July 30, 2021

Democrat sex work advocacy and conflict between material vs. informational sectors of society

One of the strangest aspects of next-gen Democrats is their obsession with sex work, and sex workers. Is this simply because liberal guys are dickless dorks who could only get laid if they paid for it? Or because they don't want their porn-site lifeline to be taken away from them? While both of those things may be true, the personal is not political. Instead we must analyze this phenomenon in the context of the make-up of their party's coalition — and that of their enemy.

Democrats represent the interests of the elites in the informational sectors of society — finance, media / entertainment, and info-tech. The output of these sectors is not labor-intensive: to reach a larger audience, a media outlet simply sends more copies of their TV broadcast over the airwaves, or a movie studio sends more hard-drives containing its movies to the multiplexes.

That is in contrast to labor-intensive forms of those activities, such as live music and live acting, where the output scales with the number of man-hours going into the production. There, if you want to put more butts in seats, a single live performance can only reach an audience of at most tens of thousands, in the largest stadiums.

If the target market is in the millions or higher orders of magnitude, suddenly you have to put on hundreds or thousands more performances than if you simply recorded one performance and made copies of that recording for mass distribution and projection. And the same troop of actors, or band of musicians, cannot possibly carry out those thousands more performances — you're going to have to hire a whole bunch of troops or bands. And now, your profit margin is strongly influenced by the unit cost of labor, unlike the producer of a movie or pop song.

Republicans, on the other hand, represent the interests of the elites in material sectors, where the output is labor-intensive — military / police / security forces, agriculture, energy extraction, and manufacturing. Not to mention myriad small businesses that are sensitive to the unit cost of labor, e.g. a mom-and-pop restaurant, not a small firm of accountants. If such sectors want to dramatically increase their output, they have to hire a lot more workers and managers, and open more land / space / workplaces for them to do their jobs.

So where does "sex work" fit into this partisan divide? Well, the term is still inchoate and amorphous, but you can see how different types of sex-related industries will be treated by Democrats, depending on whether or not they are labor-intensive. Some examples of labor-intensive sex work: prostitution, stripping / exotic dancing at a club, phone sex conversations, waitressing at a "breastaurant" like Hooters, and so on. Those that are not labor-intensive: any form of online pornographic content, and the remaining offline kinds of porn (DVDs, magazines, etc.).

If they are labor-intensive, their elites will not fit in naturally with the Democrats, and the Democrats will use their para-state armies — the NGOs — to undermine their interests. For example, organizing dancers in the stripping industry into labor unions (against the interests of strip club owners and managers). Whereas if they are not labor-intensive, their elites are a natural fit with the Democrats, and they will be integrated into the party's coalition along with those of other informational sectors. For example, doing favors for the owners and managers of porn studios, and seeking donations or other support from them in turn.

Having said that, which of the two projects will they pursue more? Whichever most advances their own interests. If there's a big prize to win for themselves by undermining the interests of the labor-intensive sex industries, they'll focus more on NGOs vs. the sex-industry elites. If there's more to be won by integrating the elites of sex industries that are not labor-intensive, they'll focus more on building up their own coalition.

In reality, Democrats focus very little on the labor-intensive industries. They are organizing grad students, journalists, and coders more than they are strippers, brothel prostitutes, and phone sex operators. And no, it doesn't matter if they run a union drive at one or two strip clubs out of the nearly 4000 in America. Nor is it material if one or two token prostitutes affiliate with the party; unless a large share of them are integrated into the political machine, they as a sector are left out of its patronage schemes of protection and provision.

The only labor-intensive sectors that Democrats organize are government workers (including health care, which is heavily reliant on government contracts through Medicare and Medicaid). So far, sex work is not produced by the government — and therefore, leftist activists would only unionize prostitutes if they were part of a "state-issued gf" program.

If Democrat NGOs are not redirecting the wealth from labor-intensive industries into their own coffers, via unionization, they do still have some government funding to hoover up, with "sex worker relief" as their mission statement. They will not do the things for workers that unions normally do, like securing higher wages and better working conditions. But they will conduct the all-important "community outreach" to de-stigmatize sex work, educate sex workers of their rights, and maybe pass out a few breadcrumbs of charity (e.g. free condoms for streetwalkers, if that activity ever returns to American streets).

That form of NGO-as-social-worker does nothing materially for the sex workers involved, but nor does it antagonize the elites of that industry (such as strip club owners) because their wealth is not being redirected into the Democrat NGO, whose government funding comes from political connections to Democrat politicians, or perhaps "philanthropic" (social engineering) funding from wealthy Democrat donors. It rustles the fewest feathers, and secures some sinecures for liberal members of the over-produced elite aspirant class.

As people, Democrats are fundamentally averse to interpersonal confrontation, and are socially awkward in large groups, especially if they're strangers and from a different background. These flaws are unimportant in the informational sectors that their party represents, but they are fatal in the labor-intensive sectors, which rely on a large number of man-hours to get stuff done. And when a lot of people work in that sector, they will be pretty diverse.

Organizing a union to directly interfere with owner / management operations would be far too stressful for activists who would rather cattily backstab each other over an internet connection. They are not firebrands or leaders of a conquering army, as a union would be if it won concessions from management. The only masses they can supervise are violent mobs who just destroy shit, like BLM and Antifa. It doesn't require a socially savvy, interpersonally well-oiled machine for leftists to orchestrate a mob burning down a working-class neighborhood in a battleground-state city.

Can you imagine leftists walking up to a group of strippers, and coming off as anything other than pathetic? Some would think the activists were well-meaning but boring and pointless dorks with typical nice-guy syndrome, while others would notice the sex-pest red flags and steer clear of them altogether. Once turned down, the leftists would stew in resentment over the same type of girls not noticing them or rejecting their attention in high school (a mental state the leftists never mature from). That includes leftist women, who would cry sour grapes over being excluded yet again from the pretty and popular girl clique, dismissing them as "typical airheaded cheerleaders, only with tattoos".

Liberals are more of the cerebral than corporeal orientation, and that's even more true the more leftist they are. There's no environment they viscerally fear more than one of kinesthetic performance, whether it's a sports field or a dancefloor where they're easily seen by the crowd. They have two left feet. Strippers might seem to be natural members of the Democrat coalition, but that was only back when the Republicans were the Moral Majority type (defunct since the 1990s). Now it's more of a jocks vs. nerds divide, and pole-dancing could not be any more kinesthetic and less cerebral.

I'm sure strippers are mostly apolitical, but Democrats would still write them off for living in Trump-voting flyover states, having working-class jobs, and not giving out pity sex to post-grads. If they checked some token demographic boxes — black trannies — then Democrats might be interested, but they couldn't care less about them as a class of workers.

That leaves mass media pornography as the sex sector where Democrats would work to integrate their elites, which has already taken place for the established studios in the L.A. area. Although pornographic in content, their business model is basically the same as the big Hollywood feature film studios, so why wouldn't they fit in naturally with the Democrats?

As an aside, this shows why it's misleading to refer to pornographic scenes as prostitution. It's true the girl is getting paid to have sex with some guy she'd otherwise not be with. But he's getting paid too, albeit far less. They're actors putting on a fictional show for an audience. The guy in the scene is not the customer, but all of those in the audience.

Importantly, unlike prostitution, where providing sexual services to a larger market means putting in more woman-hours, for mass media pornography the same scene can reach dozens, thousands, or millions of viewers. It's not like a peep show, where a different girl would have to carry out the performance in front of a different live audience (a dirty version of community stage acting). Porn acting, like movie acting, is not labor-intensive.

