Wednesday, August 09, 2017


John Holbo over at Crooked Timber asks what is turning out to be the defining question of this wondrous new millennium:
What do I think the really important, consequential issues are for humanity for the next hundred years?  Climate change and environmental destruction generally; the threat of some catastrophic, global war and/or the use, somewhere, of weapons of mass destruction. I guess number three would be: inequality and the threat it poses for the stability of societies and political orders, long-term.
I would agree 100% with all of those. I would also note for the record that the primary cause for these issues is generally the same across the board:  overpopulation. We have reached the carrying capacity of our planet, for the lifestyle we wish to lead. If we don't mind living asshole-to-teakettle in urbanized stack flats, invest massively in desalination, irrigate every hectare of arable land with perfect seasonality and soil management, stop raising beef and pork, and eliminate every non-essential species over 100 pounds, then sure, we could probably stuff another few billion in. Why the fuck not?

To answer Holbo's question about whether to be pessimistic or optimistic about the next hundred years, I am extremely pessimistic about the near future (to 2040 or 2050), and very cautiously optimistic about the longer term (2050-2100). I'll sketch out some ideas further down, but the proverbial elevator pitch is one of my all-time favorites, which any regular reader here has seen many times (but like so many things, bears repeating):
People do not change until they realize that the cost of not changing is greater than the cost of changing.
I'd love to lie to you and say I coined that one myself, but it's been such a long time I honestly don't recall where I first encountered it. I'm pretty sure it was at The Oil Drum, but I couldn't tell you which writer; whether they poached it from some organizational theory seminar is anyone's guess. The main thing is that it's true and it applies so well to so many issues going on right now.

And it applies to everyone across the board; it is egalitarian in its scope. It applies to the wealthy and the destitute, the just and the unjust. It is inescapable as gravity, and as irrefutable by the honest observer as humanity's effect on climates. Obviously, to the extent that we can collect various groups of people into these loose aggregations, the things they want to change and the things they need to change will be different, between groups and within them.

But the one overriding factor that affects us all in some way is overpopulation. It is the root of crime, disease, famine, environmental devastation, soil and water depletion, species extinction, political unrest, refugee crises, economic hyper-inequality, and on and on.

The earth's population is supposed to "level off" at about 9-10 billion or so [That all? No problem. -- Ed.] by 2050, at which point progressively lower birth rates in most industrialized nations should kick in and reduce somewhat. By then, of course, something will have happened, probably a number of somethings.

The specter of war is looming large all of a sudden, a battle of bluster between two over-privileged halfwit cult leaders, neither of whom has worked an honest day in his life, neither of whom has ever had a cogent thought nor even been challenged to do such a thing. I would give the odds of an actual war on the Korean peninsula slightly less than 50-50 odds right now, and only because each irascible moron is surrounded by a coterie of generals who, while they have to stroke their masters', uh, egos, still understand the real-world consequences of what we're hurtling toward, and how to avert it with multilateral diplomatic pressure.

But it is also entirely possible that between his abysmal ignorance of basic history, and his borderline personality issues manifesting in extreme neediness, Kim Jong Orange gets a whiff of his tanking approval ratings and his vaunted base peeling off like that fucking oompa-loompa chemical he marinates in, and he doubles down and starts up a war, either with North Korea or Iran. Hell, maybe throw Venezuela in there for good measure. Never underestimate the capacity for destruction from somebody who is stupid and arrogant and completely solipsistic. Facts are what he says they are, and nothing matters unless it happens directly to him. A person with that mental makeup can do unspeakable amounts of damage.

Now, if we somehow manage to avoid catastrophic war with Clownstick or the inevitable worse example of his mentality down the road (again, bearing in mind that Kim Jong-un is only 33 years old; he will almost certainly live to see NK become a legitimate nuclear power, seeing as how they are getting there rapidly as it is, and he is just as dumb and arrogant as Clownstick), there is the other, greater danger that threatens many more humans -- the acceleration of climate change. People can scoff and quibble over the implications of the data, and selectively impugn the motives of the scientists collecting and reporting that data, but it won't change the facts.

Especially in this country, where "science" is whatever the bible says it is, and reading any other books is for fags and elitists, it's a waste of time to bother with appeals to reason and evidence. The US has become a nation of hypocritical warrior cultists, with a 1% participation rate in their own military, but by gawd do people rush to genuflect at every fucking football game. Not enough to, you know, pay the troops more or ensure that their VA care is better, but hey, empty words, amirite? Nobody does empty symbolism better than we do.

