written piece about the South’s Cavalier Mythology. Sneak peek:

      “Though Antebellum planters were unwilling to swallow their loathing of “poor white trash” to build a broad unifying white supremacy, one which might extend its definition of the “master race’ to include these “idlers and squatters,” times and needs would change.”

      And it’s addressed more deeply in the bit about Reconstruction, where this alliance first took on its modern shape.

      This white supremacy also helps explain why those who push a class identity for white workers are so consistently frustrated. There’s an old quote from Steinbeck that sums it up:

      “I guess the trouble was that we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist.”

      Telling these white members of the master race that they were supposed to see themselves as some groveling proletariat didn’t go over well. Further, telling them their fate was aligned with blacks rather than with the millionaires on the other side of town was an insult likely to get you clubbed. That hasn’t changed.

      What’s interesting about this attachment to white supremacy among working class whites is that it’s likely to bring their greatest nightmare to reality – a new alignment of interests between the managerial class who they always resented and rising Black and Hispanic voters. In a dystopian view of our near future, our hillbillies and white factory workers become the scapegoat class, a despised Lumpenproletariat that takes the place in our society once occupied by Blacks. That will not go well.

      1. As long as the white working class dominate current red states in the South and West and can eventually deliver Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to the GOP consistently (that’s coming soon), they will never be a scapegoat class; rather, the GOP will revere them (in words not actions or policies but that’s all the working white class seems to demand which is why they are in the position they are in) in order to keep power and win elections.

      2. I don’t have the expertise, but I would love to compare and contrast the situation in the insane states of muricastan to Brazil, Hungary, Poland, Philippines,Turkey, and France. Those are just off the top of my head. Those countries have had, or are or in the throes of, their own populist movements, and in all cases but possibly France, have resulted in huge losses for democracy.

        More and more, I believe the U.S. is just behind the curve.

  7. Don’t mean to be pedantic but I’m not sure about “Whiteness” being as new as the Civil War. I respectfully submit that Anglo_Saxon was renamed as “White” as the label was intentionally expanded to include immigrants from other than England. To support this I would point to 4 things:
    1. Euro exceptionalism tied to a concept of race is apparent as early as Shakespeare’s Tempest. see Shakespeare’s Caliban: A Cultural History by Alden Vaughan Cambridge Press
    2. Colonial views of Native American’s explicitly visible in episodes like King Phillips War. see
    3. The response of the aristocracy to Bacon’s Rebellion. Here’s a quick look: https://www.facinghistory.org/holocaust-and-human-behavior/chapter-2/inventing-black-and-white
    4. Related points Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia and the Land Ordinance of 1785.

    To sum up, you can’t have a Caliban, savage or blackness without concurrently defining and delimiting it’s opposite. Merely the name has changed to expand it’s privileges.
    see: Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, revised edition
    (New York: Back Bay Books, 2008)

    1. Finding examples of racial bigotry pre-1800 or so isn’t that hard. People who lived near the native Americans and coveted their land hated the native Americans. People who lived near a lot of slaves feared their condition and loathed them. That matrix of local hatreds/fears doesn’t by itself form a unifying mythology, it only produces raw materials for one. The problem, and it is a bit of a problem since it scrambled the whole thesis of this project, is that it’s hard to find examples of white supremacist mythology as we understand it today before roughly the time of the Civil War.

      Across the Anglophone world before the Seven Years War (1760’s), there weren’t a lot of powerful or influential people in England (and only England mattered) who cared much at all about Black people one way or another. Prior to that time, England wasn’t trying to govern swathes of Africa or India. The Caribbean plantations were producing some wealth, but that was still a niche. Whiteness had far less meaning than Protestantness, because the greatest terror of powerful people was conquest from European Catholic powers. Hence the maniacal obsession with the Irish, as a constant, suppurating threat on England’s flank.

