MAGAMaidan vs Patriot Act 2.0

Leon Czolgosz assassinates President McKinnley. These days we just make fun of him for his name.

It doesn’t come up very often on here because its not one of my primary interests personally or professionally, but a major part of my work back when I was at the U.S. Department of State was the study of and working around issues related to violent extremism and the countering thereof. Specifically, I was tasked with using the history and cultural understandings of political theory that existed in the Central Asian region to come up with more constructive ways of combatting extremist groups recruitment strategies than simple state repression. The reason for this was that finally, over a decade after 9/11, people were coming around to the idea that the ‘cure’ to an extremism problem can often be just as bad as the disease.

The United States may have started to learn this lesson for other countries, but I don’t thing it has learned it for itself. Indeed, given the present media climate, I expect that any attempts to understand and diagnose the Miller Lite Militia’s storming of Capitol Hill will be met with the same kind of anti-thought rhetoric we saw immediately after 9/11. ‘How dare you sympathize with these people?’ Etc. Of course, never once in my entire life have I sympathized with Islamists (or republicans). In fact, I loathe them so much that when forced into a binary between corrupt and oppressive state security vs Islamists I always go with state security. I even hosted an extra-haram food themed BBQ party the day Osama Bin Laden was killed in celebration of the event. He deserved his comeuppance, but not at the cost of the polices enacted in response to his attacks. I would prefer societies not have to degenerate to that point in the first place if we can help it. And if it does we can still punish our worst assailants without giving way to cowardice by signing away our rights. It is a common tactic of governments everywhere to force a security state vs extremist Manichean binary as it will more easily enable them to divide and crush opposition. So too are we going to see this here now more than before. It would be best to inject some nuance in now before the opportunity is lost, or as, in the case of 9/11, only comes over a decade later after all the damage has been done.

I don’t really want to talk about MAGAMaidan itself as numerous takes on it can be found elsewhere. I will only point out that Trump is a moron and incited his followers to go to the capitol, but, as can clearly be seen by his immediate backing down and chickening out, did not in fact plan on the capitol police failing so epically and actually letting them storm into the place. This confirms my long held suspicion that everything he does it meant to boost his next reality show/talk show media career, which indeed is why he ran for president in the first place. The fact that they made it that far was as unplanned as the failure of the capitol’s security forces. Now this, and other antics, have helped cost his party the senate, possibly the next mid term election, and probably any attempts of his to run again for the presidency. He even finally conceded. A coup this was not. Trust not any historically illiterate dweller of frantic jazz laden NPR echo chambers who uses that word. A botched putsch? Maybe. A riot? Definitely. Everyone involved should be punished. If you want the best take I have seen which I could not surpass, check out Sam Kriss‘. But realize that Trump’s Twitter being taken away is probably the funniest and most punishing thing its possible to do to him.

Q Anon people have a lot of similarities with the kind of disaffected losers who get swept up into Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and thus do in fact present a security challenge. They believe their miseries are often caused by the government and elites (true) but invent elaborate self-flattering conspiracies to avoid having to understand structural forces so they can focus instead of simplistic moralism and clear good guy/bad guy narratives. Their groups need to be investigated and at their worst thwarted, but are rarely worth restructuring society and our civil rights around doing so. Such people are responding to serious grievances in unserious ways. Islamists, for instance, thrive in societies that limit acceptable expression so severely that the only socially sanctioned way to get out of mandatory loyalty is to join the clergy.

Already the monotonous blob of elite identifying media/academic/government worker groupthink is treating this as their very own Lanyard 9/11 and Reichstag fire in one, even though four people died, three of them chuds, and seems so far to be one grand gesture of self-sabotage. One of the fatalities accidentally tazered themselves and had a heart attack which is just….so the entire event in microcosm. It isn’t even the 1954 shooting attack on the capitol when Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on congressmen on the house floor (showing that this has indeed happened before). But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say it is a new 9/11. Do you think our response to 9/11 was a good one? Do you think the Patriot Act and unchecked NSA surveillance was a good thing for the country? Do you think the culture of paranoia, warmongering, and xenophobia that descended in waves on this country was worth ‘bringing us together’ for a grand total of two years was worth it? Post-Cold War history has no lesson stronger than that Bipartisan Consensus is more often to be feared than embraced so long as these leadership cliques are in charge.

Here is what will most likely happen: the already existing pro censorship positions of many liberals, journalists, and many of the dumber leftists will accelerate to new heights. The FBI’s record of entrapping the dumber Muslim teenagers into fake bombing plots in order to drive up their terrorism prevention stats will be partially redirected towards white and right wing teenagers. Being conservative in a non-Brett Stephens approved way in any capacity will be conflated with ‘white supremacy’, because, as we know, Americans are incapable of imagining politics outside of a very narrow and parochial framework, and ‘incitement to violence’ will take on new meanings (that will somehow never include the calls of politicians to bomb and sanction small and weak nations abroad, of course).

To see this coming is not to take the side of MAGA any more than to have a nuanced view of the Patriot Act after 9/11 was to take the side of Al Qaeda. One can in fact have multiple different enemies at the same time. But the currently dominant trends in our society are not as much that of Trump’s bizarre and incoherent cult of personality, but rather a Silicon Valley neofedualism that has opportunistically adopted the rhetoric of left wing culture warriors and the priorities of the centrist security state. Both are threats, but one is far better poised to effect our immediate future. And if people who are not right wing already give up and roll over for this binary, then they will be the first to be shut out of relevance as the only valid opposition to our new dystopia is (incorrectly) rewritten to be MAGAMaidan. We already saw this process beginning before the clown car of reactionary ‘revolutionaries’ stormed the capitol when factually correct allegations about Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine were softly excluded from major media narratives despite their merit as a story. We have seen it in the career trajectories of threatened journalists seeing gatekeeping as the only way to hold on to their positions, voluntarily becoming like the media is forced to be in countries like Russia.

Political instability and even violence is not abnormal in America, it is all too normal. Four sitting presidents have been assassinated. A senator once assaulted and crippled a colleague in the capitol building. There were anarchist bomb throwers and the Battle of Blair Mountain. There was the militia movements of the 1990s and the Oklahoma City bombing. There was the aforementioned shooting of the capitol building itself in 50s. There were the riots than spun out of the George Floyd protests this summer. And this is to say nothing of how frequent protests that degenerate into riots are in other countries, including developed ones. France has them more often, and has a somewhat higher standard of living for its average citizens too. Did all of these events necessitate an expansion of the security state? No. In many cases there was no such thing at all. Tragedies happen, you seek out egregious perpetrators for punishment, then people move on.

As a friend of mine said recently when we were discussing how MAGA and the liberal establishment share common assumptions about the religion of American Exceptionalism and setting them above and beyond the forces of history, ‘This country has a lot of growing up to do all across the ideological spectrum.’ It certainly does. The people who stormed the capitol have no coherent ideology but that they live in this world and they don’t like it. They see one incredibly dumb and opportunistic man as their salvation. They see the world as children. Their partisan opposite has more fancy words to hide behind but is deeply invested in maintaining the rhetoric of setting their views above those of others not by historical fact but by theoretical assumption that the dominant ideology of our society evolves us out of the chaos of unplanned for events. This too is childish, if less overtly so.

To grow up, Americans could start by learning the real lesson of 9/11…that to give in to the temptations of censorious security state expansion for dramatic outlier events is one of the worst things you can do. You can hold people accountable and punish criminals without making life worse for everyone who isn’t a criminal. ‘Blame fundamentalists, not all Muslims’ was a common cry among liberals in the Bush years. Can they be made receptive to hearing it again in a more domestic context or do they now want their turn playing Cheney? As happened with extraordinary rendition and military surplus feeding police militarization, the War on Terror’s true legacy was that its effects will always be coming home to roost. I fear that the censorious scolds of the media and administrative classes will lead the way to continue this trend.

A Remarkably Ineffective Presidency

You have heard it for four years: ‘Trump is a fascist. Trump is a dictator. Everything is different now. This is not normal.’ Meanwhile, while this rhetoric reached fever pitch literally all of those points were provably incorrect. Trump is a right winger, but far too lazy and non-ideological to be a fascist. Trump is a bully, but was too weak and scatterbrained to be a dictator. Everything is different now, but in the same way that things are always changing and history in America is getting over its long postwar boom and, thus, returning to normal.

Despite the incredible obnoxiousness of Trump’s fan base and their cult like loyalty to his person over any kind of political platform, they are not the ones who surprised me these last few years. Anyone capable of paying even a modicum of attention to American conservatism since Gingrich could have seen this coming. If anything, the ideology being somewhat loosened from its evangelical and libertarian pieties into atavistic nationalism makes it more bearable than its formerly sanctimonious moral-majority and market-fundamentalist basis.

No, what surprised me was just how rapidly the opposition to Trump degenerated. Certainly, being a liberal in the Twenty-First Century is very much akin to staying behind to run the Heaven’s Gate website after the rest of the cult got whisked up to the comet above. The prophecy of the End of History failed to come true which means the followers do not do the rational thing and realize they believed in a lie, but rather double down and blamed everyone but themselves for the failure. If only every one else had supported them then this would all be fine. And so the liberals have become more obsessed with American Exceptionalism and culture war, becoming the new woke version of what the republican party was in the aughts. They now expresses valorization to intelligence agencies and giant corporations and prioritize pet causes based in their stifling moralism rather than in measurable material gains.

This happened because they let themselves be driven mad by a clownish president. But that president was as weak if not weaker a political leader than Jimmy Carter. Despite having two years of one party unified government his only accomplishment was a standard Bush-style tax cut for the wealthy. The kind of thing that would have happened under a Rubio, a Romney, or a Cruz. Likewise, the only lasting institutional effect of this supposedly-norm-breaking presidency will be to fill the ranks of the judiciary once again with the strange Opus Dei-like cultists that can always be found in the Federalist Society. Also something that would have happened under any other republican president. The only meaningful difference between Trump and these others is that he is less warlike. He is also, it is worth noting, less warlike than many democrats these days too. Not to give him too much credit here. His Iran policy is utterly unhinged and did immense damage to U.S. interests, and he managed to make his prior presidents look positively independent of Saudi influence. But compared to his GOP rivals in 2016 or Hillary Clinton, we almost certainly dodged a bullet in Syria and Venezuela. After all, the best news story of the now famously dismal year of 2020 had to have been that whole Silvercorp USA thing.