The only place left for Democrats to integrate the elites is OnlyFans or other Uber-for-porn platforms. None of the girls' performances are IRL, but are mass-mediated by an IT platform. Growing the audience does not mean having more girls perform, but having more viewers download the app, and for each girl to build her brand by orders of magnitude. The output is not labor-intensive. So the platform's owners and managers are a natural fit with the big-wigs of Silicon Valley and their Democrat political vehicle.

It's also possible that activists would organize the elite ranks of the performers (in both the traditional studio and Uberized versions), akin to the grad student unions at Ivy League colleges, journalist unions at prestige publications, or coder unions at elite tech conglomerates like Alphabet. It would be more of a guild for a labor aristocracy, rather than a broad-based union drawing on legions of workers.

The place to watch there is top-ranked Twitch streamers, some of whom border on titty-streaming. They have already worked hand-in-glove with next-gen Democrat politicians to propagandize and whip votes for the party, as in the Among Us livestream before the 2020 election, where AOC and Ilhan Omar played with the "Queen of Twitch" Pokimane and other video game celebs, who were only too eager to host the politicos.

It's not hard to believe the Democrats would launch similar ventures, and fundraisers, with the elite ranks of porn actresses from the traditional studios and OnlyFans alike, though hosted on an adult site like PornHub instead of Twitch. No different from the standard liberal telethon with celebs from the media / entertainment industry, just those whose mass-mediated entertainment is pornographic.

I can't see leftists organizing similar fundraisers and vote-whipping drives at strip clubs, brothels, or Hooters restaurants. They would be fighting the labor-intensive small-biz owners and managers, who are not 100% Democrat and may even lean (libertarian) Republican. In the eyes of leftists, those elites are just a more salacious flavor of boat dealers and Applebees franchise owners — chuds, deplorables, probably sexual harassers (totally unlike the management of a porn studio or OnlyFans...).

Nor would those labor-intensive workers give a shit if activists in the informational sectors fired up a reputation-smearing campaign against strippers found to be unwoke, Republican, or whatever else. Labor-intensive workers are not chasing fame, since there's no such thing as a stripper who dances in front of millions of viewers at a time, or a Hooters waitress who takes meal orders from millions of patrons at a time.

Their income is not tied to industry-insider reputation and general-public fame. You look cute, you put on the uniform, you smile at the customers, and do the waitressing tasks, you're hired, and you keep your job. But if leftoids wanted to destroy the career of a porn actress, their smear campaign would be highly effective. Those girls are seeking status in an industry where just showing up and going through the motions, as it were, is not enough. They have to have star potential, build their personal brand, and otherwise boost their fame. Anything in the media, including social media, that tarnishes their brand or fame is detrimental to their career.

Some gay media scold on Twitter drove a famous young and active porn actress, August Ames, to suicide during the #MeToo era a few years ago. She had simply warned another actress that the guy she was about to film a scene with was an HIV risk for having had sex with men. The gay media psycho and a broader leftoid social media mob hounded her for homophobia, and she couldn't stand the potential destruction of her reputation, when her status relies so much on reputation. The leftist orthodoxy these days is that porn actresses have to die from AIDS contracted from gay-for-pay actors, to prove they're not homophobic. Otherwise, terrorize them into killing themselves.

Since strippers and other labor-intensive workers are not so easily intimidated by threats to their reputation in the mass media, as they don't have a mass audience to worry about alienating, Democrats would not get involved with them politically. They wouldn't hold much leverage over them, and couldn't boss them around.

There's probably more to say on these differences within the not-at-all homogeneous sex work industry, but the key point is that the make-up of the two parties' coalitions reveals more about their advocacy than does their superficial propaganda ("we support sex workers" or "our enemies are SWERFs," etc.).

July 25, 2021

Scandinavian trust and cooperation due to absence of imperial history

[Part 1 and Part 2]

Now, for the cases that show what happens when nations do not have a history of imperial expansion themselves, or being absorbed close to the core of other empires. The best examples are in Scandinavia, which is famous for its high levels of trust and civic cooperation.

As with the low-trust nations, we can start by dismissing various static factors by comparing them to their neighbors with the same factors. Scandinavia is genetically Germanic, Germanic-speaking, a late-comer to Christianity, Protestant for centuries, northern / cold / flat geography (all settlements are in the lowlands), and agrarian. In other words, highly similar to northern Germany, or eastern Germany for that matter (the only difference being that eastern Germans are genetic Slavs who culturally assimilated).

And yet, Protestant Germany has been marred by vicious civil wars within recent history. Not just the Nazi vs. anti-Nazi conflicts, but the Thirty Years War, and the large-scale witch-hunt panics and book-burning epidemics of the early modern era. The Protestant Reformation itself was a form of civil breakdown within the German states.

Scandinavia's only difference with Britain is that the latter is more hilly and pastoralist, but then that does not apply to southern England, which is part of the Great European Plain. And yet, today southern England, and Britain as a whole, is coming apart at the seams. Ireland formally broke off a century ago, they lost their remaining colonies after WWII, and the Scottish reached the point of putting independence to a vote.

Abuses of power large and small by the elites, commoners' distrust of institutions, and a general feeling of coming unglued from "one's own countrymen" and having no shared higher purpose binding them together, are defining features of contemporary Britain, totally the opposite of their 19th-century heyday. Chav culture and degeneracy are worse than ever in the nation's history.

Today's is nihilistic, corrosive, and doomer, unlike earlier eras where at least the degenerates were innocuous and almost purposeful in their hedonism. For example, the ribald lads and lasses of Chaucer, the adultering men-about-town in Samuel Pepys' diary, and even the lower-class gin bingers in Hogarth's time. All of those zeitgeists were set during the rise of English asabiya and ethnogenesis, which really kicked off during and after the Hundred Years War against the expanding French.

Scandinavia has not been plagued by book-burning Nazis, nor English levels of corruption and degeneracy. Even during the fin-de-siecle and early 20th century, it's not Scandinavian cities that come to mind when you think of degeneracy, child prostitution, trannies, weird / iconoclastic art, and so on. There were some imitators of the Continental trends, like Strindberg and Munch, but overall it remained more wholesome than their neighbors of that time (not a high bar to clear, as they were collapsing empires).

What truly accounts for Scandinavian exceptionalism? Well, the region has rarely given birth to an expansionist empire, especially recently, nor has it been absorbed into the cores of other empires.

All those pioneers of fin-de-siecle and Modernist weirdness / corrosion came from stagnating and declining empires, namely those that had arisen during the early modern era — Spain, France, Austria, Germany, and Britain.

And then there is the pre-modern imperial history of those nations. Spain was left in the black hole of asabiya when the Roman Empire collapsed, to the extent that it got conquered by Germanic invaders (the Vandals), and then by invaders from the Maghreb for centuries. France had been an expanding empire in the high-to-late Middle Ages, and before that under the expanding unified Franks (and southern France was close to the Roman imperial core, in ancient times). Western Germany, too, was part of the Frankish Empire, as well as the (less cohesive) Holy Roman Empire.

None of those empires from any period of European history — the pre-Roman Celts, the Romans, Franks, French, Spanish, Austrians / Habsburgs, Russians, Ottomans, Bulgarians, Mongols, British, Dutch Republic, Poland-Lithuania, etc. — reached up into Scandinavia. The region was never incorporated swiftly into the invaders' core, sharing in both their rise and then hangover-prone fall.

What about launching empires of their own? The closest was the Vikings of Norway. However, their heyday was fairly short-lived, not centuries long in one direction, and even that was in the late 1st millennium, leaving enough time for them to return to a normal resting state after a centuries-long hangover.

Denmark has even less to boast of imperially, other than sending some invaders into Britain — like most other northern Germanic people did — in the second half of the 1st millennium. They were unified politically with Norway for awhile, though not through imperial expansion.