      White skin simply was not a unifying force in the Anglophone world before the 19th century. You can find lots of expressions of hostility and bigotry toward slaves and native Americans, but they exist right next to stories about Protestants burning down convents or ransacking neighborhoods full of new European immigrants. It doesn’t seem to gel into an ideology that early.

      The greatest threats to that world still came from other people with white skin until after Napoleon, and the residual hatred of other white-skinned people seems to have lingered with enough strength to prevent a unifying sense of whiteness to emerge until late in the 19th century. The great Catholic panic of the 1840’s-50’s completely collapsed our political system, shutting down avenues of conflict resolution, making the Civil War impossible to prevent. Whiteness wasn’t enough to hold people together, because it didn’t have a coherent meaning yet. Frankly, this research leaves me thinking that we underestimate how much imagination and effort it took to construct white supremacy and what a remarkably powerful tool it was.

      The earliest mention I’ve been able to find of a coherent theory of white supremacy the way we understand it today was in the “Cornerstone Speech” by Alexander Stephens, the VP of the Confederacy, in 1861. His rationale for secession was that the Confederate States, thanks to the holy institution of slavery, had freed the white man from the burden of class and ethnicity, making all white people equal. That’s the core mythology that would gradually take hold during Reconstruction and spread out, paired with a slightly modified version of white supremacy being spun up in England to justify the empire.

      Stephens’ formula was a bold departure from the highly stratified social logic that was being expressed at the same time by other Confederates, in which the “Cavalier stock” were the master race, presiding over a complex caste system in which Northern “puritans” were a lower caste. Landless “white trash” were often argued to be no different from blacks. There were even arguments being made in the South in the 1850’s that landless whites should be taken under the guiding wing of the slaveholders as chattel in order to rescue them from their degraded racial condition and the looming horrors of Northern “wage slavery.”

      I’m getting the distinct impression that in the US, white supremacy wasn’t fully cemented into place until after Birth of Nation was produced (1915), and the wave of white race riots that followed after WW1.

      This is taking me out onto thin ice, as the popular history seems to equate the arrival of slavery in the colonies with the development of white supremacy. That’s certainly the story I expected to tell in these pieces. I just can’t find it in the history. That may be because I’m a rank amateur. It might also be because it’s true.

      And if it’s true, then it undercuts the very pessimistic assumption I started out with – that America has no unifying logic without the power of white supremacy.

      1. Think of it this way. Before about the 19th century, North American colonists harbored lots of ill-will toward native Americans and Blacks. However, never at any point after, say 1650-ish, did they feel the slightest fear that Indians or Blacks would sail up the Hudson and capture New Amsterdam/York or Boston. Or for that matter, London. They felt a constant, realistic fear that the Spanish or French might do this. A Catholic army invading from Scotland captured all of the north of England in 1745, making it almost to Birmingham before the crown could rally a response.

        And of course, the British last burned DC in 1814. The real threat to the colonies and the new nation was from Europe. That’s where their attention was turned.

        Mythologies follow power, and the most powerful people in that early era had their fearful eyes trained not on Indians or slaves, but on Europe’s Catholic powers, and then on Britain and Napoleon. They built mythologies to address the things they cared about most.

      2. This is really interesting! It would be quite a revelation if you could argue that white supremacy didn’t really solidify until the early 1900s. I agree it would put you in conflict with the professional history, but that could be a good thing if your aim is to get on the NY Times Bestseller list 🙂

        For guidance, have you looked at Europe? We Americans think of superiority based on race to be so obvious as to be almost natural, not constructed. But in Europe, it’s not. They think we’re weird for focusing so much on race.

        The UK might be a great study: obviously there’s enough hatred of the “other” that it led to Brexit. But the “other” was other Europeans who were coming to work and steal jobs from proper Britishers. We think of illegal Mexican gardeners and housekeepers, while the English think of perfectly legal Polish plumbers. Meanwhile, their actual racial minorities include almost every race (given how large the former British empire was) from African, Caribbean, South Asian, etc.

