Why wasn’t Jan. 6 more disruptive

I highlighted this recent thread from Kamil Galeev because it’s insightful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. One paragraph in particular has been on my mind as a big contrast with the US:

As a general rule, a large organisation suffering from the problem of attribution can start rewarding high and extremely high performance only if the organisation feels an immediate existential threat. Which happened in Ukraine after 2014. Fear changed the system of incentives…

I’ve seen Ukrainians say, quite plainly, that Russia has been waging war on their country for eight years. To review, for my own sake, Ukraine drove the corrupt Putin stooge, Yanukovych, out of the country. Putin then launched some Civilization shit in Crimea, combining Russian troops, a Russian-supported local insurrection, and a staged referendum for annexation. (Much the same program which Russia expected, based on this experience, that they could repeat with much more of Ukraine this year.)

To be absolutely honest, that’s a big deal. I presume it’s at least on the order of e.g. a dodgy Mexican annexation of Arizona, if we imagined Mexico as the seemingly stronger military power and the US kind of stuck for any immediate options to retaliate. Nothing remotely like that has happened to the US in ages, if ever.

But then, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were not at all like a hostile foreign power annexing an entire state. Despite that—and despite my own belief then and now that they should have been treated more like a crime than like an existential threat—they produced plenty of panic and change.

So it seems like a violent insurrection invading the nation’s Capitol itself, at the prompting of a defeated president and his political allies, could qualify to change the usual approach of the same people doing the same things. It really did not in this case, at all.

Was January 6 just not big enough to deliver the fear of existential threat? To an important extent, I’m sure that’s part of the answer. Beltway reporters and governing class elites were scared for their lives, for a few hours, but hardly anyone died (despite the intent of the putsch participants). Fear came and went. Members of Congress briefly finished their absurd little ritual with a boxful of papers, went home to the provinces, and soon the Capitol looked mostly back to normal. Quite a contrast with thousands dead, and two iconic skyscrapers turned into a pile of rubble, in the national media & publishing capital which is also a city where many elites live full-time.

I still feel like, for fuck’s sake, are the nation’s nerves that dead, but the answer is almost certainly “yes.” Too much of the governing class is ancient, some literally and openly remaining in place through dementia and death from old age. (Lots of the very same individuals holding national office, now pushing or past 80, were also there in 2001 but two decades younger.) One might also allow that by January 2021, years of noise plus all the too-directly-real upheaval of 2020, had exhausted a lot of shock or outrage which might otherwise have been more consequential after the Capitol Putsch.

There’s also the big fact that meaningful response to the Capitol Putsch conflicts with basic American ideas about the nature of the political universe. Republicans did it, including the leader of the party, whom other party elites have continued to protect. But American culture is stuck in the idea that the Republican Party is an essential part of democracy, and there is no “bipartisanship” option to respond proportionately to the January 6, 2021 attack. Thus investigators have been tasked with squaring the circle (I don’t think they can do it). That said, the very ability of nearly the entire culture to go along with this—refer the matter to a committee for study and meanwhile act like it never happened—presupposes a huge capacity to suppress experience.

In general, I now think that if carrying on with the same approaches even when situations change is really default human behavior, modern America extends this to hypernormalization with huge capacity. The size and wealth of the country are probably large fundamentals in that, among many other factors.

And I really don’t know what would move the needle on that.

I’m lifting a line from myself, here, but: The post-implosion fates of various empires through history suggest a range of possibilities. Rarely, though, is the transition free of wrenching disruption and often violence.

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