Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary update time!
I have not been as active on this as I should have been, but if you happen to be following along - never fear! Progress on Book 3 is... progressing!
Long story short - this week I'll be just shy of 40,000 words into the draft, approximately 30% of the way through the manuscript. I'm enjoying writing this Book in the Saga in particular because I feel like the characters have "leveled up" sufficiently to be able to independently narrate scenes without relying on asking the core supporting cast so many dumb questions.
Fingers crossed, this will allow me to integrate the idea stuff, discussions of philosophy and science and whatnot, more gently in the narrative than in the first two Books. I'm going for a learning experience type of feel, so the training element is appropriate, I think, but does start to hit the edge of plausibility after a while. If you've reached the end of Book 2, you can probably see where things are going.
In other news, Anglo-Saxon politics remain insane, with America's madness not worth speaking about, and Britain's kind of epically hilarious (to me, not to anyone having to wonder what March will bring) Brexit fiasco. I stand by my predictions on both: America is already in campaign mode, the conventional wisdom is a-flying - and as usual bad theory predominates the discourse. It'll be fun/tragic to watch the unfolding Democratic party clownshow, though there are a few bright stars shining through the fog. And Brexit... if it happens, I'll be shocked.
I have to admit feeling a sort of grudging admiration for Prime Minister Theresa May's committment to holding her Conservative Party together by taking Britain to the brink. If Britain were to vote on the matter tomorrow, the result would be 55-45 against Brexit. And the whole backstop thing - what a perfect issue for the EU to refuse to budge on! They get to look strong to their domestic audience, and justified to an international audience, because who would want to much up the Irish peace process? Basically, May is in a position where the EU gets to look benevolent and principled, while also serving its own interest - avoiding Brexit altogether.
Who says the EU doesn't work?
On the topic of predictions, here's a little map I put together with the help of Alex Wellerstein's excellent Nukemap tool:
What you should see is a rough outline of the regions that will be irradiated (and the likely direct casualties - radiation casualties not modeled) as a result of the 2029 USA-Russia nuclear exchange, following the escalation of the Second American Civil War to the nuclear level by the Hollahan, then Pilsudska, factions. Turns out, the media was wrong about how a nuclear war would go. No simple mutual annihilation and post-apocalyptic horror, no, not in reality. Ray Bradbury was closer to the mark in Fahrenheit 451 - save that neither Russia nor the US would bother targeting cities.
No, when the fearless idiots in Moscow and DC do inevitably drop the bomb, both sides will do everything they can to be selective in their targeting, demonstrating to the other that see, I can do everything you can do, so you wanna take this to the next level? Huh? in a cycle of escalation that will end when someone blinks - or the government falls.
In the 2029 Exchange, Russia targets the American ICBM fields in North Dakota and Wyoming/Colorado (the things are spread out) it judges are under the control of the psychotic Hollahan regime, which came into power via nuclear decapitation of the senior US leadership in 2028, attacked several other nuclear-armed countries (or suspects) and is happy to fling nukes about in order to secure control of the US West in the aftermath. Hence, drawing Russia's paranoid ire.
Putin's solution is (as it would have been a Soviet Premier's in the late Cold War) to go Counterforce against the most threatening part of the US arsenal (ICBMs tend to be more accurate than Submarine-launched weapons, cause Subs move) as a signal that it was ready and willing to go further. The result, is the map above. Hundreds of nuclear warheads are ground-bursted on the American ICBM silos, turning tons of soil into radioactive fallout and throwing it high up into the sky, where an unusual weather pattern funneled it over the Corn Belt.
Most of North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa are contaminated - as are all the tributaries of the Mississippi downstream. Much of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana receive a lighter dusting that will still require removal of all affected topsoil before the region is safe again. Ohio gets a share too, as the geography of the mid-continent funnels the rest to the Great Lakes and beyond - not enough to be dangerous (very), but not exactly healthy, either.
More than 30 million people are forced to evacuate, many never to return, as their homes will be cordoned off, deemed unsafe - and who will pay for the reconstruction? Especially when the USA never recovers, and formally splits apart in subsequent years.
Hey, that's what happens when you insist on maintaining an arsenal of ICBMs at the headwaters of your continent's largest watershed. Don't like this future, Americans? Go talk to your politicians.
Why I am a Cascadian
I was born an American, and like my father and grandfather before me, I served in the United States military during a time of war.
I used to feel pride in being an American. But I don’t anymore.
The fact of the matter is that the United States of America is a colonial empire no better than the British Empire that spawned it. After winning independence, the elites who have always run the show actively pursued wars of aggression, committed genocide against the indigenous inhabitants, and eventually seized colonies in Latin America and Asia to become a formal empire itself – a path that led the US directly into the atrocities of the Second World War. A conflict that culminated in the first-ever human use of atomic weaponry to murder a quarter of a million civilians at a point when the war in the Pacific was already a foregone conclusion.
And of course, they didn’t stop there. Hell, they built a few tens of thousands more, and thousands still sit, lurking, waiting to take a few hundreds of millions of lives.
The United States of America has, since the Second World War, directly caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It has indirectly caused the deaths of millions more. The War on Terror has simply continued a long, bloody history of slaughter. The bombs have never stopped falling for long, and although the citizens of the United States have two broad oceans protecting them from invasion, more than 50% of every single dollar paid in federal income taxes by all American taxpayers flow into a Pentagon bureaucracy so bloated and mismanaged that it cannot even be accurately audited.
This ongoing theft of our dollars by the Pentagon, and their ultimate destination in the pockets of a few privileged actors in the defense industry, directly connects each and every American taxpayer to an unending stream of atrocities. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – they never end, no matter which of the two major parties is in power or what personality occupies the Oval Office. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump – no President in my lifetime has failed to kill less than a few thousand innocent people around the world, and some (Clinton, Bush II) have killed far more. Neither party makes ending the nonstop violence a core component of its platform, and the US media doesn’t seem to care.