That’s right. With hindsight I am now saying that Trump was the lesser evil to Hillary in 2016. Sure, her Covid response would have been better, but not too much better as the USA was always going to take a pandemic the hardest of any developed country given its poor health systems infrastructure and employment based benefits that fail under economic downturns exacerbated by lockdowns. Meanwhile, a reinvigorated refugee crisis brought about by more regime change operations across the world would not only have facilitated the spread of the disease, but also of reactionary politics at home and abroad. In this alternative world something far worse than Trump would now have just won the presidency in the 2020 election, possibly Tom Cotton. We would have the Iran Deal at least, but far worse relations with North Korea. Besides, what is the point of an Iran Deal if we still stumbled into a conflict with Tehran through the Syrian backdoor? Three separate times in the 2016 election, H-Bomb stated that her first priority in office was regime change in Syria, what was by then obviously a recipe for the black flag of jihadism to fly over Damascus. I remember because I was watching, determining if I could pull the lever for her as a lesser evil. I couldn’t. Still glad that I didn’t today.

Of course, two bombing runs later Trump invoked The Curse himself, ending up a one termer. If ever you are thinking about uttering the fateful words, don’t.

Meanwhile, Trump’s terrible relationships with most governmental institutions actually weakened the process of centralizing power behind the imperial presidency, something that had been growing nonstop for decades. Trump’s transactional understanding of politics was brute and often misplaced, but it was a real unmasking moment for a country used to believing itself and its system to be exceptional and widely admired around the world. Trump unintentionally undermined even domestic faith in American Exceptionalism, and I will take it. So too did his horrific immigration policies finally force a discussion on Obama’s immigration policies as well, showing this to be a bipartisan issue. Trump will leave office having deported less people than Obama did.

It may seem dour that the era of Trump paradoxically removed any remaining vestigial feelings I once had about there being any lesser evils in the two party system, but it is actually quite liberating. I know, going forward, that if I support someone in public service that it will only be because they offer a platform that provides real alternatives. And if there are no such people to support, that is fine too. Change does not, in fact, come first from voting but by what you write for, organize for, and take part in directly. Giving up on any sense of being able to rely on a political party is giving yourself a greater level of independence and agency, and thus potential critical thinking. Something definitely needed in our moralistic dark age.

For all the problems Trump exacerbated, none of them were new to him. He is an accelerant rather than the spark. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George Bush Junior all had a much greater role in building the world that we presently live in. Obama too, though he at least took the foot off the gas even if he resolutely refused to apply it to the brakes on this car hurtling towards a cliff. And it is his surveillance apparatus we live in now more than anyone else’s.

In the end, Trump will be remembered by historians as a grotesquely fascinating era that symbolized our societal decline, but was too late in the game to be its cause. He might also be the first person since Grover Cleveland to pull off two non-consecutive terms. A wet sack of potatoes could defeat Kamala Harris in a debate after all. She better hope someone far less charismatic than Trump runs against her in the future so she stands a chance. But whether he will be back or not he leaves us with an attitude and an aesthetic and little else.

A truly ineffective presidency. Which I suppose at this state of the game could almost be considered damning with faint praise as much as an insult. The spectacle was certainly something. Whelp, enjoy some Clown Core.

‘The Human Swarm’- a book review

A North Sentinelese Man shoots arrows at an Indian helicopter.

‘The Human Swarm: How our Societies Rise, Thrive, and Fall’ by Mark Moffett is the kind of book I would have written had I been a zoologist rather than a historically inclined geopolitical analyst. Its almost a relief to see someone more qualified than myself in the field of looking at animals to be inspired by the observation that humanity is a primate that behaves like wolves on the small scale and like ants on the large scale. Once this observation is made the inevitable question is how this unique combination came about and why it makes us such a successful species.

Moffett spends about 40% of the book on evolutionary biology of multiple socially-oriented species to do the compare/contrast with humanity. He spends another 40% on hunter gatherer, pastoralist, and tribal peoples, reasoning correctly that this is the lifestyle humanity primarily evolved for and spent the overwhelming majority of its existence in. The final 20% or so is all sedentary civilization and the high cultures get. This kind of spread may strike many as odd, but considering how most of human history played out until (in terms of evolutionary time at least) it makes perfect sense. This is not a work of macro-history quite as much as it is a work of macro-anthropology.

Moffet’s main argument, which I will summarize to the point of oversimplification here, is that almost all pack animals have a type of fission-fusion dynamic that causes individuals to status seek against each other to maximize their own place or find their own niche while also retaining an overall group dynamic about loyalty to the greater whole. This likely developed as a survival tactic to both concentrate for maximalized social bonds among breeding couples while also enabling the social unit to cover more territory both for expansion and for warning of coming hostile attack. (Closer to home one can think of the ‘gay uncle hypothesis’ or the equally valid yet divergent lifestyles of householder vs renunciates to see the value outsiders can bring to social units). Wolves patrol far and wide around the territorial perimeter, but not those with children who sit in the center of a given pack’s territory. Humanity’s conception of the tribe, however, is much more numerous than that of other primates. This leads to a type of ‘anonymous’ society, where not everyone in a greater culture knows each other personally. Not being known personally is immediate sign of being an outsider in most other species, but not in humanity.

In other words, in addition to our technological prowess (which may have come later), we were the original zerg rush primate. No other primate can have so many numbers in one band. Only insects have the numbers per society we can pull off, and they do it by chemical smell markers…not something we can tell in an outgroup by save perhaps when the French are involved. Also, insect hives tend to be true collectives, and individuals have little brain power giving them a much smaller amount of dynamism in fission-fusion relations. So how did a species come to grow in numbers to the point where it had towering cities across the globe with population densities that would be considered insane to most of our ancestors? We do in fact have signifiers, but they are not chemical nor even genetic. They are cultural affect. Things not given off as pheromones but as behaviors and lifestyles. Language is the most important part of this, and from ‘Human Swarm’ one can easily slide into Benedict Anderson’s ‘Imagined Communities’ to see how the interplay of geography and language gives rise to internal mass press cultures in the early modern period, which was his thesis on the rise of nationalism displacing religion and loyalty to monarchs. But language isn’t the only thing. Remember, Moffat, unlike Anderson, is looking back to prehistory most of the time. He reminds us that we are a uniquely un-furred species and that most surviving tribal societies who live traditionally can tell foreigners from body language and body painting. Smooth skin is a canvas and spoken language comes with accents and hand gestures that vary from region to region. These in turn create a divergence of aesthetic that elevates and demotes individuals based on the dominant or despises personalities within a tribe, giving rise to cultural divergence. Culture is the outcome of what kind of personalities maximize survivability in a given region.

Cultural divergence itself plays a similar role to a famous Arab proverb, ‘My country against the world, my region against my country, my town against my region, my family against my town, me against my family.’ Though Moffett does not quote this, I was reminded of it constantly while reading his book. It could also go ‘pastoralists against agrarians, agrarians against industrialists,’ or ‘little powers against big powers, big powers against the biggest power, North Sentinel Island against the world.’

The negative side effect (to many anyway, I’m ambivalent) of this kind of community building is that it is always de facto competitive. To have an in group there must be out-groups. Without out-groups the internal divisions become more important and the group will split, often in a hostile fashion. Here we see why on those rare occasions that universal creeds triumph, they almost inevitably split apart soon after their victory. The breakup of Yugoslavia was not an outlier, but just a modern version of a process as old as humanity. The inevitable fate of all societies which, like people, eventually die and are replaced by others. Though obviously each nation’s rate varies due to a variety of circumstances. The book does a good job in acknowledging that the average life span for a recognizably continuous state is not as long as many assume, and rarely passes past 200-500 years. Modern states have not yet shown to have made gains on average length of survival than Mesopotamian city states in the ancient era.

There is a positive side of this competitive-swarm model though beyond its utility for maximizing human numbers and coalition building. It is designed for a degree of flexibility at the individual level. People with a low role in one tribe can leave for another. They will be obviously foreign, but if young enough to be impressionable or tough enough to prove themselves, can fall in with another band in potentially a better position. A risk of course, but not an irrational one when one feels they have bottomed out at home. This reflects what I know to be true about tribal societies and chiefdoms in actual history, where racial essentialism didn’t exist but cultural allegiance does. Its easy to forget that modern notions of race are barely over a couple hundred years old and were specifically invented to justify the new order that arose in post-smallpox apocalypse New Worlds after European expansion. Compared to ancient concepts such as cuisine and sectarianism, it is a baby. Even older than all of those is adaptive lifestylism and art. Most people obviously stay with their birth community, hence why they retain longevity, but others by choice or through captivity, do not. Societies cross-pollinate and the definition of inside-outside changes. Often growing more inclusive as a society grows than fracturing when it stagnates or contracts. The ability to function both in groups, through signifiers, and as individuals, through differentiation, is the key to making the anonymous society work. Its the collective experience of living amongst certain people who frequent certain places that matters most. Hence why giant waves of immigration did not tear the United States apart, but rather simply grew its taxable citizen pool…a similar process as once occurred in pre-modern empires with diverse concepts of citizenship like the Achaemenid Persians and Romans.