Finland does not even have that level of expansion in its history, nor does Iceland.

The only semi-empire that came from Scandinavia recently was Sweden's rise to great power status during the 17th century. Still, it didn't last for very long — roughly a century from Gustavus Adolphus in the early 1600s to their defeat by the nascent and expanding Russian Empire during the Great Northern War in the early 1700s.

Their gains in the German states were mainly opportunistic easy wins, as the German states were breaking down internally during the Thirty Years War. Their gains in the Baltic lands were meager — only Estonia and Latvia, not the then-mighty Lithuania (part of the expanding Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). And Russia gobbled those up after defeating Sweden. Sweden did conquer Finland, but shortly lost that one as well.

And at least in Germany, the Swedish forces were heavily staffed by foreign mercenaries (I'm unclear about whether this happened in their Baltic conquests). That means that their success was not so much due to rising asabiya among the Swedish people in the Swedish homeland. When it comes from rising asabiya, the fearsome military is known to be domestic — the tercios of the Spanish Empire, the Winged Hussars of Poland-Lithuania, the British navy, the Russian Cossacks, and so on.

It's hard to imagine who the expanding Other would have been that shared a meta-ethnic frontier with Sweden, leading up to the 17th C. Not the Russians — they arrived in the Baltics after Sweden's rise. Not the other Scandinavian countries. There are no other countries that border on Sweden. And it's not as though they were being pressured or invaded by the British or French or Austrians. Nothing to force them into an intensely cohesive in-group that would lead to their own expansion.

If Sweden's rise to great power status was not due to a rollercoaster ride of asabiya, then they would not have suffered from a hangover once their ascent was over. They took advantage of the geopolitical moment, enjoyed winning the lottery, and then went back to their normal lives once that good-luck money had been spent.

Having said that, Sweden is more nihilistic, degenerate, and plagued by parasitic elites than its Scandinavian neighbors. And it is the most libertarian (anti-collective) of the Scandinavian countries. That still puts it in a different universe compared to Britain, Germany, France, etc. But it's worth noting that even a minor, quasi-imperial history can leave minor, quasi-hangover effects on the nation's solidarity, after the heyday is over.

The flipside of this, though, is that Scandinavian countries have never been at the tippy-top of scientific and artistic accomplishment, not that they're languishing either of course. But they have not been filled with the single-minded sense of being chosen, special, and called on to fulfill a higher purpose as an entire culture. To conquer scientific and artistic frontiers, as well as territorial ones. My impression is that they are just fine with that trade-off, rather than producing Newtons and Bachs but then having to suffer from chav culture, Weimar degeneracy, etc. during the hangover phase of the asabiya cycle.

I'm not sure how educated people in various European countries see their own history, or European history overall, but here in America college grads (including all Ivy grads) think that European nations have existed forever, have always been expanding empires to varying degrees, and therefore have always been in territorial conflict with one another. Hopefully this whirlwind tour through European imperial history dispels that delusion among Americans.

Some places, like France, truly have been the source of empires going back thousands of years. But Spain has only been an expanding empire once, Italy only once (the Romans), Britain only after the Hundred Years War (and ending with WWI), the Russians only after the Golden Horde, and so on and so forth. On the other hand there's the ignorance about former empires in eastern Europe aside from the ancient Macedonians and the Russians — i.e., the Byzantines, Bulgaria, the Ottomans, and Poland-Lithuania.

Only after surveying the entire history of empires in Europe can you appreciate how non-imperial Scandinavia has been, from ancient times to the present. And that is its secret ingredient for trust and civic cooperation. Sadly we cannot clone their history in a lab, and introduce it into our American ecosystem (or the British or French or other ecosystem).

In general, social science and history should not pretend to be a utilitarian management consultant firm — "We hear that you elites have a certain problem, well we've got just the solution!" — and should stick to constructing true but useless models of how the world works. It's pure science, not applied engineering.

July 23, 2021

Imperial collapse and cratering trust: the former Ottoman Empire, and Italy

[Part 1]

Continuing the theme of right-wingers' static explanations of low trust, why are the people of southern Italy, the Balkans, or the Near East so low-trust? (This region is crucial since the right relies on terms and models like "Balkanization".) The right-winger will come up with something that is not dynamic — whether it's genes, cultural tradition, a subsistence mode adapted to their geography, or whatever else. And those could certainly play a role. But they're largely static.

Especially when there's a close comparison group who is not so low in trust — like northern Italy. Right-wingers must fall back on specious arguments about vast differences between northern and southern Italy based on genetics, traditions, geography, etc.

Ditto for trying to explain why Russia can accomplish so much, for an eastern European nation, compared to its cousin-neighbors among the Balkan Slavs. The Slavic expansion was so recent that most of them are practically cousins at the DNA level, not having had enough time to diverge from one another. The same goes for their languages and cultural traditions (including most of the Balkans being Orthodox rather than Catholic, Muslim, or something else).

The only major static difference is in subsistence mode, with Russia being flat and agrarian, and much of the Balkans being hilly / mountainous and pastoralist. And it's true that pastoralists are generally more tribalistic and low-trusting than agrarians, since pastoralism does not support large sedentary states and institutions that could pacify and unify a population. Pastoralists are also constantly in danger of having their livestock rustled, and tempted to do the rustling preemptively, unlike landowners or peasants whose land and cultivated crops cannot be so easily stolen and run off with (livestock move themselves, once driven, and they're herd animals, so it just takes driving one to drive them all).

But then Bulgaria is large, flat, and agrarian, just like Russia (as well as being genetic cousins, Slavic speakers, Orthodox Christians, etc.). Yet where is Bulgarian achievement that rivals Russian achievement? Their low trust and lack of large-scale cooperation cannot be blamed on them being rambunctious mountain shepherds like the Serbs.

Poland is also large, flat, and agrarian, like Russia (they're similar otherwise, except for being Catholic instead of Orthodox). And yet, where is Polish achievement today, compared to Russian achievement?

In fact, Bulgaria did use to be a center of cooperation and achievement — way back in the late first millennium, when they brought Orthodox Christianity, and amazing architectural feats shown in their churches, into the Slavic territory. It's hard to convert others if your own missionaries are not dedicated to a higher purpose, if they are not patronized by generous elites, and all working as a well-oiled machine. Their dialect was preserved as sacred in religious rites for centuries (Old Church Slavonic). And they pioneered the Cyrillic alphabet common to many Slavic languages today.

But way back then, Bulgaria was an expanding empire, marked by high asabiya. Of course they could accomplish great things. But over the course of the second millennium, they went into a hangover after their empire began contracting. And on top of that, they were quickly swallowed up by the new Ottoman Empire (within a century of its founding), whose collapse set off another hangover in cooperation.

But Russia has been an expanding empire for awhile (since the mid-2nd millennium), albeit in several re-incarnations (such as the Soviet Empire that followed the Romanov Empire). Russia was never swallowed up by the Ottoman Empire, or any other empire, since the Mongols of the Golden Horde conquered southern Russia, back in the early 2nd millennium. Indeed, lying at the meta-ethnic frontier between themselves and the Mongols is what drove Russian ethnogenesis, and later its imperial expansion, in the first place. So they still have fairly high levels of asabiya compared to their neighbors.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire accounts for the persistently low levels of trust in the eastern Mediterranean. These nations did not lie at the distant frontiers where solidarity rose among the non-Ottomans. Those would be the Russians, the Austrians or Austro-Hungarians, the Persians, the Saudis, and to a lesser extent the Moroccans (whose brief conflict with the Ottomans, in which they remained unconquered, did not last long enough to cause them to launch another empire like the Almohads or Almoravids, but who are still the most mellow, cooperative, and least prone to civil war of the Arabic-speaking nations outside of Saudi Arabia).