So instead of referring to schmientists and poindexters who wear glasses for your climate change arguments, refer them to those tree-hugging hippies at the Pentagon. When the generals say that it's a legit national security issue, maybe it's time to take it seriously.

But that's still not happening. Florida's largest city is dealing routinely now with tidal flooding in its streets, yet its solution is to forbid gubmint employees from even using the phrase. Other states along the vulnerable eastern seaboard are following similar measures, and under this administration, it's become a de facto practice already to not talk about what's happening outside your window. Very well, then -- what happens should not be a surprise, though inevitably it will be for some.

I've always been a bit of a nihilist at heart, though up until a couple years ago I kinda assumed there was a bit of posture and bravado in it. All the cool kids say fuck it, right? The essence of showing that you don't care is not caring enough to show even that much.

There's an inherent contradiction in that posture, in being utilitarian enough to sincerely want the greatest amount of societal benefit for the greatest number of people, yet still being able to look at the heedless masses and say well, fuck 'em, they were warned when they fail to listen. Utilitarianism and nihilism may seem contradictory, but taken together, there is a balance. Tension and release. The pendulum swings with its own momentum; we can either choose to contribute to that momentum for wilder swings, or slow it down to a more manageable pace.

It seems that the US since 9/11 has chosen to veer wildly from one pendulum swing to its opposite. The dopey fake-cowboy wisdom of Fredo Arbusto swung over to the smooth corporatized community-action-director jargon of Chocolate Hussein Thunder, and then even further back to the caveman jabber and comical lies of Emperor Snowflake. And so our intrepid media puzzle themselves with clickbait and armchair anthropology, in a vain attempt to suss out the reasoning behind this current, most vicious swing of the pendulum.

How did we end up with a doddering, incompetent old man who surrounds himself with a bunch of Baghdad Bob types -- and more importantly, why do supposedly respectable journamalists keep letting these fucktards slime their studio floors? I don't need to hear Kellyanne Conway's latest fistful of lies, any more than I need to read some toothless dipshit out in Bumfuck, Kintucky trying to derpsplain to me why they don't mind losing their health care so long as everyone else loses it as well.
People do not change until they realize that the cost of not changing is greater than the cost of changing.
So let's plug a couple of aspects of the 2016 election into our axiom and see how they fare. When Obama inherited the worst economic crisis in eighty years, and basically let the Wall Street cock-smokers who engineered that mess completely off the hook, did they show any gratitude by, I dunno, letting any of that recovery trickle down to the peons. Two answers: fuck and no. Not only did they not try, they seemed genuinely insulted at the suggestion that they might possibly consider just the barest effort.

It makes a lot more sense when you recall that a lot of these would-be masters of the universe thought The Wolf of Wall Street was an instructional video.

Conversely, when said peons saw what was being done to them and by whom, did they engage in even modest protest against the system that was fucking them and laughing out loud about it? Did they even, I dunno, boycott any of the corporate entities who at every turn was sticking them good and hard? Nope, that would have taken time away from Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo-Boo or whatever bullshit nonsense these cousin-fuckers insist on polluting their opioid-addled synapse with.

So in the case of the banksters, there was literally zero disincentive to their destructive behavior that engineered the economic collapse in the first place. They paid no price; indeed, they had the balls to squawk for their "retention bonuses" (based on performance, mind you) and after initially promising to withhold those bonuses, Obama quickly caved. There was absolutely no accountability for any of them; the one con-man that did go to jail, Bernie Madoff, had nothing to do with the "alphabet soup" 33:1 leveraged boiler rooms that lawn-darted the economy. Why would they change their behavior?

Now, with the rural Midwest and Rust Belt communities that ended up swinging the pendulum to its current position (thanks to the Electoral College), there's a different angle to it, but it's still all about their reluctance and resistance to change. Their towns have been devastated by thirty years of multilateral international trade agreements, tax abatements for big-box retailers to put their mom-and-pop shops out of business, and an ongoing dynamic where kids either leave town to go to college and never return, stay and go to trade school or work for the family business, or stay with minimal skills and prospects, and gradually drag themselves and their families and neighborhoods down. The 2007-8 economic collapse cemented that dynamic in place, and thanks to the endless greed of the urbanized elites that actually control the political system and the media channels, it continues apace.

So in their death-by-despair dynamic, these folks had plenty of time to marinate in their bitterness, and wouldn't you know it, an entire industry of media channels, cable and internet, sprung up to fill that informational void. Years and years of lies and innuendo and "cultural" nonsense, fortified with economic stagnation in their areas and generational stubbornness and false pride, culminated in what we saw last year -- idiots repeating lies spoon-fed to them by a reality-teevee clown, a man who spent the previous decade pretending to fire people who didn't work for him in the first place.

