Sunday, December 17, 2017

Oh, tempora! Oh, mores!

The lunatic stylings of Roy Moore and his fanbois reminded me again what a strange world we live in.

For one thing, it's the bizarre upwelling of tribalism in a world where "tribe" functionally means less than ever. Humans are interconnected in ways inconceivable even a generation ago, and yet “Evangelical Christian” has stopped being a religious faith and become a “tribe”. It’s really as simple as that.

So just like the Mongol who could stop on the way out of his yurt to play with his sister’s little kid before mounting up to go slaughter the Polish peasants in the village over the ridge, these folks have convinced themselves that they are a tribe, and the "others" out there are not just another tribe, but not really "people". It's like how tribal societies usually have names for themselves that mean "People"; the implication being that if you're not in the tribe you're not "people".

To top that off, these gomers have convinced themselves that they're not just a tribe, but a threatened tribe in a dangerous, frightful world against which only deadly violence can protect them.

A lot of this is an ugly combination of human nature – we’ve been tribes for a lot longer than we’ve been nations, or religions, or scientists, or whatever (along with human foibles in general – remember that “average” intelligence means that half the human race is BELOW “average”) – and way too much exposure to electronic media, which thrives on fire and murder.

But, still...the degree ti which that combination drives us to stupid behavior sometimes seems beyond any sort of rational sense.

I can’t remember what the actual incident was but I do know that it was one of the usual acts of distant violence, maybe an Islamic State attack somewhere, that caused a friend of mine to exclaim about how horrible and violent the world is today. She’s a smart person – “above average” – and so I bothered to talk to her about this.

“So…had one of those pesky barbarian invasions again last Tuesday, then?”

“No. What?

“Didn’t get the massive pandemic this week? No Black Death, no whole-family-wiped-out-by-smallpox, eh?”

“Wha…what the hell do you mean?”

“So I take it that your city didn’t fall to the besiegers and you’re not currently being raped before being faced with a sort of “bad or worse” outcome of death or slavery? The famine caused by the summer’s crop failure not facing you with a hideously slow death to starvation? The rapacious king hasn’t taken up half your neighborhood in the corvee again?”

“What the hell does this have to do with (violent act in distant place)?”

“What it means is that we, we in the First World, really live in an insanely, historically unprecedentedly peaceful world. We are almost impervious to common disease. Medicine and public health have made pandemics hugely rare. Massive volkerwanderungs that caused continent-wide death, such as the mfecane in southern Africa or the Gothic invasions of western Europe or the Mongol incursions into western Eurasia haven’t occurred for centuries. We live, in general, under a rule of settled law; we don’t run the risk of a robber baron in Salem looting and murdering us on I-5 between Portland and Eugene. There ARE still horrible things that happen…but to those of us not able to afford our own mercenary bodyguards they happen less than almost any time in human history.”

“But…terrorism! School shootings! Urban gangs!”

“Happen. Yes. But…you’ll note that they happen in little bits and pieces in places all over the world. Remember that until probably two generations ago you would never have heard of those places at all, much less of some awful thing happening in them. Think about it; which of these horrible things happened to someone YOU know, personally. Someplace within, say, three days walk from you?”


“Thought so. So the world’s NOT “the most dangerous ever”. You just hear MORE of these dangerous things ever, because that’s what the “news” thinks will keep you watching their broadcasts so they can sell more airtime to the marketers of payday lenders and erectile-dysfunction pills. So your very best option is to chillax and have a nice dark ale with a whisky in abeyance and read something thoughtful.”

Mind you, I don’t think she bought it.

That's a huge part of the problem.

I have no idea what the hell you can do about that.


  1. It doesn't work that way Chief, and you know it.

    People pocket the gains of the last few years and treat it as an immutable baseline.

    Which is why our hunter gatherers ancestors honoured the (few surviving) old folks, cause they were the only folks who remembered what plants were (barely) edible when the shit really hit the fan.