“American” is an identity that no longer contains the slightest shred of pride for me. The facts of history reveal that the United States of America is a vicious global empire, no less worth defeating than any that has come before. To put in Tolkienian terms: We are all Orcs. Sauron is our master. Barad-Dur belches wickedness into our skies. And Washington DC is the Ring of Power.
But all empires, due to contradictions in their internal structure and the detachment of their elites from the persistent degradation of material conditions experienced by the majority of the population, eventually fall. Leaving those of us stuck living in the aftermath with the difficult task of figuring out what to do next.
But, as the British say, sometimes you just have to get stuck in.
I believe that the time has come to recognize that we desperately need new principles of political organization to deal with the growing complexities of 21st century life. I believe the time has come to adopt the idea of the Bioregion as a natural and workable foundation for a nation held together by the vital task of collectively managing our common environment.
We in the Pacific Northwest, present-day Americans, Canadians, and First Peoples, live where we do because this land calls to us. Whether our ancestors came here millenia or decades ago, this place sustains our life, gives us air and water and food, and offers a soul the chance to experience some of the few remaining places on this Earth not entirely spoiled by industrial society.
In truth, our political, economic, and social systems are all bound to the bioregion and those things we need and value that can be sourced from it. Common management of collective resources is, as Nobel-winning scholars have persuasively argued, one of the fundamental reasons why a recognizable human society exists in the first place. And in an age of global economic turmoil and global climate change, comprehending this link is absolutely essential to our long term prosperity.
So starting with the idea of the Bioregion, I collected some basic data and used my moderate GIS skills to put together this map, which is a Version 1.0 style presentation containing the broadest outline of my professional sense, as someone with graduate level training in policy and resource management of what an autonomous or independent Cascadia established along bioregional lines could – and I’d argue, should, look like:
This Democratic Federation of Cascadia would have a combined population of about 17 million people as of the mid 2010s, and it will likely reach 18 million in the mid 2020s. The total Gross Domestic Product would be almost $1.1 Trillion today, a bit larger than the Netherlands or Indonesia, a bit smaller than Australia or Spain.
Depending on whether Cascadia maintains the US level of per-person military spending (over $2,000 even before the most recent increases, taking it close to $2,500) or drops it to the NATO-standard 2% of GDP, Cascadia’s Defense Forces (Mandates: protection of residents from aggression, and disaster relief), it would spend about as much as South Korea ($35 billion per year) or Canada ($20 billion per year) on defense.
Most of the population would reside in Rainier (5.20 million), Willamette (2.80 million), and Fraser/Okanogan (4.40 million together – not certain where the best BC split might be). Once split out, Okanogan would likely be the smallest state by population (Again sorry for the US focus, readers in Canada), followed by Klamath (.80 million), Missoula (.80 million), Teton (1.20 million), and Columbia (1.80 million).
The population distribution into these states is particularly important – in fact, I’d call it vital to the entire concept. One of the biggest issues with contemporary discussions of Cascadia is lack of a clear solution to what will always be the most fundamental challenge in uniting 17 million people across such a large, rugged area: political cultures.
The media-sustained narrative of the US having two ideological poles – left/liberal and right/conservative – with a pool of moderates in the middle, is complete and utter pseudoscience. It is endlessly-repeated nonsense with no basis in anything other than convenience. You simply cannot usefully describe a population, in statistical or functional terms, using a single-dimension metric. Politics in any place or time will always be about more complex than that. Politics is a human activity, rooted in human social and economic interactions. As such, it is subject to the same tribalism as any other aspect of our world. People vote based on how they perceive a candidate or issue is related to their people – whoever they are.
Where people live, the environment they’ve known – social, economic, and/or natural – in their lives, is a crucial component of their self and group identities, which are the ultimate drivers of politics in the real world. The paramount divide within Cascadia exists as a gap between two cultures, rural and urban, each of which is characterized by quite different patterns of existence, which produce different ways of looking at the world.
Cascadia, to function as a political entity, will have to be structured to take these fundamental differences in worldview into account. There is a strain of thinking about Cascadia and Bioregionalism more broadly, that more or less follows the lines of the Ecotopia ideal. The problem with this idea, from a political perspective, is that rural people very rarely see their Ecotopia as being quite the same as urban people. Those who grow up living and working in nature have a definite tendency to see it in different practical and moral terms than someone who has primarily experienced it through vacation trips to national parks. As a result, there is a strong urban bias inherent in the Ecotopia idea, that has absorbed a certain ideology about nature’s relationship with humans rooted in what amounts, to most rural folks, to an argument for their exclusion from the nature they’ve always known.
Anyway, my main point is this: the right-left divide in America is not a “natural” aspect of our society, but in Cascadia, this divide happens to follow geographic lines. And there is only one real solution to the problem of correlated political culture and geography: Federalism.
Cascadia will have to reconcile the differences in how local people want to see the environment managed, by maintaining a strict separation of political powers held by the state governments, and by the Cascadia Federal Government. The Cascadia map above draws on recent American voting records (British Columbia’s are more complex, but the broader urban-rural divide follows the same lines) to identify eight states where one of the two major parties – used here as a proxy for the urban-rural divide – scored a minimum 20-point margin over the other in the 2016 Presidential election (margins are closer in 2012, but the overall pattern is identical).
In other terms, in each of these states, either the democratic or republican candidate received a maximum of 36% of the total vote. Which basically means that this party, in this area, mostly because of its ties to national politics, is functionally non-competitive. You could have – as was the case in California’s most recent senate race – two candidates from the same party competing in a general election, without immediately losing to a solo candidate from the other ideological pole.
This is partly the case now, where it wasn’t 20 or 30 years ago, due to shifts in the values of the American electorate, which you can read more about in any of the awesome Pew Reports available. But now it is the case, and strongly implies that the two-party system simply no longer functions in American society.
