May 30, 2023

Exposed concrete: the American architectural style's defining material, from Frank Lloyd Wright through Brutalism and beyond

I had no idea how backwards the history of architecture & design from the 20th C. and after has been, until I began researching American ethnogenesis and its cultural reflections. This has led me to an Americanist defense of Brutalism, which will be an ongoing series.

The standard cluelessness from back-East academics (and their media-ite confreres), who are trapped in the least American region of the country, is that there is no such thing as a distinctive American culture, and that we inherited or imported everything from the Old World, primarily the Early Modern empires of Western Europe -- including in their degenerate collapsing stages, such as Cubist paintings and Bauhaus architecture and design.

The reality is that American pioneers beat the stultified Europeans to the punch, usually by several decades, and that Americans developed the superior standard of that form, whereas the Europeans could only manage an inferior copy of it, or didn't adopt it at all.

That's not a knock against European culture -- they just had their ethnogenetic heyday centuries before we did, so they already developed their own impressive standard forms. And as we see now, as the American Empire enters its degenerate collapsing stage of life, we too will become stultified non-creators having to either preserve / revive our previous foundational styles, or try to imitate others around the world if they are dynamic.

However, there are no other ascendant empires in the near future, undergoing an intense ethnogenesis, so there is in fact no one else for us to copy, as the Europeans finally managed to do with Midcentury Modern design (imported from America during the Pax Americana). So that leaves Americans with the task of preserving, reviving, canonizing, and celebrating what we have already made, and to limit any degenerate and warped extensions of it during our collapsing-empire stage of life.

* * *

One major example of the backwards thinking about 20th-C. architecture & design is the nature of Brutalism, which the received cluelessness of back-East cerebrals holds to be European. They may bicker over whether its parent is Swiss (Corbusier) or British (the Smithsons), but it's definitely -- and distinctly -- European, in their view. And they place the birth in the post-WWII 1950s time period.

They never overtly argue against an American origin, and not for cynical reasons -- like, they would have to give up their silly initial views -- but because "American culture" is simply a non-force in their model of historical dynamics. Because America has no culture of its own, it could not have influenced anyone else, let alone the Europeans, whose combined forces exceed everything else out there. So why even bother exploring that hypothesis?

As far as the time period of its birth, they might allow an earlier "influential" stage -- as long as it were European, e.g. Bauhaus practitioner Mies van der Rohe in the late 1920s (Barcelona Pavilion). They would never entertain the possibility of an American influence in that decade, let alone earlier -- earlier, in fact, than any other European contemporary in a Modern style.

But just cuz back-East ignoramuses wear these ideological blinders, doesn't mean we have to. We owe no allegiance to a sector of society whose raison d'etre is supposedly "figuring things out," yet who not only come up with the wrong answer, but sanctify it into unarguable dogma. Nor do we owe cultural deference to anyone from back East, the black hole of culture in America. They simply do not get American culture, and perhaps have never been exposed to it in their lives, outside of movie portrayals -- or a visit to Disney World, but that's the topic of another post on primitive futurism in American design, and Brutalism specifically.

* * *

While the exact criteria for Brutalism may vary somewhat, most people from any background agree on the central role played by the materials used -- and in particular, concrete, especially if it is exposed, i.e. not clad behind marble, ceramic tiles, brickwork, stucco, heavy coats of paint, or other materials that would disguise what the building is mainly made out of. It also cannot be assembled in such a way as to suggest it's not concrete -- e.g., if concrete is poured into individual blocks the size of traditional stone blocks, and those blocks are laid as in traditional masonry. That would be concrete imitating or disguising itself as masonry.

That is what this post will focus on, not other aspects of the style -- but those are distinctly American in origin as well, which contrast with European traditions, and which were pioneered in America long before they caught on among the avant-garde in Europe who were trying to rebel against their own centuries-old traditions (which we were not encumbered by in America, being a young nation undergoing ethnogenesis). For example, the blocky assemblage of masses, the rectilinear nature of lines, the relative sparseness of superficial ornamentation, the rough-hewn nature of shaping mass rather than delicate finesse -- these all go back to Chicago in the 1890s, not Berlin in the 1920s.

And so it is with the use of exposed concrete as not simply a utilitarian building material, which could be hidden by other ornamental materials, but as a surface-level one contributing to the aesthetic value on its own.

We'll start our exploration by exploding two related myths from the clueless back-Easterners -- from both the fanboys and the haters of the style. One, that Brutalism was an elitist style that only college graduates appreciated, or that was confined to their everyday territory. And two, more importantly, that it was pioneered by Europeans in the 1950s.

If you went to any park anywhere in America over Memorial Day weekend, you likely saw one of these, a drinking fountain made of concrete with its aggregate exposed, and whose metal parts are given a gleaming chrome finish, making it a textbook example of primitive futurism, something that looks like it's partly from the Stone Age and partly from the Industrial or Space Age:

It does not resemble European drinking fountains at all. They use metal (stone if fancy), and work it into fine-level shapes. The American style requires a more blocky, pure simple geometric volume, and the avoidance of European materials -- because we are not European, and had to create a new material for our new culture in our new empire.

Technically, the Romans created concrete 2000 years before we did -- and they did leave it exposed as an architectural / aesthetic element, and they even used it in a lattice of repeated simple geometric shapes (the coffered ceiling in the dome of the Pantheon, which the vaults of the Brutalist DC Metro stations perfectly resemble). But they did not expose the aggregate -- theirs looks like fairly smooth concrete, while ours has all those small pebbles adorning its surface.

Concrete is somewhat like masonry, where a large number of solid stones are held together by a connective network of binding material (cement for concrete, mortar for masonry). The main differences are the scale of the stones -- pebbles you can pinch between your fingertips, vs. stones hefty enough that you can only hold one in your hand.

And the assembly is totally different -- masonry lays down the stones (with or without mortar) in a planned, calculated, deliberate fashion. They don't have to be of uniform size and laid in a simple pattern (like rows of uniform height), but their placement is deliberate as each stone is set into the whole assembly. Whether you're looking at a brickwork facade of a house, or the impenetrable walls of Macchu Pichu, you can tell that the arrangement of individual stones into the whole was decided by human actors the whole way through.

The placement of individual stones within concrete is the opposite -- not even a single one was deliberately placed where it is, after deliberating about the others around it in the existing whole and where future ones would be placed after it. Rather, the stones are mixed up like balls in a hopper during the mixing process, and as the whole composite mass is poured (or sprayed or whatever else), the arrangement of stones does its own thing before settling into its hardened final state. Workers are not intervening to move this stone here, that stone over there, before the whole thing hardens. They wind up wherever they wind up.

And so, although the whole thing was made from human civilized technology, it has the look and feel and impression of a natural rock like sedimentary conglomerate. It doesn't look artificial because it is not artificial -- we introduced natural randomness during the mixing process, and did not intervene during the pouring and hardening process. It's somehow natural and the output of human technology at the same time -- maybe geological husbandry, like animal husbandry, not designing animals in a laboratory or factory.

At any rate, when the aggregate (the small gravel stones) in concrete is exposed, it looks like a Stone Age material, not an Industrial Age material -- not even a Metal Age material. It looks just as prehistoric in age, natural in formation, and organic in shape and texture, as traditional rocky materials like marble, granite, etc. But it's actually new, created by America -- not even the Romans exposed the aggregate like we do. We needed an ancient material to establish our primeval connection to this land, so we invented one that did just the job!

* * *

These days, you can't go to any public space in America without seeing at least one example of exposed aggregate concrete -- drinking fountain, trash can, cigarette ash receptacle, wall / column support, bench, sidewalk / pavers, curb, etc.

And you *won't* find those things in Europe or anywhere else in Ye Olde Worlde. Theirs are made out of metal or stone.

This material is not only distinctly American, it is ubiquitous in America. We take it for granted that any random strip center in any ol' American suburb will have a trash can made from this material, and that the drinking fountains in the same suburb will be made from it as well. No material is more all-American than exposed aggregate concrete.

This also shows how populist and popular the material is -- it is not restricted to elite university environments, appreciated only by eggheads, or expensive to use. It's very affordable, suitable for mass use.

In fact, as I mentioned earlier, the desecration of the American architectural traditions and standards, especially the anti-Brutalist iconoclasm, has been a crusade led by the professional class for the professional class, in blue states and blue cities, by government bureaucrats and academics and pharma research labs, and by women rather than men. It's every conceivable demographic that lives in order to carry out the will of the neoliberal Democrat party.

The only wrinkle is the meta-ethnic frontier one -- West Coast Democrats are far more conservationist of American culture than East Coast Democrats (Boston / Massachusetts being ground zero for Brutalist demolition). They're closer to the historical, defining frontier against the Indians, while the back-Easterners were never shaped into Americans by that frontier, so why would they want to preserve its cultural output? They're pseudo-European, and they want their culture to be that way, and stay that way.

* * *

However, we can't say that these ubiquitous concrete drinking fountains owe their existence to Brutalism -- that was just one stage within American architectural ethnogenesis. It goes farther back -- back to Frank Lloyd Wright himself! It's amazing, I don't plan to discover his foundational influence in everything I look into (like the swivel chair and cantilever chairs generally), but he really was America's first-mover genius. American architecture & design is just footnotes to Frank Lloyd Wright -- and that includes all areas absorbed into our empire over the 20th C., like Europe and Japan.

The work in question is the Horse Show Fountain from -- where else? -- Chicago, dating back to -- when else? -- 1909. Not Berlin, not London -- and not New York, for that matter. Not 1919 or 1929 or 1939 or 1949. Both the original and the current replica (made in 1969) are made from reinforced concrete, which is not clad behind any other material. It's a drinking fountain, for people and originally horses too.

Although the Wiki article claims that only the current replica has the grainy exposed aggregate surface (ubiquitous by the '60s), a gallery of images of the original, both photographic and illustrated, make it look about as aggregate-y as the later replica. Maybe in some areas more than others, like around the edge of the basin, where there are square indentations, but still, it doesn't look radically different and perfectly smooth.