Those close to the Ottoman core of Anatolia were sucked into its rise in asabiya, receiving patronage from very wealthy Ottoman elites, but they also had to share in the hangover once the Ottoman heyday was over. The hostile tribalism of the Balkans, the Levant, and Egypt cannot be explained by static factors, most of which they share with related groups who were not quickly swallowed into the Ottoman Empire (or were never swallowed). Compare Egypt or Libya to Morocco (and to a lesser extent Algeria). Compare Syria to the Saudis. Compare the Armenians to the Iranians. Compare the Serbs to the Austrians, or the Bulgarians to the Russians. The largest factor is proximity to the Ottoman core, and duration of being absorbed by them (if at all).

These differences show up big-time in the Arab Spring color revolutions, which severely rocked the core of the former Ottoman Empire, while having lesser effects in the western part of North Africa, farthest from Anatolia. Morocco emerged from the Arab Spring untouched, and Algeria was relatively unscathed (that country was added by the Ottomans in the early 1500s but won de facto independence by the early 1700s, and were later occupied by France for awhile but also won independence). The Arab Spring did not destabilize the states of Saudi Arabia or Iran, both of which were unconquered by the Ottomans. And of course the core of the Ottomans, Turkey, has been racked by coups every few decades since their empire fell, all the way up to the present with the attempted coup of 2016.

The Ottoman Empire only bit the dust 100 years ago, so on the time-scale of imperial rise and fall, which lasts for centuries in one direction, the current asabiya hangover affecting its core regions can easily persist for centuries longer. Once it gets back to a neutral resting state, then one of their nations may rise again if pressured by an expanding group from outside. But that is all way too far into the future to speculate on in detail, just worth noting what general conditions would be needed for there to be another Golden Age of arts and sciences in Baghdad.

And to briefly tie up the story about northern vs. southern Italy, that traces back at least to the collapse of the Roman Empire, which left the whole of the Italian peninsula in a black hole of asabiya, allowing invaders like the Germanic tribes to easily take them over. The Renaissance was highly localized, not an Italy-wide phenomenon, and it did not involve unification.

Italian unification only took place after centuries of lying at the meta-ethnic frontier with several large expansionist empires — Spain, France, and Austria, all of whom primarily pressured Italy from the north. This caused rising asabiya in northern Italy, compared to fairly flat levels in southern Italy, and it was the north who led the unification of the peninsula. To this day, they are more cooperative and accomplished than the south.

Not due to genetics, traditions, or subsistence mode, but due to the north recently being pressured by multiple empires for centuries. The south has hardly been pressured in that way since the fall of the Roman Empire (and even back then, Southerners were not the unifiers, but those around Rome itself, who bore the brunt of Celtic and Carthaginian expansion).

The Spanish pressure on northern Italy alleviated during the collapse of the Spanish Empire during the 19th C. And the French and Austrian Empires both collapsed following WWI. The only empires nearby since then have been the Americans and Soviets. The Soviets never got close to pressuring Italy, and the Americans amicably invited Italy into NATO rather than forcibly conquer it over the course of centuries (we only fought them in WWII). So the pressure to cohere has been easing up on northern Italy as well, which explains why that nation never grew into a newly expanding empire — just one that unified an amalgam of formerly hostile city-states.

July 22, 2021

Collapsing trust where empires collapse — and trust preserved where empires never existed

Why do some societies tend to have much higher levels of trust — both interpersonal and between citizens and institutions — as well as civic cooperation? I've finally discovered their secret ingredient, not that we can re-create it or steal it, unfortunately. It is their lack of imperial history, either as the source of an expansionist empire, or their rapid incorporation into a nearby empire.

I'm breaking this series up into three digestible posts. This first one will do the theoretical overview. Part 2 will look at cases of collapsing trust in the wake of imperial collapse. And part 3 will look at the few cases where there has never been an empire, and where trust levels are famously high.

I'm drawing on Peter Turchin's model of the rise and fall of empires, popularized in his book War and Peace and War, whereby intense expansionist pressures on the other side of a meta-ethnic frontier cause the targeted group to cohere and cooperate for mutual survival. He borrows a term from Ibn Khaldun, asabiya, for this potential for collective action. A meta-ethnic frontier is one where the two sides are incredibly different across a range of tribal markers (language, religion, clothing, subsistence mode, etc.).

Being pressured by an expanding Other does bring the benefit of rising asabiya, which in turn allows the group to become a strong expansionist power in its own right. Not to mention other towering achievements that come from patronage of the arts and sciences, which only happens when the elites with wealth, the skilled artists and intellectuals, and a mass audience among the commoners, all feel part of a specially chosen Us who cannot help but accomplish great things, and must all cooperate and play their roles to make those great things happen.

However, that Golden Age only lasts as long as the phase of rising asabiya (social psychology) and imperial expansion (economics and geo-politics). As those run out of steam, the empire starts contracting, becomes fragmented, perhaps invaded and conquered, and its former wealth gets squandered by newly parasitic elites and stolen by conquerors.

Turchin describes the landscape of imperial decline as a "black hole of asabiya," which I interpret to mean not only are the people less cooperative than before, they actually grow more suspicious, resentful, spiteful, and narrowly tribalistic than they would have been had they never riden the initial wave of imperial expansion and soaring asabiya. In my view, it's similar to a refractory phase in an excitable system — a hangover is not merely the absence of a high, i.e. a normal state, but a dizzying, paralyzing, energy-draining crash below a normal resting state.

Declining empires suffer from a crippling social-psychological hangover, preventing them from achieving those former heights of geo-political expansion, material conquest and tribute, or even the grand achievements domestically in the arts and sciences. Not only can people no longer work together — they despise one another, and remain so suspicious and double-crossing towards those who are not in their immediate social networks, that large-scale endeavors become impossible.

Also, this state of affairs becomes public knowledge, so even the rare cooperator would anticipate getting screwed over by the majority of his society. So why bother?

As with a refractory state in any other excitable system, eventually it wears off and the system returns to a normal unexceptional state. But the time-scale for imperial growth and contraction is on the order of centuries, so this hangover can also drag on for centuries. In the very long meantime, its citizens will have to endure what seems to be, within the time-scale of their own lifetimes (and even those of their grandparents and grandchildren), an unchanging climate of suspicion, hostility, envy, and sabotage. From the Golden Age, to the Age of Haters.

* * *

The collapse of trust in the wake of imperial collapse receives very little attention from the only people who are concerned about low / falling trust levels in America or "the West" — namely, right-wingers.

The left stopped caring about trust, cooperation, and solidarity decades ago, as the material basis for their wealth and status became more dependent on non-labor-intensive sectors of society, principally the various internet / online / dot-com bubbles that have inflated and popped since the 1990s Clinton-Gore heyday of techno-optimism.

When an activity is not labor-intensive, it's only the elites and managers of that sector who need to trust one another, and perhaps a thin layer of professionals they employ. There is no vast, sprawling supply chain or military chain-of-command that depends on trust and cooperation at multiple levels of complexity, across various geographical regions.

So, they are more inclined to just impose their will top-down within the sectors that they have a monopolistic control over. Trust from the citizenry does not matter since they have no alternative to the single mega-corporation that non-labor-intensive activity always leads toward (e.g. finance, media, entertainment, info-tech).

The right draws its wealth and status from labor-intensive activities like manufacturing, military / police, energy extraction, and agriculture. These activities require cooperation across a large number of individuals, at varying levels of complexity. So their elites are more concerned with everybody getting along enough to make sure the gears of the entire machine keep on a-turnin'.

