Tag Archives: Dystopia

Post-democracy America

As I watch corrupt sham democracy eat each big new hole in the remaining shell of representative democracy, I always feel a tension any more between dismay at how fast it seems to be happening and the lessons of experience about how long zombie systems can shamble along anyway.

Aside from the lessons of America itself over the past couple of decades, I think again on re-reading Gibbon recently, and on how long the Roman Senate existed after the Roman republic ended. This notoriously pathetic zombie institution (the use of which by America’s framers as an explicit model for our government was really Asking For It from the very start) lingered on for centuries after it had surrendered all power to autocratic emperors. The Roman Senate outlasted the republic, its own purpose, and even the Roman religion, by centuries.

That’s a powerful corrective to any expectation of a near-term catharsis, of any kind.

So I’m stuck, usually, with the expectation that things will get worse and worse, but, while some kind of explosion(s) are probably somewhere ahead, even they may not really alter America’s zombie-shuffle very much.

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The Illusion of Change

During my active years in comic book fandom, somewhere or other I absorbed the concept of “no change, only the illusion of change.” I’m not sure that there’s any firm, verified single origin for it, and in any event its significance is in the clarity of its understanding of America’s biggest long-running superhero properties. From year to year, things seem to happen, but decade to decade, not so much, and over the longer term even less so.

I was reminded of this after spending some time thinking about American politics and governing, at the national level, and what major change has actually happened compared with 10 and 20 years ago.

That probably gives away much of my conclusion, which is that at this time scale so much of the screaming and scrambling and struggling seems to even out. Most of it is equivalent to the illusion of change. Above and beyond that, slow geologic trends seem to be the main story, and it is not really a good one.

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Outlook March 2021

Strange moment, not that they aren’t nearly all strange anymore.

A little over a year since America’s shit-just-got-real moment for a COVID-19 pandemic, it looks at last like we can see an end to our long plague year. It isn’t here yet. But with functioning national governance restored (just barely, for now) and vaccine distribution in high gear, it seems possible that we can avoid another severe case surge. As of today I have hopes of getting scheduled for vaccination soon, several weeks ahead of my previous expectation. This amid a yo-yo few days, which of course have involved ups and downs, but feel overall discouraging of enthusiasm or effort.

So what now?

While I am not completely sans interest in resuming various suspended activities, I reject “back to normal” as a general theme for either society or myself. The former should not really require explanation. As for myself, I have not really had a plan or even a strategy for years. This seems like as good a time as any to explore the idea.

How, then, do I “build back better?”

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Going off the grid

I struggle to process the emergence from the left of messages like: “Government doesn’t work. Abolish coercive enforcement by the state. Rely only on yourself and local, privately organized charitable systems.”

Of course, there are a lot of things I didn’t specifically anticipate, such as people freezing to death in Texas, yet here we are.

More generally, all of this is entirely in line with the dismal trends I have seen and bemoaned for so long. The trail of news stories and reports documenting the decay of America’s physical infrastructure goes back many years. I have written ad nauseam about the corresponding decay of political infrastructure, especially the corrupt sham Republican Party which in Texas “seceded” from the rest of the country’s electricity grids, and is now busy lying about the consequences. The “horseshoe theory” convergence of some left-originating rhetoric with rightwing libertarianism is strange in detail, but the broad collapse in social trust has been more and more on my mind.

Somewhere around here I have a scrap of paper on which I scrawled something like “the collapse is going to accelerate,” a few months ago. So, uh, yeah.

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Mid-October 2020

Mostly just assorted stray thoughts about the present phase of America’s long emergency.

At mid-October, we’re largely past the point where a lot of big narrative-shifting ratfuckery occurred in 2016. Russia’s hacked-email airlift to rescue Trump from his Access Hollywood vulgarity occurred Oct. 11. Jim Comey’s Clinton memo, which may have turned a teensy edge for Clinton into a teensy edge for Trump, was just days before the election. But that wasn’t a Republican hit job per se. That was to all appearances Comey trying to shore up some sort of independence brand image ahead of an inevitable Clinton presidency.

I trust nothing, at this point, but it seems at least possible that if Republicans had cards up their sleeves they would have played them by now. Particularly with massive early voting now into, what, its third week in some places?