        It seems that the menacing “Other” is extraordinarily malleable in the UK: when useful, it’s Muslim refugees from Syria, immigrants from Africa, and/or plumbers from Poland (also German bankers, Catholic Irish, French cultural snobs, and, from time to time, the Welsh :-). And the UK’s founding myth as being separate from continental Europe ironically allows them to sometimes view former colonies as closer to them (since they were actually part of their country), even though racially and culturally they may be further apart than Europe. This is helped by the remaining Anglophilia found among numerous colonies, which means the average Indian, for example, has adopted much more of British culture, than the average French person.

        To an outsider, it seems that the UK’s founding myth is muddled: is it primarily an island separate from Europe? A global empire civilizing the entire world? The dominant global crossroads of trade and finance? It might provide some useful guidance in understanding America’s hidden assumptions.

      3. I’m discovering that the most sophisticated and persistent threads of white supremacist ideology in the US have their roots in Britain post-Sepoy Mutiny. Scientific racism in the US, for example, was little more than a set of goofball newsletters circulated by disreputable cranks. It wasn’t until the heavy-hitters of the Royal Society got their hands on the concept that it became a real force. The Americans had plenty of hatred for Black people, but it was the British who converted that into a coherent, defensible ideology, spreading back to the US.

        And it started with that Anglo-Saxonist ethic which persists there to this day, a notion that the forebears of the British experiment were the real innovators of democracy while the continent was cloaked in popish darkness. Americans think we invented the idea of the City on a Hill and “exceptionalism” because few Americans have attended the Last Night of the Proms at Royal Albert (I highly recommend it). All those pasty limeys on their feet waving the Union Jack, tears in their eyes, singing Land of Hope and Glory. Man, we come by it honestly.

        By the way, the French shouldn’t get off the hook here either. Just because their empire was a trashy, repressive runner up doesn’t stop them from imagining that Frenchness is some spiritual quality that their dark-skinned colonials could never attain.

        I’m getting a strong impression that our white supremacy is a disease of empire that we inherited from the motherland.

  8. A very general comment:

    White supremacy is what I would call an “inward-facing mythology.” But the important mythology that drives our outward-facing behavior towards the rest of the world is “American exceptionalism.”

    That’s what makes “ugly Americans.” That’s what drives the relatively small quantity of actual “policy” that Donald Trump tried to bring to his presidency. And to some degree, it’s what imbues those folks who write letters to the editor that finish with “God bless America, and God bless Donald Trump.”

  9. I know this is a total tangent, but I’ve been wanting to note this for the past few months and I finally have some time 🙂

    In the past, you pooh-pooh’ed Modern Monetary Theory, and it seemed like Creigh and I were the only ones looney tunes enough to believe it. But I think we’re seeing a great example of it right now with the pandemic.

    Right after the pandemic, the government began printing money and literally started giving it away with checks to every taxpayer, PPP “loans” (that will be forgiven) to small businesses, and of course trillions to Wall St. Our budget deficit ballooned to literally $1 trillion in a single month during the worst of it. FY2020 deficit is >$3 Tril, which is 3x the 2019 amount. And yet, interest rates are at all time lows. IOW, a global pandemic, killing hundreds of thousands of people, leading to worldwide quarantines and utter devastation of most countries’ economies and social order, along with torrential issuance of new sovereign debt on a global scale, has not been enough to cause “the market” to demand a higher interest rate. Do you still believe that the market has any role whatsoever in setting national interest rates (at least in monetarily sovereign countries)?

    But the pandemic is far more interesting for another point: MMT never says there is no limits to debt issuance. It merely says that you can’t buy more services than the economy can provide. If you try, that’s when you get inflation, and eventually currency revulsion. But as long as there is slack in the economy (say in recessions, or if you invest in productivity growth), the government can issue as much debt as it wants to purchase those services, set the interest rate at whatever it wants, and inflation won’t rise.