But for their part, most right-wingers are genetically incapable of modeling things in dynamic terms, where things change over time due to internal mechanisms. Moral conservatives value in-group solidarity to such an extent that it blinds them from seeing that the rot is coming from within. In their minds, large-scale bad things can only be blamed on external forces, whether it's a wealthy foreign donor (Soros, an oil royal, etc.), or immigrants from low-trust societies. Or at most, the opposing political tribe (never their own).

In reality, if those do play a role in a particular case of collapsing trust, they are only a symptom of an underlying disease from within.

July 19, 2021

"Australian Girl" (Aimee Terese tribute, Michael Jackson parody)

Starting off with a musical hot take, Bad is Michael Jackson's best album, above Thriller. I was looking over those clueless "best albums ever" lists, and Rolling Stone even puts Off the Wall above Bad, lol. But Thriller I wasn't sure about, so looked them both over -- and yes, Bad is best.

Not as much punky and funky raw energy, but also none of the corny schmaltz like "The Girl Is Mine" (which cannot be excused as filler -- it was a single, and a duet with the senior-most Beatle). Also not as danceable, but then I never found the songs from Thriller super-danceable anyway at '80s night. Bad trades the youthful dance focus for a more mature, moody, slow-burning tension.

Michael Jackson was not a normal, fun-loving dance-a-holic, and gives better performances when he's in the role of someone being tempted and tormented. That comes through somewhat on "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" from Thriller, but even more so on "Smooth Criminal", "Dirty Diana" (probably the best song on the album), and "Liberian Girl", which is the basis for today's tribute to Aimee Terese. (A fragment, but more or less the entire lyrics.)

Slow-burning, dark, moody, exotic, and shot through with a New Age-y fascination with the overawing aspects of nature. Instrumentally sparse, dozens of layers of simple repetitive rhythms or chords, occasional sighing vocals -- perfectly in sync with the ethereal dream-pop zeitgeist of the late '80s. "Dirty Diana" is another great example of slow, moody, repetitive layering.

See this earlier post, and links therein, about dream-pop going mainstream during the vulnerable phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle.

* * *

Australian girl
Whose prophecies come unfurled
In feverish tweets
Australian girl
You send every sense aswirl
Through magic of memes

Australian girl
Your posts so untamed, you deranged my world
Just like in Apu's dream
Beneath the fig-tree leaves
She says, "Will you hug me?"
He steadies weakened knees --
"I'll hug you, Australian girl"

July 13, 2021

Standard national dialect arises from those undergoing ethnogenesis along meta-ethnic frontier

National languages, such as Spanish and English, are spread by imperial expansion across nations. But within the home nation, how does one dialect of Spanish become the standard one within Spain, or one dialect of English the standard within Britain (or within America)?

This post will present the overview, and future posts in this series will be case studies of a specific expanding group and their standard dialect.

First, what causes some peoples to launch expansionist empires is covered by Peter Turchin in his mass-audience book War and Peace and War — namely, soaring levels of in-group solidarity (asabiya, borrowing a term from Ibn Khaldun). It requires massive cooperation to conquer other nations and maintain an empire, and lack of cooperation makes you vulnerable to being conquered. That solidarity itself is a response to conquering pressures bearing down on them for a long while. As various neighboring groups all come under the pressure of a single invader, they are forced into gradually banding together for common defense.

Crucially, such groups lie at the enduring boundary between the invader and the native groups. If they get quickly swallowed up by the invasion, they submit and become subjects, however much they may grumble about it. And the effect is most potent when the boundary is a meta-ethnic frontier — where the difference between Us and Them is extreme rather than minor in degree. Different language, different clothing styles, different subsistence mode (e.g., agrarian vs. pastoralist), different religion, different anything salient between an in-group and an out-group.

For example, the people around Rome were forced into solidarity in response to the expanding Celts, particularly after their hometown got sacked. The Alps were a boundary or buffer — those on the mainland European side of the Alps were all overrun by the Celts, but those on the other side, in the Italian peninsula, had some breathing room and time to prepare. Once the Celts crossed the no-man's-land of the Alps, it sent the Romans into panic mode. Those further to the south did not have to worry as much about the Celtic invasion, and they did not consolidate the peninsula behind them.

The area around Rome also bore the brunt of a separate invasion from the south, from the expansionist Carthagenians (Phoenicians who had set up base across the Mediterranean from Rome, in North Africa). That only accelerated the trend of Roman ethnogenesis that had begun in response to Celtic pressures.

Both out-groups were highly different from Romans — it was not as though the marginally different southern Italians were invading central Italy. The Celts spoke a language from a separate branch of Indo-European, and the Carthagenians did not speak Indo-European at all (Semitic). Likewise their religions: Celts and Romans shared a distant ancestor due to being Indo-Europeans, but they had differentiated by that point, not to mention the Greek influences on Roman religion that were absent among Celts. And Carthagenians were even more different, following a Levantine religion, without the Indo-European core. Romans were more sedentary, Celts were semi-nomadic pastoralists, and the Carthagenians were semi-nomadic along the coastline as sea-farers.

Being caught between these two wildly foreign invaders forged the Romans into a strongly cohesive nation, from the 4th century BC onward. They were the ones within the Italian peninsula to unite the rest of the neighboring groups, to repel both sets of invaders, and to ultimately launch an expansionist empire of their own, which would conquer the lands of their former invaders.

That expansion spread their national language, Latin, across a wide swath of territory, and in a fair amount of those lands people still speak a descendant of Latin (the Romance languages). This is the simple observation to make about how imperial ethnogenesis relates to linguistic influence on other speakers. That is, one nation spreads its language to the people of an entirely different nation.

What is difficult to see, and as far as I can tell has not been discovered yet, is how imperial ethnogenesis affects linguistic relations within the expanding in-group itself. Not everyone is on the frontlines of the Us vs. Them conflict — some of Us are closer, while some of Us are more comfortably removed. And as it turns out, those who are closer to the meta-ethnic frontier spread their dialect to the speakers of other dialects, all being within a single national language, or loose dialect chain at any rate.

So, the intense pressures of the meta-ethnic frontier cause the group undergoing ethnogenesis to spread their cultural influence not only over the starkly different out-groups who they conquer, but also over their neighboring in-group members who they unite behind them.

Ethnogenesis is primarily an Us vs. Them phenomenon, but secondarily it is a matter of who among Us is the most Us-like? Every in-group of an expanding empire is somewhat culturally diverse internally — they start as an amalgamation of neighboring groups. How can a single unified national (and later, imperial) culture arise out of that initial diversity? Hypothetically, they could average each constituent culture into a melting pot, or maybe draw lots. In reality, one of their cultures will serve as a model, which the others follow and mold themselves toward.

So then, which one of Our cultures is the most representative of who We are? Naturally, the culture of those who are leading the charge on a material and demographic level, facing the greatest risks of invasion, pillage, rape, murder, theft, and so on, along the meta-ethnic frontier. You other groups are still clearly one of Us, but you're not right there along the faultline. If you're not leading the charge materially, we won't follow your lead culturally either. The greater the risk, the greater the reward.

In modern usage, we would call this a "standard dialect" of a national language, and most of the cases I will examine in future posts will be modern languages. Far back into the past, it may or may not have been a standard dialect of a single national language, but it was still the leading member of a closely related group of languages, all of which were opposed to those of their invaders.

But the cultural changes do not stop there — ethnogenesis also changes the standard dialect itself from an earlier historical state. That is, the standardization of one language within an in-group is not just taking an existing dialect, left intact, and copying it throughout the rest of the group. Crucial changes are made to the chosen dialect which distinguish it from an earlier stage of its own history.

Therefore, its speakers are not only distinguishing themselves from their invaders, and from their neighbors among the in-group, but also from their own local ancestors of a more innocent age in their past, who were not undergoing intense ethnogenesis in the crucible of mounting invasions by starkly different foreigners.