This point reminds me of my current bugbear, trying to get moderns to re-engage with the concept of sovereignty after its attempted abolishment in the neoliberal era (see many pieces I’ve published elsewhere which are now collected in the ‘publications’ tab page of this blog). Being sympathetic to sovereignty does not mean one must be a nativist or anti-immigration. If anything, I would argue that in an extremely connected world where people can travel and resettle so easily, sovereignty matters even more now. The risk of an over-powerful monoculture or political order with which one might not be compatible should increase ones desire for both the ability to migrate to foreign lands as well as the rights of foreign lands to choose who fits the criteria for coming in as they preserve their distinctiveness. Unity is important at the tribal and society level, but at the species level it is stagnation. We need divergence. Rather than simply write off people as losers for not working in the society of their birth, they should at least have the opportunity to start again elsewhere in a place that could be more fitting. Kind of like a career reset mid-life. Though the onus then is on them to start a bit behind and at least partially integrate into their new society. And they will always be a little ‘off’ through accents and learned habits of course. The exiles life isn’t for everyone, but I can speak to this personally, it it for cool people. There are definite advantages to never being too at home when it comes to personal development.

Moffet, also like myself, has a strong interest in societies that straddle the lines between what we think of as settled vs nomadic or tribal vs national. He often cites examples of the unique material culture of the Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples and the political intricacies of the Iroquois League (who upheld tribal sovereignty inside but kept a largely unified front towards outsiders in the near abroad-at least until they didn’t anymore) and the generally widespread practice of adopting war captives in Native American history as a population replacement tactic. Like I said, a book after my own heart.

Sadly, I can’t say its perfect. What is? His lack of a truly thorough historical background leads Moffett to draw some erroneous conclusions in some of his examples. None of these ruin his overall point though, even when they are galling (The Maya claimed as the first Mesoamerican civilization, really?) But they usually aren’t that bad slip ups. Also, as previously mentioned, more of this work is anthropological than it is historical. Also, considering his background I cannot say I am surprised by this but the lack of reference to Ibn Khaldun ( I know I know, I am a total broken record about this) is a missed opportunity. If a late middle ages Tunisian guy could come to such similar conclusions of how societies form and then dissolve from such a different scholarly background it seems worth including him. Perhaps Moffet never heard of him? If so, he should definitely become acquainted with the Muqqadimmah.

If you like big picture stuff and anthropology rooted in robust materialism, ‘Human Swarm’ is a book worth checking out. For now, I am going to fission out of this fusion with one of my favorite John Gray quotes, one that works for this book as well as when I usually use it against anti-materialist theory-first people:

‘A zoo is a better window from which to look out of the human world than a monastery. If you believe that humans are animals, there can be no such thing as the history of humanity, only the lives of particular humans.’

Marianne Williamson Would Have Won

I am writing this before the end results of the 2020 election are known. You might think that, like last time I did an election post-mortem, I should wait for a conclusion. But what I have to say changes very little whether Trump or Biden is in the driver’s seat. What matters right now is that once again the U.S. media predicted a blowout, and once again they have a close election that will be decided by razor thin margins with a game show host. Once again, the democrats sought to challenge a supposedly unconventional candidate with the most conventional establishment group of people imaginable, and once again this led to a shocking under-performance. The simple fact that elections are popularity contests seems to have gone unnoticed by these extremely well paid givers of poisoned advice. The kind of people who, like the recycled Bush neocons of the Lincoln Project, spent tens of millions of dollars to sway republicans in race where the republican share of Trumps votes went up by 3%. Sadly, it is these people a Biden administration will likely pivot towards rather than anyone to the left of their mainline. The present election is a contest to determine which faction of the republican party has the most say in governing the country. The other obvious point that people are tired of candidates who promise nothing but to ‘go back to normal’ and willing to take big risks to shake things up is one the consultant class is paid not to notice by their masters. If Biden wins it will be by a squeaker when it should have been a big margin. He will have no mandate and will play defensive against McConnel for four years while getting cleaned out in the mid-terms and probably flubbing re-election. If Trump wins the Democrats have a better shot next time but at the cost of who knows what damage to their prospects and the mental health of liberals in the meanwhile. No matter who wins here is a prediction: the winner of this cycle loses the next.

It didn’t have to be this way. This election could have been a referendum of Trump’s many failures with an actual positive alternative shown for comparison. But unlike 2016, where I think a strong case that ‘Bernie would have won’ was an argument with a lot of merit considering the economic history of the states that turned out to be most critical, Bernie clearly was a dud this time around. One gets the impression, when seeing his lackluster performance in the primary, that he was pressured into running by his new fan base. But his former independent-leaning fans were increasingly turned off by his movement being colonized by the downwardly mobile rump managerial class who brought with them all their normal-human-alienating woke language policing and hyper-fixation on culture war. Bernie was a class candidate and could only run well with a class-first campaign. That didn’t happen in 2020. Despite class being more important than at any point in American history since the Great Depression, low information partisan news cycles have instituted a kind of postmodern dark age where people focus on identarian issues as their very standard of living and their country at large physically rots around them. This is not an accident, as powerful actors have sought to shift the attitudes of critical thought in directions beneficial to the status quo. That we swim in dark tides is undeniable. But as anyone who has spent time at the beach knows, you escape being ensnared in a rip tide by swimming with the current parallel to the shore until it weakens its hold on you to the point where you can break free. Go with the flow until the flow weakens.

Marianne Williamson was the person who could have won a general election. And she shows a potential path forward while we find ourselves in this trap. She was not my first, second, or even third choice of preference in the democratic primary, but despite my solidly realist and materialist bona fides, I found her more and more likeable as the process went on. By the time it was over for her campaign she had booted out Warren to become my third overall. In retrospect, she should have been my second choice. But to understand why I have come around to the Marianne Way, we first need to go back in time a bit for context of the dark age we find ourselves in.

When I look back at the dominant themes of my writing on here for the past two years, there is one thing that keeps re-occurring: That we live in a dark age. Contrary to so many of the commentariat, I do not believe that this dark age began in 2016 with Trump and BrExit. The seeds of it were sown in the 1980s with the rise of the neoliberal austerity state, confirmed as more than just an era specific fluke in the 90s when many of these market fundamentalist reforms were locked in by Clinton outflanking Reagan from the right making the demolition of civil society a thoroughly bipartisan affair, and then full germination occurred when the disastrous Bush Junior presidency showed how incapable such a society was at responding to crisis or adapting to challenges. It was right after 9/11 when Bush, being looked to by the entire public for leadership, encouraged the American people to keep the economy strong by going shopping. Surely, there has never been such a quintessentially neoliberal response to any crisis as that.

As I have mentioned previously, I personally became aware that I was living in an era of terminal American decline in 2005, when the dismal response to Katrina piggybacked on the collapse of the Iraq occupation after the re-election of the clearly already failed presidency of W. Bush. The thing that pushed him just over the threshold of re-election? Weaponized electoral homophobia. It seemed that there was no going back, and there wasn’t. Bush would leave office with around 20% approval ratings and Obama would be elected in the closest thing the 21rst Century has yet to provide us with that could be described as a landslide. He was elected specifically to undo the failure of the Bush years. He ended up expanding the very out of control surveillance and endless war state he had been elected to curtail. The welcome receding of the Christian culture war of the previous government ended up being the only positive as Obama proceeded to move on to his own Iraqs in Honduras, Libya and Syria, went on to clamp down on internal critics and whistleblowers of a growing surveillance regime that would have impressed East Germany, and deport more immigrants than any president before…or since.

Rhetorically, this acceptance of the failed Reagan-Clinton-Bush consensus by the Democratic Party was papered over by another Bush Era import: that of weaponized identitarian culture war. Except that this time the values were inverted. Now, it was people outside the evangelical tent rather than in it who were the saintly elect. A theology of nerd culture, kale, and getting one’s views on politics from West Wing re-runs rather than actual history. The professional managerial class were going to set things right after the recession. They did so by bailing out the banks who had caused the crisis and promising a Heritage Foundation approved healthcare plan that was a gift to private insurance companies. What is interesting here is that it is now clear that culture war does not in fact work very well, at least not for the side most aggressive about using it offensively. The American people rejected Bush evangelism and liberal wokeness alike, because while the professional ideologues of our society might be obsessed with re-enacting various interpretations of the protestant reformation, most people want to be left alone by such struggles. Even just looking at the currently available trends, it is now undeniable that there were many Obama-to-Trump voters. This may not be a rational ideological path to take, but in both eras it represents a clear rebellion against contemporary moralizing trends by establishment actors. The states that have become the most competitive today are the states who were most hollowed out by offshoring, NAFTA, and neoliberal policies in general for the past four decades. Its not a partisan thing so much as an establishment/anti-establishment thing.

Many deluded liberals seemed to have worked themselves up into a frenzy in the past four years that Trump was some kind of unprecedented phenomenon. His rhetoric and unpredictability are outliers, but what really matters-his policies-are not. Unfortunately, he governs less like he said he would on campaign in 2016, ignoring infrastructure and criminal justice reform for standard Romney/Ryan tax cut-and-spend policies. While those who fell for his rhetoric as independents are fools, those republicans who dutifully lined up behind him are not. They got exactly what they wanted. The goofy antics of the administration are just that. The policies are standard U.S.-republican-right wing. Trump is no fascist nor even of the alt right, even if he has fans from such groups. He is simply a Cholesterol Caligula. Berlusconi, not Mussolini. His only meaningful heterodoxy seems to be in trade policy and making NATO allies pay more, and this could simply be a desperate rear-guard action by the smarter right-neoliberals in order to cover up the extent of their multi-decades failure. In this way he is a continuation of the inevitable process of American decline that began arguably with Carter and definitely with Reagan.

Trump would have won this election handily and easily without Covid simply because of what Biden has represented for decades in the senate, and he would have blown out a major victory had he broken with his own Mnuchin-creatures and instituted universal basic income for at least the duration of the pandemic. Likewise, had Biden promised an expansion of downward cash transfers, I believe his victory would have been assured and extremely telling on the electoral map too. But such bipartisan commitment to austerity colors both of these candidates, much to the misfortune of the country at large. Maybe Andrew Yang was much more important for our future than anyone thought. Certainly more than media-loved supposed brain geniuses like Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg ever could have been. The two candidates that extremely highly educated but not deeply political people and literally no one else loved.