And in fact, Wright used the exposed aggregate finish in the same year of 1909 in the same city of Chicago, for the Unity Temple. So, hardly a stretch of the imagination to believe the original fountain had some exposed aggregate as well.

Before getting to the Unity Temple, though, we have to consider earlier structures built elsewhere in America and Europe that claim to be the "first concrete / reinforced concrete buildings".

In 1853 in Denis, France, Francois Coignet built a reinforced concrete house -- but it was not exposed as an architectural element. Looks like it was covered by plaster (now peeling off in sheets), which was then painted. Because it did not take the material in a bold new direction, it spawned no imitators or movement within France. If you wanted painted plaster on the facade, you didn't have to use concrete underneath it -- any material from the French tradition would do.

Then in 1873, using a process designed by Coignet, the Coignet Stone Company Building in Brooklyn, New York used concrete blocks without any cladding. However, by casting them into blocks meant to resemble the cut stones of traditional masonry, and then either laid into place in arrangements also from traditional masonry -- or poured into molds meant to mimic that arrangement -- the concrete doesn't really show itself. If you didn't know beforehand, the viewer would probably think it was any ol' stone building. This is apart from the overall style being a Euro-LARP-ing style rather than a new American style. The raw material itself, and its assembly into the whole -- whatever style it is -- does not look new or different from European stonework.

The William E. Ward House of the same time period and metro area, has the same problems with it being the "first" in an ethnogenetic sense. It is made of reinforced concrete, which is not clad behind another material, but the material has either been cut and laid into place, or poured into a mold meant to resemble, the processes of traditional masonry. On the lower two stories, the corners where walls meet have simulated quoins, the most glaring example of trying to disguise its concrete nature as traditional masonry. Again, this is apart from the matter of the overall style being a Euro LARP.

The Highland Cottage from the same time and place has the same problems, and then some. Aside from simulating traditional masonry, the concrete is faced in stucco. Unlike the Ward House, this one is not reinforced concrete. The Coignet Stone Company Building has a reinforced basement, but not above that level. Wright's fountain and Unity Temple are reinforced. However, I don't think reinforcement is central to the development of a new American style and material vocabulary. It's not visible, and is only relevant on the utilitarian level -- allowing greater-scale structures to be built.

Aside from being in the wrong place for American ethnogenesis (back East), these three New York buildings are also from the wrong time -- still mired in the integrative civil war phase of imperial growth, which included the Reconstruction era. It wasn't until the 1890s that the winner of the civil war -- the industrial Midwest -- could hit the ground running with its creation and dissemination of a new national culture, after internal divisions had been sewn up. This would spread westward along with the meta-ethnic frontier, although places back East ended up adopting it to some extent as well. But it wouldn't last as long back East since they have always been reluctant participants in American culture.

In the right place at the right time -- Chicago in the first decade of the 1900s -- Wright built the Unity Temple. It was not only a new overall architectural style -- American Block Symphony, not Gothic, Baroque, etc. -- it used a new material, concrete with the aggregate exposed. The volumes do not resemble traditional blocks from masonry, are not laid into place in masonic ways, and do not simulate or mimic them via the molds into which the concrete is poured. Just monolithic slabs of concrete, of varying size, with more or less ornamentation built into the mold's shape. Not hidden behind anything else.

In addition to not hiding the concrete, and not mimicking masonry, the exposure of the aggregate within the concrete is a milestone in the history of American architecture. Now the material looked more like granite or marble or some other Stone Age material with patterns and textures within it -- not requiring their addition through mosaic techniques. It no longer looked so smooth and uniform and monolithic.

The techniques used to expose the aggregate are not relevant to its final state, but in this case the workers used wire brushes to gently grind away the outermost layers of the cement binder, like using a fork to flake away the outermost layer of a fruitcake to expose the individual globs of fruit suspended in the flour-y binder.

Like the Horse Show Fountain, the original Unity Temple showed signs of wear by circa 1970, and it was restored (not replicated) with an exposed aggregate finish (and then another major restoration in the 2010s, still using the exposed aggregate finish). But the original back in the 1900s had an exposed aggregate finish as well, as shown by contemporaneous pictures and Wright's own words (likening the appearance to granite). This makes me believe the original Horse Show Fountain also had a similar degree of exposed aggregate finish as its later replica.

* * *

By the time of a 1986 article from Concrete Construction Magazine, "Unity Temple: the Cube That Made Concrete History," the neoliberal backlash against the Progressive and New Deal eras had begun, as well as its cultural expression in the perversion, slandering, or outright demolition of America's distinctive culture. The central target for neoliberals was Brutalism -- too American instead of whatever Olde Worlde LARP / pastiche they preferred, too populist instead of elitist (affordable concrete vs. expensive masonry), too ubiquitous instead of confined to the bi-coastal top zip codes.

In that context, the authors cannot use the term Brutalism or refer directly to the 1960s and '70s as the extension of the history begun by the Unity Temple. The reader is left to fill in the blanks, but that's what they're getting at -- American Block Symphony styles, using exposed aggregate concrete, trace back to Frank Lloyd Wright, in Chicago, at the turn of the century.

They also do not overtly state what this means for other boneheaded theories -- like the myth that Brutalism as a camp, or the use of unhidden concrete, or blocky assemblages of volumes, grew out of Europe somewhere between the '20s and the '50s. Nope -- it's as American as apple pie, from the Midwest (and later, further out West), from the turn of the 20th century, from the American architectural Plato himself, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Europeans were simply a non-entity in endogenous cultural creation after their 18th and 19th-century plateau. They descended into chaos in the early 20th C, along with their empires collapsing in WWI, limping through the interwar period before the remaining fragments were then scooped up by the American Empire -- both politically and culturally. If they wanted to join the American camp, they were more than welcome, and by the Midcentury Modern moment, they were all aboard Team America.

Blaming Bauhaus for anything outside of Europe in the interwar period is just a cope -- and if you're American, a cope to hide your thinly veiled anti-American attitude toward our culture. "Wah, I identify as an 18th-C. Euro aristocrat / ancient Roman villa-owner" -- too bad you're just some American suburban-raised schlub from the 20th and 21st centuries. You're no more of a Baroque aristocrat than a man is a woman. Remember, if you're outside of Europe:

>ywn be European

And here in America, we have nothing to apologize for or feel embarrassed about. I do feel sorry for some parts of Europe, in Britain and Germany mainly, where "Brutalism" was de facto Bauhaus eking out another few decades of comatose existence, while wearing a concrete disguise in order to blend in with the new American style that was anything but Bauhaus-y.

But charmingly Stone Age meets futuristic chrome drinking fountains adorning and providing a public good at parks all over America? Sublimely primitivist yet futuristic buildings that connect us with the primeval grounded past, while somehow simultaneously enticing us through a portal to the optimistic utopian future? No, that is to our *credit* as Americans, with our own cool badass culture. There is no "blame" to go around in the first place.

If you hate on Brutalism, you hate on the entire American tradition, from Frank Lloyd Wright to public parks to our ultimate architectural activity-place -- the malls. Oh yeah, I'm just getting started on this crusade to vindicate Brutalism. All you faggy mall-haters better pack up and leave now. But just as a preview: both malls and Brutalism proper were derided and demolished during the same time period, by the same camp of people, with the same complaints, whereas the appreciation / celebration / nostalgia came from a similar group of people (opposed to the first camp).

* * *

To conclude this exploration into the origins of exposed concrete as America's defining building material, let's take a whirlwind tour through some major milestones along the way, between the Unity Temple and Brutalism in the '60s and '70s. To not stray too far from the main topic, and because he really was the one who organized everything into its major channels, we'll stick with good ol' Frank Lloyd Wright.

In the 1920s, he put in a stint in Los Angeles, where he built several houses using concrete blocks that were cast on site, but not in a recognizable Euro / Roman / Olde Worlde form. Rather, their rectilinear geometric impressions were inspired by Mayan temples and other New World civilizations.

The blocks were then arranged into place like usual masonry, in horizontal courses or stacked into columns, all contributing to the synthesis of Mayan step-pyramids and his own American Block Symphony styles. But they were clearly made from concrete, not stone that had been cut and carved, and not bricks. The designs are intricate and are used in a large number of blocks -- clearly telling us that they were all cast from a single, intricately shaped mold, not intricately carved each time. The latter would've taken so much labor, it could only be built by a legion of slaves for a monument for an imperial ruler -- not a house for a typical affluent American household.

You can watch a documentary on this episode of his career for free on YouTube. These buildings are the Storer House, the Millard House, the Samuel Freeman House, and most famously the Ennis House.

These blocks were later reincarnated, still in California but spreading elsewhere, in the decorative breeze blocks of Midcentury architecture. See here for an overview of the breeze block phenomenon -- one of the most identifiably American decorative elements, something unseen in Europe, but are everywhere out West (and somewhat back East), down to the most lowly apartment buildings, not restricted to elite circles. As you can see from the close-ups here, already in the '20s Wright used versions of his blocks that were perforated to allow light and wind to pass through, in addition to the totally solid versions.

In the 1930s, his Fallingwater house used massive horizontal cantilevered slabs of concrete, which although it has a slight sandy pigment to it, is still recognizable as concrete -- not clad in stucco, not employing or mimicking masonry, etc. The entire building is not made from concrete, but these slabs are its defining features.

Finally, and most important to establish the link to Brutalism, is the Guggenheim Museum, which was planned & revised during the late '40s and early '50s, and was built between '56 and '59. It is made from concrete that was poured -- or rather, sprayed from a gun -- in place, not cast into individual blocks used for masonry. It is not clad in any other material, nor was it hidden under heavy paint (although it did receive a light beige coat at first, which was later changed to white).

In fact, the paint is thin enough that you can still see with the naked eye the woodgrain impressions left by the boards that acted as the boundary or container ("formwork"), onto which the concrete was sprayed from the inside. See this post for the details. At first Wright wanted a smoother surface, but the head of construction argued that it was not only impossible, but that the impressions showed off the material better -- it's not stone, it's not going to look like stone.

