The stages of national grief
The American attempt at democracy has failed. If you prefer I can be a bit more polite and say that it is failing. That usually makes people more willing to read and consider the situation. Primarily because it allows a bit longer to stretch out the hope that, somehow, this thing called America is going to fix itself and become whole again. It ain’t going to happen.
This problem is not a problem. It is a solution that has evolved to a new planetary paradigm that is beginning to define a unified and actively networked world. Trying to solve a new paradigm (solution) is not only impossible but produces very confusing results none of which are what the people working on the misperceived ‘problem’ are expecting to get. Anger and more confusion results along with frustration and a major effort to avoid the whole issue. That doesn’t work either.
There are many perspectives to viewing this change as it is profound and fundamental to human social organization on this planet. I use the term planet specifically because the ultimate redefinition of human society may be critical to enabling our ability to get off of this planet. And, in certain cases, that may be essential to our species survival.
If you find that breath taking or absurd that is fine because it illustrates the size and fundamental nature of this redefinition. The fact that more people have not come to realize this or, perhaps more accurately, been willing to talk about it openly, is an increasingly worrisome issue. But even people who advocate and like change struggle when the changes are too big as well as unavoidable. It’s the unavoidable that causes the stubborn reaction. We do love our illusions of free will. But we are about out of time.
I think it’s time because desperation is also building in the post industrial states and particularly in America. It’s our home we worry about first, after all. And I use the cultural name ‘America’ because the culture will survive but the political entity the ‘United States’ has already failed politically. The shock of that collapse has galvanized the population. And that requires the point to be made that I am not saying this applies anywhere except America. BREXIT was triggered by the same paradigmatic shift but was a mistake in forcing the exit from a different and still very viable alliance. In fact I would very much expect that the EU is a workable model for small states and new city states. There is a critical need for the maintenance of absolute and expanded range of rights to defend the full human diversity.
In any case you can’t blame Trump just as Turkey’s population can’t really blame Erdogan or the British can’t blame the BREXIT instigators who were as shocked as America was with Trump at their 2016 success. Those are symptoms in the old human pattern of opportunistic feudalism or fascism in its more recent 20th century form. These are scavengers, to use a biological metaphor, and appear at the first signs of possible death. By their very nature they are not fighters or conquerors but natural opportunists with the skills and crudity of a vulture. When they finish picking the bones they leave or are scared off by those who will replace the old with the new.
Scaring off the scavengers is an important step but hard to do and premature when the corpse is still very fresh. But this stage is also as important as the stages of grief for the survivors of a death in the family. A major change in perspective is required because what was there and relied on is no longer available. America and parts of the post industrial world are now facing this and have spent the last two years or so going through the sorrow, anger, blaming of the dead, appalled by the scavengers, and struggling to understand how this could happen. The same answer will be found. Change happens and most adapt but some fail.
This is an evolutionary process and the characteristics for survival have now changed and we need to figure them out. The old ones don’t work anymore and as a result they are dead. If we don’t want to end up dead also we need to realize the extent of the change and quit trying to pretend that some magic ritual or the repetition of previous rituals will some how cause the corpse to spring back to life. What normally happens is someone from outside with a working system that meets the new needs simply comes in, scatters the scavengers, and takes over.
What do we understand?
Our language is changing. We are divided by the uneven evolution of our languages. People from different perspective in this process speak at each other using what they think are the same words. They sound the same as they use to sound but for one group their meaning is diverging from the old meaning. And new words are developing that only have meanings in the new context and so those caught in the old language can’t grasp them at all.
Some examples are the old political terms democracy, communist, socialist, capitalist. For the majority in American centered on major metropoles (a new term) these words are historical and have been replaced by post-capitalist, post-socialist, or have simply lost any positive meaning. The same can be said for liberalism, conservatism, globalism, leftist, or race. For the new language majority liberalism is many things but not a choice. Rather it is a broad base assumption on which other choices are made.
Conservatism is no longer a political choice or even any kind of option. It is simply another name for those who prefer orthodoxy and are uncomfortable with change.
Globalism is tied to neoliberalism as an evolved term that seems negative in some forms but positive in others. It is negative in the loss of jobs to foreign workers but positive in cheap goods, clothes, and electronics. Race and leftist are only historical and have been replaced by diversity and identity, two very positive terms but fundamentally different concepts.
Obviously we have the reappearance of race supremacists and people desperately hanging on to the old words. To most people it simply doesn’t make sense. The result is general revulsion and confusion at the existence of people who have begun to speak in a long dead language. Hence the basic difficulty in categorizing and dealing with people suffering from this bizarre affliction (from the new language perspective).
This sets up very common shouting contests in America now with the orthodox groups attempting to hold onto the old meanings using some of these words as accusations. Because they are not heard as accusations but only as dry historical statements by the new language speakers, confusion ensues and communication collapses. Race is also an interesting example as to the majority this has become historical and is basically now covered by identity while for the orthodox minority this is still biological and an indicator of low status. For the orthodox the term identity has become an accusation of meaninglessness as it means nothing to them. They are still stuck in the world of race.