It has already become apparent that Trump’s racist rhetoric has not hurt him with minority voters. Though most minorities skew heavily democratic still, Trump is the first republican to make consistent gains with non-whites in my lifetime. It is also obvious that the tokenistic and foolish decision by Biden to pick Kamala Harris as his running mate has had no positive effect for his campaign and perhaps even had a negative one when all things are said and done. What a shocker, a mass incarcerating creature who surrounds herself with establishment lanyards to help her figure out her policy views turns out to once again be a dud of a VP choice. The DNC really seems to struggle with VP choices that boost a ticket. Gore, Lieberman, Edwards, Biden, Kaine, Harris? Its like a retinue of the worst choices possible. And considering Biden’s age and obvious past-prime nature, it mattered more this time than at any time before. That they chose Harris of all possible options is another damning indictment for how out of step these people are. So out of step they tell an immigration activist to ‘vote for Trump’ if they didn’t like Obama-Biden’s demonstrably awful record of detention and deportation policies. Meanwhile, the identity politics that are increasingly the tent revival religion of the democratic establishment are clearly failing as the only demographic group Biden seems to be expanding his appeal to are the great satan of contemporary liberalism itself, white men. Exit polling indicates more than just an ideological re-alignment is current going on. A Biden victory is a stop-gap measure in this process, not a reversal of it. Him winning a victory means little considering the unpopularity of the present incumbent, and his loss would be simply damning.

Even if Biden wins, this race will be close. Far closer than the media predicted (but about as close as I thought it would be). It shouldn’t be. Trump’s awful response to Covid alone means he deserves to lose and lose big, to say nothing of his other failures. But the Democratic Party spent the past four years sabotaging any candidate who could have been a viable alternative for both their own past failures as well as Trump’s. They have shown, time and time again, that they will fight to the death with an admirable ferocity against any challenger to their left, but barely squeak by when faced with the blackpilled horror of McConnel and company. The reason for this is simple, American parties are controlled by their large donor classes. Large donor classes are always fiscally right wing. The bottom line demands that while they may prefer the less obnoxious rule of the democrats, liberal elites as a group will still throw anyone under the bus who is going to tamper with their private family hoards. But despite this clear materialist cause of our problems, the mood of the public-no matter what their political allegiance, has long since left the quest to pursue material objectives, and has moved firmly into the camp of faith, belief, and cultural signifier. The press, that supposed cadre of defenders of freedom of expression, have allowed themselves to be suckered into becoming the biggest defenders of the national security establishment imaginable. Many of them openly champion the firing and imprisonment of leakers and other journalists for either minor social infractions that cross presently trendy causes or under a kind of neo-McCarthyite delusion that they are guarding the body politic from some phantom foreign threat that spreads through memes. By making such asses of themselves they have collectively abrogated their vital mission right when they were needed the most, providing solipsistic spy thrillers for ageing boomers while ignoring the very real and bipartisan domestic problems that are entirely self-inflicted by the decay of American civic responsibility, the anti-intellectualism of the public, and above all their own failure as journalists and critical thinkers. When our legacy media uses its global reporting as a trite morality play to be framed in how a liberal sees domestic politics, you know your professional class has jumped the shark.

 There needs to be a hard left waiting in the wings in case the necessary push for materialism in our age of ecological catastrophe returns, but we also must prepare for the possibility that it will not do so anytime soon. In order to truly practice harm reduction in the present dark age, we need dark age candidates who actually do understand the problems we face and offer a superior alternative. People who aren’t obscurantist leftist puritans, woke liberals, or market fundamentalists. Someone who can speak to people’s emotional needs while also stating bluntly why the bipartisan establishment has failed everyone. Someone like Marianne Williamson.

At the first debate which she appeared in Marianne Williamson was someone I cheered ironically. I remember shouting ‘orbs orbs orbs!’ (a reference to a then current ironic meme about her having crystal orb powers) with a friend at the tv in the hopes we would be subjected to some pablum about using the power of positive energy to banish Trump from this dimensional plane. But my support for her right to speak only increased as she did so. She was the first candidate to bring up how Obama administration policies towards Central America had created the migrant crisis in the Americas and thus the debate around caravans and the wall. She went on to speak about how the United States had become a sociopathic nation abroad, and that this blundering bully persona had come back home to roost, infecting our domestic politics and giving rise to Trump. Sure, I am hardly a person to resonate positively towards rhetoric about ‘dark psychic forces’, but part of living in our new dark age where feelings do in fact seem to beat facts for most people, is understanding the power of rhetoric and symbolism. No one understands this better than Marianne. Not only does she get this necessary aesthetic packaging (made all the more powerful with the right Twin Peaks musical remix), she also clearly understood the structural bipartisan forces that have made our present American hellscape so intractable. In interviews too numerous to list since she was running and also after she dropped out, she has spoken of the necessity of breaking out of liberal-democratic shibboleths in order to effect meaningful structure change.

It is hard to think of anyone else with a speaking style and public persona who could have so strongly given Trump a what-for in his debates. Who could have generated headlines, positive and negative alike, at an equal level to Trump. Who is skilled at the one thing Trump is genius at and that all democrats seem to struggle with terminally…self-promotion. The kind of candidate who could be both forceful and patiently persuasive to skeptical audiences. The kind of person who, despite their background as a spiritualist with a lot of extremely questionable former views, could make this stone cold atheist and materialist take notice and come to take her very seriously. What matters, and what is overlooked by so much of the wonk class, is policy and deliverables. To get those things you need charisma and branding. Williamson is a rare person who could play both these roles simultaneously. She is hardly a perfect candidate for someone like me, but she is someone I could have supported openly to move things in a favorable direction.

The primary is, of course, over now. To the immense misfortune of the country at large and opposition to Trump in particular Biden was the clear victor. I doubt Marianne Williamson will run again. But she has shown us who seek to take the edge off of this dark age how it could be done. Should a candidate with a similar affect and set of policies tied to a shrewd understanding of the fully bipartisan nature of our present terminal decline, perhaps running in conjunction with an Andrew Yang type making the case that the covid emergency stimulus checks are proof that downwards redistribution really does work, ever again be a possibility, that candidate should be supported. The weirder a rhetorical outlier the better. She may not have won the democratic primary of the general election in this timeline, but Marianne Williamson showed us all a direction where the potential for immense political growth is most likely to lie so long as present cultural and socio-economy conditions continue. You can’t abolish the priests in a dark age, but you can start your own heresy. The alternative church might not be more rational than the main one, but it could be a much better community to live in. Its certainly a better path than tossing more money down the pit to nowhere also known as Amy McGrath.

Which is why it is so important to say it loudly and with certainty despite being such a counter-factual that could never technically be validated: Marianne Williamson could have…perhaps would have…definitely should have, won the 2020 General Election.

Global Geopolitical Alliances and Nagorno-Karabakh

Can I call it, or what?

Of course the possibility I neglected to mention when I last wrote about this subject here almost four years ago was that Azerbaijan would use its greater levels of diplomatic and economic connections to rebuild and re-launch its armed forces. It was a possibility I considered, but as my primary focus on writing was on the concept of small scale territorial disputes in general and not this one in particular, I didn’t bother to go into it. I should have.

The struggle over the ultimate fate of Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke out before the Soviet Union even officially fell between constituent republics of that late superpower, ended strongly favoring Armenia, putting the Armenian-majority part of Azerbaijan within the control of that nation, though the territory is still internationally recognized by almost everyone as a part of Azerbaijan. Though it is worth noting that in addition to the properly disputable Karabakh region, Armenia has also occupied some large parts of Azerbaijan that are not Armenian-majority in order to create a defensive perimeter and to negotiate from a position of greater strength.

In the time since the first fighting ceased in 1994, the balance of power has been slowly changing. Azerbaijan has sought closer ties with its patron Turkey whilst still retaining its relations with Russia, while Armenia has gone fully into Moscow’s camp. Though Armenia clearly won the first war and has had greater success building up its civil society, Azerbaijan’s economic growth and diplomatic efforts outside the region have borne fruit and made it a valuable trade partner to the region whose pace of development has been impressive. In the brief flare up in 2016 it was apparent that Azerbaijan could roughly equal Armenian military performance. In the current struggles so far in 2020, preliminary imports show that unless a major reversal now occurs that Azerbaijan holds the advantage.

Russia tilts pro-Armenia but not yet in a decisive manner. France has taken a position opposite of Turkey by backing Armenia, dividing NATO on the issue. The prevalence of Armenian diaspora communities throughout much of the world has tilted many otherwise indifferent countries media coverage towards Yerevan. China retains a position of support for the Azerbaijani position but without compromising its relations or interests in either country, as both are needed to court various Belt and Road projects in the region. Perhaps most interestingly, the strongly allied governments of Syria and Iran have diametrically opposite positions on Karabakh. Iran’s largest ethnic minority is Azeris, who make up most of the people of its northwest regions that border Turkey and Azerbaijan. It has expressed support for Azerbaijan’s position on the dispute in the past. Syria, on the other hand, views Turkey and its allies as its greatest existential threat and contains significant Armenian minorities within its borders, and therefore backs Armenia. It seems that most powerful countries would prefer the present fighting ends rather than continue and risk drawing in more actors. The field is ripe for diplomacy and mediation, but not interventionism. There is a clear international consensus, Turkey excepted, of not wanting to internationalize this conflict any more than it has been already.

But this may change should Azerbaijan be foolish enough to enter Armenia proper. They are winning, and they certainly don’t have to. They must not let victory disease go to their heads, especially as the problem of the disputed region still being majority Armenian isn’t going away anytime soon.