This new cultural identity that they are creating for themselves tends to render earlier stages of their cultural evolution opaque — they may not be able to understand the earlier form of their own language. This is what causes boundaries within the history of a language. For centuries, a language has remained static enough for the living to understand the dead from hundreds of years ago. And then within a few centuries of linguistic change, the living can no longer understand their ancestors of only a couple hundred years ago.

These are not gradual changes with a constant rate of change that, cumulatively over long stretches of time, render older stages opaque to present-day speakers. They are one-off seismic events that happen quickly, and then remain in place for the indefinite future (until another such seismic event). This indelible mark in the linguistic history allows us to compare it to the history of ethnogenesis, to see whether they are happening at the same time. And sure enough, they are. Massive changes that render old forms opaque do not happen in a cultural or material vacuum, but as part of the overall ethnogenetic process.

I'll actually come back later to Roman ethnogenesis and the resulting primacy of Latin within the Italian peninsula. It's a much older language — indeed, a dead one — than the others I'll look at, and the languages / dialects of its neighbors are poorly attested, unlike those of more modern languages. The basic pattern holds up, but the evidence is not quite so fine-grained as it is for contemporary languages.

And anyway, this post is just an overview, not a case study. In future posts, I'll look at American English, British English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Latin, and Hindi. The main focus will be correlating the regions that gave birth to the standard dialect, and that were the meta-ethnic frontier. Also, the temporal correlation — the birth of the standard dialect and its distinctive historical changes, and the time when its speakers were undergoing ethnogenesis in the face of the invaders.

These are the "who," "where," and "when" that are sufficient to answer the theoretical question. I've already covered "why" and "how" in this post. The "what" is less relevant to the overall point, but I will cover some basics there too. That is, it's not important what the linguistic changes are — e.g., did they change one vowel to another, or maybe devoice their final consonants, or some other idiosyncratic thing.

Most speakers of a national language today would be hard-pressed to detail these differences between standard and non-standard dialects, but they would all agree that the dialect in a certain range of territory is more standard, and the dialects in some other range are non-standard. Every speaker of American English agrees that the versions along the West Coast are far more standard than those along the East Coast, whether New England, Mid-Atlantic, or Deep Southern.

And that is true for speakers of all other national languages: Brits agree on southern dialects being standard, Spaniards on Castilian, French on northern French, Germans on High German (with an Eastern twist), Russians on southern dialects, Romans on Latin, and Indians on the Hindi belt.

Speakers do not know when these distinctive changes arose, but historical linguists do, so I'll consult them for the temporal comparison. And I'll briefly sketch the substance of the changes, for the sake of completeness, though it'll bore most people and is not relevant to the main point anyway.

July 9, 2021

Anna Nicole Smith, Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Going through the Perfume Nationalist podcast, and found this episode about the Anna Nicole Show. I was only vaguely aware of her and her claim to fame (blonde bombshell who married a rich geriatric), never having watched the early 2000s reality show after her initial burst of notoriety in the '90s.

But the way they describe her is like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl — a beautiful soul, free-spirited, winding her way from one of life's many adventures to the next, and cheering up those who happen to cross her path.

Still, those are only personality traits, not a role that she plays with respect to other characters in the dramatis personae. The MPDG is an earthly guardian angel, who nurses an unlucky-in-love sad sack back to social-emotional health, enabling him to find true love by the end (though usually not with the MPDG herself).

Then it hit me — that's the role she was playing with the rich geriatric she married. He was in a romantically low-enough place that he was going to strip clubs as an elderly man. And she happened to be one of the dancers there when he showed up.

She wasn't seeking out rich old guys habitually, like a gold-digger or a maneater, hellbent on a master plan. It was one of those spontaneous, fun projects that occurred to her as it was already happening. Why not pick up the spirits of this gentle old sad sack, who is clearly not long for this world? Just another zany, off-the-wall adventure along the neverending tour of her life.

The fact that he was loaded appealed to her more at the level of establishing themselves as an odd couple — young and elderly, rich and poor, captivating and invisible, sensual and buttoned-up. A carnivalesque, Studio 54 kind of match, not cold deliberate and predatory.

The MPDG doesn't want a clone as her project — the whole point is to add zest and variety to her life — and to the lives of the people she meets — not to close herself off in familiar homogeneity. They have to be endearingly mismatched in some crucial way.

Their ending was partly true-to-type, and partly not. He did wind up with her until the end, rather than her only being a temporary guardian angel. But she did get deprived of his company before very long when he died, and was kept out of the rest of his social circle afterward. So her role was more of a temporary rehabilitating nurse after all.

So then, how well does Anna Nicole Smith and her odd-couple relationship fit the other aspects of the MPDG pattern I've detailed over the past year or so? That is, not the intrinsic qualities of their relationship, but her personal profile, the timing and zeitgeist, and so on? More or less to a T.

First, their relationship — from initial encounter through getting married — took place during a restless warm-up phase of the 15-year excitement cycle, namely the first half of the 1990s. Same time as Pretty Woman and L.A. Story. This is the phase of the cycle when people are itching to leave their refractory state cocoons from the previous vulnerable phase (the late '80s, in this case). But some need more coaxing than others, enter the MPDG to help out the sad sack.

Second, she was born during a manic phase of the cycle — the late '60s, just like Julia Roberts and Sarah Jessica Parker. She imprinted on a climate of soaring energy levels, invincibility, and therefore a downplaying of risks and setbacks. Dust yourself off and try again. She imprinted on this same climate again during her second birth in adolescence, turning 15 in the early '80s manic phase. If your role is to coach and coax someone who's shy about taking risks, you'd better be resilient and invincible-feeling yourself, or else they won't buy into you being a role model to follow.

Third, she was a corporeal rather than cerebral type. Dancing, whether in a strip club or elsewhere, is one of the most corporeal and least cerebral activities. She was also a model for Playboy and Guess, back when models were still used rather than actresses, singers, podcasters, and other non-fashion celebs. Another activity whose expressions are of a visual, concrete, and kinesthetic nature, rather than a verbal, abstract, and conceptual nature.

The MPDG is an earthly, not ethereal, guardian angel. She has to get the sad sack to turn off the "paralysis of analysis" program running in the computer of his mind. Romance is fundamentally physical, and how else is he going to find a true love mate, without getting more comfortable in his own body and taking part in kinesthetic activities? In her nursing role, physical rehab and emotional rehab are just two sides of the same coin.

And, true to the profile of corporeal types, she was a butt woman rather than a boob woman. She did opt for breast implants, back when there was still (waning) pressure to do so, but by nature she had more around back than up in front. In their review, the Perfume Nationalist group mentions only one iconic physical pose of hers from the entire show — when she got stuck under a table while drunk, on all fours, with her PAWG-tastic ass preventing her from escaping forward out the other side.

Aside from being corporeal butt women, MPDGs also tend to be somewhat taller than average, although this is a weak correlation and there are plenty of shorties. But Anna Nicole is another point in the taller-than-average direction — standing at a statuesque 5'11. I think this has to do with taller girls feeling less intimidated about approaching men first, as is required for a spontaneous nurse who seeks out her own patients, rather than them checking themselves in to her.

Despite this slight tomboy tendency, though, MPDGs have very feminine hourglass waist-hip ratios, which she did as well. Nursing is a fundamentally feminine, not masculine role.

She also had a bisexual tendency, which supports my claim that lesbians cannot be MPDGs but bisexual or bicurious girls can be. In her show, there's an ongoing theme of her flirting with her unattractive sad-sack lesbian personal assistant. A woman in need of the MPDG treatment must rely on bisexual women, not their fellow lesbians, who are defined by a perimenopausal / middle-aged state and are therefore unlikely to initiate such an out-of-the-blue adventure. Bisexual women are the young-at-heart type, and can be relied on for that kind of youthful frenzy.