This is why I argue for Cascadia to be organized as a Democratic Federation. Like the United States, it will preserve separation of powers between state and federal, and between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches within each state. It will have a national legislature comprised of a 200-member multi-party Parliament and 10% of seats reserved for members of First Nations, as well as a Senate with a fixed number of Senators from each state - as few as 3 (24 total) or as many as you'd like - depends on how small you want an individual senator's constituency to be. It will have a Presidency, however this office will be restricted to supervising the federal bureaucracy, which will be tasked with carrying out the will of the Legislature. And, naturally, it will have a Supreme Court, with members selected by the President – who will be elected by direct popular vote.
To be clear on one point in particular: Cascadia should not be seen as a secession movement, but a reform movement. The Constitution of the United States can be legally Amended by a convention called at the behest of a sufficient number of state legislatures. I believe the simplest and best way forward out of the present political crisis for all Americans is to pass the necessary identical legislation in the necessary number of states, calling for a convention to enact the following Amendment (or an equivalent variation, if advised by legal scholars):
Any contiguous group of counties may demand, via public referendum, full and permanent devolution of all powers and responsibilities presently held by the Federal Government of the United States of America, including the right to Amend the inherited Constitution, save the right to declare war on any part of the United States or its allies.
This will allow for any American region to go its own way, without anyone seceding or sparking some massive Constitutional Crisis – or in the worst case, a Second Civil War. California (Calexit!), Texas (Texit?), independent Alaska, Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, Vermont, Deseret (couldn’t keep constructing exit puns) – if the people want it, it should be allowed to happen, under the authority of the Amended Constitution.
Ideally, all the Post-America successor regions would maintain the existing customs and currency union, and citizens of one would remain a citizen of all. It could even retain parts of the existing DC infrastructure to handle big things like management of the nuclear arsenal and continental defense affairs and the space program that all regions could agree should still be managed at the DC-level. But there are no guarantees in America anymore, so Cascadia would need to be prepared to go it alone.
This same model could work for Canada, too, opening up other opportunities for Cascadia if a customs union and free movement could be established/maintained. In my ideal world, devolving federal powers from Ottawa and DC to more rationally organized successor entities would actually be a more sustainable governing solution for everyone in the long run, and would let all of North America perhaps move towards an EU-like arrangement (though with far less bureaucracy). People can still be American or Canadian if they like, but the identity can become less political, and more social – as it should be.
As for Cascadia, my goal is to make the shift to a regional federal government as smooth as possible, hence wording my Amendment such that it simply devolves powers, allowing successor regions time to work out the details to minimize disruptions. Once established, Cascadia would then need to take the inherited US Constitution (and for British Columbia, all their fun legal stuff) and amend it locally to produce the specific structure we as Cascadians decide we want.
Well! Since this is running long, I’ll leave it at that rather than dive into ridiculous details, like I instinctively want to (but who would want to read?). My goal for this essay was to articulate the political structure I think is necessary to make Cascadia a reality. I hope it is a useful discussion piece, and I’ll send it to some forums (fora?) and folks to see if it interests anyone. I have a book project in mind based on this concept, but that’ll probably have to wait until 2020 or so, when I’ll have Bringing Ragnarok done.
But the bottom line, to conclude, is that I believe the Democratic Federation of Cascadia represents the best way forward for residents of the Pacific Northwest who want to live in a country that doesn’t function as an engine of death, transforming your labor to tax revenues to bombs that never seem to stop being dropped. I don’t want to be an American, and rather than accept the bullshit "then get out" argument, I take a different approach: I deny the legitimate right of the United States federal government to continue to lay claim lands it originally stole through deliberate genocide.
So to hell with the blood-drenched stars and stripes I once proudly wore. That symbol no longer deserves our honor or affection. It is too stained with the blood of innocents, and its nature is so manifestly pernicious that it cannot be allowed to continue. The time has come to throw the Ring of Power into the flame, and move on to build the world that-should-be.
I am Cascadian.
Bringing Ragnarok – Dev Diary 10
Well, the New Year has begun, and so the time has come for me to start work on Book 3 of Bringing Ragnarok.
I am rather pleased that I was able to write, edit, and publish Book 2 between July and December of 2018 – just as I’d planned. But plans are one thing, and reality quite another. 2018 has to have been one of the worst two years in my memory. It was a year of things breaking. We lost two of our founding Broken Wagon Farm members, one cat and one dog. Illnesses struck us both and other family members, and while the lass of the house spent a summer working, in effect, three jobs, the lad - me - finally realized that the logic of pursuing an academic career was coming to an end.
So! I am quite pleased that I was able to get the job done, and with a manuscript that ended up a full third longer than I’d originally intended. And with 2019 looking – at least in our household – to be a more stable time, I am confident that I’ll be able to get Book 3 up and published by the July 2019 – and then on to Book 4.
Completing Book 2 was also a relief for another reason – insofar as the narrative goes, Books 1 and 2 complete the first of three “movements” in the Saga. The first movement, First of Fimbulwinter, is about the Six Friends transition into their new world, and coming to grips with the reality of what being in war really means.
As a result, Book 1 has (I hope) a bit of a jarring feel, with a bit of whimsy, while Book 2 is more of a descent down the other side of a rollercoaster – it starts off slow, a bit like the late-middle of Book 1, and then accelerates into a torrent of action. Book 2 also ends on a much darker note, as I believe it has to, in order to serve its role in the Saga.
Book 3, by contrast, begins a new movement, one more focused on exploration and problem-solving. There’s still action, but it is spaced out again, and the Six Friends won’t always be quite so close to the center of the battles. I hope to continue taking the readers on a whirlwhind tour of three periods of human history, while working in as much detail on the crucial question of how the world got so dystopian in the first place.
Which means more about America’s collapse (the news continues to make this both easy and salient), more about Germany’s descent into madness, and more about the dark future the Neoliberals have in store for us all (though unless they get to work on rejuvenation pharmaceuticals soon, those of us reading this in the 21st century won’t live to see that particular dystopia rise).