One of the more interesting things is how conflicted the U.S. establishment is on this issue. America has a large Armenia diaspora community with political clout, particularly in California. But this tilt is quashed by the fact that Azerbaijan has more connections with the U.S. through geopolitical alliances with those tilting away from the Moscow axis, notably Georgia and Turkey. This has led to a kind of awkward media silence. Normally, U.S. media dutifully drums up support for one side over the other in a bid to do its job preparing the public for intervention on someone’s side, but that is simply an impossibility here. Sadly, rather than get even-keel coverage, it basically means your average American gets none. It is also interesting because a similar calculation holds sway in Iran but in reverse. Despite Azeris being an enormous domestic part of Iranian politics, Tehran’s highest level policy makers are most likely more sympathetic to Armenia due to the Azeri-Turkish alliance. The more complicated things are for Turkey the less Turkish proxies have to be fought by Iran and Syria outside of Idlib. But Iran cannot take a position hostile to a country made up of its second largest ethnic group, where support for Azerbaijan is nearly universal. This is the most awkward position of any of the regional powers.

It also presents a great opportunity to re-open communications between Tehran and DC. Neither side wants a greater escalation-and what a great excuse this would be to get these two countries talking again. You can bring in Russia who clearly does not want to sever relations with Baku despite its pro-Armenian stance. But I won’t hold me breath.

The only logical way to make sense of this conflict is to hope that it remains entirely local and does not precipitate a greater crisis among larger powers and alliance networks. Any other opinions should be restricted to just the two combatants on the ground given all the above stated convolutions. Despite my ‘to the victor goes the spoils’ view of the 1994 war, I cannot help but have tilted more and more pro Azeri on this issue as this decade has unfolded. Azerbaijan has offered diplomatic solutions multiple times in recent history offering the full autonomy of Karabakh with a bonus connecting strip to Armenia proper in exchange for Armenian evacuation from all the many non-Karabakh territories it has occupied around the region. While it was logical for Armenia to occupy a cohesive defensive perimeter, there never was a reasonable solution to this conflict so long as so much of Azerbaijan-outside-of-Karabakh was under Armenian occupation. By refusing to bow to this reality as Azerbaijan’s international position grew and Armenia’s shrank, Yerevan effectively forced Baku’s hand by indirectly admitting that only a military option could bring them back to serious bargaining at the table. The fact that they started referring to the adjacent to Karabakh occupied territories as part of greater Armenia, if informally, didn’t really help. There isn’t much of an international market for Armenian Lebensraum.

The closest option I can see for a relatively equitable peace would be that Azerbaijan, showing foresight, offers this exact same deal again plus both sides recognizing some kind of regionally autonomous status. A weakened Armenia would have to acquiesce to such a fair deal. It would avoid Russian intervention against them while making Baku look magnanimous. Azerbaijan gets its core territories back sans Karabakh, but the Azeris forced out of Karabakh can return home. There is an international peacekeeping area of no-contact set up to oversee the territorial realignment. The danger to this scenario is of course that Turkey and Russia ramp up their involvement even more, or that Azerbaijan, seeing the winds in its favor, keeps the war going to the point where they lose control over it and can no longer appear as the magnanimous grievance settler. Just as Armenia’s annexation of Karabakh set off a never ending problem leading to sanctions and bloated military budgets, so too does fighting an Armenian insurgency in Karabakh and dealing with all the bad press from that threaten to undermine Azerbaijan’s recent gains. If the Azeris complete what looks like a clear victory with a peace that eschews chauvinism for a just redressing of grievance, they will gain much in the long run. Then they can join the Azeri-Iranians across the border in song. This is my hope. But real world experience shows me that knowing when to stop when one is winning is a rare thing in policy makers. I expect they will push for pre-Soviet breakup border delineation. It will be impressive if they actually get it, but it will be a poisoned victory that risks setting off internal problems or turning a victorious operation into a quagmire.

Almost everything we know about this war is through selective leaks and context-free combat footage. No doubt current attempts to analyze the battlefield situation will not hold up well. This being said, it is clear that we are seeing drones used at an unprecedented scale in conventional warfare. Probably even more for artillery spotting than for direct strikes, even though most of the footage out of Baku-linked sources are from attack drones. Vehicle casualties are high on both sides as the terrain largely favors infantry and drones that can hover over defensive positions. The Azerbaijani advances have been enormous in the south, where there is comparatively flatter terrain, and quite limited in the more mountainous north. What remains to be seen is what the plan of Azerbaijan was at the start of the conflict and what it has become. Did they think they could sweep over the region in one big offensive? Unlikely, but if so that clearly hasn’t quite worked out. Was this operation launched as a test of Armenian defenses a la the 2016 fighting and turned out to be unexpectedly successful so they went with it? Also unlikely, given the amount of logistics clearly involved in the offensive (though more likely than the grand blitzkrieg the Armenians are claiming to have heroically thwarted).

To me it seems the most likely option is that the Azeris went for a double envelopment that bogged down in the north and won big in the south. Given the terrain, this is probably what they expected at some level and they just wanted Armenian forces tied up in multiple places before they dumped their main focus on the south and the cutting of Armenia off from Iran and swinging Azeri columns behind the road connecting Karabakh to Armenia proper. If so, then the plan is working pretty close to intention. Here is hoping everyone can keep their heads and return to the negotiating table.

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Sidenote: I cannot help but notice that so many of the people who love accusing those that disagree with them as being ‘Russian bots’ or ‘Kremlin stooges’ have taken a reflexively pro Armenian stance recently. Part of this is constituency (see Adam Schiff), but Armenia is a Russian ally nonetheless. Its almost as if evaluating conflicts on their own terms is a complicated place with no room for moralistic Manicheanism in how different countries’ alliance networks work. Shocker! So, of course backing Armenia doesn’t make you a Russian stooge. Just like my support of Syria’s right to crush its rebels and spare the world another jihadist enclave doesn’t make me a Russian stooge. This point is fundamental for conversations with people who try to turn geopolitical strategy into a morality play. All politics is first and foremost local, and unless someone is paying you to construct a grand strategy or you cannot divorce yourself from your home country when doing an analysis, you should first understand it on that level. It does not make me a Russian stooge to support Syria’s sovereignty nor does it make me a Turkish stooge to think Azerbaijan is owed at least some of its occupied territory back. Neither does it make me convoluted because on two separate issues I tilt towards different partners in two competing alliance networks. It simply is what it is, the tragicomedy of international relations. When things get that complex the only logical conclusion for those not directly involved is a desire not to become involved.

Battletech: In Space No One Can Hear The Kali Yuga

”We’re still alive and we still have friends, and somewhere to stay, and its a beautiful evening and the dunes of Neume are singing to us. Those dunes aren’t just any old dunes, you know. They’re the shattered remains of provider-era megastructures, after their culture fell out of the sky. We’re being serenaded by the twinkling remains of a dead supercivilization, the relics of people who thought themselves gods, if only for a few instants of galactic time. Now-how does that make you feel?”

”Like I am living too late,’ I said.’

~Alastair Reynolds, ‘House of Suns.’

When do you realize you are living in a dark age? Contrary to a lot of recent discourse, its not something most people tend to notice until far too late. In our current era of flat-eartherism, anti-vaxxer and anti-mask activism, and postmodern-infused reality denialism, many people seem to have missed the signs of long-running rot for a sudden all too late realization. This has happened in many culture’s zeitgeist many times before. Americans finally realizing their society is in fundamental and probably terminal relative decline to its past strikes me as amusing since I have distinct memories of realizing we had crossed a point of no return back when I was a college student in 2005. That was the year the Iraq War really went south, the government response to Hurricane Katrina was laughable and led to no major structural reforms or climate change action, and the evangelical movement was attempting to teach young earth creationism in the science classroom. All of these problems could have been overcome with rigorous political action, but they were not. They were treated as aberrations and nothing was done to structurally adjust for the problems they exposed moving forward. That is when I knew I had already seen the peak of my birth nation’s civilization.

How is this gradual entropy of states and civilization portrayed in fictional stories taking place in high space? There is a different dynamic if we managed to get sustainably off planet. Though decline and fall is common to the genre it is almost always portrayed as rapid and incredibly dramatic, with star empires collapsing in a single lifetime. High space settings are by necessity somewhat positive about human chances in the future for the mere fact that for the genre to exist humanity must create sustainable settlements outside of Earth, something that requires major periods of advancement in our own future. However, many of these seemingly positive outcomes of no longer being confined to our fate on a single planet on one world are still full of cosmic horror, devastating conflicts, or any number of potential dramatic outcomes. Even Star Trek, a vision of a human positive future in space at the highest end of fictional idealism, works with a timeline where things had to get much worse on Earth before they could get better. Some visions, such as the above quoted novel House of Suns (one of my personal favorite high concept science fiction books) present an extremely impressive future that, nevertheless, still reaches a point where it tops out and stagnates. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series explored what living through the fall of the first galactic golden age was like, but from the perspective of detached outsiders trying to mitigate its effects. Other quite popular settings simply use space to revel in edginess. Some few go for a smaller scale perspective on a distant world set apart from the main drama of humanity.

Politically and philosophically I believe that the most realistic and interesting take on the darker side of humanity’s spacefaring future is that found in Battletech. A gaming series originally designed for tabletop tactical gaming which reached the peak of its fame with the rise of the Mechwarrior PC gaming series shortly after its birth, it is, at its core, a giant bipedal robot vehicle combat simulator. Most people who play it, including myself in childhood, do so because its cool. Giant stompy robot vehicles with a ton of visual variety, combat roles, and customization. This is the core of the series and why it exists. Its lore and stories, including a long running novel series of incredibly varying quality, is supplemental to the main point of driving and commanding mechs to take into battle in the 31rst Century. And yet it is this lore that ended up, possibly by accident at first, becoming one of the most interesting elements of the franchise. After all, who would think that giant tall bipedal vehicles, surely a detrimental platform and walking target in any firepower dominated battlefield, would end up giving rise to a realistic depiction of what power politics would look like in a closed system during an era of decline.