Her story is only off-brand for the MPDG in that it was not set in a bi-coastal WASP-kenazi milieu, but in the downscale flyover South. Even then, in the sprawling Houston area, not the hip Austin or the glamorous Dallas of that time. And yet, all of the other aspects of their relationship, her role, and her individual traits, match up with those of the MPDGs from the movies. It was just inflected by her being a reality celeb in the early '90s, before that trend had become mainstream in Hollywood and New York media.

July 8, 2021

Understanding elite over-production theory, beyond the take cycles of social media

Our beloved anti-woke left princess, Aimee Terese, and some fellow travelers on Twitter are arguing against "elite over-production theory".

The way that "discourse" works on social media is that -- it does not. I can't tell who she's referring to, or what they said, or what they cited, and her reactions are tweet threads rather than a structured post. Discourse did take place on blogs during the blogosphere's heyday, whereas very little in-depth discussion takes place on social media. This is not specific to Aimee or her opponents, it's the way that all "discourse" on social media works.

This post will not summarize the theory, but will correct / clarify some common misconceptions, as well as provide three links of increasing detail, to understand the model and the evidence behind it.

Please ignore whatever retards on social media you're getting your view of elite over-production theory from. At this point, it's one of the most historically grounded AND predictive models of societal destabilization, including the 2020 breakdown that Turchin predicted over a decade before the fact.

Does not matter if midwits are warping it (or you may be reading them uncharitably, I can't tell without specific names).

First, elite over-production is only one aspect of the model, Structural-Demographic Theory. The others are immiseration of the commoners, and strain on the finances of the state.

All are inter-related, e.g. as the elites make up a larger share of the population, they have stronger bargaining power over the labor supply, so they lower average wages. And since there are too many elite aspirants chasing too few available spots that would satisfy their striver ambitions, they increasingly plunder the state's resources to subsidize their striving and consumption contests.

None of it says "elites" are only those who are educated, or who are a part of the informational / left-wing sectors of society. In some empires like Rome and Prussia, the elites mainly took a military / right-wing route to the top. That just means the top-heaviness of their societies took the form of "too many officers, not enough footsoldiers".

Others were like ours, relying on (non-military) education, such as the early modern stage of British imperial expansion -- where there was an explosion in the enrollment numbers at Oxford in the decades leading up to the Civil War. In those days, they didn't have NGOs to absorb the over-produced aspirants, they tried to find an office in the church somewhere. But same principle.

In medieval Europe, you can count the numbers of peers (barons, knights, etc.), compare that to the total population size, and see how the share who were elites was either swelling or deflating.

Yes, elite ranks can and do get depopulated, on the other side of the cycle from their over-production phase. Maybe they kill each other off in intra-elite warfare (Hundred Years War, War of the Roses, and so on). Maybe the aspirants stop packing the enrollments of higher ed, and stay in their home region instead of packing into the super-elite metros, as happened during the New Deal era in America.

And maybe when there's an economic crisis that threatens to decimate the elites' numbers and levels of consumption, the state refuses to bail them all out, so the elite ranks remain depressed -- this was the response during the Great Depression, which was mainly a decapitation of the top-heavy Victorian / Edwardian / Roaring Twenties growth of the elites and strivers.

Here are three increasingly detailed links. No excuses for not understanding the theory, whether you're pro or anti.

Top Amazon review of Secular Cycles by Turchin & Nefedov, the central monograph of the theory.

Blog post at Turchin's own site, reviewing the model.

Download a PDF of Secular Cycles, if you don't have IRL library access to it. There's only one proper chapter on the model, it is mostly a series of historical case studies probing the strengths and weaknesses of the model (looking at Rome, England, France, and Russia).

If you want to buy a cheap physical book aimed at a lay audience, Turchin's War and Peace and War has discussions of all levels of cycles involved in societal growth and breakdown. Mainly it's about imperial expansion and contraction. But in the middle sections on "imperiopathosis," the Structural-Demographic Theory is presented, with historical data on the elites, commoners, and state finances.

So get reading, people. No Millennial excuses like "I have ADD".

July 7, 2021

Unlike 9/11 response, COVID response collapsing due to anarchic polarized climate of imperial disintegration

I was skeptical of the claims that the draconian COVID protocols would be here to stay, and if anything would only get worse. "If you don't believe it, just tell me how many people leave their shoes on while going through security at any airport these days, 20 years after 9/11".

But as we saw with the entire GOP failing to defend against a stolen election, unlike their aggressive stance in the nail-biting election of 2000, nobody is in charge in this shithole country anymore. The elites could not be more polarized, more checked-out, and more abdicating of their basic responsibilities, even to their fellow elites.

We don't live in the relatively cohesive early 2000s anymore, and that was already starting the trend toward red state / blue state rivalry. There is less and less within a bipartisan consensus anymore, so it's just might makes right, and whoever happens to be stronger for awhile will impose their will on the weaker side.

That will allow Democrats to steal elections that matter in the short term -- including against their own people, as seen in the New York mayoral primary -- but it also means that none of this shit is going to last in the medium-to-long term. There's simply no broad buy-in from most of the elite class, and worse, the parts who aren't buying in are having that rubbed in their faces.

Unlike other countries, America has been an expanding empire since about 1700, and is subject to a different trajectory going forward, namely imperial disintegration. Finland, Denmark, etc., don't have to worry about the especially nasty forces tearing apart America from within. They have not been expanding empires, and they are not about to suffer from a "black hole of asabiya," as Peter Turchin describes the collapse of the potential for collective action, when empires begin disintegrating.

To compare to the Roman Empire, only because it's the most well known, our neoliberal / Reagan era was similar to their Antonine dynasty, in the mid-late 2nd century -- after their maximum territory had been reached, following centuries of expansion. It was a consolidation, resting on their laurels kind of phase -- stagnation, or saturation, rather than continued expanse and growth.

We reached our territorial maximum after WWII, occupying Japan and Germany, and gradually folding in the NATO countries. We failed to expand into the Middle East or Central Asia. None of those regions are under our sphere of influence, and those with whom we are allies were either expanding states themselves -- such as Saudi Arabia, which had been expanding since the late 1700s against the Ottoman encroachment -- or peaceful treaty partners, like Egypt. The ones we tried to conquer, like Iraq and Iran and Syria, have only slipped further out of our orbit. Ditto for Afghanistan, an even greater abject failure.

Even before that, we failed to take North Korea and Vietnam on mainland Asia, and we lost our former conquests in Cuba and the Philippines.

What comes after the stagnation phase of an empire is its disintegration, beginning really with the Year of the Five Emperors in 193 for Rome, but totally unraveling during the Crisis of the Third Century. As a sidenote, any right-winger who is telling you about Caesar (or, for Trump-era populist points, the Gracchus brothers), and lamenting the end of the Republic vs. start of the Empire, as though that's where we are now, is willfully retarded. They can't tell what stage of the Roman Empire we are in -- very obviously, past its peak of expansion, and headed toward polarized disintegration. Namely, the Third Century. There will never be any further Caesar figures in America, and any potential Constantines will be, like the original, in a far-off land that is only under American influence now, not within America proper, and will only spawn a new empire (then, the Byzantine, and now, who knows?).

It's amazing to see how little of Roman culture and society from the 3rd century onward survived. All the Roman literature and architecture -- including the colosseums, arches, columns, walls, aqueducts, everything -- basically stagnated when the rest of the empire stagnated, during the Antonines. And nothing has been retained in The Canon from the 3rd century onward. Christian culture doesn't count, just cuz it was written in Latin, as it is decidedly post-Roman.

