Voices from Russia

Sunday, 4 February 2018

How Societies Collapse: Or, The Eerie Parallels Between Rome, Nazi Germany, and America


A little reflection occurs to me every time I write about American collapse. Societies collapse in much the same way… there’s something like a universal way of collapse. Yet, the whole problem begins with the fact that human beings, having needy egos, find their own downfall difficult to accept. Perhaps, you yourself will object… you’re a mighty citizen of a proud society. Ah. Do you think the Incas, Mayas, Romans, or Nazis ever thought that they obeyed the laws of history? Of course not. Becoming a powerful society makes us vulnerable to collapse because it leaves us puffed up with hubris. We cry:

We shall never fall! Our thousand-year reign has barely begun!

To think one is above history is precisely where collapse begins… people who don’t understand how societies fall can’t do a whole lot to stop it. We begin the story of how a society falls thus… there’s an almost hysterical atmosphere of denial that it ever could.

Step One

The economy stagnates. Life becomes harder and meaner. An atmosphere of cruelty permeates. However, élites must deny stagnation… otherwise, they admit that they failed… in this way, society never repairs the social contract.

Step Two

Neighbour turns on neighbour for a constant share of a dwindling pie. They must compete more and more viciously to maintain the living standards of their parents and grandparents. Social bonds blow apart. Norms begin to disintegrate.

Step Three

Growing ever more anxious and desperate, seeking a truce in what has become an unwinnable battle for survival, people turn to strongmen, glorified thugs, revelling in indecency, thus flaunting their power over broken norms and failed social contract. If they live in a democracy, people turn to strongmen for the very safety democracy failed at giving them. This is the authoritarian moment. The moment at which decline implodes into true collapse… irreversibly, usually.

Step Four 

The strongest tribe begins to exterminate the weaker ones (not illegally, but perfectly legally, in little steps of scapegoating, exclusion, blame, and expropriation). This is the poisoned womb of authoritarianism giving unholy birth to fascism. This thus preserves the illusion of constancy… that is, the insiders’ economic portions remain stable, but all that happened is that a society achieved it by excluding or eliminating whole social groups altogether, leaving more for the pure. This fact is a secret from the people, officially… but who can’t be aware?

Step Five

However, because simply exterminating the weak didn’t solve the original problem of stagnation, a society dooms itself to forever taking its neighbours’ harvests or falling apart. This is how fascism leads to atrocity, war, and mass murder.

Do you see how this all fits together, like pieces of a puzzle? Ignorance of this great and terrible cycle underpins so much human suffering that perhaps it’s the single greatest evil in history. Yet, our first tendency is to deny that it’s happening to us, isn’t it? Therefore, every step is harder and harder to untake… a gravity created by our own weaknesses… our needs for superiority, for belonging, for infantile security. Now, it’s easy to see how universal collapse was the case in Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, what’s harder to see is that it has also been the case throughout history… right down to today. All that really differs is what lights the spark of stagnation… the rest of the steps then follow predictably, if living standards do not rise.

In agricultural societies, this spark was literally often a failed harvest. Perhaps the rains or rivers ran dry for a season. Soon enough, they sacrificed virgins atop the temples. However, the gods stayed deaf. Tribes then went to war, to prove their worthiness to the gods. This was more or less the story of South America, India, and pre-imperial China, for millennia. In industrial and mercantile societies, the spark of stagnation was a shortage of raw materials. Hence, the drive for constantly-expanding empire and conquest. Nevertheless, as soon as those basic inputs dried up… whether cotton, sugar, or tea … then, again nations went to war (when they weren’t busy warring, they were putting people to work in fields, to stave off stagnation and collapse again). This was the story of post-Enlightenment Europe, in which men claimed to be people of reason, but the simple truth was they were just as much victims and perpetrators of the economics of collapse as ever before in human history, perhaps, even more so.