To put it incredibly simply, humanity a century or so from now invents faster than light drive and spends hundreds of years expanding into an area all around Earth. Outside of Earth’s influence, great conglomerates eventually begin to pull influence over distinct territorial patches out in space, eventually consolidating in multiple nations often led by hereditary royal families. War is rampant between these states over contested territory. Already, human expansion has simply led to a greater scope for conflict. Unused to campaigns taking up light years of range and battles being for entire planets, many human actors resort to nuclear warfare to expedite the process. We have the inverse of Star Trek in a way, the near future is good, but the long term trend is bad.

Eventually, humanity does get a golden age of sorts. For an all too brief period a resurgent Earth under an ambitious royal family of its own uses politics, diplomacy, and war to unite The Inner Sphere (the major empires closest to the core worlds) and expand territory by taking over the far flung and more renegade factions of the periphery, on the edges of human settled space. For the first time since initial colonization, technology begins to advance again. The battlemech, star of the series, is popularized and expanded in numbers and a new elite class of warrior takes the place of mass warfare, the mechwarrior. But this is still the prequel to the setting. After an all too brief period of success (which came at great cost to the periphery who were exploited to fuel it), the Star League is brought down from internal intrigue, usurpation, and civil war. The major houses divide once again, and begin a series of debilitating wars against each other to divide the spoils of the old empire between them. The old Star League loyalists either retire to Earth to run the FTL-network company Comstar as a ‘neutral’ for profit corporation, or fly out into deep space to go into self-imposed exile, founding a new civilization out beyond settled space. Meanwhile, the great houses in their combat gradually begin to lose technology. Warships become rare and then almost nonexistent, being replaced by drop pods who can only defend themselves and disgorge land forces. The over-use of nukes makes many planets worthless, and so a switch to mech (and other vehicle) based combat around specific objectives returns space warfare to the ground. Computer technology backslides and far flung regions are not even networked and rely on a literal physical postal service connected to the nearest place where FTL drive ships can disgorge information. All of this happens over the course of generations, gradually, and no one really notices it except to feel nostalgia for the Star League days, now passed into legend and heavily mythologized. The introduction to the 2018 squad based tactical Battletech game, summarizes the tragedy of humanity’s brief expansion and long drawn out decline incredibly well with only visuals and music.

That game in particular really captures the ramifications of this setting better than any other. Mercenaries, the only people free of clan or royal house fealty, live in precarious existence through salvage. Repair and upgrading of mechs is most effective through scavenging battlefields. Industries can no longer keep up with demand, especially outside of core established military channels. Some of the same companies around today (GM, Chrysler) are still in existence as defense contractors, but their output isn’t what it was. Older mechs tend to be better, the technology to make them as well as they once where is now lost or prohibitively expensive in this new dark age.

One of the funnier (and almost certainly unintentional) signs of this process of humanity just repeating its past on grander and grander scales can be found in the art of the earlier books. The ‘Tex Talks Battletech’ series on the BlackPantsLegion youtube channel does a phenomenally funny job going through the 80s era original art of the game books and postulating on how many of the people were clearly copied out of then-contemporary fashion magazines and photography. This is utterly hilarious commentary on dudes with handlebar moustaches and mullets drinking in 80s style bars in the 31rst Century…but think about it for a moment. In this setting of perpetual decline what makes more sense than every fashion aesthetic that has ever existed coming back again and again over the next thousand plus years? In this way, personal aesthetics mirror the politics of Battletech, where the successor states of the Star League all constantly jockey for position over the same territory over and over again, their alliances shifting, but their overall stability and living standards barely moving if not outright declining.

When innovation does come back into the setting, its not for fun reasons. Those Star League exiles I mentioned before? They spent centuries going insane out in deep space and developing unhinged caste-based societies obsessed with war. Ironically, these neo-Spartas called The Clans were consumed with highly ritualized combat and were proportionally quite peaceful when it came to the scale of internal conflicts, enabling them to actually expand upon Star League tech and grow human material capabilities for the first time in centuries. But then they proceeded to squander much of this in an ill-advised invasion of the Inner Sphere. The Clan Invasion would jump start a complacent Battletech setting with new technology and tactics, but also wreak immense destruction over certain regions of the Inner Sphere. The Clans were often fanatical and bizarre, and they could only offer perpetual serfdom to those they conquered. Their initial victories were impressive and against the odds, but they didn’t have the numbers, the logistics, or, most ironically, the experience in mass conventional warfare to win in the end. To quote Tex’s video on the clan invasions, ‘The Clans had spent centuries playing at war, the Inner Sphere had practiced it.’ And within a short amount of time, many clan technologies and mech designs had been integrated into Inner Sphere militaries. Not just that, but for a brief period the clan goal of recreating the Star League did in fact occur-but not under Clan leadership as they intended but rather in a brief military unity of the feuding houses *against* the clans. Much territory was recaptured from the clans, and an entire clan, Smoke Jaguar, was successfully obliterated by the alliance before, like all things in this setting, this new coalition too would fall apart. Meanwhile, back in the sticks, the clanners faced massive unrest and rebellion as a result of their failed re-engagement with the rest of settled space. And the unity of the clans against other powers disappeared as they turned blame on each other.

Now, the clans are part of the balance of power much like the Inner Sphere and periphery nations are. Tech got a bit of a boost, but the dark age did not end. Humanity’s future of a space fairing Kali Yuga continues. Arguably, with events stemming from the rise of the Word of Blake techno-fundamentalist movement in the core worlds and the incredibly costly methods it took to defeat them, it might even be accelerating.

There is something melancholy about this universe built to have fun with stompy combat robot vehicles. But its not aggressively in your face. The processes that have unfolded in this setting have taken centuries. Many people accept them as reality. They may not even know they live in a dark age. Historians and scientists might be the only professions where everyone is fully aware what is happening, but being beholden to the interests of powerful nobles and militarists means their capacity to construct an independent voice is limited.

Where could a new black swan event lie, and thus contain the kernel of potential upending of this order? Such things may not exist in this setting. But if they do I am going to pick the region that holds my personal loyalty: the periphery. It figures that the only people who do not idolize the Star League and wallow in its nostalgia are the societies one who value some independence would most want to live in. Their living standards are lower on average then the Inner Sphere (mid 20th Century at best) but they lack the social rigidity of the those nations while also lacking the militarized edginess of the clans. I suspect that were it not for their small populations and economies that they would be outsized players in affairs. All they need is some nearby great houses to collapse in order to rush into the vacuum left behind…something that remains a very real possibility. The ruthless yet affluent and educated Taurian Concordat is probably the top contender for a future new dynamic great power, needing only for those pesky Federated Suns to take a major hit to get get going. But as in the Inner Sphere, their ambitions will go only so far before the periphery gets locked in and counter-balancing coalitions clip its wings before it gets too big. Still, in my personal opinion, a refocusing on the periphery for future events would be a great new territory for the franchise.

No matter what happens though, there could well come a time when galaxy has a new golden age (albeit unlikely to be a unified one like the last time), but certain structural cores of the setting would have to be upended. Decline can lead to revival, but in this setting it is hard to see how that is coming anytime soon. So we are left with a space fairing humanity. It hasn’t yet met any sentient aliens. It topped out its tech 500 years of so before the core of the setting today, and the thousands of inhabited and terraformed worlds only seem to have accelerated preexisting trends in human history. It is not an ideal future, but it sure as hell is a possible one for us. One we should consider being sympathetic too as a concept as so far our experience with the 21rst Century has itself been one of decline, decay, and stagnation despite (and perhaps indirectly because of) the greater expansion of the electronic era and globalization. And much like today, Battletech is a livable universe. Most places are not warzones, the average standard of living is similar to what we have. Its just…not going anywhere and has no constructive vision of alternatives which it could presently pivot towards. That could change for us, of course, but we have to make the space for new ideas and new elites to even fathom that first. One imagines many in the Inner Sphere think the same when they have the ability to reflect beyond their immediate circumstances.

Anyway, be sure to check out the excellent remixes of old Mechwarrior music on Timothy Seal’s channel while you ponder how to get by while driving your giant combat machine through the battlefield in a galaxy where the best you can do is survive this battle, this war, and the next societal breakdown long enough to build a retirement fund and cash out.

The Present Necessity of a Left-Right Foreign Policy Alliance

In a few days 9/11 turns 19. Old enough to fight in Afghanistan were it a person. Old enough to fight in a war began before its birth.

In recent years, all the traditional bipartisan norms are often assumed to be entering a state of re-alignment. This is most apparent in the field of foreign policy. There may be little difference between the republican aligned hawks and neoconservatives in the mold of George W Bush and Tom Cotton when put up besides the Samantha Powers and Michelle Flournoys of the ‘muscular liberalism’ and humanitarian interventionist crowd. There is, however, a growing disconnect between such people in both parties and the vast majority of everyone else in the American body politic. Especially in the wake of Trump’s failure to govern in ways contrary to the foreign policy positions he ran against in his primary and the Democrat’s continuous turn to shore up a Beltway Blob dominated array of bipartisan advisors. ‘Horseshoe Theory’ may be the rejected detritus of political science undergrad in love with their own rote-indoctrinated received wisdom, but the clear fear of this largely nonexistent entity by the national security state mandarins implies that were someone to even partially invoke it, it might catch the establishment off balance and make real gains before it inevitably collapses. Nixon goes to China, but for domestic lobbying. To see the effectiveness of that event all you have to do is dig into the history of Moscow’s flailing reactions to it. Seizing the initiative to do something unexpected is often a strategic principle that pays out more than the initial investment.

Stolen from this hilarious parody article.

