Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A View From Nowhere

It's worth while stepping back once in a while (but especially now) and attempt to create a big picture gestalt of where things are and where we are headed. Doing this exercise forces us to step out of the normal (or abnormal as the case may be) churn of events and allows us to catch our breaths. Hopefully this results in a larger perspective which can then be deployed to orient ourselves.

I found the following links to be very useful and helpful in creating this larger perspective.

Peter Turchin has been working for a very long period of time on cliodynamics (named after Clio the muse). His book, Ages of Discord, which I just finished has an ominous prediction: we are headed for Civil War II in the US. Turchin goes far beyond others in using data analytics to build an actual model of discord. Central to his model is a factor that he calls excessive elite competition. In his model, over-production of elites (extremely wealthy people in this cycle) almost always leads to excessive competition between them. This leads to a breakdown of consensus and at a particular point in time could lead to Civil War II (between globalists and populists and between progressives and conservatives now). Turchin predicts maximum discord for the decade ahead. (There's quite a bit of agreement between Turchin and the Fourth Turning predictions profiled in this previous post. Please see the Generational Theory Forum for more correlations.)

Ken WIlber and the Integral Theory folks have spent the better part of the past fifteen years building a model of personal and social development that is truly all encompassing. In Trump and a Post-Truth World, Wilber lays the blame for our fractured consensus at the feet of deconstructive postmodernism. He argues that whatever Trump and Bannon are, they are not-progressive and much clarity can be obtained by defining them via this negative category. The scope of the book is much larger than its title would suggest but for our purposes, the take away from this model is one of a progressive (constructivist, aperspectival, contextual) elite at war with dominator hierarchies (traditional, ethnocentric etc.).

Walter Russell Mead (in Foreign Affairs) has a wonderful article "The Jacksonian Revolt" comparing Trump to the previously successful populist - Andrew Jackson. Echoing some of the other perspectives collected here, he writes "In this new world disorder, the power of identity politics can no longer be denied. Western elites believed that in the twenty-first century, cosmopolitanism and globalism would triumph over atavism and tribal loyalties. They failed to understand the deep roots of identity politics in the human psyche and the necessity for those roots to find political expression in both foreign and domestic policy arenas. And they failed to understand that the very forces of economic and social development that cosmopolitanism and globalization fostered would generate turbulence and eventually resistance, as Gemeinschaft (community) fought back against the onrushing Gesellschaft (market society), in the classic terms sociologists favored a century ago."

George Friedman (the architect behind Geopolitical Futures) is the person you read to find out about geopolitics. In "The World before World War II re-emerges" (behind a paywall, so I'll condense and summarize), he argues that the entirety of Eurasia (with the exception of India) is destabilizing. He writes "The conflict in the Middle East is generating a huge flow of migrants to Europe. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, over 2 million refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe since the beginning of 2014. Russia is engaged in the Middle East as well, while simultaneously maintaining support for anti-West forces in Ukraine. The Chinese economic crisis has reverberated throughout Eurasia. Since China’s foreign exchange reserves almost hit $4 trillion in June 2014, they have fallen to $3.2 trillion, the lowest figure since 2011. Meanwhile, the Chinese have confronted Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia over sovereignty claims in the South and East China seas. Central Asia is in the process of entering crisis mode, in large part due to the collapse of oil prices, which has weakened central governments and generated regional hostility. With the exception of India, which was only marginally involved in pre-war and wartime events during World War II, the entire region is destabilizing.  There are no clear forces that can stop the fighting in the Middle East, the EU internal crisis, the Russian economic and strategic crisis or the Chinese political, social and economic crises. Without arrestors, the crises will continue and intensify. There doesn’t seem to be a force to contain it."