I think American culture will go down the same way -- they'll include the early stuff, 19th C, and most of the 20th C. up through the '70s (movies more than novels for the 20th C.), and then only begrudgingly include stuff from the '80s through the 2000s, as cool as we may find it now. Probably nothing from the crisis period of the 2010s (after the Great Recession broke the economy for good). And definitely nothing from this moment onwards, again however neat we may find it at the moment.

Those earlier periods had elite buy-in from many sides, even during a period of Civil War. Just as with the civil wars in Rome, ours took place during imperial expansion -- that seems to be a general fact, as with the English Civil War taking place during the expansion of the British Empire. When the stakes are huge, as with an expanding empire, civil conflict takes the form of Team A vs. Team B vying for who gets to control and administer the high-stakes empire.

When the empire's fate is only going to decline, who gives a shit about controlling it? There are no great big teams vying for control, and there is no Team A vs. Team B kind of civil war. More like chaos and anarchy. See the Crisis of the Third Century, or the internal politics of the WWI era in most of the moribund European / Ottoman empires, or unfolding right now in America.

The elites of imperial societies preserved the culture of their fractious civil war periods because they were still part of an even longer-term rising phase of imperial expansion. They were still part of a strong Us vs. Them ethnogenesis (against the Celts, Carthagenians, etc. for Rome, and against the Indians, Nazis, and Soviets for America).

However, when national identity begins disintegrating, why bother preserving that culture? It's not built to last, indeed it seems contaminated with corrosive elements. So, ignore Roman "culture" after 200, and forget German "culture" after WWI sent their empire into a death-spiral -- but keep all the good stuff going back to the Prussian Enlightenment monarchs, when their expansion began.

In fact, the modern welfare state was pioneered by Bismarck in the 1880s, at the height of Prussian ("German") expansion and power. And it's no coincidence that it was retained through all sorts of subsequent developments -- it was created in a climate of elite consensus and harmony, which makes dismantling it sacrilegious. But the stuff from the Wilhelmine era after Bismarck and through WWI (roughly 1890 to 1920), fell by the wayside, especially the distinctive new policies like trying to make Germany a colonial power, or trying to dominate France within Europe.

That's akin to our New Deal period giving us our welfare state, from a bipartisan consensus and harmony among elites, and at the peak of our expansion, with FDR being our Bismarck -- strong, "authoritarian," and long-serving, all signs of a strong state. We have an incredibly weak state right now, with weak rulers cycling through like the barracks emperors of the Crisis of the Third Century.

And none of them are enforcing jackshit, especially if it's a new policy rather than a longstanding one -- just look at all the COVID protocols, which were largely terminated by governors of gigantic states almost immediately (e.g. DeSantis in Florida). In the wake of 9/11, did multiple governors flout the federal rules about how airports on their turf were to be run -- all the requirements about shoes, liquids, and the like? Not a chance in hell. We were still a halfway strong state and cohesive people in the early 2000s. The elites could still be brought onto the same page.

But not anymore. They've already had to call an end to the masks at the national level, and if anyone tries to bring them back, that will last for even less time than the first round. They've already been tarnished, and too many people were already breaking the rules during the first round. They will only be joined by more open rule-breakers if a second round of mask mandates is enacted.

These flailing attempts to establish order during the elite-driven anarchy will certainly cause misery and headaches along our terminal decline, but none of them are going to last like Social Security or even taking off your shoes to get on a plane. Imperial disintegration means collateral damage from elites waging war with each other in an increasingly ineffectual way -- first this method, then that method, from this ruler then from that ruler -- rather than a single method administered forever by an enduring dictator.

It also makes me wonder what from the crisis period of the 2010s will be jettisoned like the COVID protocols. I could easily see gay marriage getting stricken down at some point, like an over-indulgence of prog morality akin to Prohibition getting repealed. At least at the level of individual states refusing to enforce federal laws, and the feds being too ineffectual to enforce them.

Certainly no prog policies relating to trannies will last over the medium-to-long term, as they're only getting going during the outright disintegration period. Indeed, those ones seem destined to blow up due to polarization and lack of broad buy-in from elites, and are intended just to lord it over political enemies in the very short term. Our parasitic elites are more concerned with dunking on each during a 24-hour discourse cycle, rather than implementing anything to last 50 years or longer.

To conclude, not that I ever read them, but the thinkers of the New Deal era who were primarily concerned with analyzing / critiquing strong states and authoritarianism are now clearly of no use. Their main contribution was to break out of the strong government era, and into the neoliberal liberation era of roughly 1980 to 2020. With our societies so weakened by now, where it's outright falling apart, we won't have to look to an analysis or critique of strong states, the ratchet of authoritarian policies, and so on.

We need to look closer at analyses of disintegrating empires, such as the Roman Third Century, or Spain after its Reconquista-driven Golden Age (so, during the 19th and 20th centuries). We could look at more familiar ones like Britain, France, and Germany during their 20th-C disintegration, although that fall was padded by being absorbed into the American sphere of influence -- whereas we have no successor empire left to bail us out as we disintegrate.

July 5, 2021

"Online Man" (Beatles parody)

While working on some more Aimee Terese songs, I got sidetracked by a couple about alienation and online culture. But it's not unrelated, since they are the background conditions that lead so many people to search out refreshing online figures like her.

The first one is still in progress, based on a classic '90s hit which is itself reminiscent of an earlier one from the '60s — "Nowhere Man" by the Beatles. (Original lyrics here.)

This was part of a broader zeitgeist of leaving behind the cocooning / falling-crime Midcentury (roughly the '30s through the '50s), and becoming more outgoing, interactive, and connected. It acknowledged the cocooning mindset, but sought to coax the listener out by portraying how weighty and oppressive the climate had become by that point.

Other major examples are "The Sound of Silence" and "I Am a Rock" by Simon and Garfunkel, as well as books and movies like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and its later counterpart The Feminine Mystique. Recent shows like Mad Men explored this social-cultural transition as well. I wrote at length about these topics from about 2010 to 2012, so flip through those years in the sidebar to read more in depth.

Despite adapting "Nowhere Man" to a contempo setting, I decided to strike the universal chord of the original, back when societies were unified rather than polarized like now. There's nothing about specific tribes and their shibboleths, and the in-jokes are common to all sub-cultures. It's more like imagining the Midcentury zeitgeist, if they had the internet and a matured online culture.

This could never catch on today because nobody wants to acknowledge common problems across tribal lines, and it would devolve into Team A blaming Team B for A's problems, or Team A dunking on Team B and pretending they have no similar problems of their own. The audience for this song would be pretty narrow, but hopefully they're more likely to be reading sites like this one.

Not much in the pronunciation guide this time. "The real world" is the same length as "the world" in the original, so each word being half as long, and both "real" and "world" getting stressed. In the final line of verse 3, stress on "be" ("you'll BE in-ter-ACT-ing...").

* * *

He's a too online man
Sinking in the online sand
Huddled in the online stands, just onlooking

Disconnected from his roots
Transplant in a strange milieu
Can he be the only dude who's coping?

Online man, are ya winning?
Not too late for new beginnings
Online man, the real world will reach out its hand

Fingers numb from scrolling screens
Rusted mask of irony
Online man, can you still feel at all?

Online man, it's grown so murky
You can't spend your lifetime lurking
IRL, you'll be interacting with people, not brands

Disconnected from his roots
Transplant in a strange milieu
Can he be the only dude who's coping?

Online man, are ya winning?
Not too late for new beginnings
Online man, the real world will reach out its hand

He's a too online man
Sinking in the online sand
Huddled in the online stands, just onlooking

Huddled in the online stands, just onlooking
Huddled in the online stands, just onlooking