Leaving the impressions of the formwork became a staple of Brutalism, and as far as I can tell, it all started (as always) with Frank Lloyd Wright, well into his senior career. Indeed, when first built the Unity Temple showed a kind of horizontal banding left by the various stages ("lifts") in which the concrete was poured from lower to upper heights (for the photo, see p.3 of the Concrete Construction Magazine article linked earlier).

Small-scale impressions of woodgrain, up to seams between successive lifts in the pouring process, are just like the natural imperfections in animal skins or quarried stone, and courses of masonry that are not perfectly level all the way across. It gives the concrete a primitive Stone Age feel, not a lab-perfected ultra-modern material with no variation of any kind or any seams.

So, Brutalism's "openness" about its construction process traces back to Wright, in the first decade of the 1900s -- not to Mies van der Rohe, who used no concrete at all in the Barcelona Pavilion several decades later, nor to any other Bauhaus-adjacent boogeyman / hero (depending on whether the clueless academic is a hater or lover of Bauhaus).

And not only did Wright pioneer the openness of the concrete construction process in the Guggenheim Museum, he also made the building a large-scale sculpture out of a few pure geometric volumes, and they're arranged into an asymmetric grouping to make for some movement of attention and off-kilter dynamism -- without warping the fabric of space, using distorted points-of-view, or fragmentation of the components, as would happen during the neoliberal era, most notably by Frank Gehry in another Guggenheim Museum (the one in Bilbao).

These defining traits of Brutalism were all there in the late '50s in America, but not in the '50s apartment blocks by Corbusier or the Smithsons, which are utilitarian Bauhaus boxes that use concrete instead of some other material. BFD -- it's still Bauhaus, not the style pioneered in America and later called Brutalism.

* * *

To reflect on where we started with exposed aggregate concrete, that not only became a staple in those ubiquitous drinking fountains, trash cans, benches, columns for shopping center covered walkways, etc. Exposed aggregate running in vertical corduroy bands was a staple in Paul Rudolph's buildings, e.g. the Yale Art & Architecture Building from the early '60s and the Boston Government Service Center from the early '70s. Much of the facade of the Xerox Tower (by Brutalist superstar Welton Becket from the late '60s) is exposed aggregate.

There is no such thing as the "good Brutalism" that was for a popular audience, and had the charming familiar exposed aggregate, vs. the "bad Brutalism" that was for elites and had clinically smooth texture and perfectionistically uniform color. The latter-day American Stone Age material, with aggregate exposed, adorns so many of the structures that the clueless haters never bother to look at, and just assume that because it's concrete, it looks like dried cement.

Nope, it has lots of texture, pattern, and color from all the various stones revealing their faces. They may not come in neon or jewel tones, but there's plenty of earthy yellows, reds, oranges, browns, blacks / grays, sometimes shading into blue tones. And that's the type of "color" that the haters have in mind anyway -- a brick facade, marble, etc. If it counts as colorful for standard red brick and marble, it counts for exposed aggregate concrete.

Why don't they know what these buildings look like? Because they've never experienced them. If they've been up close to one IRL, their senses are too weak to perceive what is right in front of their faces. But mainly they are into hating on Brutalism as one part of their Olde Worlde LARP, and because Brutalism is distinctly American, that's a ripe target. It doesn't matter if its facades are as colorful as brick and marble facades -- just tell a lie that it's uniform gray, and don't bother to look closely at pictures to tell for yourself, and trust that everyone else in the LARP will do likewise.

The "why no color?" complaint is really rich, given that another complaint from the clueless haters is that Brutalism ignored the desires and wills of those who actually utilized the buildings, and only pleased the distant cultural elite who viewed them through photographs in slick magazines.

Actually, it's the haters who only look at these buildings in far-away-shot photos over the internet! Any close-up photo would show the texture, color, variety of stones, etc. But they image searched the building, got a zillion copies of the same shitty stock photo shot from a million miles away, and that's all they need -- close-up shots might contradict their preconceived hate, so please, anything but close-ups! And definitely no IRL visits to see it unmediated -- it would contradict your beliefs, and put you so physically close to a contaminating heretical substance -- Americanism! Why, all that American stuff might just melt away years of effort to cultivate your Olde Worlde LARP -- can't risk the exposure!

But as I said before, most Americans don't hate Brutalism, concrete, or its exposed aggregate form. We take it for granted, as the physical stuff itself as well as its creation of a primitive-futurist environment that we as Americans find irresistible. That mood makes us comfy and familiar, because it's so deeply ingrained into our culture by this point.

It's only managerial-professional-class Euro LARP-ers who get incensed over these defining traits of our culture, for obvious reasons of status insecurity when they belong to a non-European culture. Sadly for our heritage, though, they do wield disproportionate decision-making influence, so they can and already have begun a campaign of anti-American desecration and demolition, particularly on the East Coast.

That is as good as any predictor for the boundaries of the future states of the post-collapse American Empire. Where they're demolishing the distinctive architecture of our nation / empire, they're clearly seceding. Where they're neither fighting to demolish it, nor pro-actively guarding it, is a border region. Where they're conserving it long in advance, will be part of the core of the new American state, post-empire.

Concretely, as it were, that means the whole back East region will secede, with central-southern Florida being a wild card that could become a somewhat reduced nation of Florida unto itself, or a non-contiguous piece of America, while the north of Florida joins the secession. The Midwest will mostly stay, although Ohio could be a wild card that would join the secession. Not surprisingly, Florida and Ohio are both the two constant swing states in presidential elections.

Obviously California will stay and become the new political core (it's already been the main cultural core for most of our ethnogenetic growth period, after Reconstruction). But other parts of the Southwest will stay, too, for the same reasons -- Vegas (AKA Nevada), Arizona, all of Mormonland, Texas, all of it.

In fact, Mormonland provides the most intense counter-signal to the back-East demolishers of American Block Symphony buildings. Mormons have standardized Block Symphony as the style for their temples, the most important building type for them (not the weekly meeting houses, but the ones where weddings, initiations, and so on, take place).

Mormon elites did eliminate the Midcentury / Space Age (not Brutalist) design of the Ogden and Provo temples (in 2014 and early 2020s), but they replaced them with Block Symphony designs from the American Modern period and geographic origin. Not glass-and-steel fishbowl flexspace abominations like the East Coasters have done post-demolition, nor an Olde Worlde LARP that the trad haters of Brutalism would want (but would never actually get, and would settle for getting cucked by a glass-and-steel Silicon Valley kindergarten instead, because they hate the New Deal politics and culture even more).

The last group in the world to make the contradictory concept of "Greco-Roman" architecture their standard would be the Mormons, whereas it would be the go-to for many East Coasters. That tells you all you need to know about who is gonna make it into the post-imperial-collapse nation of America, and who will be inhabiting small breakaway states riven by mutual mistrust, bitterness, and sinking deeper into the cultural black hole that they've always been.

May 22, 2023

Imperial competition fuels ornamental complexity arms race, unipolarity keeps things simple

The more I look at the history of American architecture, the more striking the parallels to Romanesque become -- beyond the obvious level, where we had a full-blown Romanesque revival here. Our own distinctive American style resembles Romanesque in many ways, whereas both are unlike the lineage of Gothic / Baroque / Rococo in the Late Medieval / Early Modern Euro empires.

Most notably in the stark transitional areas between major volumes, e.g. where columns or wall supports join with the roof, or the walls of two volumes meet up. Romanesque and American architecture leaves these joints fairly free of intermediate-sized volumes to soften or break up the transition, whereas Gothic etc. employ lots of volumes at various intermediate sizes to cover up the seam. That gives lots of ornamentation to Gothic etc., while Romanesque and American buildings are relatively less adorned.

That will be the focus of case studies around the world and over time, soon. For now, I just want to lay out the broad theoretical idea, with a quick review of several different cultural domains.

Our musical styles aren't as intricate in polyphony and counterpoint as the Gothic / Renaissance / Baroque / Classical lineage in Europe, which again makes us resemble the Frankish Empire and early French Empire (back when they were still carrying over the Frankish traditions, before their integrative civil war concluded circa 1200 and set them off on a whole new ethnogenetic journey with Gothic). Compared to 18th-C. German and Austrian imperial music, we've returned to monophonic Gregorian chant of the Frankish / early French era (again, beyond the obvious level where there was a full-blown popular revival of Gregorian chant during the '90s, in the American imperial sphere of influence).

And our literature is far less intricate, developed, and adorned compared to anything from the Gothic era of the 13th C onward in the Euro empires. Whether it's our poetry, novels, screenplays, stage plays -- it's far more naturalistic, less stylized, and therefore without as much ornamentation as our Late Medieval / Early Modern predecessors. But very much like our Scandinavian and Russian peers of the late 19th and especially 20th centuries, as reviewed here. And see here for the same comparison in architecture.

Russia is an even better example of the theory, since they used to have a much more ornamented literary output -- and more ornamented architectural style -- back when they were just one of many empires competing against each other. They only changed to the simplified styles in literature and architecture during the 20th C., when they suddenly had no imperial competitors after those competitors collapsed in WWI (except for America -- on the other side of the world, and so, not a real threat).

In this way we have yet again returned to the Frankish era, where despite recent attempts to rebrand their culture as a "Carolingian Renaissance," no one claims that their writers produced a Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, etc. The closest that the Romanesque world got to such a work was the Song of Roland (about an episode from Frankish history), written in the 11th C, while the nascent French Empire was still thinking of itself as Frankish in nature. Most of those Late Medieval chansons and romances, however, were written as the French Empire's integrative civil war was wrapping up, in the late 12th C (e.g. Chretien de Troyes), and afterward -- along with the radical shift to Gothic architecture.

In the unrelated domains of architecture, music, and literature, American imperial culture resembles that of the Frankish Empire, while both are alien to the imperial cultures of Europe from the 13th to 19th centuries.