Also, while I’m using musical metaphors...
*Brief aside: as this sentence was being typed, a cat just leaped onto my lap and then over to the couch. One of my primary functions in life is serving as a cat highway/parkour installation*
...As I was saying – musical metaphors. I make no secret of the fact that I love music. In fact, most of the backstory and plotting that swirled around for a couple years before I actually sat down to write the Saga came together whilst I relaxed on the couch, listening to Amon Amarth.
For some reason, back in about 2015 I got back into listening to music after a long period of, well, not doing much of anything new. Working on my PhD was starting to get... well, I was starting to get burned out, I now realize. Academia is a right hell-disaster, as I’ll get around to talking about on my blog one of these days. Racism, sexism, a culture of bullying – anything you can imagine experiencing in a cubicle in corporate America, you can find it in Academia, too. And there’s only so much self-congratulating hypocrisy from old white men with no clue about how the world actually works one can take in a lifetime.
Well, in any event, while I was starting my three-year journey to total burnout, I was listening to Pandora whilst poring over some statistical data (like ya do) when a song came on – “Runes to my Memory” that just totally blew me away. I’ve always been a huge Tolkien fan, and I knew there was a Swedish melodic death metal band named Amon Amarth, which is the Sindarin (One variety of Elf-speech) word for Mount Doom – the fiery chasm whence the One Ring was thrown, freeing us all from the dominion of Sauron, forever. (others have moved in to fill the void since, sadly).
So when I heard this song and checked the Pandora feed to grok the band name, I knew I had to find more of their stuff. I’ll save the full review, analysis, and impressions of the full Amon Amarth discography for another day, but suffice to say that I acquired all ten of their studio albums and listen to each pretty much once or twice a week, every week. Often, while putting together plotlines and lore for Bringing Ragnarok.
So I think it is fair to say that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Amon Amarth. In fact, there are scenes, even entire chapters, that are directly inspired by certain songs. I quote AA both as Part epigraphs and in the voice of a character, Sandra Chavez of the Missoula Regiment, who (like I suspect I would if I were a 20+ year veteran of the aftermath of the collapse and breakup of the USA) has incorporated certain lyrics as part of her life ethic and enjoys transmitting them via radio as part of psychological operations against her enemies.
It actually strikes me, as I type this, that perhaps I should reach out to the Amon Amarth fan community and see if I can score some readership. In past blogposts, I’ve wondered who my fans are – and I still am not entirely certain of the answer. But I suspect that it is safe to say that someone who likes reading stories about badass women who fight against the odds to change the world, who also enjoys swedish melodeath, and who is super into sci-fi and fantasy books, is probably someone who would like Bringing Ragnarok. So perhaps, I need to think of a way to chase down that particular idea Thread...
In any event, Amon Amarth also deserves credit for getting me into reading Sagas in the first place, which is what allowed me to pull two decades of ideas together into a coherent, epic, metaphysical storyline. Wanting to learn more about the Norse gods Johan Hegg growls about, I read the Eddas (Prose and Poetic). Then I went and read every Saga I could find on Amazon. Ragnar Lodbrok, the Volsungs, Sagas of the Icelanders, Heimskringla – most sit proudly on my shelf.
And it was that spree, tied to my own disillusionment with Academia, that provided crucial impetus for getting me (finally) writing the kind of tale I’ve always wanted to write. Something that blends genres, draws on the critical and postcolonial scholarship that I think is so important for people to encounter, and takes the reader on a familiar sort of journey, while reaching what I hope will be a rather unexpected (if, in point of fact, foreseeable if you’ve gotten obsessed with sagas and mythology) endgame and conclusion come Books 5 and 6...
But first, there’s the fun of Books 3 and 4 to get through. Which I guess I’d better get to writing.
I'm tagging this post 'science' instead of 'politics' for a simple reason:
I am sick of politics.
The past two years in America have convinced me that politics at the federal level are so fundamentally broken that participation is not only futile, it actually does more harm than good.
Here's the basic reason why American politics is insane, and thus, why the USA as a united entity is doomed.
Understanding of how human societies work is barely past the level of pseudoscience. Most political coverage in the media as well as a significant chunk of the 'knowledge' amassed by social scientists is deeply flawed. So deeply flawed, the average person has no idea. It takes the ten-plus years I've spent in academia, reading and working across the many disciplines, just to come up with the words to describe how little the supposed 'experts' actually know about how politics operate in the real world.
Virtually all political coverage and analysis you'll find in the United States relies on assumptions about people that have been out of date for more than a century. Scratch just beneath the surface of almost any argument, any reporting, and you will find a whole series of ideological assumptions that simply do not match up with how people behave in reality. Economics, Political Science, Sociology, Geography, Anthropology, Psychology - they are all caught in a miasma of bad theory stemming from the basic fact that academics, the people whose job in society is supposed to be (as many will claim) 'knowledge production', are all trained in and (if they want to get a PhD, at least) forced to pledge allegiance to ideas popularized by a group of dead white men who lived (mostly) in the 18th and 19th centuries.
More harm has been done to the practice of science than all the legions of flat-earthers and theologians could ever accomplish by the uncritical and frankly racist acceptance of the pernicious idea that there exists some universal Greco-Roman philosophical heritage upon which we base all legitimate science. Most of the 'hard' sciences have escaped the consequences of this disastrous mythos by grace of the fact that the underlying data they work with is physical, not human, in nature. But for those sciences that do (like economics, politics, et al.) have human behavior at their root, the standing assumption of the universal superiority of the Greco-Roman philosophical heritage has undermined their entire claim to validity. It has introduced bias of such magnificence into the study of humanity, and is directly responsible for the ongoing under-representation of non-white, non-male perspectives in science, because the Greco-Roman heritage is racist and sexist down to the core.