    The pandemic, however, *has* caused a massive decline in the economy’s productive capacity. Due to factory closures, business bankruptcies, and even things like supply chain logistics going haywire with transportation bottlenecks, the global (and American) economy’s productive capacity has been significantly reduced. IOW: there has been an imbalance between demand and supply with the pandemic.

    Normally, when demand rises, supply rises to meet it, and vice versa. But the pandemic has upended that. Thanks to the trillions in new debt and direct monetary transfers to individuals and businesses, there’s plenty of demand for services (people who can no longer spend on restaurants, or entertainment, or travel, have extra cash on hand). But thanks to the quarantine, supply has constricted. There are shortages of everything from food to computer chips (not to mention toilet paper 🙂 ).

    MMT would predict that at some point, when your demand for services exceeds your production, inflation will follow, and right on schedule, we’re seeing that happen:
    https://wolfstreet.com/2021/01/22/inflation-is-spreading-broadly-into-the-economy-amid-surging-costs-companies-raise-prices-and-customers-pay-them-despite-weak-economy-10-million-missing-jobs-weirdest-economy-ever/

    Now here’s an unpopular opinion I know I’m going to get chastised for, Larry Summers is (partially) right:
    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/biden-ally-larry-summers-a-former-treasury-secretary-said-242000-stimulus-checks-would-be-a-serious-mistake-that-could-overheat-the-economy/ar-BB1cf7Tc

    We don’t need more blanket stimulus, and certainly not pouring more gasoline on the dumpster fire that Wall St and the stock market has become. We need targeted stimulus aimed at helping people who have truly been hurt by the pandemic (there are plenty) with things like expanded unemployment insurance, rent relief, budget support for states (Which provide essential services like education and medicaid), etc. Along with payments to businesses to maintain employment and get them through this temporary phase and prevent a large segment of our economy from permanently shutting down. Plus money to expand the parts of our economy that are in shortage right now and causing bottlenecks to the rest of the economy (e.g. the health sector, transportation, etc.) But just giving everyone a blanket $2000 check, when most people haven’t lost their jobs, and indeed, are saving money already because there’s nothing to spend it on, is basically MMT without understanding the limits that MMT prescribes.

    For better or for worse, hopefully the pandemic shows doubters that MMT isn’t just a fairy tale that says you can just print money to your hearts content; there are real constraints that need to be respected. It’s just that everyone keeps focusing on the money supply as the constraint, when it’s the economy’s productive capacity that’s the real constraint.

    1. WX, I totally agree with your paragraph that begins “We don’t need more blanket stimulus.” We don’t need it, and it completely misses the point of the government giving away all that cash–which is to help the folks who need help, not to pad the savings of the folks who are OK.

      On the other hand, regarding your points about MMT, I think you’ve overlooked an important anomaly about this current pandemic-constrained economy. And interestingly, my suggestion is closely related to my previous paragraph. I think we are in a most unusual situation that doesn’t fit any popular model. We have an excess of money, but it isn’t chasing limited supply and therefore driving inflation up to an unacceptable level. What’s happening to that excess of money is that it’s being salted away for the next rainy day.

      Yes, collector cars and rare gems and precious art are becoming ridiculously expensive. But that doesn’t matter, does it? It certainly doesn’t affect my economic situation. I have an adequate income and an adequate cushion, and when the government sends me a “stimulus check” that I didn’t ask for and I don’t need, I simply deposit it and go on with my life.

      So I suspect what we may be doing as a country is saving up our “demand” for the day when we are more comfortable with our prospects for a normal future, and we aren’t overly worried about endless rainy days. Then we shall see what all that money goes chasing!

      But right now, we have a wonderful anomaly. 200 million people are doing what their grandparents always thought they should do–exercising self-discipline and saving for the future. And wonder of wonders, all that saving isn’t causing a depression, or even a severe financial deflation, because the demand hasn’t shrunk precipitously, it simply hasn’t risen precipitously either.

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