What other large-scale set of forces were similar for the Franks and the Americans, but the opposite for the French, British, Spanish, Germans, Austrians, Lithuanians, Ottomans, and Russians (for awhile)? Well, that's just it -- the jam-packed arena of rival empires in the latter group. The Franks were pretty much the only empire of their era. There was a foreign empire confined to Iberia (the Moors), and the Byzantines in the southeast of Europe, but the Franks were based in the northwest (which was still a huge amount of territory, including modern France, Germany, and northern Italy).

Likewise, from our early days, Americans have been mostly the sole imperial power, at least locally, and then globally. The French were not much of a bother in North America, we defeated our British overlords, and the Spanish were confined to Central and South America (and the Spanish colonies collapsed in the early 1800s anyway). Then after WWI, we had no European rivals either, whether geopolitically or culturally. Europe was over... aside from Russia, but that's too far removed to really count in the American mind (again, geopolitically or culturally).

China's most recent empire had collapsed at that time, too, India and Iran's empires had collapsed fairly recently, no empire emerged from the Ottoman territories -- except for the Saudi Empire, which began in the late 1700s, defeated the Ottomans in the Middle East, and kept going strong through most of the 20th C. But they're too far away from America to pose a serious threat to us, geopolitically or culturally.

All around the world, there was only America, Russia, and the much smaller-scale Saudi empires. What a relief!

Just cuz there wasn't literally one (1) empire in the entire world, doesn't mean it was a multipolar environment -- it was very far toward that end of the spectrum. Also close to the unipolar end was the Byzantine heyday, as well as the early Arabian / Muslim conquests (e.g. the Umayyad Caliphate). Also, the Maurya, Delhi Sultanate, and Mughal empires of India.

At the other end was Europe between 1300 and 1900, where multiple empires emerged and jockeyed for position, fighting countless wars with each other for supremacy, but never attaining it. Also at that multipolar end of the spectrum was much of North Africa and the Middle East, circa 1000 to 1300 AD (until the arrival of a unipolar Pax Mongolica). Also, the Gupta and Pala empires of India.

Needless to say, the very first empires like the Egyptians and Akkadians were on the unipolar side -- not enough time for multiple rival empires to emerge and arrive at their borders.

(I'll try to focus on East Asia some other time, since I haven't studied their architectural history very much.)

I'll do the architectural case studies later, but suffice it to say for now, the theory is that unipolar environments favor simple ornamentation, while multipolar ones favor elaborate ornamentation.

Why? Well, when you have multiple imperial rivals, you're not only competing over the military control of territory, or the economic trade networks, but also cultural influence. You think you can do intricate tracery? Ha! We'll make ours *even more* intricate! You can't compete over simplicity, because it has a hard boundary -- you can't get more minimal than minimal, but you can get orders of magnitude more maximalist.

This imperial cultural rivalry sparks an ornamental arms race among the competitors, as each struggles to keep up and out-do the others. In this way it is similar to runaway / Fisherian selection from evolutionary biology (e.g. the peacock's tail, from a polygynous species with intense competition among males for female mates, vs. the more drab robins who are at least monogamous within the breeding season).

Empires in a unipolar environment don't feel such a strong pressure to keep up with others, or out-do others, so why over-do it? Keep it simple. Make it impressive, monumental, awing, etc. -- sure, but without getting sucked into a ratchet of escalating complexity. This peacefulness of cultural forms reflects the peacefulness of geopolitics when there's only one empire in the neighborhood. That doesn't mean it's free from conflict -- it expands by conquering others, but these others are not also empires in their own right always trading territory back and forth.

Egyptian pyramids and obelisks, Akkadian ziggurats, Frankish / Romanesque and Byzantine churches, Umayyad mosques, Mauryan stupas, American Block Symphony -- all very simple groupings of volumes with minimal volumes of intermediate size to fill in the transition zones, leaving clearly visible seams. Relatively unadorned.

Gothic cathedrals, muqarnas-marked mosques, Gupta temples -- far more encrusted with ornamentation at the highest scale (filling transition zones between volumes).

But we'll see the details in another post. The important point for now is the dynamics underlying the emergence of these ornamental arms races, and why they only appear in certain times and places. It's worth emphasizing that there is no unilinear trend over history toward either greater or less complexity, nor is there a regular rhythmic cycle between the two ends of the spectrum. Periods of complexity do alternate with periods of simplicity, but it's not a regular repeating loop like a pendulum swinging, or weather seasons repeating.

And so, people who complain about the relative lack of ornamentation in 20th-century and later architecture, compared to Gothic through Rococo architecture, are correct on one level -- namely, noticing and describing the facts.

But they're wrong about there being a timeless Paradise that came before this current Fall -- go back to only 1100 AD in Europe, and you're right back to where you started in 20th-century America. Go back even further, in fact -- it was still Frankish and Byzantine. Even Roman architecture is not that heavily ornamented, owing to its unipolar environment (only serious imperial rival was Parthian Iran, leaving a zone of contest in the Levant and Armenia, but still very far removed from the age of Early Modern Euro empires).

And the ornament-likers are also wrong about our ability to intervene and alter the course of history. They complain that the less-adorned buildings come from crazed utopians who deliberately engineer the lack of ornament -- but they don't do that at all. Lack of ornament in 20th-C America, and its sphere of influence, comes from our unipolar environment. We can't will our entire creative class into producing heavy ornamentation in their output. They're subject to societal and geopolitical forces beyond anyone's control.

Rather, it is the would-be builders of latter-day Gothic cathedrals and Miltonian epic verse who are the delusional utopians trying to force a square peg through a round hole. Our environment doesn't support those forms any more than the Frankish and Romanesque environments did.

You can seethe forever about the relatively simpler styles we have, or you can learn to embrace our neo-Romanesque culture, if you require a trad LARP angle to your lifestyle choices.

May 20, 2023

Ethnogenesis shocks and disturbs with new cultural forms, until it reaches maturity, and becomes the accepted standard forever after

Before moving on to the review of Brutalism's place in the history of definitive American architecture, I'm going to take a detour through European history in order to address a major issue about new styles being shocking, abandoning their roots, etc.

By the time America is flourishing, the European architectural expression of ethnogenesis had already run its course, reaching its last stage with Art Nouveau (whatever it was called in various countries) in the early 20th C. This was an attempt to reinvigorate their culture with a bold new modern approach, but it still fell back into styles pioneered in the Early Modern period, when these nations were truly beginning to construct new collective identities. The lightness of mass, thin wispy lines, curvilinear, employing natural motifs (vegetable, human, and animal), elaborately ornamented, playful and romantic -- none of that would have been out of place in Rococo.

That's not to denigrate the style on an aesthetic level, just to establish that it was not revolutionary, as it was back in the late Medieval and Early Modern period, as European empires began defining themselves as post-Frankish politically, and therefore post-Romanesque architecturally. No more huge hulking slabs of mass, no more clean exteriors with simple lines, no more imposing windowless fortress facades, no more dark intimate cave-like interiors, no more haphazard grouping of differently shaped volumes, no more sober and quietly reflective mood, where the energy was potential rather than kinetic, no more restraint on the libido.

The first of these developments -- Gothic -- came from the ascendant French Empire in the late 12th C., just as it was concluding its integrative civil war -- the conquest of western and southern France by the northeast, pitting the House of Capet in Paris (especially under Philip Augustus) against the House of Anjou / Plantagenet in the west. Although the French Empire was founded circa 1000 by Hugh Capet, in its early stages it was still culturally very Frankish, and held onto the Romanesque style of architecture of that earlier empire.

That was just like the Romans still borrowing heavily from Greek architecture until the end of the 1st century BC, after their integrative civil war, when they revolutionized their new style through the use of concrete, arches, vaults, and domes, amphitheaters, triumphal arches, and so on and so forth.

Or in the same way that architecture in America before the late 1800s (wrapping up our Civil War & Reconstruction period) was still mostly a local copy of styles from the British and French empires (including the vogue in those Euro empires for Neoclassical and Roman styles).

Or in the same way that early Ottoman architecture (1300s and early 1400s) still resembles Seljuk styles, where they had come from before invading Anatolia. Their integrative civil war lasted for the first half of the 15th C., and pitted the Ottomans proper, centered in the northwest of Anatolia, against the elites of other Turkic principalities (beyliks) in the south and east. Only after that civil war was concluded did they revolutionize an entirely new style for themselves. They began borrowing (not copying) from Byzantine styles, rather than recreate Seljuk styles, just as Americans began borrowing (not copying) New World influences, rather than recreate the styles of our Euro imperial ancestors or peers, after our Civil War & Reconstruction were over.

This serves as a reminder that intense bouts of ethnogenesis, accompanying the rise of new empires, always lead to radically new cultures, and the shedding of past identities. They have been forged into a new people, by having to combat their meta-ethnic nemesis, lying on the other side of a meta-ethnic frontier. This banding together for self-defense, and then expansion in their own right, makes them feel like they're no longer who they used to be. Then it's only a matter of which We will define the new identity, and that is determined in the integrative civil war -- the side closest to the original meta-ethnic frontier, not those safely removed from it.

These radically new styles always strike a certain share of the population as disturbing, shocking, too much too fast, betrayal of their roots and traditions, and so on and so forth. From the kaleidoscope of light stimulation created by stained-glass windows, to the orgiastic chorus of polyphony in church chanting, to the thin wispy flying buttresses set off by harsh diagonals, the new French identity expressed by the Gothic zeitgeist was anything but a familiar comforting evolution of traditional styles.

But once the process had been going for long enough, it became second nature, taken for granted that the people of France were no longer Frankish, that Gothic -- not Romanesque -- was their defining style, and that they wouldn't have it any other way. So some trads were shocked early on -- big deal. As the French empire starts to cohere, its people wouldn't even regard those earlier trads as truly French anyway, but as people LARP-ing as Franks (or Romans, or Gauls, or whoever else), even as the earlier polity and culture was being thoroughly replaced by that of Capetian France.