When one takes into account the myriad global destabilizing factors and models, it's hard not to conclude that we are entering a period of intense global disruption to which we can now add the US. Regardless of politics, it's quite likely that the world will be fundamentally changed over the next decade as the neoliberal world built after World War II unravels. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Battle of Pelennor Fields

We have gained sufficient distance from the US election of Nov 8th, 2016 and are therefore able to view it from a wider perspective. In very brief terms, Donald Trump was able to channel the frustrations of the white working class to win with very narrow margins in PA, WI, MI, OH and also in IA, NC and FL (among others) and this put him over the top.

Interesting links:

Chris Ladd (a former Republican) has begun a very interesting new site called Political Orphans. Out of the many articles on the site, I recommend "When whiteness fails."

Think Progress has a long piece on "The center has fallen, and white nationalism is filling the vacuum" making the argument that the neoliberal order in place since WW II is now over.

Claremont Review of Books had a sensational and widely read piece called "The Flight 93 Election" arguing that " a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances."

I can't recall any article that attempts to bring a consciousness studies perspective to the election. I'll try and briefly sketch how this might go (and probably fail miserably but at least it's worth trying).

White identity is obviously very complex. And in a race category obsessed country like the US, it's very difficult to obtain any kind of objectivity w.r.t. race. Since it's clearly vital to understanding what happened in the election, we should try and find data on interior accounts of Anglo-American-ness and extrapolate from there. Of all the people associated with Trump, Bannon seems to be the one most closely affiliated with the race and culture nexus. When one digs into Bannon and attempts to find out what makes him tick, the Fourth Turning concept (introduced by Strauss and Howe) stands out as something that crops up over and over and so if you can, watch Bannon's documentary "Generation Zero" and read Strauss and Howe's book "The Fourth Turning."

The Fourth Turning (and google Saeculum Research for more) looks at Anglo-American generations going way back. According to the authors, there have been a set of epochs prior to this one - the post WWII globalization epoch. They are : (i) late medieval ending with the War of the Roses, (ii) reformation ending with the Armada crisis, (iii) new world ending with the Glorious Revolution, (iv) revolutionary ending with revolutionary war, (v) civil war ending with....., (vi) great power ending with WW II, and finally (vii) millennial ending in the 202X time frame with a global financial war (the book's main prediction written in 1997 and why the book is gaining traction now). The reason why it's called the Fourth Turning is that they divide the post WW II epoch into (I) High: 1945-1964, (II) Awakening: 1964-1984, (III) Unraveling: 1984-200X and (IV) Crisis: 200X-202X. The High "turning" was when we had a unified culture, the Awakening was when we dared to be different, the Unraveling was when we started fracturing and the Crisis is when it all falls apart.

Normally, this sort of cyclic view of history would be dismissed out of hand, except that some of the predictions made in the book are starting to come true. I searched for an academic historian who also used these ideas and came up with David Kaiser. (Please see his "History Unfolding" blog for more information.)

The Fourth Turning book reminded me of Nightfall (by Asimov) in which a culture repeatedly immolates itself with only a few people left alive to carry information into the next epoch.

The authors (Strauss and Howe) stress repeatedly that they are looking at only Anglo-American cultures from within and that's how they came up with this taxonomy.They claim that we entered the Crisis period in 2008 with the financial meltdown and that this era will end with an even bigger financial world war. The key prophecy in the book is the messy transfer of power from boomers to millennials in the next decade with Gen Xers acting as midwives. Since an era is coming to an end, it will feel like an existential threat to the republic. Bannon covers this in his documentary "Generation Zero" with Neil Howe's voice consistently featured in the background.

What are we to make of all this? I think it's clear that a segment of white Anglo-American culture is certain that we're headed for a monumental clash leading to a Crisis which will resolve itself in the next decade or so. Since the same segment has all the reins of power at the moment, it can also try and make this happen. Consequently, given the ethnic, nationalist, socially conservative and isolationist strains emerging from Trump's win, we can expect our view of reality itself to change with supply-side economics (trickle down, etc.) AND demand-side sociology (victimhood as status, etc.) going into a death spiral over the next decade. To paraphrase the Matrix, "Buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye!"