In any event, what I'm trying to say is that the so-called 'experts' in politics constantly get things wrong, are perpetually surprised by events like the fall of the Soviet Union, failure in America's 'War on Terror', the crash of 2008, and the 2016 election, because they are unable to see past the blinders imposed by their ideology.
And the media, of course, takes this failure in the academic system of knowledge production, and magnifies it into an ongoing social crisis. There is probably no better example of how this operates in practice than in the way the media habitually describes divisions in American politics and culture in Manichean terms, that is, they portray politics and elections as being a fight between two major teams - right/left red/blue conservative/liberal - with a group of undecideds caught in the middle. Swing voters, as they are usually called. So the conventional wisdom goes, the winner in an election is the team, the party, able to turn out its own base as well as win over the majority of the swing voters. States where the margin is usually close in a given election are called swing states, and attached a higher degree of importance in the election.
There are actually good scientific reasons for the existence of this apparent division between two major ideological poles, and they come down quite simply to the way the Constitution was written in the 18th century. There are many different ways to put together a democracy, and the US happens to have one with a 'first past the post' rule governing who is said to have 'won' a race, which for good reasons that can be pretty effectively described in mathematical terms. The result (which could be modified, if we were to get back to Amending the Constitution, like we used to when the time came for major reforms) is the perception of two ideological poles, two major coalitions battling it out.
But perception is not reality, at least not always. And both the right and the left in America are actually far more diverse than the media will usually tell you, and even the big parties, the republicans (GOP) and (DNC) are not actually coherent entities, but composites of multiple sub-parties, each with their own agenda, united more by the fact that the structure of our elections require them to be than any sort of actual desire to work together. America's system in effect takes all the dynamics of a multi-party democracy and shoves all the crucial competition between sub-parts under the surface, into party primaries and stuff like that.
The reality of America is that there exists no single 'One America', nor does there exist a dualistic Red America and Blue America. In a country of 325 million or so people, with all the inherent diversity of opinion and perspective that entails, it is impossible to reduce the collective down to a unity or duality or even a trinity. The fact that the media continues to do so is down to its own interest in maximizing advertising revenue - and nothing else, if we're being honest. Politics, to a media company, is just another entertainment genre. With subscriptions waning as the internet offers access to a bewildering array of content, all publications - even the supposed national 'paper of record' (as if there really could be such a thing) - like the New York Times is forced to cater to advertisers in order to survive.
And advertising isn't concerned with quality reporting, or deep analysis of ideas - it is concerned with efficiently getting readers' attention, and their clicks. There's a serious moral hazard at play in journalism, which claims as a profession to hold to certain ethics, but remains deeply bound to the more mundane material requirements of running a business. Which, the way the present internet is structured and dominated by Google and Facebook, forces publications to pay particular attention to their niche, to the group of readers who have similar characteristics, tastes, and preferences, and so who can be efficiently advertised at/to.
The reality of contemporary journalism is that writers must produce content that advertisers will be happy with. And advertisers operate on a competitive landscape where efficiency matters a great deal. The net result of their mutual relationship is a tendency towards clickbait that you can see throughout the web, as well as an active attempt to cultivate a particular niche, which in the world of media means catering to a particular set of readers. And - this is why we all get to suffer from a world of 24/7 news, every headline clickbait-ier than the last - readers respond to this niche-cultivation. People like having their own beliefs confirmed, and strongly dislike having them challenged. So every media outlet, from the New York Times to the Guardian to the Atlantic to Breitbart, has a strong incentive to give their readers the stories they will read in large numbers, because that makes it easier and more profitable to advertise to them.
Over the past few years, we've all heard terms like 'fake news' thrown around, and there's no shortage of writers out there willing to wring their hands (metaphorically speaking) over this sudden supposed change in humans, that they'll often allege is the internet's and Facebook's fault, and call for more effort to be spent weeding out misleading content. The irony is that the American media is itself one of the greatest sources of misleading content in the world. Whatever you read, whether it be a liberal outlet like Salon, Nation, Mother Jones, or the New Yorker; a 'moderate' outlet like the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, or Vox; a conservative rag like Fox News, Breitbart, or the New York Post - all are doing exactly the same thing to you. They're all trying to cater to what you already believe to be true, in order to keep your eyes on their pages and your fingers clicking their ads.
This isn't to say that fake news and alternate facts aren't a serious problem - they are. But a major problem with the fake news and alternative facts debate is the niggling problem of what counts as a fact in the first place. You might immediately read that and get your hackles up, but I invite you to think on the problem just for a little bit. Knowledge, knowing, is actually a more difficult concept than it seems at first glance - as even a cursory read of Greco-Roman philosophy will teach you (this is what the Socratic Method is actually all about - showing how contingent knowing actually is). We all perceive through our senses, but sensory perception is intrinsically bound up with a lifetime of experiences, which tells us what thing we perceive are relevant or not, a threat or an opportunity, and so on. We all see the world through slightly different eyes, and we communicate our differing perspectives in order to come up with an estimate, a working model of whatever situation we're considering to one another in order to collectively define what reality is.
Think of it like this: how do you know you aren't insane? How do you know you aren't, right now, hallucinating, or under the influence of drugs, or plugged into virtual reality? Answer - you don't. You can't, not for sure. But if you can communicate what you perceive to someone else, they can (and usually will) tell you if they don't see what you are seeing. If you both see the same things, you have a great deal more confidence that those things are real - or at least, that they aren't entirely a figment of your imagination. This is part of why humans communicate, in fact - we do it to pass signals about our perception of the environment to one another, to try and better understand the fuller nature of whatever we're looking at.
So how does this play into American politics? Simple. To understand what is happening, we all read the work of others. But in doing that work, in constructing narratives about what is real (something humans do almost from birth), we have to make decisions on what parts of what is going on are more important than others. Communication requires a certain degree of actively ignoring all that you could communicate, so that you can efficiently transmit the stuff that's presently important. And that crucial operation, that 'filtering', so to speak, is a learned behavior. The process of interacting with others across a lifetime serves to create shared 'filters' that impact how we perceive what is important, and how observations are relevant to us.