This is not a futuristic, progressivist, airy-fairy speculative concept, to embrace a new identity just cuz it's wild and new. It is to acknowledge the cold hard material reality that We are no longer Franks, who were defined by their meta-ethnic nemesis of the Roman Empire, whereas We French have been defined by our meta-ethnic nemesis of the Vikings (and later the English). We are fundamentally defined by our relations with others, and the French of circa 1000 had no historical or current contact with the Roman Empire, but they did with the Vikings.

Likewise, Americans had no historical or current antagonism with the French, as the British did way back when their ethnogenesis began. We were shaped by relations with the Indians (and later the Mexicans). That intense and enduring exposure to a new meta-ethnic Other changed who We were, and the natural outcome is a new culture to express this new reality.

If it's shocking at first, it's shocking at first. Over time future generations will come to accept it as the standard, taken for granted. And contra the feverish delusions of libtards and conservatards, this process is not a never-ending ratchet that repeatedly replaces the old with the new and becomes accepted as a new standard.

Rather, the initial revolution becomes fossilized and canonized, hardening into place, unable to be altered afterward, similar to the brain development of an individual as they grow up. A person imprints on what is going on during a sensitive developmental window, and then that's it for the rest of their days. The sensitive window for an entire culture is the aftermath of its integrative civil war.

The inhabitants of Italy during the Renaissance still recognized the culture of their 1st and 2nd-century ancestors as the Roman standard, not whatever was created during and after the Crisis of the Third Century. Likewise we still recognize Block Symphony as our architectural standard, not the glass & steel fishbowl flexspace that the iconoclasts have tried to replace it with for 40 years now -- nor any other attempt at Euro LARP-ing (since the Silicon Valley style is just a variation on Bauhaus).

At any rate, the growing pains phase of our cultural development is over -- we went through metamorphosis during the early 20th C. We are now a mature culture that cannot be artificially sent back through puberty in order to imprint on a different environment while still plastic, and develop into something else in a would-be second adulthood. There is only one adulthood, and we've already gotten there.

Americans are who we changed into during our 20th-century heyday, whether you like it or not. At this point, further development is marginal or non-existent, so rather than innovation, we move into a period of conservation and canonization, which has been under way for several decades now.

May 19, 2023

Prelude to an Americanist defense of Brutalist architecture

In the comments section to another post (beginning here and lasting several comments), I detailed how pointless and ridiculous the Trump executive order on federal architecture was.

Democrat partisans I'm sure took issue with it, but not from a nationalist or Americanist stance. They wouldn't even be able to point out the incoherence of the term "Greco-Roman" for architecture, since they deny the relation between the political and the cultural -- namely, that cohesive nations and outright empires produce the great, lasting, high culture around the world, from the beginning of civilization.

Rather, they see artists as existing in their own domain of society, perhaps having to humbly beg for funding from politically connected agents, but otherwise doing their own thing. The only time they allow art to express politics is when whining about Euro empires depicting The Other, defining themselves in relation to an Other, etc. -- and only then when the Other is not also a European! They don't care about the British and French defining themselves against each other, launching centuries of warfare against each other, colonizing and then getting decolonized from the Other's lands, and so on and so forth.

But Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire were not the same polity, did not share a language, did not worship the same gods -- crucially, the Greeks of several centuries earlier did not worship the head of the Roman government. More to the point, they were not defined by the same meta-ethnic nemesis -- Ancient Greece never did get to that stage, although the Achaemenid Empire pressing against them from the east came close. And even so, Rome was not forced into cohesive status to withstand the Persians -- but the Gauls from the northwest, as well as Carthagenians from the southwest.

Once Roman ethnogenesis hit its stride -- in the wake of its integrative civil war of the 1st century BC -- its architecture no longer resembled Ancient Greek at all. The Greeks did not use arches, vaults, or domes -- precisely the defining elements of the Roman style. Greek columns climbed strictly vertically toward the flat base of the roof of a temple, which may have been pitched toward the center, but had no curvilinear elements (other than the cross-section of the columns).

This process of radically distinguishing themselves from their earlier cultural (if not political) overlords from the East went so far as devising an entirely new building material, for their entirely new style, for their status as an entirely new ethnos. This new stuff -- concrete -- supported the Roman Architectural Revolution, including all those monumental civic projects like aqueducts, as well as religious + civic structures like the Pantheon, which still boasts the largest unreinforced concrete dome on Earth, 2000 years later.

A striking pair of images on the Wiki entry for coffer shows the dome of the Pantheon, along with the ceiling of the underground DC Metro stations. Both are exposed concrete -- not clad in some other material -- and both are not even trying to imitate some other material while actually using concrete -- it's clearly concrete poured into a mold, not bricks, not stone that's been quarried and cut and laid into rows, etc. And both make use of a repeated simple geometric motif -- square-like cells expanded into a rectangular matrix (albeit bent into an arch or dome).

No one (at least today) derides the dome of the Pantheon as a drab, soulless, alienating insect hive -- but they very well could have, if they were Greco LARP-ers from ancient Italy, especially from the part that never wanted to be Roman, in the south, proud of their Greek cultural influence. But those possible complaints would have fallen on deaf ears.

Some day -- perhaps already -- people will come to the same conclusion about the Brutalist ceiling of the DC Metro. Lord knows I occasionally found it insectoid when I lived in the area, and the opposite of a breath of fresh air after heading home from work. But the other times, I found it futurist, space-age, and just plain old cool.

And by now, I can appreciate its uniquely American status -- more so than the New York Subway, which relies mostly on European-style tilework, along with the ugly side of the industrial aesthetic -- those metal I-beams-as-columns along the platform. If they were gleaming chrome, that'd be beautiful industrial, but they're just I-beams with a coat of paint. Plus, the Subway doesn't have the dark intimate mood lighting as the Metro, let alone the row of lights along the platform edge that start blinking when the train is approaching. It's from the future! (No, it's just from America.)

The Metro used to be completely a product of the warm '70s color palette of its birth -- cream, orange, brown, with some chrome trim. But now both are headed toward neoliberal hell with only the futuristic side, not the primitive side, and with cold rather than warm colors, and harsh bright lighting instead of warm lighting. The reason you actually went to a Metro station -- riding a train -- was a pretty warm and cozy aesthetic experience, whether or not you liked the stations themselves.

And at any rate, the stations' floors are paved with red-brown ceramic tiles, in a hexagonal honeycomb arrangement -- without looking like an insect hive. That provides some warmth to the color palette as well as variety in the materials present.

But now I'm getting a bit too carried away -- a future post will document the warm, cozy interiors of Brutalist spaces. Next in the pipeline, though, is a review of the American style's use of exposed concrete, from our founding father Frank Lloyd Wright and afterward.

The point for now is that Brutalism has the most undeserved bum rap of all architectural styles. The cultural conservatives who wrote that Trump executive order were not only late in putting it out during the transition to the Biden admin, rather than at the outset of Trump's term, but 40 years after the style had already been not only abandoned but derided as something to contradict going forward.

So we see yet another example of the Trump admin being disjunctive -- trying to redefine its party's overarching program, but falling back into its old habits that got it where it is today, at the end of the road. Brutalism was a New Deal-era style, and once the neoliberal revolution took off during the Reagan realignment of the '80s, it was dead as a doornail.

For awhile it was merely derided, ignored, left unkempt, and contradicted when new buildings were erected. But it was not until the neoliberal apex of the woketard 2010s that American elites began actively and systematically demolishing examples of the style.

This anti-Brutalist iconoclasm has run most rampant among blue institutions like government bureaucracies, universities, and pharma research institutes, in blue cities like Boston, in blue states like Massachusetts. It seems to be worst on the East Coast, and less intense as you move west, since the back-East region is the least American region, having little role in being defined by our empire's meta-ethnic nemeses (mainly the Indians on the frontier, along with the Mexicans later on).

The total demolition and erection of new buildings was financed by another blue patron -- the finance sector, who divvied out to their political allies the output of the Central Bank's multi-trillion-dollar money-printing bonanza ("quantitative easing"). This is taking place under blue presidents, Obama and Biden, as well as under Trump (though not W. Bush -- too early for woketard iconoclasm).

So, Trump and his cultural conservative supporters who hate on Brutalism are birds of a feather with Obama-era woketards from the government and corporate bureaucracies. They may have contrasting rationalizations for why Brutalist buildings must be destroyed, catering to their different constituencies, but that's just branding and marketing. Functionally they are on the same team, a good cop and a bad cop (Our cop and Their cop).

And yet the outcomes have primarily favored the blue team's preferences -- not a RETVRN to Roman, Gothic, etc., but fishbowls of glass and steel on the outside, and Silicon Valley daycare center on the inside. It's Bauhaus for babies. And therefore, anti-American, as Bauhaus had minimal influence in America and its broader sphere of influence, and was a competing dead-end movement from moribund rival empires (German in that case, though many Austrian Empire refugees were there too).

Then again, maybe the cultural conservatives who lobbied for that executive order also prefer the fishbowl flexspace aesthetic that's beloved by their fellow urbanite over-produced elites from knowledge sectors of society. In fact, I'll bet they live and work in the Swamp itself, or its suburbs. Nobody who hates that heavily on Brutalism can deny that they're just whining about their personal experience of having to take the DC Metro to and from work every day. Tourists may find it futuristic and cool -- but that wears off after months and years of commuting that way.

They're not living in rural areas of red states working in agriculture, energy, the military, or manufacturing. That is the core of the GOP coalition. And they may never see an example of Brutalism in their entire lives, other than having to trek into town to fill out some paperwork at their municipal building that was built in the '60s. They're certainly not surrounded by it, and they are not the ones seething about it, let alone demolishing it.

But at least on the surface of their claims, the right-wingers want a more trad-looking building to replace the demolished Brutalist one, and on that level, they have been completely exploited and defeated by their no-honor-among-theives allies from the blue camp of neoliberalism. That extends to the iconoclasm against historical statues -- they could be Confederate or Yankee, it doesn't matter. The point is, woketards removed or demolished trad-coded statues, while their fellow Brutalist-haters from the right wing stood by and cried but did nothing.