They made a conscious, collective decision that their "cultural" concerns, mostly exacerbated by the apparently alien concept that many blacks might express alarm or anger that a number of unarmed civilians, many of them teenaged or younger, were being killed under color of authority for no goddamned reason. The idea that black lives might also matter was apparently too much for these sensitive souls, and so rather than make any changes -- learn a different skill to replace your outsourced job, quit drinking and/or smoking, maybe feed your brain with something more nutritious than celebrity magazines and reality teevee -- they doubled down. They decided not to make any of those changes. The cost had not become too onerous yet, somehow. They decided to throw in with a cheesy con artist that P.T. Barnum himself would sneer at as being too obvious.

In both cases, the cost of not changing was not yet deemed greater than the cost of changing. People decided to continue what they were doing. The difference is that the rich assholes can afford to get away with their intransigence. After all, what are you gonna do about it, vote? Look how well that turned out.

But really, the 2016 US election is just a small piece of the puzzle, albeit one with much greater implications. There will almost certainly be a war somewhere at some point; it's what we do best, and there's been some military action or other in process pretty much every second since World War 2. There will undoubtedly be either a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, probably both at some point; both are happening around the world with increasing regularity.

The refugee crises from the Middle East and Africa to Europe will increase and accelerate, as war, terrorism, climate, and (again) overpopulation drive ever more people away from their homes and to the north, which is becoming increasingly nervous and protective of what they have, less willing to make room and share. There is some racism baked into that, sure, but a lot of it is just older people wanting things to go back to The Way They Were. Perhaps that's the flip side of the axiom -- sometimes people change and then find that the cost wasn't worth it, or wasn't apportioned equally.

I think there will be a major war within the next three to five years, with a decent chance the entire time that it could become the largest conflagration since 1945. (Not to overuse the "Third World War" cliché.) There will probably be a few terrorist attacks of varying damage and intensity every year for the foreseeable future, around the world. There will be more and worse "natural" disasters -- wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes -- which are aggravated by environmental conditions, and whose effects are magnified by a degraded infrastructure.

(One such instance in my area was narrowly averted six months ago, when the Oroville Dam nearly broke after months of rain, and 250,000 people had to be evacuated. The dam is still being repaired, and there doesn't seem to be a huge amount of urgency to the project.)

All of these events will combine with increasingly volatile climate and population issues to produce a security-state system that abrogates individual liberties and freedoms in the name of the barest level of actual security. Prisons are already being privatized, as are many administrative aspects of law enforcement. Imagine a scenario where corporations are running police departments as well, hiring and deploying cops, tiering services for the "right" neighborhoods, modifying even basic psych batteries for employment.

That's a snapshot of life for much of the industrialized world for the next thirty years or so -- war, terrorism, climate-driven natural disasters, decayed infrastructure, moribund institutions unable to deal with these things comprehensively, and significant portions of the populace that have lost their fucking minds. It will not be pleasant for anyone --except The Owners, the masters of inherited and pillaged wealth who never have to deal with any of the consequences. They just keep on owning, buying, selling, renting -- places, people, things. It never occurs to anyone to just tell them no. They're not used to hearing that word, and with good reason. Whatever the excuses or rationalizations, the bitter truth about assholes is that they are the way they are not because everyone failed to take some brave, bold stand against them, but simply because no one told them to fuck off.

After the year 2050 (give or take), things stabilize because people adapt to conditions so well. They can learn to live in just about any condition, any climate, any circumstance. Miami and Norfolk and New York will, after great consideration and many unnecessary casualties, poach and improve Dutch technology and engineer a system of walls and dikes (giggity) to stem the tide at least to a livable point. Technology upgrades will help. Never mind that Miami, to use just one example, is on a porous limestone substrate that allows for seepage, which cannot be prevented by a mere wall. They'll learn to live with it, just like we'll all learn to live with year-round wildfires, depleted aquifers, regional bandits and toll gangs, and other such niceties of the post-truth era. But things will settle down to a certain extent.

That's the benefit of that nihilist germ I mentioned earlier -- I don't think of this as predictions so much as projections, based on available evidence, and as such, it's just one interpretation of data, which can frequently get scattered by any number of black swan events. It could turn out "better" or "worse" depending on one's standing and perspective. The benefit of the nihilist gene is that it could turn out Mad Max and you can still just point and say, look, the diagram was fucking drawn for you....

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