The media forgets this - or, worse, it actively manipulates this natural human tendency. In a way, the written word is one of the most dangerous human inventions, because it creates an illusion of permanence. I write something, post it online and it is there, visible for all to see, ostensibly forever. But in the moment, as I compose this (thankfully neither cat has decided to seize control of my lap, where I put my keyboard) I'm trying to take a bunch of convoluted thoughts I think are important, and choose the right words in English to convey these thoughts. I am all but guaranteed to make mistakes, and worse, in ten years the words I've chosen now and the way I've strung them together may be perceived by a reader very differently than I imagine, as I type them out. Language changes, cultural values shift, because these are things held and used by people, and over time, people's assumptions, preferences, and knowledge all change.
The underlying disaster in American politics is that media representations of the entire enterprise are deeply flawed, and biased towards producing the illusion of constant tension, antagonism, and struggle - because that's what people buy. The New York Times is no different, when you get right down to it, than the National Enquirer. Just, in the case of the former, a lot of people with wealth and power read the thing, care about what people who read it think. And so the NYT can pretty much spew out the same missing-the-entire-point nonsense, year after year, and continue to attract readers - becuse it gives them what they want.
So how is this leading to America's demise? Simply put, our fearless leaders think they know way more than they do, because they too are caught in echo chambers of their own devising. All Americans are, and we have been for a long time. The basic reason why so many people approve of Trump attacking the 'liberal' media is that those outlets he attacks are perceived, by a great many Americans, as having actively excluded their ideas, their perspective on reality, for decades. They refuse to realize that 'conservative' and 'liberal' are as much cultural-linguistic groups as actual political affiliations, that they themselves mush together an incredible amount of diversity into one outwardly coherent package, and that 'swing' voters are primarily people disenchanted by the entire nightmare of a system, that is objectively leading to worse and worse outcomes for the majority of Americans as time goes by.
The reality is that America has been dividing for a very long time. It has always been a nation of 'tribes', each with their own view on reality and mode of expressing it. The entire conceit of the United States of America has been growing ever more hollow with each passing year. The internet has simply lowered the cost of discovering the information, the signal, needed to perceive this hollowness and degradation, and people are now aware of exactly how little America's politicians and elites do, have done, to mitigate terrible structural problems with our political, economic, and social systems.
2016 was a warning that 20+ years of drift are now past the point of no return. Economic anxiety produces a need for explanations among a population, and America's entrenched racism has given Trump the golden opportunity someone was eventually going to take to offer a darkly familiar 'explanation' - others are keeping us from our just due.
I am convinced that America's liberals and progressives, the 'Resistance', as they like to play-act it, are so wrapped up in a delusional view of the situation rooted in a longstanding self-narrative about their being the 'future' or whatever, that they simply can't accept that it doesn't matter that they're closer to being 'right' on most matters these days than the average conservative. The Trumpist right is now fully united around their belief that they have only a short time to act before America is irreversibly turned 'liberal', which to them means, pretty much, 'brown'. The centrist and left-leaning media in America has spent a generation doing what the Simpsons does - condescending to anyone who isn't a white suburban liberal (a category containing many just as racist and sexist as any Trumpist) while also laying the blame for the oppression of what they call 'minorities' (soon to be a majority in the part of the country where I live) at the feet of rural white conservatives. They are unable to realize that they have played a major role in pushing conservatives - who are disproportionately white and rural - into their present trap. And so far as I can tell from reading their media, they've essentially decided that 2016 was a simple accident, and that if they re-play the same script in 2020 the Blue Wall will return, and they'll waltz into the White House.
Note that there has recently been talk of Clinton running again in 2020. And that sage voices call for Joe Biden, another geriatric white Boomer, to run, because he speaks the language of the denizens of the Rust Belt. Warren and Sanders, more old white northeasterners, are also touted as front-runners, along with a celebrity or two - Oprah or Beto - just for buzz, is my guess. Repeating the DNC's usual condescending practice, Booker and Harris are already getting tagged as the acceptable minority candidates, to be held up through the Iowa Caucus and then case aside for the battle they perceive to be most critical - the Clinton neoliberals vs. the Sanders-Warren progressives.
As the German paper Deutsche Welle put it recently (can't find the link now, dammit) - over the next two years we can expect the hostilities in DC to escalate a hundredfold. Everything the Democrats do to rein Trump in, he'll portray as swamp politics as usual. Everything he fails at, he'll blame on them. The media will continue to breathlessly report everything he says on Twitter, no matter how clear it gets that he gaslights them. Everyone will chatter their echo chamber's conventional wisdom, and the Democrats will descend into their brutal civil war come early 2020, because they all believe Trump will be easy to beat.
And then the war will come. The Neocons will not give up the chance to attack Iran and finally get payback for 1979, and they'll play wag-the-dog during the election. The economy will go into recession as a result of these trade wars eventually, though the flood of deficit spending may keep the economy goosed through to 2021 or 2022... and then when the crash comes, it'll be even harder. A macroeconomy is like a fault system - longer it goes without 'adjustment', the more tension builds up and the bigger the boom is when it finally goes.
And 2020 itself will be the ugliest political battle of modern history. My expectation is that it will come down to Wisconsin, Arizona, and/or Florida, and I don't see any way voter suppression isn't an order of magnitude higher than it already is, particularly in Florida. The conservative 'movement' has no option but to ensure victory, even through... shall we say... extra-legal means. The popular vote will go Democrat again, and probably by an even higher margin, but the electoral college is what matters, and with a Trump-packed Supreme Court there exists a serious chance of legal challenges to statewide results sending the election, in effect, to the Supreme Court.