How do modern economies differ? It isn’t because they don’t run out of raw materials, like information… they do, eminently: the raw materials in our case are money, human possibility, and opportunity. They haven’t “run out” in an absolute sense, but in a relative one… they are in shortage because the top layer hoards them. We learned this much from giants like Keynes… no economy has to stagnate anymore. Harvests may fail and raw materials run out, but there’s a better way out of stagnation than war and violence. It’s to invest in economies at the precise moment they are failing, employ the desperate in realising themselves, and that way, avert the rage, fury, and despair that lead to scapegoating, tribalism, extremism, war, and ultimately, self-destruction. Those old agricultural economies might better have put people to work building aqueducts instead of fighting their neighbours. However, they didn’t… and we aren’t, either. Our mistake is to learn nothing from theirs. Do you see the genius of Keynes’ insight? It was to say that we can best stop collapse at its first step… the other four, if taken, are usually too late, each leading inevitably to the next.

Now that I have given you a tiny theory of collapse, let’s place America upon it, as an example. America grew short of the raw materials of a modern economy… money, possibility, and opportunity. The average person’s income began to stagnate in the 70s. They began to live shorter, meaner, more brutal and disconnected and inhumane lives. Any competent economist should have predicted, on this basis alone, an eventual crisis. That is, if not resolved, it’d lead to a textbook social collapse. Nevertheless, America doesn’t have many good minds left… so few did predict such… and no one listened to them very much.

Therefore, the fuse of stagnation lit the bomb of collapse. It inflamed America’s old racial wounds, as neighbour turned on neighbour, forced to compete viciously for a constant share of a shrinking social pie. However, to maintain a constant share of a shrinking pie is an impossible task for everyone in a society. So, just a few decades later, weary of this bruising everyday battle that life had become, Americans gave up, en masse, on democracy… trust collapsed, social bonds blew apart, turnout was meagre, and civic engagement was nonexistent. Instead, they turned to drugs, violence, escapism, and extremism for consolation. Eventually, along came a strongman… who offered them not just consolation but a solution. This was an authoritarian moment… an instant when decline implodes into collapse. Now, the rest might not be history… but that much certainly is, isn’t it? When you think about it, what’s striking isn’t America’s exceptionalism… but that no amount of power, might, or glory made it immune from history. American collapse follows precisely the same steps as every other great and memorable one in history. Nevertheless, why would we have ever thought otherwise?

Here is the point inside the point. I think about it a great deal these days, brooding, a little sadly. Americans are interested in the symptoms of collapse… but not the causes. In this way, they became something like tourists of democracy… not participants in it. How can a people who don’t understand collapse then address it, let alone rebuild the ruined institutions, norms, and values it points to? Collapse is a universal process of human societies. We’re no better than our ancestors, neighbours, or our descendants… we never will be. The sooner that we understand how, why, and when a collapse occurs… even though it conflicts with our own need to feel mighty, special, and privileged… perhaps, the less prone to it we’ll be.

30 January 2018

Umair Haque




The Trump Base One Year Out


Unless the polls are even more off than they were when they predicted a Clinton victory in 2016, distressingly many 2016 Trump voters continue to stand by their man. There’s been some attrition, but the Trump base still comprises slightly more than a third of the electorate. Consider that… and despair for the human race. I’m not talking about the true “deplorables” (“detestables” would be a more apt description), the hyper-rich blockheads who think that it’s cool to party with The Donald at Mar-a-Lago. Their dollars matter, but their votes not so much… there just aren’t enough dumbass gazillionaires married to trophy brides or jelly-faced women to form a voting bloc.

However, there are still a lot of people Hillary Clinton called “deplorable”. The voting bloc they form, although not what it used to be, remains formidable. It turns out that many of the people she had in mind were not deplorable at all; just bamboozled, ill-informed, and too pissed off for their own good. In addition, many of them loathed her and her husband and their hangers-on, sentiments for which one can hardly fault them. Nevertheless, that was a year ago. Those still on Trump’s side no longer have any excuse. There’s reason to think that at least some light is finally getting through to them. Polling data and anecdotal evidence suggest that many of them would like their man to tweet less or at least to send out less ludicrous tweets. Many of them also say that the coarseness with which Trump expresses racist and nativist attitudes displeases them, even as they praise him for saying what’s on his mind and telling it like it is.