Certainly Republicans have been trying, already. But multiple attempts to weaponize investigations-of-the-investigation into some sort of Biden-smearing narrative have proved unable to get around the complete absence of a there, there. The project to manufacture a Biden scandal has deteriorated into absolutely mental Rudy Giuliani haplessly trying to shop hacked emails about Hunter Biden, and succeeding in little more than making Joe Biden look like a caring parent.

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Critical thinking amid a nightmare

Really feeling Kipling’s “If,” as another week of this nightmare commences. “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs…”

This is difficult.

Today the Bill Moyers site published someone’s hot-take about how it’s time to rise up and resist physically instead of just crouching at your computer, and someone shared it on Twitter, and I read the article because I was curious about the inclusion of the word “strategically” in the summary. Unfortunately the article didn’t really mention any kind of strategic thinking at all.

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Corrosion, Dysfunction and Pushing on a Rope

Just about every day, now, I watch what’s going on in America with a kind of horrified fascination.

I definitely do not mean popular protests to insist that Black Lives Matter. That’s very good.

Not much else is. America completely mismanaged, is still mismanaging, a deadly pandemic. A recession is spreading throughout the economy, applying pressure to the enormous dominoes of state and local government budgets. Many cities’ police departments are pretty clearly feral. Industry is turning Earth’s climate toxic. Etc.

Beneath all of this, there’s a pretty glaring lack of effective solutions being implemented. I think a growing number of people sense this, to some extent. But I also think that very few are fully capable of conceiving how far we are, at this point, from even a fundamental degree of societal functioning which seems to be an unquestioned, popular assumption.

A lot of people seem like Captain Willard on the Do Long Bridge—demanding a response from whoever is in authority—before the penny dropped and he realized that the expected responsive system of authority simply didn’t exist.

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Twenty Years

I missed the 20-year anniversary of my college graduation by a day, but under the circumstances, you know. You’ll have that.

Twenty years ago I got a graduation ceremony—in fact I got two of them, one for the College of Design and one for Iowa State University Class of 2000 as a whole—whereas this year’s graduates get a webcast.

Halfway between then and now, I wrote about assorted life lessons at another blog.

Now we are living through a greater unraveling, and, yeah.

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Strange Days

Things really have not felt “the same” since l’affaire Ukrainienne broke open last September.

That particular scandal broke open in a way that none seemed to have done, before, in this years-long nightmare. The House of Representatives impeached the president. Then not only did one senator from the president’s own party break ranks and vote to remove, for the first time ever, said senator was himself the presidential nominee of said party just several years ago.

The climate crisis is happening now, and can scarcely get a moment’s attention. The Trump administration basically started a war with Iran. Every bulwark against abuse of power is breaking down.

Oh, it’s a Census year, too, and that’s probably going to be severely compromised at best.

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Twitter Jail

Note: two weeks later I finally received a response from Twitter, and after a further round of correspondence the same day, I was freed from jail for reasons which are just as opaque as those which put me there to begin with.

A few thoughts while I cool my heels in Twitter Jail (also known as no-warning, no-explanation suspension) for an indeterminate period:

I have no idea why my account was suspended, and everything I know about Twitter and all such massive algorithm-governed systems indicates that there may not really be any reason, even in the narrow sense of a specific rule (however arbitrary or unjust) violated. According to one article, Twitter has even admitted on occasion that it suspended an account for days, “by mistake.”

As well as the above, I have found relevant articles about Twitter suspension from 2014, 2018 and 2019. I suspect that the 2014 article best sums up every attempt to explain Twitter “rules,” however: “These rules are vague by design in order to prevent reverse engineering…”

The published rules as such certainly are vague, and in the absence of genuinely useful detail, seem to permit suspension for: replying, posting links, retweeting, following, unfollowing, using hashtags, or liking. For basically all actual activity on Twitter, in other words.

Without blowing this entirely out of proportion, social media platforms are a big portion of “public” space at this point. It has become very difficult to participate, without using any of the major platforms. Yet they are not only as opaque and arbitrary as any bureaucracy imagined by Kafka, they are entirely unelected and run by people who are unelected.

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