The Democrats will lose because they will think 2020 to be a simple numbers game, where 'swing voters' will save them in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They're already chattering about the Blue Wall, claiming that moderate suburban candidate successes in 2018 presage a shift back to the Dems in 2020 in these critical states. Perhaps. But I suspect they're drawing conclusions about the composition of the 2020 electorate from inadequate data. Less than 50% of eligible voters turned out in 2018 - a record, but still less than turnout in a presidential election. A huge chunk of voters sat this one out, and they'll be the ones to decide 2020. But the DNC creates its own reality, and the battle between wannabe-presidents is already ramping up. I fully expect them to miss, just like the Clinton campaign did in 2016, the important signs, and run another terrible Presidential candidate like Gore, Kerry, and Clinton, trying to cater to swing voters who don't exist.
The Democrats' success relies in realizing how tribal America really is, and coming up with post-partisan narratives that appeal to those tribes who are disenchanted with and divorced from mainstream politics. They need to start ignoring the media more, and focus on learning how to talk to Americans. They need to set aside wonky policy that only nerds like me care about, and focus on telling a different American story - and representing that story. They only win in 2020, faced with voter suppression that will discourage turnout and may include overt political violence by white supremacists in crucial states, as well as an administration full-willing to rig the outcome in its favor, by truly massive turnout among black, latino, and progressive voters.
They only get this by running someone who can look and represent the America-to-come, and that is best done by recruiting two women, one of them a veteran and one of them multi-racial, to be the anti-Trump. They must run on a platform that specifically denies the existence of left-right duality, and instead embraces linking of key issues, in the good old-fashioned horse-trading sense. That is, they link the need to better serve our veterans with the outrageous amount of money given to the Pentagon, emphasizing that half of all our federal income tax dollars, $2,000 per person (and much more, on average, per tax-paying household!) go to the Department of Defense while the Veterans Administration - y'know, the folks who actually care for our veterans after DC's wars break their bodies and minds - gets only a scant 6.5% or so. They need to link the pressing need to reduce carbon emissions and combat climage change with the need for a complete reboot of our rural economies, pouring money into economically-disadvantaged areas to help them set up green energy infrastructure and land management work that will create jobs for generatiosn to come. They need to link the problem of inequality with the lived experiences of disadvantaged Americans from all of the country, rural places included.
Me, though, I doubt this will happen. There seems to be no creativity, no risk-taking, left in this society so dominated by suburban white liberals, college-educated types who appear to have gotten good at memorizing facts to pass tests, but not to actually think critically. America needs a political movement infused with start-up like energy, that can find new ideas and new ways to do politics.
I suspect that if I had a few billion $ (Jeff Bezos? Bill Gates? Elon Musk? Anybody want to be my angel investor? There's a contact page on this site!) I could put together an effective alternative political movement, in large part because I'd staff the thing with veterans - people who know how to get things done. Unfortunately, this seems as likely as winning the lottery, about as probable as my fiction writing blowing up such that I become the next J.K. Rowling (hey, another billionaire I would like to think would fund something truly innovative. Dumbledore's Army, like any army, needs resources!).
In absence of me or anyone else pulling that off, though, I see little hope for America's future as a united entity. My assessment is that by the late 2020s the USA will be functionally, if not formally, divided into social-economic-political regions. I just don't think all the king's horses and men can put the thing back together again at this point, and as for the dream of some progressive revolution - so far, progressives can't seem to organize their way out of a phone booth well enough to do any real damage to conservatives on a national scale. They do local organizing well (hey, even I voted for Ocasio-Cortez, and she wasn't even running in my district - I just don't like Kurt Schrader) but at the national level? They get played by the DNC ever time.
So how does the USA break up? An interesting question (to me), and one I've discussed before. In fact, I'd like to do another iteration, this time using actual GIS data to produce a better map, with useful atlas-type statistics. Just need to find the time.
But until then, here's a list (in descending order of probability) of ways the USA might go down over the next few years -
So what does this all mean for me? Well, part of the reason I'm spending all day writing this, instead of editing Bringing Ragnarok like I really should be, is so I can stop thinking about it so much. I sincerely doubt anything I do will affect the outcome, unless, again, I win the lottery (metaphorically speaking). Then, sure, I'll take what resources I have and enter the fight. But until then, I have my family and my livelihood to consider. But as a passive observer, here are the options - assuming the USA is in fact, done for - in descending order of how much I'd like them to happen.
Truth be told, looking at America's history of slavery, genocide, atomic bombs, racism, sexism, and attempts to build an empire (that's what 'superpower' really means, after all), I can't honestly say I even mind that much if America dies. Today, for example, I read a report indicating that America's wars in my own lifetime have killed at least half a million people, many if not most innocent civilians. 7,000 American military personnel died, ten times that number have been injured, a hundred times that number have been scarred forever by their experiences. And all of it, for nothing. Just more tax money going to the Pentagon to the defense industry to shareholders' pockets and, whatever is left, into bombs that we give to Saudi Arabia to drop on children in Yemen.
The truth is, though our media won't say it, can't say it, I suspect, so caught in their self-delusion about America being exceptional and special, or whatever, to realize they've been lying to themselves for decades - America is an evil state. One of the worst of modern times. It murders so many people, at so many levels, and then tells the victims' families that whatever we do is justified, because, in short, we're better.
This is wrong. This is evil, pure and simple. We are all Orcs, and because we won't confront the nature of our Orcish mythos and our Orcish leaders, we are blood-complicit, through our tax dollars, in the murder of innocents. Year after year. No matter who is in charge.
And that's the science of the thing. The diagnosis of the disease. a disease no doctor can treat, MD or (especially) PhD.
In the spirit of privilege-checking, I should point out that I am as white, male, hetero, cis..... basically, I'm as vanilla white dude as they come. Despite that, I firmly believe that the Decolonization movement is ridiculously important. Here's why.