No doubt, many of them know that Trump is ignorant, stupid, and unhinged. How could they not? Each day brings fresh evidence that even Fox News cannot entirely filter out or explain away. How could scandals more unseemly than those that recently undid the careers of Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner not embarrass them? The payoff to Stormy Daniels is only the latest in an endless series. Trump boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose support. The Trump base seems, for now, to be proving him right. It boggles the mind, but, for that third or more of the voting public, Trump seems untouchable. No other American politician has ever been similarly immune.

Ronald Reagan was “the Teflon president”, his foulest deeds never stuck. However, just as no one can any longer claim that George W Bush was the worst president ever, no one can any longer say that, for keeping potentially damaging news from sticking, the Gipper was the uncontested champion of the world. Compared to Trump, Reagan was a joke. Could it be that Trump’s fans don’t care? Could they actually be pleased that Trump is as awful as he is?

Voting for Trump was a way to give the middle-finger not just to Hillary, but also to the kinds of people to whom she appealed, and to policies and institutions identified with her and her party. Arguably, therefore, being on Trump’s side, though unforgivable, was understandable. A year out, it’s simply ridiculous. That’s about the kindest thing one can now say about the third or more of the electorate that has yet to settle accounts with the mistake they made a year ago. They’re an odious lot, but by keeping that mistake alive, they became a fixture on the political scene… one that’ll continue to cause profound, possibly irreparable harm, at least until the next presidential election in 2020. This will be the case even if, between now and then, all goes as well as our Constitution allows… in other words if Vice-President Mike Pence replaces Trump.

We need hardly say that, in this case, “as well as can be” is awful too. Where Trump is an opportunistic self-aggrandiser with vile instincts but no guiding ideology and therefore no settled convictions, Pence is a bona fide reactionary with theocratic inclinations. However, with him in the White House instead of Trump, the likelihood of nuclear war would diminish, and we could be more confident that institutional constraints on executive branch tyranny would hold. The other bad stuff will continue; indeed, it could get worse. How much better it would be if, as in more democratic régimes, we could recall our mistakes and hold new elections sooner rather than later! By the standards of their time, the authors of our Constitution were enlightened thinkers. However, whatever those merchants and planters (slave-owners) thought they were doing, this is what they stuck us with. Therefore, the Trump base has become a force of nature. With genuinely transformative resistance (much less revolutionary change) off the agenda, there’s nothing to do but deal with the problems this creates as best one can. To that end, it’s worth asking what the hell is wrong with all those people; what is their problem?


After Year One of The Donald, the time is past due to rehabilitate “political correctness”… not the sanctimonious kind that sets off the Trump base (and not only them!), but the kind that reflects basic civility. Nowadays, that fundamental political virtue is extinct on the Right and rare everywhere else. Yet, remnants of civility do survive in comparatively enlightened circles. Overall, this is a good thing; if we finally are able to de-Trumpify our politics, it’d be a basis upon which to build. For now, though, insofar as it causes liberals and others to cut Trump supporters slack, it’s at best a mixed blessing. The Trump base benefits too much from political correctness… liberals and others cut it far too much slack. Nevertheless, it’s not clear how much of this is due to a principled dedication to civility and how much from an awareness of the counter-productive consequences of speaking condescendingly of Trump voters.

Obama got burned for casual remarks he made to donors about the appeal of the gun culture and other idiocies to rural Americans; Hillary is as likely to be remembered for her “basket of deplorables” remark as for her efforts to revive the Cold War or for all the harm she and her co-thinkers did… to Honduras, Egypt, Iraq, Libya (especially Libya), Syria, and elsewhere… when she was Secretary of State. It’s clear what nearly everyone outside the Trump base thinks… they think that Trump supporters are cretins. They aren’t wrong, but that isn’t the whole story. There are other explanations for the Trump base’s durability that we should also take into account.