Applying what we've seen from both sides over the past 10 years, we can see that efforts to conserve our distinctly American culture will -- for the short term, anyway -- not be helped by cultural conservatives from the GOP. They're too neoliberal, and bound to hate on at least half of what defines American culture -- that of the New Deal (they might not mind that of the Progressive Era, though). More than that, they lack any power, and just stand by while shit hits the fan.

Sadly, that means conservation efforts will come from a civil war within the Democrat coalition, between the woketards who only want to keep destroying the past and replacing it with new crap, and the vintage / thrift store / antiques crowd who want to preserve, enjoy, and celebrate all the totally awesome stuff we've created.

Isn't that a trad crowd? Not really -- trad means never change, only accept the past. The vintage / thrift store / antiques crowd doesn't really care about the culture of this land before the late 1800s, because it wasn't very American back then, and was based on European imperial models. But we're not Europe, and can't compete with them on their own cultural turf. Still, who made better movies, with better cinematography, built better buildings, furnished them with cooler designed objects, and developed a new aesthetic of primitive futurism?

So the attitude is more of curating, cataloging, and canonizing what came before, aware that our heyday is long over and nothing new can ever top what was created at our peak. Forming a consensus on the standards of American culture, and then spreading awareness about them, celebrating them, enjoying them, viewing them, and so on.

We can't conserve & preserve cultures that we did not create, and that we have no geographic or temporal link to. It's up to the Italians to preserve Roman culture -- or Spaniards to preserve what the Romans brought to their land. But Romans never landed in North America, so there is nothing of theirs for us to preserve. Certain aspects that can be copied and mediated, like their language and literature, we can preserve. We could even preserve images of their visual art and architecture. But most of that stuff is in Italy, not America, so we can't help them as much as they could help themselves.

We could help directly by occupying them, as we have since WWII, to protect buildings and otherwise ensure the stability of their Roman heritage. However, our occupation has served mainly to absorb them into our cultural orbit -- and if that conflicts with centuries of preserving Roman heritage, what America says, goes. That was the whole point of the post-war Vatican II Council -- submitting the Roman Church to the American Empire. Cuius regio, eius religio. So don't count on foreigners to preserve your own heritage.

To the extent that we managed to preserve some of what was created in other empires, that owed to our status as a new ascending empire in our own right. The Abbasid Caliphate during its heyday could preserve parts of Ancient Greek or Roman culture, but after their empire collapsed, they were in no position to be the repository of global knowledge, and so today's House of Wisdom is no longer in Baghdad. That will be no less true for America's status as global knowledge repository, as our empire collapses.

This is another reason why the kind of cultural conservatives who lobbied for that Trump executive order, or gave it a virtual high-five through a Silicon Valley platform, will generally not be helpful. Their idea of conservation is defending something like "Western Civ" -- most of which unfolded on another continent, hundreds or thousands of years ago. We can play no big role in defending Christianity, although we could in defending Mormonism or Pentecostalism. We can't protect castles or cathedrals, perspective paintings, flamenco or fugues.

We can only defend Block Symphony buildings, primitive futurist objects, rock and jazz music, movies, cars, etc. -- but that leaves plenty of work to keep canonizers and conservationists busy forever. Just don't count on much help from performative haters of Brutalism, who were late to that iconoclastic crusade anyway.

May 9, 2023

Cantilevers pioneered by the American style of architecture & design

Looking back through some old family photos, I was reminded of how Midcentury Modern everybody's homes used to be -- not through deliberate, cultivated effort, nor as a trendoid striver affectation, but just because it is the American style, and we're Americans. So what else would our homes look like?

We may have been joined in this style by the Scandinavians (especially Denmark), Switzerland, and the Russians -- those who were outside the haute art world of the Western Euro empires that began in the Early Modern period. But we largely pioneered this style ourselves, independent of similar trends in Russia / USSR, with the Scandis and Swiss jumping on board after we got it started.

In our home was a pair of these La-Z-Boy recliners with prominent bentwood arms, much like the original Midcentury type that my grandparents had in their home, in the middle of nowhere, Appalachia. (Ours were in different colors / patterns from the links.)

Although bentwood as a fabrication process is an invention of the Austrian Empire (by Thonet), its lines in Austria were very typically European -- curvilinear, slender, airy, nothing that would have offended Rococo sensibilities. Bentwood in America took on the typical American Block Symphony approach -- mostly a right angle, with the intersection rounded off, thicker / wider pieces of wood, feeling more solid and massive, even though they're only an outline rather than a filled-in slab. This traces back to the Waterfall style of furniture from the Streamline Moderne period beginning in the '30s, and those pieces were not just skeletal outlines but Romanesque hunks of sheer volume.

Our dining table was this one by Ansager Mobler from Denmark, part of the '90s Scandinavian craze (when making a pilgrimage to Ikea became a rite of passage for the aspiring middle class). It's a contempo production, not a Midcentury original, but is fairly faithful -- only the color gives it away a bit, being more orange a la the yellow and orange tones of '80s woods (mainly oak), whereas the Midcentury would've had a bit more red in the mix. But it is teak, squared-off everywhere, clean lines, and so on and so forth.

And what other choice was there for seating at such a table than some good ol' cantilever chairs? The way the seat is only supported from below in one place (the front) makes the balancing act impressive, especially when a person's body weight is being supported, not just the seat itself. It looks like a marvel of modern engineering.

I'm pretty sure they were by Chromcraft, the major American manufacturer of cantilever dining chairs, since they also made upholstery an option, rather than only putting caning on the seat and the back. Similar to these, but with a speckled neutral earth tones fabric on both the seat and back, inside of an orange-brown wood frame, but of course with the gleaming chrome unaltered.

Chromcraft was adapting the popular Cesca chair by Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuer (Austrian) from the late '20s. It's one of only a handful of Bauhaus creations that did go on to influence America, and through America the rest of the world. Usually Bauhaus was a dead-end, the last futile gasp of moribund Euro imperial cultures -- but because these chairs used both wood frames and reed caning, they did not strike such a sterile, alienating, purely futuristic / industrial note in the audience.

America invented this overall aesthetic, primitive futurism, but if a decadent Euro movement coincided with it in a particular case, we were not going to deny them influence. Breuer's chair has fairly uniform-looking wood, in a blond color, not very primitive as the American versions would be (like the Chromcraft ones we had, in an orange-brown oak). But it's more natural than 99% of Bauhaus' output.

Fellow Bauhauser, Mies Van Der Rohe (German), designed a cantilever chair as well in the late '20s, though because it was sleek black leather and chrome, without wood / reed / etc., it did not influence America, and therefore did not influence the rest of the world. Both Breuer and Mies Van Der Rohe used cantilevers in their architecture as well around this time.

* * *

That would seem to be the origin of cantilevered furniture, but as usual, the hype about Bauhaus proves to be overblown, one of the undying myths that status-insecure East Coast academics tell each other, and through their East Coast media pals, the rest of the country and world. That's true for the haters of Bauhaus, too -- they make it out to be a Great Satan that ushered in a latter-day fall from grace. They need it to be influential, in order to hate on it so fervently. But the haters are just as clueless.

And it traces back to the same cause -- the back-East region of America is hardly American, which has always been defined by the frontier with the Indians, beginning in the Old Northwest (Chicago) and extending out to the West Coast. East Coasters have a minimal understanding of American culture, whether they were to like it or hate it -- they just don't know what it is. How can they? They're still half-pretending to be British, rounding their low/back vowels instead of speaking like an American (unrounding them).

If it doesn't resemble some European culture, East Coasters simply cannot process it -- to them, it doesn't count as design, architecture, music, etc. Hence they over-emphasize the role that a Euro movement like Bauhaus played in America, and via America the rest of the world during the Midcentury. Most of American Modernism was native, and does not resemble Bauhaus, and therefore very little of the so-called International Style -- really, the Pax Americana style -- looks like Bauhaus either, unless the Euros had more local influence than did the Americans.

For example, South America, and Brazil in particular, had more Euro LARP-ing influence than emulation of America. We never conquered Brazil, our parent empire did not colonize Brazil, tons of elite Euros fled to Brazil after their empires' final death of WWII, and we have never controlled Brazil as a puppet regime. (Nor did we control Argentina or Chile -- those military coups may have been supported by the CIA, but were entirely endogenous affairs that would've happened and succeeded without our help.) And sure enough, there are some pretty nasty Bauhaus-y buildings in Brasilia.

But Japan bet the farm on American rather than Euro culture well before WWII, having been missionized by Frank Lloyd Wright personally. Then even more so once they were occupied by us after, their aesthetic quickly came to resemble the dominant American / Scandinavian / Soviet style, not the decadent Bauhaus / Euro style. Hardly any of their space-age electronics from the '60s and '70s came without some kind of real or simulated woodgrain, exactly in line with American primitive futurism. And when learning English, they want to know the standard American accent, not British.

* * *

Decades before Breuer and Mies Van Der Rohe employed cantilevers in their architecture and furniture, the American Frank Lloyd Wright had already pioneered the use of dramatic cantilevered roofs in his Prairie School buildings (e.g., the Robie House from 1909). These roofs are cantilevered since they're only supported by the wall of the building, having no columns or other supports closer to the roof's edge. How do those roofs stretch out so far without falling over? They're balanced by having even more of them on top of the walled part of the home, and/or more weight attached to them in the core and less weight in the periphery.

Modern architects love showing off their engineering wizardry by using sweeping cantilevers, but it all goes back to the American Midwest around the turn of the 20th century -- not Bauhaus in the collapsed German Empire of the 1920s.

The American origin of dramatic cantilevers in whole buildings is pretty well understood. But what has so far gone unnoticed is that Americans also invented cantilevered furniture as well, including chairs.

It's true that the Bauhausers were the first to make a chair with the seat supported in the front by two "legs" (that may or may not connect into a single piece along the ground), which travel down, then back underneath the seat. This turns the support under the seat into a kind of spring, where the person's body weight pushes down on the upper horizontal plane of the support, but the horizontal part of the support along the ground resists and pushes back. The material has to have enough tension to withstand this attempt at squeezing the spring, but stainless steel has no problem with that. And so, as if by magic, the heavy person remains seemingly suspended in mid-air.

