Tag Archives: Failed State

Garbage Time

I have thought a time or two, recently, of the “first they ignore you…” bit, and how failing systems of authority may experience it in reverse. First people respect and feel part of the system, then people bump up against unworkable features of the system, then people laugh at its continued pretense of authority, then people just ignore it.

This is as close as I can get to a theme for what’s going on now.

Steady rot, maddening slowness of even attempts at constructive response, and more opting out.

Of the steady rot, well, good grief. This post’s featured image is of a protester in February 2017, and I suspect her sign could actually be more true now, not less. I wrote this post almost 29 months ago, and could just about repeat every word of it today. The big picture is dismal, and while one may find bright spots in the darkness here and there, from a perch next to Cleveland, Ohio, it’s just awful.

Yet leaders and institutions mostly seem, perhaps inevitably, deeply attached to accepting the system’s limits no matter how ridiculous they become. Pick an example. Congress is almost too obvious, yet it’s perhaps worth pointing out that it should be obviously unthinkable that about 50% of a legislature with vast responsibilities is permanently committed to blockade any and everything, even policies which are genuinely very good as well as wildly popular with the public. Yet this is just normalized. Working around the bad sectors and “out-organizing” them, accepting that impossibly bad rules and what they are, aw just try harder, is broadly accepted by leaders and institutions.

Liberal democracy, certainly in America, just seems to have no idea whatsoever what to do about an organized enemy which is inter-weaved with a traditional political party. It is just not done, apparently, for liberalism to actually fight to shut down a political party no matter how toxic it becomes. Instead liberal leaders and institutions just endlessly monitor the bad behavior and point at it, waiting for some other authority to take responsibility. The courts, which are too slow at best, or the voters, who pour votes into systems which just throw them out because those systems are already corrupted. Liberalism is forever determined to win the argument; even if it conclusively wins the argument and systems don’t respond, the answer is always to try winning it even more.

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The Republican Party is pro-COVID

I have been thinking about the substantial and, apparently, still growing pro-COVID energy among Republicans.

For one thing, I don’t think any other term is really adequate. When Republicans are simultaneously “antilockdown,” “antimask,” “antivaccine,” “antimandates,” etc., etc., the big picture is effectively pro-COVID. Republicans are pandemic accelerationists.

Masks make a difference. Republicans gleefully want to discourage them, with both policy and stigma. Vaccine mandates have been working really well! Republicans are busily working to thwart them, through preemption or riddling them with exemptions.

Above all, vaccines work, yet the Republican Party is letting crackpot antivaxxers pull it their way rather than making any attempt to celebrate vaccines as a triumph of the Trump administration.

None of this is shocking, it’s just of some interest, if only as a reference point within the stampede of daily events.

I recall, with some effort, a few fleeting days in July when Republican elites were supposedly attempting a new, pro-vaccination message; that went basically nowhere. Among other things, it’s quite obvious that neither Republicans’ voting base nor the party’s middle ranks support that message.

What strikes me is that the overall pro-COVID energy among Republicans seems like a boundary marker between rational sabotage, and irrational self-destruction.

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Afghanistan, America, and Rot

It has been about a week since the eruption of what my own notes summarize as “clueless, pointless national shoutfest about Afghanistan falling back to Taliban control almost instantly, and with basically no local resistance, even as US is still completing retreat.”

I feel like some kind of commentary is warranted, here, although I’m not sure how much I can say which is more important than the basic facts:

  • When I was 23 years old, the United States invaded Afghanistan—after a terrorist attack carried out mostly by Saudis and plotted by a leader eventually found holed-up in Pakistan.
  • I’m now 43 years old, and two decades’ sacrifice of lives and immense treasure have achieved absolutely no durable result in Afghanistan.

The setting of this extended fraud against basically my whole adult life kind of colors my perspective, and I completely support President Biden making the correct bad choice of pulling the plug on the occupation.

Beyond this I feel like the rest of what I can say mostly amounts to notes.

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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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Honesty about disaster

Several years ago, I wrote in Cotton’s Library about the political breakdown which flummoxed the Jacobean antiquarian and courtier, Sir Robert Cotton:

In evaluating his political career, Cotton comes across as a Jacobean Cicero. Like the influential senator at the end of Rome’s republic, Cotton stood in the very middle of a constitutional system buckling and splintering under strain, yet never saw any possible solution but voluntary moderation of the competing forces. The relatively respectful and effective interplay between Elizabeth and her parliaments during Cotton’s early life always remained his model of how English government worked. As political relations deteriorated under the Stuarts he did not see a failure of the system; the system was perfect, and the need for change lay not with it, but with the people within it.