Thus, at least some of the blame for the moral and intellectual shortcomings of Trump supporters lies with media that normalise the attitudes and instincts that Trump’s campaign and presidency legitimated. Of course, there are the obvious culprits, from Fox News on down (or is it up?). However, liberal media are culpable too… not just for having given Trump seemingly limitless free publicity during the campaign and, even now, for covering little else, but also for treating Trump’s words and deeds as if they actually were worth taking seriously. On the plus side, the Trump menace emboldened them in ways that were unthinkable in the past. In the pre-Trump era, they would never dump on a sitting president the way they do now. However, in their zeal to accommodate the interests of corporate owners and sponsors, and in accord with an ethic that insists on presenting all (two) sides within the narrow spectrum of non-marginalised views, they take the policies and ideas of Trump and his co-dependent Republicans more seriously than they deserve.

This makes what Trump and his minions say (or tweet) and do seem almost reasonable… not on their merits, but by being presented in ways that confer respectability upon them. (Small-d) democratic politics thrives on free, open, and lively debate. Nevertheless, it doesn’t follow that we must take all views, no matter how ludicrous, seriously and give them equal consideration. Debating Trumpian views… or, rather, Republican views that Trump latched onto… is like debating promoters of “scientific creationism” or “intelligent design”, except that purveyors of godly flim-flam are generally more clever. To be sure, it can sometimes be instructive to engage Republican jibber-jabber. In general, though, there isn’t world enough and time enough to waste on their nonsense.

However, because Trump’s large bottom and small button are in the White House, and because Republicans control both chambers of Congress, what he and they say and do is important… not in its own right, but because, like other forces of nature, it’s there, affecting the course of events. Fox News and other rightwing media treat Trumpian views as if they were worth taking seriously, but misinforming and dumbing down chronically dumbed-down and misinformed audiences is what they do. Liberal media… the New York Times and Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, and so on… have no excuse. Those media outlets and others like them are more palatable to people with decent sensibilities, but the harm they do is if anything, more insidious… not just for lending prestige to worthless lines of thought, but also for reinforcing the duopoly party system that made the Trump phenomenon possible and arguably even inevitable.

They also help spread the idea that white “identity politics” is the toxin upon which the Trump base feeds. This may be true of the base’s “alt-right” contingent, but that’s only a part of the larger Trump base. It’s worth noting that “white” no longer means what it once did. In the 19th-century, the term used to refer just to descendants of English, Scottish, Welsh, and Scotch-Irish (Protestant) settlers. In due course, attitudes liberalised, however; Germans, Scandinavians, and other Northern Europeans made the cut as well. Eventually, even the Irish and descendants of Southern and Eastern Europeans entered the mixture. By now, “white” includes everyone of European origin… even Catholics, even Jews. Nearly the entire Trump base seems OK with this… even hardcore “Evangelicals”. They’re at peace with Catholics thanks to Rome’s opposition to abortion, and with Jews over support for Israel.

There was a time when Protestants would go at each other for theological reasons or over differing views about church organisation and relations with the political authorities of the emerging nation-states of Early Modern Europe. However, from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the principal causes of disagreement between Protestants and Catholics, and between the various Protestant sects, had mainly to do with issues of private virtue and morality. This was especially true of religious groups connected historically to American Evangelical movements. They were among the most puritanical assemblages in all of Christendom. Not anymore. When it suits their purpose, white Evangelicals nowadays become soft on sin… even to the point of making common cause with Donald Trump, one of the most reprobate sinners on the political scene. They don’t care what he does so long as he helps them advance their political agendas.

Ironically, what they’re after only has tenuous connections to the theological concerns that moved their spiritual forefathers. Unlike Catholics, abortion didn’t trouble most Protestant sects, and their attitudes towards homosexuality were no different from those of everyone else in their time and place. Yet, somehow, these issues, along with support for Israel (anticipating the End Time), are their obsessions. Their leaders are venal too… to an extent extreme even by the standards prevalent in our decadent political culture. In short, if there actually were a Hell, there’d be a particularly horrific corner of it reserved for them.