There is such a thing as 'Western' science. In fact, most science is 'Western', because despite the usual homilies about science being impartial and objective, concerned solely with facts and the proper methods used to generate them, science itself crucially depends on philosophy. What counts as a fact, what doesn't, isn't a determination that comes out of thin air. It comes, in the Western model, from a group of people with similar backgrounds and interests who get together and agree on two key questions: how they go about deciding what counts as a fact (the jargon-phrase for this is epistemology), and what facts are considered to pass the threshold of fact-hood and so are accepted implicitly as constituting what is "real" (the jargon-phrase for this is ontology).
This is what the "peer-review" process in science is all about. Groups of "peers" read one another's work and decide whether it passes muster as science according to their collective opinion.
Scientists don't usually like to discuss this too openly with laypersons. But this basic reality of science as being a social endeavor, fundamentally bound to the identities of the people doing the science, cannot be denied. As much as practicing scientists are loath to admit it, pure objectivity is impossible in science. Bias is always present, because people can't help but be biased in at least some dimension. Scientists, no less than the rest of humanity, are psychologically and culturally shaped by the circumstances of their upbringing. What they are prone to accept as real or not-real is bound up with their life experiences.
The basic problem with contemporary science across all the disciplines is that this inherent bias is rarely considered. It gets swept under the rug at every opportunity. And because it is effectively taboo to discuss, extremely damaging prejudices and assumptions have been allowed to persist and thrive within the scientific community for far too long.
And here is where colonialism comes in. Most scientists living today have been trained to accept that the European Enlightenment was a time of explosive growth in knowledge and technique, where brilliant minds laid out the fundamentals of what we know today as science. Scientists are trained to uncritically accept that they are, in effect, the intellectual descendents of these Enlightenment luminaries. Standing on the shoulders of giants, so to speak. And further, they're trained to believe that these Enlightenment types were themselves working according to traditions dating back to the European Renaissance, and before that, of course, Ancient Greece itself.
Notice something? This model of science, which is taught throughout North America and Europe, roots itself entirely in a European (and male) perspective. And what contemporary scientists are by-and-large loath to accept, is that these scholars baked in their own narrow prejudices into their writings. Because, like all humans... they were human. Limited in perspective. Limited in time.
They were also direct beneficiaries of Europe's 500-year effort to dominate and enslave the rest of the world. Consider who, back in the 18th and 19th centuries, had the time and education necessary to do science, write down their results, and report them to other scientists. Science at the time was an upper-class and male endeavor. It was also intrinsically bound up with, and served, the European colonial effort. Edward Said's classic book Orientalism shows how this worked in literature, where White Europeans were always the default and proper identity for a protagonist, while the African or Indian was always a secondary or supporting character, often described in atrocially racist terms, denied independent will or capability. And scientists, part of the upper classes who read this literature, couldn't help but have their opinions of other peoples shaped by this European conceit.
And, of course, there was the whole theft of resources (and bodies) from the colonized, which fed the rapid economic growth and industrialization of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
This is why, at the turn of the 20th century, insane ideas like social darwinism emerged from and were supported by the scientific community. Eugenic theories proliferated that insisted (falsely!) African brains were smaller and less intelligent by nature than European brains. The Nazis in Germany, insane as they seem now, actively deployed science and scientists to justify their dehumanization of anyone not sufficiently aryan. And there were many Americans, writing in the early 20th century, who agreed with them.
The heritage of western science is directly tied to the colonial effort. And the rot goes back even further in time. Consider, for example, how many scientific papers and books at some point or other quote some Ancient Greek or Roman philosopher. Only rarely do they quote someone from China, or the Islamic world, or Africa, or the pre-colonial Americas. Consider too, how the "Socratic" style has permeated higher education over the years. Isn't it interesting, that scientists who would otherwise be skeptical of any argument rooted in the ideas of one thinker, will happily commit the basic logic error of arguing from authority - so long as that authority is a dead Greek man.
The Ancient Greeks, and the Romans who imitated them, were nothing more than sexist, racist, elitist, slave-owning murderers. Both societies depended on using war to obtain slaves, who did the actual work necessary to keep Athens and Rome up and running. Citing Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Cato, whomever, isn't that different than citing Donald Trump or Harvey Weinstein, if either were to write a book of philosophy. That modern universities continue to teach the words and style of these disgusting creatures is one of the greater ironies of our time. Particularly when there are scholars from numerous other traditions, whose ideas go back as far as those of the Ancient Greeks, who were themselves merely minor players in the Axial Age.
The pernicious persistence of sexism and racism in the modern university is in large part due to most scientists accepting what amounts to little more than received wisdom. And a graduate student or other aspiring scholar questions this received wisdom at their peril. Because whether or not they are allowed to join the science club is heavily determined by their willingness to parrot this mythological version of science. And this in turn produces powerful selection pressures, which are partly responsible for the continued over-representation of white males in the Academy (the political economy of the modern university, as with other major institutions in our society, is another key factor).
One of the greatest projects of the 21st century will be reclaiming science from the basic failures of the Western model. The institutions must be reclaimed and rebuilt to allow a new generation of scholars to break free from intellectual traditions that, in the end, reduce to arguments from authority, where authority is granted to a narrow and unrepresentative set of perspectives that have fundamentally biased huge swaths of what we accept today as "science".
This is an experiment using Insight Maker, an awesome, free tool for modeling dynamic systems.
Because I'm interested in the idea of looking at society itself as a composite system, I like to do little thought experiments to explore social issues. In this, I model gun violence (just to be outlandish) as a system, where gun buyers scale their purchases to their observation of gun violence in broader society. It is constructed as a bit of a trap: gun buyers make purchases because they see incidents of gun violence on the news, but more guns tends to produce more gun violence, and losses to the gun buyer population due to accidents and suicides*
Long story short, I suggest here that gun violence is a self-sustaining problem, where all actors behave 'rationally', but also end up harming themselves in the long run.