    In our case, however, we need to honour the Cassandra's that continue to care about things like clean water, edible food and public health. These things are a hallmark of our modern civilisation. However, most people don't give this stuff a second's thought until the shit hits the fan.

    1. That's just it, tho. It's not last year or the year before that. It's the difference between 2017 and 1917, and 2017 and 1617. The last half of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st have been ridiculously peaceful for the First World on a human-historical scale, and I'd expect anyone above "dull-normal" to see that. I get that people work on emotion more than logic, but...damn. The Trumpkins are scum , but worse than, say, the corruption and violent reaction of the 1880s? No. In fact, it's the comparison that should make most Americans realize that the real "danger" is in letting these New Gilded Age Republicans steer us back towards that! That "MAGA" as defined by the GOP means, in practice, making America more dangerous; sicker, poorer, less free, more risky...for any American not able to afford a fancy attorney, accountant, and suite of bodyguards.

      I read this morning, for example, that the Trumpkins are going to remove "climate change" as a hazard to national security from the QDR. Which is ridiculous; a two-second Google search makes clear that American soldiers were killed in Mali partly - or largely - because desertification caused by climate change has caused social upheaval and political unrest in Mali and Chad.

      But desertification - which IS a real potential danger - and oligarchy are being ignored while these people are freaking out over sharia law in Cleveland and abortion. That's where I'm baffled. Where do you start with people that screwed up? How do you convince them that they are panicking over nothing while ignoring the monster in their yard?

  2. I wrote the long reply above before thinking further and realizing it's simpler than all that.

    It's that we have a critical mass of voters who vote out of hate and fear...but hate and fear of ridiculous nonsense like Islamic State invasion, aborting snowflake babies, or being ambushed in the women's can by a Cambodian ladyboy in a cocktail frock while deliberately rejecting real potential hazards like climate change, unconstrained capitalism, and plutocracy.

    That's a level of unhinged I just don't know where you start with.

    1. I note that your first list of threats are specific and raise a definite image in the mind's eye. The second list of threats (climate change, unconstrained capitalism, and plutocracy) are non-specific and depend heavily on implicit background knowledge.

      Our monkey brains don't work that way.

      Every two years your nation runs a billion dollar quantitative psychological experiment designed to capture 50% + 1 of the politicians for the benefit of the people who fund the experiment. The finest minds in the world work on it and the culmination of it all is Donny Tiny Hands vs Crooked Hillary. Marketing is key.

      And it isn't just the Rethuglicans. The Democratic Party is also doing its best to avoid talking about climate change, unconstrained capitalism and plutocracy. The donor class doesn't like it.

      I think Canada dodged this hole because we have a real third party. (which will never be in power, so the donor class doesn't fund them). This real third party, however, keeps talking about actual policies which means that the two power parties have to steal the popular policies from the third party (which means they also have to stay at least somewhat grounded in policy rather than live in the snowflake Islamic ladyboy land which the marketing folks would prefer.

    2. Point well taken. A bombing in Brussels is tangible. Desertification in Chad is not.

      I would disagree that the Left in the US isn't talking about this stuff. I get the FB feed from our junior Senator and he beats those drums constantly. But there's no amplifier; the Oregonian and the local and national TV stations just ignore him over blasting out sensationalist blather about the Islamic State and whatever fire and murder top the wire.

  3. Knowledge - especially about history of the past hundred years - could help avoid lots of political mistakes at all levels.

    The problem is that too many people THINK they have much knowledge, but in fact they absorbed ideology, absorbed propaganda, absorbed disinformation, absorbed conspiracy theories and are making use of prejudices.

    That type of men - I can prove them wrong 10, 15, 20 times and they will ignore it, but once they proved me wrong once or cast justified doubt on one of my assertions once they declare themselves as winners of the discussion.
    It's astonishing and despairing.