Trump backers who rally behind the “Make America Great Again” slogan and who understand those words to mean “Make America White Again” would have their own special corner in Hell too. Strictly speaking, most of them are neither fascists nor racialists, and most of them would deny being white supremacists, not to be politically correct… anything but that! … but because they truly don’t think they are. However, in their hearts, at some level, they do think that whites are better than browns or blacks; and they do feel viscerally that this land belongs to them. For them, Trump, a kindred spirit, is a means to that end. Therefore, they stand by him, no matter how crude, vile, and ridiculous he may be. Can they hold the line enough to keep Republican majorities in the House and Senate, when everything they stand for revolts some two-thirds of the electorate? With our gerrymandered Congressional districts and with many state governments controlled by Republicans determined to suppress the votes of black and brown people, and of segments of the white population that are unlikely to vote for them, the short answer is probably yes… unless the economy turns south or unless the Democratic Party transforms itself.

For most working people, including those in the Trump base, the economy never stopped turning south, but most economic indicators are good, unemployment is low (if you count low-wage workers in precarious situations without job or income security as employed), and the stock market is booming. Corporate media are hard at work spreading the news. When people in the Trump base hear that, they assume that if all isn’t well in their own case (as it very likely isn’t) it must be their fault, not Trump’s. Meanwhile, Trump takes credit for the economy doing well in the ways that it is, ways that matter to him and his class brothers and sisters. Liberal media outlets promote a similar line. What they ought to do is point out that capitalist economies go through cycles of boom and bust, and that what presidents and their administrations do seldom affect the underlying dynamic that regulates this process except in minor ways. Bad economic policies can make downturns worse, but when things are going well, it is seldom for reasons for which government can reasonably take credit.

Many believe that Trump’s tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and his administration’s attacks on regulations that capitalist firms in some industries, especially the energy sector, decry, account for some of the short-term improvements in overall economic performance that we’re now experiencing, even if they’d harm the economy in the end. There probably is something to this, but the main reason the economy is now doing well… for investors and financiers… is that it’s still bouncing back from the Great Recession. How long that’ll last is anybody’s guess, but it’s sure as can be that at some point the economy will again take a turn for the worse. The question is… when? Will it happen in time to affect the midterm elections? Meanwhile, workers’ incomes remain stagnant; there’s less job security than there used to be, and more precarious employment. The rich are getting (much) richer, while everyone else, at best, is barely staying afloat.

Yet, within the Trump base, this doesn’t seem to matter. It defies credulity to think that voters would agree to a status quo that disadvantages them, provided only that the richest of the rich make out like the bandits they are. It defies credulity even more to credit Trump for the economic “miracle” we are now living through, when all he did was catch a lucky break. Anyone who thinks that all’s well with the economy and that Trump is the reason deserves all the opprobrium they now get, and the far greater opprobrium that they’d get were they not benefiting from residual pre-Trump era political correctness. Indeed, it isn’t clear what Trump could do that he hasn’t already done that’d cause their delusions to fade away. That they haven’t faded away already only corroborates the idea that people in the Trump base are “fucking morons”… like Trump himself, according to his Secretary of State.

However, there’s something that the gods or the laws of capitalist development or both could do… they could make the economy bad again, sooner rather than later… not just in the ways it never stopped being bad, but in ways that even Fox News pundits would be unable to deny. It’s either that or the Democratic Party would have to stop being the joke that it now is. To that end, the first step is for Democrats to disabuse themselves of the notion that the way to win elections is to occupy “the moderate middle”. That’s always been the Clintons’ view. They didn’t think of it all by themselves, of course; like poverty and pestilence, it has always been with us. Nevertheless, Bill and Hillary made that view their own; and it was under their aegis that it became an article of faith in Democratic electoral and media circles. How many times must this strategy fail before its futility finally penetrates thick Democratic skulls? That could take some doing… Democratic politicians and liberal media pundits heavily invested in the idea. This is why so many of them urged “moderation” during last weekend’s government shutdown; they claimed that holding out for an agreement on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) would harm the Democratic Party in “red” states. They argued too that we’d solve the problem eventually because Chuck Schumer (the US Senate Minority Leader) and Trump, being “Outer Borough guys”, should be able to see eye to eye and therefore to make a deal. The former contention comes out of the “centrist” strategy that keeps bringing the party down. The “Outer Borough” argument is too ridiculous to take seriously.