I have since concluded that, in a sense, Cotton’s attitude was both wrong and right, about a political paradox which may be universal. I feel confident that some political systems are so flawed as to be unworkable, but I have begun to suspect that there may not be any set of rules and institutions so perfect that they remain effective when too many people simply stop believing in them.

That’s now happening right in front of us, in America.

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Vaccines and HyperNormalisation

Personally, things are going okay at this moment. On Wednesday I got the second half of my two-part “$2,000 check,” and the first half of my two-part COVID-19 vaccination. I’m doing some work for clients. Cleaning up around the apartment.

I can’t deny a feeling of emergence, especially because of a personal feeling of emerging from something like a five-year fugue state. I have written a number of times about a similar feeling, after recent elections, as though I had somehow been absent from my own life during extended preoccupation with campaigns, then one day came back to find months had gone by. This feels something like that except for years instead of months.

The end of the 2020 election and its long overtime, plus winter, plus social distancing, plus perhaps the slow start to 2021 campaigns, kind of put me in a place to slow down and reflect for more than in years. But browsing some blog posts from 2015 (like this or this) really made me realize that in terms of thinking about my life, the place I’m in lately is a lot like one I reached five or six years ago. Then activism and related activities began to mushroom, pushing me out of that place for five years. For all the ways that transformed my life, and probably my self, it is now like I’m back confronting very similar deep questions.

Also shit is still just on fire around me which does complicate things.

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America’s Politics Not Fit for Purpose

The American political system does not solve problems, or even resolve disputes, at a national level.

This feels like a big-picture understanding of failed-state reality, above the day to day or even year to year blowups.

A good political system ought to solve broad problems of society, and create better and fairer conditions over time. But for a political system to qualify as functional at all, it ought to resolve some disputes. Even if one credits a political system of endless unresolved disputes with being at least preferable, compared with those fights playing out through violence, this does not seem stable beyond a short term. If arguments just fester, while infrastructure decays, explosions seem inevitable.

As America draws near a decade since the optimistic forecast “that the fever may break” soon, I believe we may say that our political system is just not fit for purpose at a national level. I know I say this kind of thing, a lot, but this fundamental futility seems important.

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This unraveling reality

Several months ago I wrote about “a point where it seems like the madness is enveloping us, and the question of whether or not to embrace it seems increasingly academic.”

It does not feel like America has distanced itself from that point.

The toxic Republican Party has been prying and pulling America away from reality, actively, for decades, ever since a critical mass of Republican elites wrote off any possibility of having an inclusive democracy, being honest about the consequences of their policy goals, and still advancing those policy goals. Instead they began the ongoing buildout of “the rightwing cinematic universe,” with think tanks and partisan media and conspiracy theories gradually building an immersive false reality in which their toxic party of sabotage and snarling gets to play heroes.

But as fundamental as that is to America’s problems, there just aren’t so many Republicans that they can be blamed exclusively. They can’t even be blamed exclusively for the problem of the toxic Republican Party, because its continued vast sabotage is only possible with many enablers. Bad rules factor in, too, but the bad rules also endure only because too many people choose to put up with them.

While Republican reality-denying is disproportionate in most measures, there is reality-denying all over, and it is also too much.

Observations from just the past few days:

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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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The US Capitol Besieged

Yesterday—January 6 2021—armed terrorists, inspired by the president, stormed the Capitol in a violent attempted coup. The terrorists had support from Capitol Police (in their actions) and Congressional Republicans (in their aim to reject the presidential election result).

As of now, Thursday morning, the terrorists are dispersed; a few have been arrested and more may follow. The terrorist-leader president is still in office although his administration is disintegrating through resignations. Both houses of Congress are adjourned after completing the mumbo-jumbo of election certification in the wee hours. The closest thing to an anti-Trump Republican in Congress, Sen. Mitt Romney, has actually said “I think we’ve got to hold our breath for the next 20 [sic] days.”

As concerned as I am about the next two weeks, I’m also minded to consider the long term and the big picture. Something big and terrible happened on Wednesday. Invaders raised a Confederate flag inside the Capitol, which many people pointed out never happened during all the years of the Civil War (even though DC was basically surrounded by rebel territory). Hostile forces have invaded the Capitol, before, but that was 200 years ago when the United States was a precarious upstart nation.

This morning my mind’s drawn back further, to the sack of Rome in 410, and how this appeared for some time afterward to be only an embarrassing brief event.

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