Sensing the tides shifting against them, a coordinated effort has been made to merge the consensus of endless imperium into one cohesive bloc that can seize as many levers of power while the window of opportunity is still open. If this process is completed it will lock in another decade of endless war and regime change into the American foreign policy establishment as well as hasten our domestic decline by diverting money and effort into the Beltway’s perpetual growth industry of exporting conflict abroad. It is justified by invoking existential bugbears, training the body politic to believe that every great power rivalry is a battle for the soul of the world. But the fact is while the 1930s and 40s might be the model for our propaganda, but they were a freakish outlier. Almost all such rivalries are regional, non-ideological, and bear little consequence for the average citizen unless they turn hot. Even the Cold War, outside of those countries unfortunate enough to be caught in the proxy conflicts, cannot be viewed as an ideological struggle that it was sold was as by both sides but rather simply the largest scale bipolar power rivalry yet to occur in history. Change the governing systems of either the United States or the Soviet Union, and the most important detail still leads to a similar rivalry: two massive power poles with no other truly threatening competitors outside of each other. Already, the process is underway to begin again but this time with the Chinese. The Chinese, however, are (so far) smart enough not to couch their precautions as anything but safeguarding their national interests and autonomy of action. A ‘New Cold War’ could remain relatively lukewarm if the United States followed suit. Instead, and knowing the heyday of its focus on the Middle East may be closing, the U.S. seems to again be gearing up its Christian-dominionist-inherited (and now thoroughly liberal and bipartisan establishment) cultural complex to advocate for values-based conflict along Manichean ends. It begins again, this time against a foe likely not foolish enough to fall into the trap of competing with Washington for the ‘soul of the world.’

For American strategists with a sense of deep history (sadly, a rarity) it is obvious that the country risks over-expansion and that over-expansion risks the entire enterprise coming apart due to lack of strength in the core. The costs balloon, the deployments expand, but each commitment is less solid than the last. Presence everywhere is weakness across the globe, not strength in a specific region. The more money that gets diverted away from internal science and technology, infrastructure, logistics, and adapting to climate change, the more this world empire rots into something like 18th Century Spain or 17th century Ming China…an outwardly impressive edifice just waiting for someone to kick in the door that then takes with it the walls and roof attached to it when it falls. The right does not want this because American power will end in humiliation. The left should not want it because humiliation breeds reaction, retrenchment, and xenophobia. And this is to say nothing of the immense human costs abroad. People in neither camp should want the sudden power vacuum that will set off a succession of sequel conflicts. I do not want it for all of these reasons combined. On this issue they share a common enemy more than happy to divide them with cultural issues. It is time to see past this division and forge the necessary links to lobby for a negotiated and sustainable reduction in U.S. global commitments so that over-expansion can be halted and the danger of a major world spanning conflict or sudden power vacuum occur.

There is clearly a market for featuring anti-establishment commentary from left, right, and elsewhere which is united in its opposition to the post-Cold War consensus. Already, the Quincy Institute has made waves in discussion outsized to its newborn and comparatively small status. But to be a truly impactful force there must be a left-right anti-establishment alliance on foreign policy issues that grows to the level of significant and fearsome lobby up on Capitol Hill. The kind of coalition that can give the defense contractors and the well-paid friends of Saudi Arabia and Israel a true run for their money at shaping the discourse of war and peace. This is only the first step of course, but here we are not even having taken them yet.

In order for this to work certain agreements have to be made to overcome the differences in left- and right-wing approaches to conceptualizing foreign policy. The first thing to understand is that most meaningful differences between the two wings are on domestic policy. Domestic policy, however, operates under a much different framework than foreign policy does. ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ itself is a terminology that comes from the seating arrangements of the French revolutionary government and implies an internally deliberative body. Today it barely even makes much sense as a political label on anything that is not economics or determining who is a citizen. Even if one does find the label useful, it is an appeal to a greater authority of a single community for how a state should be structured. In international relations, however, anarchy reigns above the level of sovereign states. There is no powerful entity capable of restraining the ambitions and foibles or large states. Bilateral relations and exclusionary alliances reign supreme. Universalism in intent or purpose does not exist in the inter-state system.

Whatever cultural or budgetary disagreements held by left and right can therefore be separated from foreign policy convergence against militarism, endless war, and a truly disproportionate defense budget. I know many more inclined to be on the left (including myself, if unconventionally) who think the coverage of foreign policy issues in The American Conservative is among the best around today. I know many on the right who look at issues-based alliances between Rand Paul with Tulsi Gabbard and ‘Ro Khanna on foreign affairs with a point of pride. These are pretty mainstream examples, but there is where the discussion should start in terms of accessibility. The point is to win over as much of the public as possible when you want to change policy, even if before that point all unpopular or unrepresented causes must inevitably and probably preferably begin in some level of esotericism.

In order to overcome any reticence on either side, a few points of divergence have to be overcome first when discussing foreign policy. To do this the left must concede to the idea of state sovereignty as an absolute bulwark of international affairs, and the right must concede that American Exceptionalism is nothing but a vehicle of jingoistic chauvinism. While not all actors in either camp are beholden to these ideologies, both are quite common and present the largest stumbling block towards coming together.

The importance of sovereignty as an upholder of stable diplomatic relations means both liberals and leftists must de-emphasize universal internationalism as an ideology guiding their world view. This would also be wise because most international institutions in the present era are heavily infiltrated by people who support American actions at spreading invasive and messianic economic and political interventionism to developing countries. There is no point in an internationalism that must play second fiddle to the currently declining neoliberal project in the first place. With this also comes dropping any kind of narrative of universal human progress. International relations are an exercise in crisis management and not social engineering. Besides, as I wrote recently for The Hill, there are many strategic and stabilizing benefits for the general public to adopting such a doctrine.

On the other side, the right must give up the siren song of exceptionalism and the Reagan derived ‘shining city on a hill’ vision of the United States as a uniquely virtuous actor. Nationalism cannot blind advocates of restraint from the cold realities of geopolitics, where self-interested actors exploit circumstantial advantages in a setting where no greater authority regulates state behavior. Either no countries are uniquely virtuous or all of them are virtuous in different ways-which is effectively the same thing. There are no such things as exceptionalism in international politics save more effective and less effective strategies. If individuals should not be special snowflakes, neither should states. We can even call this new stance ‘The Hadrian Doctrine’ to appeal to that common conservative love of the classics.

If these points can be agreed upon by both wings- even in a broad way-then the overall project of building a large movement ready to take on the endless war lobby can go ahead. Military force as a last rather than first option, diplomacy that benefits the citizen rather a few centrist ideologues and defense contractors, and a general commitment to avoiding further expansion of an already unsustainably large overseas empire. This needs to be something actively worked on to be grown into a ‘Restraint Lobby’ that wields coordinated power in DC. Such an attempt must be made before the consolidation of the center around a bipartisan neoconservatism (or the attempts of a desperate and incompetent president) returns to plunge us into another era of imperial calamity.

Perhaps a first small-scale test case is needed where I specific policy can be targeted. Knowing how many on both the left and right feel about Syria, I would recommend starting to make the case there. And in my own way, I already have. I hope others join me and we can grow this into something bigger and more coordinated.

Swat Kats: Our Radikkal Future

1993’s ‘Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron’ contains shredding guitar music, toxic sludge-caused mutants, dinosaurs back from the dead, cyborg criminal organizations, and of course cats flying jets fighting kaiju style monsters. So its clearly escapist fantasy operating under the rule-of-cool and has nothing to do with humanity’s coming future in the anthropocence….or does it?

If you need a primary on the show this will work.

When I re-watched the series (two seasons originally broadcast in 1993-4 and first seen by a then very little version of myself) a few years back, a thought occurred to me. This thought was sans the cartoon animal and supernatural parts, this was a vision of present trends come to life. Better yet, it was not a worse-case or best-case scenario but a pretty balanced one of what society might look like post-environmental and societal collapse. Specifically, after the recovery of the initial downsizing.

The show is not explicitly post-apocalyptic. It is also not big on world building outside of aesthetics and plot excuses. The standard of living for your average person seems normal for industrialized nations. There are few signs of significant poverty and most people’s living seem to float somewhere between late 20th century NATO and the upper echelons of the Cold War era Eastern Bloc such as Hungary. Gradually, however, the more of the show you watch the more you can’t shake that Megakat City is a giant megalopolis that grew out of a battered hellscape in the same way that Egypt’s original Nile Valley civilization grew out of the desertification of the Sahara. All shots of outdoor places outside of the city are at best arid and at worst utterly barren. There is wreckage everywhere. You might be tempted to think that the place is just a stand in for Los Angeles or something, but there is a time travel episode that clearly shows that once this same land was utterly lush green and forested. We aren’t talking about the normal tens of thousands or millions of years needed for such changes to occur naturally, as this distant past is medieval…which implies that if we are operating on a similar technological time frame for this world as our own, it can’t be more than a thousand or so years in the past.

Then there is the city itself. Its the only city we ever see directly in the show, even though other cities/countries are confirmed to exist due to the recurring trope of foreign investors visiting the city who the bumbling poltroon of a mayor is always trying to impress. These foreigners are distinctly different in accent and appearance (in perhaps a familiar way) but are still cats, implying sentient life on this world is uniformly one species. There is also a vast wasteland separating MegaKat City from its neighbors. Possibly, all such states are mega-cities scattered like oasis-es in a post-industrial desert. But at the very least this region is a confined city state. And the city is huge. Agriculture seems to only exist in its immediate proximity, much like how cities were before the industrial revolution and the shift to port-centric growth for urban places.

Within that city are tons of toxic pollutants, though most seem to be long standing problems rather than immediate present day problems. In addition to causing monsters and bizarre mutations that seem to cluster among the criminal element of society, such toxicological wonderlands are used by a large number of unethical/mad scientists for their own ends. This both implies that that the city has a barely suppressed underground to match its dark environmental history as well as a plethora of medically trained but utterly unethical people.

It is easy to piece together a rough outline of a civilization much like our own that entered a period of sustained and at least partly industrial-caused environmental decline, which unleashed resource wars (past conflicts are mentioned in at least one episode) which probably included bioweapons and chemical weapons programs. A large degree of Shiro Ishii-type super villains were created by this who then suddenly found themselves out of a job when either the populations declined enough to be sustainable or new energy/agricultural methods were developed to allow the cities to make peace. The world got much worse, then stabilized, but the cost of doing so was to later unleash a spectacular crime wave upon the city from the former mafiosos, freikorps-type displaced veterans, and bioweapons scientists who everyone just wanted to forget about.