The fact is that Schumer and Trump have little in common. One grew up in a lower-middle-class, generally progressive family, the other was the son of a racist sleazeball real-estate developer and landlord; one is book-smart, while there’s some question whether the other even reads. However, Trump does know a thing or two that Schumer evidently doesn’t. He knows how to hoodwink easy marks, how to play chicken, and how to call a bluff. Schumer is a complete zero in comparison… he doesn’t even have a clue about how to be, or seem to be, intransigent. Evidently, he missed the class on non-negotiable demands. Thus, at least for now, it looks like he, along with many other Democratic Senators, lost the last round, betraying the DACA kids in the process. The Trump base got its way and Trump won by doing nothing at all. Pathetic, but true! With people like Schumer leading and comprising the Democratic Party, expect Republicans to be in charge long after 2018. Of course, it’s still possible, that radical independent un-co-opted and un-co-optable newcomers will steal the Democratic Party away from the Clintonites who now run the show. I wouldn’t hold my breath, however. Therefore, unless events overtake him, thanks to the gods, perhaps, or, more likely, to Robert Mueller, this will probably not be the last time that Trump waddles away gloating.

26 January 2018

Andrew Levine



4 February 2018. A Walk With the Animals… Russians DO Love Cats

Filed under: animals,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


An old Russian saying has it:

A house isn’t a home until it has a cat in it.

It seems that’s still true today. 59 percent of all Russian households have at least one cat (more have two or more than have just one). Therefore, don’t be surprised to find a cat rubbing your ankle in welcome as you take off your shoes to stay a spell (Russians ALWAYS remove their outdoor shoes at the entrance… just like French-Canadians do). Do wear clean socks and wash your feet beforehand… youse been warned…


Science Says People Who Curse A Lot Are Healthy

Filed under: health care/social issues,social life and customs — 01varvara @ 00.00


I grew up with two older sisters who are much older than I am. When I was 6-years-old, my eldest sister was already 16-years-old, which means, there was always some foul language going on around the house. I quickly picked up some not-so-good words when I was super young, so much so that my mom frequently put soap in my mouth (unsure as to what her point was, I still say fuck like it’s going out of style). While many people believe swearing and using cuss-words is inappropriate and in bad taste, it turns out that there are some benefits in having a potty mouth. According to science and some studies, there’s a bunch of reasons that swearing is good for you. Researchers decided that those who swear regularly are more happy, healthy, intelligent, and (of course) honest. One study indicates that during an argument (in any setting), using profanity can lead to higher effectiveness and persuasion. If you’re trying to be seen as passionate and firm in a stance, using swear words can help your agenda.

By swearing, we not only communicate the meaning of a sentence but also our emotional response to the meaning… our emotional reaction to something. It also allows us to express anger, disgust, or pain, or indicate to someone that they need to back off, without having to resort to physical violence.

Along with this, studies show that those who curse have higher levels of integrity and, in turn, can be much more honest people. According to research, those who use profanity tend to lie less, as tested on a lie detector exam. In terms of your mood, researchers also say that letting out a few bad words every now and again can actually release endorphins, like exercising, and can overall improve your mood. There’s nothing like letting out a few F-bombs when you’re having a bad day, right?

If you’re looking how to test your intelligence, knowing bad words can also lead to the indication that you have a better vocabulary than those who don’t know as many bad words. As well, cursing can be a sign of having a higher IQ. In addition, swearing improves your pain tolerance, which is why we all love to scream profanity when we’re injured. Researchers say that cursing can have the same effect on those in pain as a shot of morphine can have… which is wild. Therefore, the next time someone tells you to “watch your mouth” or “language”, be sure to inform them that you’re only looking to better your own life and soul. Also, take pride in the fact that you’re probably happier than they are.

28 January 2018



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