    So offering better information does simply not help much in this case. They think that they already have enough info, and may indeed declare the institutions that deliver new info to them to be 'fake news', indoctrinated, Soros-financed et cetera.

    10-35% of the adult population of many Western countries (up to 50% in certain demographics) are lost for political discourse - caught in a bubble of fantasy. Biology will clean that up, eventually. Till then we're stuck with them.

  4. FDC -

    You are right on about the news wanting to "keep you watching their broadcasts so they can sell more airtime". But that is not unknown in the history of media. Welcome to the yellow journalism of the 21st Century. All that scary stuff does ramp up the ratings, ergo the $$$$ they can charge their advertisers. It has been the same since the invention of writing.

    On the other hand, IMHO you are much too harsh on your friend. Go apologize, hat in hand.

    1. In her usual moments she knows better, but she's a softhearted sweetie who despairs over human fucktardry. She eventually climbed down from the panic tree and agreed that yes, the world wasn't that bad except for Dubya, who she loathes with the intensity of a thousand suns.

      No argument on the yellow press. I think there's an order of magnitude between dead-tree and electronic journalism, tho, that lends itself to the kind of deep, instant panic fear my friend had. That, and the electronic news is SO bad at giving facts, details, and perspective. It's a visual, visceral medium so what you get isn't a thoughtful analysis, but a monkey-brain fearful/angry reaction.

      That and, sadly, Sven is spot on about the quarter to third of "citizens" that are fundamentally unfit to govern themselves. "Fact" is what supports their prejudices. They aren't incapable of rational thought, it's worse than that; they willfully choose to be fools while smirking proudly at their "winning the argument" and putting the scientists/lib'ruls/experts in their place...

  5. Rhetorical allies?

  6. Off topic. But I could not resist:

  7. Love it Chief...your lady friend though is caught in a delusional paradox of wanting to remain relevant while not wanting to look overly stupid.

    She failed, but I could read the struggle in your description.

    Which, come to think of it seems to be a virulent pandemic in our nation when it comes to critical thinking...that is to say, there is none.

    I have stated, will state that the only nation in this world that can take America apart by the seams is...The United States of America...and look what is happening...

    California is the sixth largest economic power in the world...the United States...number four.

    What happens to the US if California's economy tanks?

    And that is exactly what this shitty Tax bill will will gut California's

    But for the Republicans, they don't see that...just like the banks didn't see the financial crisis in 2006, 2007, and we're left blinking in confusion when the excrement hit the rotating oscillator in 2008. So when the US economy tanks, and jobs flee to other countries, the American dollar is going to drop as well.

    All those uber-wealthy people are going to lose a fucktonofcash in the blink of an eye...certainly, the hyper-wealthy, the billionaires will ride it out, but the rest of the Conservative Turds floating round the ol' economic bowl who cheer led this shit show of "Tax Reform" are going to get flushed quick...why?

    Because they don't want to see the greater picture.

    Climate change?

    Sure it's a thing...fucking south Florida told the governor and the State senate to suck it...why?

    Because the Atlantic Ocean is already infiltrating their ground water, which is having a direct effect on their ability to supply water to their citizens.

    New York City has already had portions of it flooded by storm surges...why?

    Because the fucking Greenland Icecap is melting, and projections show that ocean levels are expected to rise three feet before 2050...guess's already up seven inches. Me, I'm thinking 2030...but thats a guess on my part based on the watching the water rise in the Atlantic.

    You see, shit is happening climate wise, and the Republicans think it's all bullshit, "God damn libtards and their fucked up 'scientific facts'"

    Oh, they could easily profit from this, but...Republicans, and American Business in general are intellectually lazy...I mean, unfuckingbelievably lazy when it comes to originality...that and their caught up in risk avoidance.

    So...bringing it all around I love what your wrote Chief,


    ...I wouldn't buy land on the coasts unless you are fifty feet above sea level... can take that advice to the bank, cash it, profit from it, and giggle like a little girl who got a pony for her birthday.

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