Incidentally, Knoll's website says these types are thought to be derivatives of 19th-C. rocking chairs, but none of the rocking chairs were cantilevered. Some had the usual four legs at the corners of the seat, with rocking gliders connecting the legs on each side of the seat. And the Thonet model actually has three points of contact on each side with the seat bottom -- the four corners, plus another in the middle of the side. They're anything but seemingly gravity-defying.

However, there is a whole 'nother type of chair that also uses a cantilevered support -- and in just one point, not in two points as in the Bauhaus style chair. That is the so-called swivel chair, the ancestor to nearly all office chairs today.

In a swivel chair, the vertical support column is only attached at one point to its horizontal upper support piece, which in turn is attached to the seat itself. One vertical support element, not two separate ones. It's attached near the center when viewed in profile, although closer to the back, since more body weight rests there than at the front part. The chair has to balance those two sections, a heavier back and lighter front -- and accommodate any shift in weight, like when the person leans back to rest or leans forward to hunch over their desk.

To do that, the horizontal part of the support along the ground contains both a component that goes toward the back the seat (to resist the leaning back) and toward the front of the seat (to resist the leaning forward). But since the seat swivels 360 degrees, these components must sweep around as well, to resist leaning forward or backward no matter which direction the seat is pointing. Hence, the spokes of the lower support section form a circle -- or a discrete version of one, like having 4 or 5 spokes, evenly spaced around the circle. So no matter where the seat is pointed, there are components from one or more of the spokes lying in the "resist leaning back" and "resist leaning forward" directions.

Later, the continuous version of the support base was used -- a smooth solid circle, most notably by the American Eero Saarinen's Tulip chair from the mid-'50s. That particular chair didn't have casters underneath to glide it across the floor, but its seat does swivel, and is supported in only one point like other swivel chairs. It was paired with one hell of a cantilevered table, too, to my knowledge the earliest example of a table with such a dramatic cantilever support. Less dramatic are the ones with huge blocks in below the middle of the tabletop -- the Tulip table stands on a single stem-like base!

Other larger, lounge-ier chairs for the home also employ the swivel mechanism, albeit sometimes hidden underneath the floor-length upholstery in a more trad-coded model, but left out in the open for the more mod-coded ones, e.g. the Eames lounge chair and ottoman (both). The cantilevered nature of the support for swivel chairs is kept open to highlight the machine-age wonders of "wow, how did they engineer that magical balancing act? All that weight, leaning forward, backward, shifting side to side -- all balancing on that one tiny little point!"

With all due respect to the dual-column cantilever chairs, including my beloved childhood dining chairs, the single-column cantilever chair is a greater example of modern engineering marvels.

And it's also older! American president Thomas Jefferson invented a swivel chair for personal use, but this did not spawn any copies of itself. Around 1850, the American Thomas Warren invented and produced (through the American Chair Company) the Centripetal Spring Armchair, which does everything relevant here that a swivel chair does, including rest on one, not two, vertical support elements. I've found very little evidence that this chair was at all popular in its own day, and apparently vanished into oblivion within a few decades. It left no direct copies.

Both of those early examples were a case of "right idea, wrong time" -- because American ethnogenesis has not entered its "defining new things for ourselves" phase, which happens after an integrative civil war, where who "we" are is up for grabs. Is it the one Us, or the other Us? During the initial rise of an empire, we are only defining ourselves against our meta-ethnic nemesis, in our case the Indians (and somewhat later, the Spanish / Mexicans). Our Civil War & Reconstruction Era ends in the 1870s, so distinctive American ethnicity does not really take shape until after then.

If Warren had introduced his chair 50 years later, it would've been a smash hit. But before the integrative civil war, we were still holding ourselves to Euro antecedent standards -- and no European created a swivel chair. If it was too outre for the Euros, it was sadly also not going to find much success here because we were still insecure about being ourselves.

But as fate would have it, an American architect and designer from the Midwest began working around the turn of the 20th century, and wouldn't you know it? -- Frank Lloyd Wright himself invented the modern office chair, for use in the Larkin Administration Building which he also designed, in 1904.

His swivel model streamlined the several large springs of Warren's earlier model, was made entirely of metal (aside from a simple seat covering -- unlike Warren's more elaborate upholstery). And it was made in an angular style appropriate for American Block Symphony, to distinguish America from serpentine-curvy Europe. The only problem was one of degree rather than kind -- the footprint of the base is too narrow, so it was able to tip over if someone leaned too far. But that was fixed with subsequent swivel chairs.

Although there are several additional vertical support elements, they are not attached to the bottom of the seat -- they all converge in the center toward the top, and it's still just one point of support at the top of the vertical section.

Wright also designed an entirely separate type of cantilever office chair for this building, which was demolished in 1950 by traitorous back-East scum (Buffalo, NY), who could not appreciate American culture even when it was handed to them on a silver platter. Sadly most or all of this second type were then thrown in the dump after.

It's an integrated desk-and-chair combo, as seen in this example and in this gallery (Fig. 6, "Type B desk"). There's only one vertical support element, roughly in the middle of the seat bottom, and two horizontal elements (a higher and a lower one) take it back to the desk, where they attach to a vertical piece along the inner side of the desk. It doesn't fall over because the counterweight is the huge hulking desk that it's attached to by tense metal supports -- and the distance is pretty close, no more than a few feet, so there's no torque that could bend the seat down, let alone overturn it.

Very much like the roof extending out over the wall of the heavy bulky core of a home -- even if you jumped up and down on the edge of the roof, or sat on it, or hanged from it, it wouldn't come crashing down.

The seat back can fold forward to a horizontal position, too, so that the chair can be fully stored underneath the desk when not in use. Neat idea! Not that much of a space-saver, though, and it meant that the chair could never be moved anywhere away from its desk-twin. So this model didn't go anywhere, as far as office or home furniture goes.

* * *

Let's return to the non-swiveling cantilever chairs. You can't deny that they have a more dynamic look, the way the back seems to be left in the dust by the front support -- since there is no direct support in the back. The "front to back" contrast is normally not that dynamic in a chair, and using the cantilever in this way does give it an industrial / machine-age speed and energy to it, even though it's a perfectly stationary object for a person who will be sitting perfectly still in it.

The swivel chairs, although more magical in their support, have the support closer to the center rather than the front or back, so they appear more stationary and harmonious, not like the driver of a speeding car with a stark back-to-front arrow.

Outside of Bauhaus, Finnish architect & designer Alvar Aalto created a non-swivel cantilever chair in 1930, only two years after Breuer and three after Mies Van Der Rohe. He went on in the '30s to create even more variations on this theme, with large lounge types for the home. These latter improve on the speed theme by disconnecting the lower horizontal supports from each other around the back -- this puts even more of the structure in the front, and makes the lower supports look like skies that are taking the sitter on a race across the snow.

And unlike Bauhaus, they were made of wood, although they did not mix wood and chrome a la the American style. But that at least made them influential worldwide, fitting with the American inclusion of wood, as opposed to Bauhaus' general aversion to wood.

America's seminal designer (who was not also an architect), Gilbert Rohde, took over creative control of Herman Miller in the '30s, and had an exhibit at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, which served as a launch pad for primitive futurism (in the new form of Streamline Moderne). He made a whole bunch of cantilevered seating, and it's hard to tell when each one came out. But as early as 1935, he'd already made a chair, as well as a stool around the same time. Earlier, at the '33 Fair, he debuted a lamp and clock with cantilever support.

During the '30s, he added to the "how did they balance all that weight?" theme by making the seats themselves massive and bulky -- no need for a person to sit in them to make you scratch your head. The chair on its own seemed to defy gravity, unlike the Bauhaus designs that were light and delicate unto themselves, in typical Euro fashion.

I already mentioned Eero Saarinen's heavily, but centered, cantilevered Tulip series, which brought the concept to tables. That was from the mid-'50s.

The next development was to switch where the vertical supports were -- from the front to the back, making it seem to want to lean forward. There's a Danish Modern desk in teak by Georg Petersens Mobelfabrik like this, which everyone attributes to the '60s without any evidence. And American designer extraordinaire Milo Baughman did this with all sorts of seating -- club chairs, loveseats, entire sofas, desks, etc. -- possibly also in the '60s or the '70s at the latest, again without any hard evidence of the timing. (He'd already done the "support in front, seeming to lean back" style earlier.)

These seem to be the ancestors of today's cantilever side tables that every big box store sells (supported in the back, seeming to lean forward, with the empty space in front allowing the tabletop to slide over some other piece of furniture). In any case, not something that traces back to Bauhaus, but to America, perhaps with input from our fellow non-collapsed-Euro-empire friends in Scandinavia.

Bauhaus did pioneer a certain style of cantilever chair, but had already been beaten to the punch by Frank Lloyd Wright when it comes to cantilevers in whole buildings, as well as seating (albeit in the form of the swivel chair, and the separate desk-and-chair combo). And they clearly weren't as obsessed with cantilevers as the Americans were, who put it to use in everything as soon as they could -- stools, clocks, lamps, ottomans, entire sofas, then tables, desks, anything really. It's more definitive of the American-led style (with help from the Scandis to define the culture of the post-Age-of-Euro-Empires era).

Americans may not have invented sculpture or discovered contrapposto, but we did pioneer and perfect the same basic principle as applied to buildings and all other designed objects, shocking a sense of energy, movement, and dynamism into what would otherwise be a stationary, inert, dead hunk of matter, and in a way that seems to defy the laws of nature. Not just a slight overhang of a roof above an outer wall, but in a sweeping, dramatic, engineering wizardry kind of way. And our building-sculptures and object-sculptures are no less artistic or aesthetic just cuz they don't represent natural kinds like people, animals, plants, and so on. Abstract art is no less artistic than figurative art.

May 5, 2023

The 2023 financial crisis: this time *is* different -- for the worse

Not much to add other than a link to my "old" post from late 2018, laying out the very simple logic and history of the neoliberal-era bubble. (Now that I'm proofreading, there's a little bit to add...)