The new peacetime regime of rebuilding Megakat City was in fact a triumph. A publicly affable and harmless seeming mayor as the front for a new era of peace and stability makes sense, but he was unprepared for the threat from within. The ‘Enforcers’ under Commander Feral are a war time organization used to dealing with threats in a certain rigid and hierarchical way that perhaps made sense during the dark era before, but is ill-equipped to deal with the new challenges of asymmetric underworld threats from within.

Enter Deputy Mayor Callie Briggs and her unofficial vigilante alliance with the SWAT Kats:

Much like how the Harding and Coolidge administrations were perfectly symbolic of the Roaring Twenties while also being utterly incompetent to the real dangers that lurked within society, Mayor Manx’s rule is inadequate to this new post-post-apocalyptic era. So Callie, the Deputy Mayor gradually seems to have usurped power from behind the scenes. By the time we meet her she has both a public persona as a hapless secretary and borderline overworked intern for the mayor’s office, but it clearly becomes apparent that it is she, through competence, connections, and guile, who actually governs the city. Perhaps she is a civic patriot with no public ambition, or perhaps its a canny game to keep all criticism and focus on a mayoral figurehead while she does her own thing in the shadows away from scrutiny, but either way it can’t be denied that MegaKat City only works against these new emergencies because of Callie.

And what better way to circumnavigate a foolish figurehead and an overly conservative and sometimes incompetent military/police force that is long entrenched in the city’s power structure? Callie also has her own shadow hard power, the Swat Kats. Two genius pilots and mechanics fired from the Enforcers due to Feral’s short-sightedness suddenly come across the resources to build an underground jet hangar, experimental weapons lab, and have a direct phone line to the *deputy* mayor? (but not the ‘actual’ mayor?). It can’t be a coincidence. And so, without changing the bland facade of peacetime governance, MegaKat City has a shadow government with a shadow military. The extreme superiority of the Turbokat jet fighter over Enforcer vehicles is made clear time and time again in almost every episode. Not to mention the clear superiority of T-Bone and Razor as special forces.

So far, you could accuse me of just wanting to talk about my favorite childhood show and make it spicy with some adult level political hot takes. You would be right. But my main point is this: SWAT Kats shows us a dark vision of the future after the apocalypse has been normalized. And any dark age eventually becomes adapted to and integrated into the experience of a culture or a civilization. In this example of MegaKat City, a full blown worst case environmental collapse occurred but the city survived and arguably thrives. Certain contemporary trends like urbanization and desertification happened to that world, but it wasn’t the permanent end of technological civilizations so much as a hard re-set. It would probably look like a crappy world to their grandparents, but the average person raised there sees it as normal and is glad that the only major problems they have now, though quite dangerous, are really just these periodic supervillian/kaiju attacks.

If we manage to head off the worst of climate change we will still have to get used to freakish weather, monstrous storms, and our continual curse of old people in government ill-equipped to handle new challenges. We will get through this process better if we change our ways, yes, but it couldn’t hurt to also staff the backrooms and facilitating logistical departments with people like Callie Briggs and the SWAT Kats, who are devoted to their civic responsibilities and commitment to adaptation, and not interested in public fame or vast wealth. Perhaps its time to consider hardening our own increasingly fragile societies with shadow organizations more up to date with the present day dangers we face. If the Covid Crisis shows anything its that the state as it currently is is not always reliable, but direct personal connections and unofficial organization can only be a net benefit for those who wish to act.

There. You can say you learned something useful from a kids cartoon cancelled by Ted Turner for being too violent.

The Black Longhouse

“You’re feeling the oppression of Christian hegemony in conflict with native animism,” he said. “Self-righteous, puritanical men seized this land. You’re also feeling the eyes of the vultures evaluating the sweet texture of your skin. The eyes of many animals. Animals endure.’

~Laird Barron, ‘Worse Angels’

What follows is a symbolic manifesto of sorts. Take from it what you will.

In a world built on bones there is an entire hemisphere that is especially shattered by abrupt displacement. On the northern continent of that hemisphere is the seat of a degenerating world-empire. Within that empire are a people unmoored from the reality of the ancient land beneath their feet even as it dies because of them. They cling to the ideologies of a failing state despite these very beliefs having brought them to this point. The universal idealism of a simple moralistic world and one set of values to make sense of it has not just failed them-it has made everything worse for everyone. The ubiquity of their communications networks brings what was once left at the pulpit of the puritan into an unceasing daily bombardment of affirmation for collapsing monoculture.

But there was a time that lasted far longer before the coming of Christ and Cotton Mather when these lands had no such grifters. Tribes existed and fought each other as humans always do, but had no concepts of messianic religion, ‘biological’ race, or the glorification of victimhood. These many diverse peoples were wiped out by an unprecedented hemisphere-encompassing apocalypse where smallpox and plague took the majority as a prelude. Then came shattered bands of survivors still alive in a time where the recently dead outnumbered the living by multitudes and were forced to respond to an alien invasion of technologically advanced extremists. They went down in a hell of a fight that took centuries and their descendants are still live today, despite the odds.

In their place came a civilization that broke all contact with this past and rushed to fill the vacuum with their own inheritance…but not all these things were a sensible fit for the new locale. Despite the cultural disconnect of most of its inhabitants, its earthy chaotic gods sleep much closer to the surface than the long-buried and fully domesticated pantheons across the sea. This is not a land of mellow meadows and shires, but of earthquakes, blizzards, tornadoes, and towering thunderstorms. This is a land that scorns weakness.

The newcomers could breed to the point where they were immune to native syncretism-avoiding the natural fate of conquerors. This further cut off the northern reaches of the hemisphere even beyond that of the rest. We live in their world now. But now, in the early 21rst Century, we see their world view cracking under the strain of its own hubris and excess. The opportunity to build something new is opening before our eyes. Something that fits this place better. Something that can at least bridge some of the gap between the incongruous ideological imposition of today and the natural state of a beautiful and terrible land.

There are those of all backgrounds and persuasions who find no tribe amongst the degenerating postmoderns of our time. They find the amplification of faddish superficial issues a distraction, the busybodies of the commentariat and consumer as the front for a past-prime ruling class in crisis. Witch hunts are everywhere as the fearful and ostensibly secular descendants of those original puritan settlers and conquistadores blame heretics for their own inadequacies.

Those who reject this status quo may find themselves walking in the woods as they travel apart from the trends. Let us say in the northeast or Great Lakes region-though it could be anywhere. The new growth forest of the woodlands hacked down and re-grown is filled with underbrush and small trees. Ticks lurk everywhere as un-predated deer strip the biodiversity as they spread like locusts.

Eventually these travelers make their way to a place deep in the woods. Giant ancient trees tower above in the old growth grove. Here, the underbrush is lighter. Flowers bloom again. Sharp unseen eyes raise their hackles as they know the deer tread lightly in this place for fear of predation. At the center is a longhouse. Those redoubtable large bark clad structures that could house many people and supplies. But this longhouse is different. It is jet black and angled as only a modern construct could be. It draws from the forgotten past but is no slave to it. It would seem incongruous to those who came across it accidentally, but not to our band our travelers.

On the inside they find the interior lit only by the fire pits. The shadows cast about imply a structure far larger than seems from the outside. There wait for them masked figures-wooden shamanic grotesques with distorted and leering features. Beneath this they wear well-tailored suits. They tell the travelers that to accept the uncertainties of a new future is to draw strength from a different past. The pipe is passed around as the masked ones speak of a land people belong to, and not a land belonging to people.

‘Mankind sought the death of Coyote, an animal once confined to the plains and Rockies. His attempts to kill it made it breed and migrate outwards. A century after this campaign began it has unintentionally spread the animal over the entire continent. Here, in the east, it has bred with Canadian wolves up north before moving south. It has thus grown in size and pack mentality.

‘The coyotes were misfits, but they came together to survive and perhaps for revenge. Now, they thrive while we decline. Be like this beast. Adapt to the new by breaking old bonds of safety. Your mouth must be red with venison for the flowers to bloom again and the ticks to recede. Face your fears directly and make them your allies against your foes. Come together at decisive points in time and scatter when countered. Always help to sabotage the complacently powerful and their defenders.’

These travelers realize their personal differences do not need to be ironed out-the diversity strengthens them. Here they can debate the most taboo subjects openly, shrouded from view of the puritans by the walls of the Black Longhouse. They have something more important now: common enemies. The missionary, the financier, the complacent monoculture that upholds them all.

As the travelers dance around the fire they revel in being both distinct and as-one. They know that their odds are low but that such difficulties only increase the glory of the fight. The future they want is yet un-defined but by taking the first step away from a failed consensus the mere possibility to building something new has been created. All of them now carry the Black Longhouse inside them.

The travelers walk out of the old growth region, through the moat of the striplings, and back into the roar of modernity. But rather than be sad as before, they see now that within this degenerating world is an abundance of new opportunities. Every decaying town is a chance to rebuild not in some nostalgic way for what it once was, but a new way to that leans forward and draws from a different and much neglected past. Many peoples, gods, and cultures united against a common old order and its increasingly hysterical defenders. What were the covenant chains of past entities on this land before colonization but the agreement that difference and divergence was fine, and could all serve a struggle against a common enemy? Such was the thought of people who lived in older longhouses. Already, one can hear the sounds of this new synthesis of forgotten old and dynamic new if one listens.

Somewhere inside a tacky suburban home at night, a clergyman (either of faith or of human resources and professional management) spots something outside the window. He peers through the glass to see the leering face of a coyote with wolf-like dimensions. The lights go dark and he screams, fumbling to bring them back on. But against one who sees in the darkness as if it was its own form of light…

In a time of monsters be the biggest baddest monster of all. And bring your friends. This ancient land demands no less of you.