I won't rehearse the entire post -- read it at that link, and read my comments, too. You'll learn more than anywhere else.

And best of all, you don't need to worry about understanding mortgages, commercial real estate, etc. Those are only the specific triggers for a bubble inflating, and the first symptoms of its popping. The trillions of fake newly printed dollars could've been misallocated into some other domain of society, it doesn't matter.

The point is: "big" can only be bailed out by "bigger", not by a peer at the same level of the pyramid, and certainly not by an inferior. Progressively since the neoliberal revolution of Reaganism, the finance sector has been destroyed at higher and higher levels, reaching the very tippy top after 2008, with a global network of central banks working as a policy team.

They destroyed their balance sheets after 2008, by absorbing so much toxic waste from the level just below central banks in the pyramid -- the big banks like JP Morgan etc. And that toxic waste was traded for freshly printed trillions of dollars, which the big banks spread through the top 10-20% of society, in the way you may have seen on the TV show Shark Tank. That was just open auditions for money-printer hand-outs, with the "investors" as the middlemen between the central bank and the "entrepreneurs".

But now that the global network of central banks have destroyed their own credit-worthiness, and are in need of a bailout themselves -- so sad, but there is no one higher up on the finance pyramid. No central bank of the solar system, galaxy, universe, etc., exactly as I said nearly 5 years ago, but which nobody seems to have absorbed in the meantime -- probably because they're all wish-casters relying on central bank 12-D chess brilliance to keep their overproduced elite status secured.

Sorry, suckers, there's no one to bail out the American central bank, let alone all the world's major central banks.

* * *

I was proven right when, not even 2 years later, the central banks turned the money printers on like crazy in 2020, printing as much in one summer as they had earlier printed in one decade -- a massive acceleration.

But the real lesson from 2020 was that the whole money-printing trick can only be done once, as my model makes clear. If you expect to keep the printer on forever, even accelerating its rate, no one will take you seriously, and you'll need to be bailed out by a superior. But since there are no superiors to the American central bank, or the global team of them, they would not get bailed out.

And sure enough, in the wake of the 2020 money-printing bonanza, suddenly inflation went sky-high and throughout the entire system. Not just higher than earlier periods, or in one sector of the economy but not others. It's high, and it's everywhere.

This is because the central banks have lost their credit-worthiness -- nobody believes or trusts them, which is the origin of the term "credit". During the 2010s, people could make-believe that the money-printing and 0% interest rates were merely temporary, an emergency, a radical intervention like surgery for an acute trauma -- not chronic, ongoing, indefinite things that would never be undone.

Central banks tried raising interest rates and contracting -- rather than further inflating -- the money supply during Trump's term, and by Christmas 2018 the stock market took a big fat shit. Rather than keep the pain on the overproduced elites of the neoliberal era, the central bank backed off, and turned on the money-printer in overdrive during 2020.

This proved that the temporary and emergency claims were fake. Technically they could not be proven or disproven when first administered under Obama. Maybe they'll succeed in rescuing the real economy, and all those trillions of new dollars can be withdrawn from circulation -- because they will have created tons more of dollars through their healing powers. Like taking someone off life-support, and they start breathing and walking around and talking again.

Without attempting to dial down the level of life-support, you cannot really know whether the patient is healed or still hopeless. Everybody with a brain knew the 2010s economy was fake, but you couldn't point to empirical evidence, since its fakeness vs. realness had not been tested.

But that changed in 2018, and by the 2020 acceleration in money-printing, all doubt was removed. The central banks 0% interest rates and printing of trillions of dollars, euros, etc., was *not* just a temporary life-support machine for an acutely ill patient.

When you dial down the life-support machine from 9 to 8, and the patient starts having an epileptic fit and flat-lining -- guess what, life-support didn't work, he's dead. Then in embarrassment you dial the machine back up to 9, then 10, then 11 -- and everybody can now see, with empirical testing, that your intervention failed.

That's why it took until 2021 and after for inflation to skyrocket and strike the entire economy rather than certain sectors. If the central banks are just going to print more and more dollars, they're worth less and less, so we have to ask for more of them in exchange for whatever we were selling before.

* * *

The rampant and intractable inflation proves that the central banks, and the elite class they try to placate, have lost control. They have not cynically but expertly "kicked the can down the road". They're not diabolical selfish geniuses. Their plans are already blowing up in their faces -- and ours. Their currency is openly worth less and less, and nobody believes or trusts them anymore, and on top of that, by weaponizing the dollar during the Ukraine-Russia War, the rest of the world has already started to ditch the dollar.

None of those results were present throughout the 2010s, or the 2000s, or the '90s, or '80s. This time *really is* different -- it's the end of the line for the neoliberal-era bubble, and it's taking down central banks and their currencies with it.

Why? Because this time is different in the lack of further higher-ups on the finance pyramid to bail out the acutely ill patient.

To be clear, the 2023 financial crisis is not about regional banks or commercial real estate -- the insolvency crisis is at the highest levels, the global central banks, including our own that used to print the world's unipolar reserve currency.

Why is this top level getting taken out now? Didn't central banks always jump on the grenade during neoliberalism's earlier crises? No -- read that 2018 post I wrote. Continental Illinois Bank, the largest regional bank at the time, blew up in 1982 -- and was rescued by the FDIC, with zero help behind the scenes from the central bank, or even from the big Wall Street banks.

As the bubble has inflated more and more, bigger and bigger rescuers have had to play the role of jumping on the grenade. And once the global central banks jumped on the grenade -- that was it. There's no one to jump on their grenade. Or to mix metaphors, no one to suck the poison out of their wounds. They're the top, period. When they're compromised, it's over for the whole pyramid.

* * *

I want to emphasize that the "diabolical genius" meme really is over. If the central banks try to print up another 10 trillion dollars, 20 trillion, 100 trillion, that won't buy its recipients anything. They'll be worthless. They could only pull that trick once, during the 2010s, when the credit-worthiness of the central banks had not yet been put to an empirical test. Will they normalize rates, will they withdraw the monetary life-support and keep it withdrawn? Who can say, for right now, in 2014?

Back then -- seems like another lifetime -- you could print up $5 trillion, hand it out via Shark Tank to the top 10% of society, and they could purchase a lot more stuff and services because of it. There was no system-wide inflation, let alone at such high levels.

Now, everyone has seen the results of the test of credit-worthiness, and so any future rounds of money-printing will have the same effects as the 2020 round -- soaring inflation, no improvement in the recipients' standard-of-living. You may go from a millionaire to a billionaire, but you won't be living in a bigger house, have a more beautiful wife, eat better food, or command a bigger army of slaves to drive you around, deliver your food, etc.

And no, they are not diabolical geniuses in the sense of at least staying even, while printing up more and more money. Everyone's standard of living will go down as a result of persistent stagflation and/or hyperinflation. How did the elite class of Weimar Republic Germany wind up? Or the elites of Zimbabwe? Did they enjoy the same standard of living, but just with increasingly ridiculous nominal valuations of their wealth due to the hyperinflation of the money supply? No, they fell off a cliff, and their societies turned into basket cases.

Our elites will suffer no different a fate. When belief, trust, and faith in the highest levels of the finance pyramid are removed, it will gum up the works in all kinds of ways. In some cases, the infinite supply of dollars won't buy anything in a certain sector -- because would-be sellers know that the currency is worthless now, and will be worth even less by the time they try to exchange it for some good or service that they want. So they just won't sell.

"Jay Leno is going to gobble up all of the classic car market!" -- unless people come to believe that dollars are just funny money, and losing value faster than they can be exchanged for what the seller wanted to spend them on. They'll just keep the classic cars to themselves. What is Jay Leno going to do -- hire a private army to force classic car sales at gunpoint? His would-be soldiers wouldn't accept being paid in worthless dollars.

Maybe if Jay Leno had gold, or oil, or food-producing land, or an armory full of toys for the soldiers to play with. But plain old dollars, whose value can no longer be stored for the future? Forget that.

Ditto for "the big banks and hedge funds will buy them up instead!" Not if the sellers don't want dollars, fearing their medium-to-long-term stability in value. Plus financial actors never use their own money, they borrow it from someone higher than them in the finance pyramid, then use it however they want. Credit conditions are tightening like crazy, so they have less money than before to play around with. No more buying sprees for banks and hedge funds.

* * *

Ultimately, the current crisis, which historians will start with the 2018 event that prompted my old post, will wind up depopulating a lot of the elite class, which has been over-produced for decades, and finally have no one left to bail them out and support their ambitious standard of living. Naturally that will leave some players left at the highest levels, presumably JP Morgan among banks, while lots of aspiring elites in the regional bank tier will have to move back to the suburbs of Green Bay where they came from -- and where they belong.

The system has finally become incapable of supporting 20% of the population competing to live in the 1% zip codes. Lots of people in the top 10-20% -- but below the top 1% or 0.1% -- are going to fall back down into the lower 80-90% of society, where their Greatest Gen ancestors were, before the destabilizing upward ambitions of the Silents and Boomers (collectively the "Me Generation" of the '70s).

This will echo the Great Depression, which wiped out the Great Gatsby-type strivers from the Roaring Twenties and earlier, leaving only the Rockefellers at the top. That reduced inequality, shrinking the number at the elite level. But it was done without destroying our central bank and its currency -- the central bank simply refused to jump on the grenade in order to bail out the strivers.

This time, though, we're going to see reduction in inequality while also lowering our average standard-of-living, since an imploding central bank and currency mean we can't buy stuff like we used to. The Great Depression saw reduced inequality, but with a rising average. (And no, homicide rates did not increase, nor did lifespans plummet -- those are independent of income and wealth trends.)

I won't introduce at this late stage of the post, a cross-imperial comparison -- but suffice it to say we're at the phase in the imperial lifespan when the elites just debase the shit out of their currency, dooming it to obsolescence, while obtaining no short-term benefits either, just committing monetary suicide out of overweening ambition and stubborn hyper-competitiveness.