The other most common accusation failure is the orthodox use of ‘communist’ and ‘socialist’. As noted above these are now simply historical descriptors with complex meanings. We need to include Marx in this list also. All of these are ways of understanding the history of economics and political development in the 19th and 20th century.
Marx’s analysis is still of great value and the disasters of the Russian attempt to implement them is old history. At the same time the most successful nation states of the 21st century are versions of democratic socialist principals although these are also in transition as the basic implementation of market economics is in rapid change out of planetary necessity. Sustainability is the new working criteria for action and that, not surprisingly, is either ignored or denied by the orthodox who cannot accept it.
Learning new meanings, literally a new language, requires commitment and effort. Refusing to recognize the new meanings makes communication impossible. This is the essence of the American chasm and there is little that is going to change until the old language is replaced with the new. Historically this could take two or three generations. That is impossible now and given the extent of the change already it appears we are well past the critical conversion percentage or tipping point (around 25%), at least in the post industrial societies.
The only option that I see is the tradition of the ghetto in its original form as a immigrant community in transition. This includes the practical realization that the transition to a new culture is difficult and some never make the change. The old or the reluctant need to have a home where they are understood, with increasing difficulty, but understood and tolerated.
This process of isolation and transitioning by generation, if by nothing else, is very natural and human. It can become a point of war and death if that is allowed to develop but is, by nature, gentler as part of a positive concept of active diversity. A word from the new language that can appreciate a role for the old and orthodox.
The remains of the state
A major part of this transformation is a series of necessary changes in public administration of social structures, i.e. government. The collapse of democracy seems the most difficulty to handle. The problem for Americans is the political manipulation of the term ‘democracy’ to designate the nature of the old US nation state. This became, not a description, but a vague standard used to denigrate other states designated as enemies and to justify increasingly radical economic exploitation of populations both domestic and foreign leading to the American Empire.
This was a major factor in the collapse of the old system but that is a complex issue and not of immediate concern. Historian will discuss this for many years and probably never come to a final conclusion.
The real issue is clearing out the remains of the old and figuring out what needs to replace it. This has the highest probability of failure as I, frankly, don’t know of empires in any age that successfully made a full paradigmatic shift. The failures are the primary topic of university history of world civilizations courses.
Historical examples are helpful but fraught with confusing differences. Two major factors complicate things for us now. The first is the deadline of sustainability and carbon capture/reduction. We have only, at most, a two or three decades to beat this death warrant. That never existed in the past.
The other is the speed of our change process driven almost completely by technology. That has achieved independence and self sustained growth. In other words we have lost control of this, 4th, industrial revolution also. While this is still arguable we have, in my opinion, already moved into AI directed self design and production. Steam engines nor early stage IT took over their own development and production. This is stunningly new. Either this works for us and this planet with all its life forms or it doesn’t. We need now to find our niche and the best way for us to exert our opinions into the shared process between human and machine that now drives civilization on this planet.
Based on historical models, empires, large nation states as we call them, break up quickly following political collapse and systemic failure. Most people in America have some idea of the connection between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of independent European states that became, somehow, France, England, Germany, Spain, etc. The relatively recent collapse of the USSR is very illustrative. China provides a somewhat different model with repeated dynastic redesign and restoration of empire in name if not in structure and with major changes in system. This may become very important for us as I will summarize shortly.
So my expectation, that appears to be gaining popular, though tentative, acceptance is the breakup of the American Empire very soon. As I have covered elsewhere from various perspectives, the orthodox have tended to be defined by age and education but also by residence in small cities, surviving rural communities, and far suburbs of the emerging metropole urban regions. At the same time it is the urban metropoles that are the heart of the old progressive political ideals that are actually based on dynamic identity issues and diversity. This also includes a strong orientation toward the growing commonality of metropolitan life in all major planetary urban regions.
The orthodox are not economically self sufficient and are reliant on the new, complex automation and AI based system management that is developed and implemented in the coastal and large urban regions. These symptoms and growths have been endlessly studied through the course of our coming to terms with the death of the United States.
What is being realized and slowly brought to social consciousness is the metamorphosis of the old nation state into a new association of metropoles or city states. Google ‘new city states’ and this becomes much clearer. It is also possible to look at the ‘international affairs’ departments of major cities. The federal government as a political entity has become not only redundant but malignant. In the same way the old state governments are redundant and, in some cases more than others, malignant. There is a great range in size from old to new in the US states and in some cases these are already operating effectively as city states.
We can also watch the voting in California on the break up proposition. This can easily be seen as a spontaneous attempt to create more effective city states with, perhaps, an orthodox region operating as a pseudo state. This appears to be what will happen in one form or another over the next five years and perhaps in as little as two for America. The problems of the dysfunctional administration in a dysfunctional federal political system in the militarily most powerful of the old nation states is highly unstable. That makes a general realization of what is happening critical as we may not have time to work over another wave of shock and anger before immediate decisions need to be made at the state and local government levels.
Finally it’s, I think, very important to return to the international level and think about China. As I have stated above the Chinese historical model is similar to the west in broad strokes but the result has led to a very different situation in the early 21st century. The failure of what are viewed as democratic nation states is highly emotional particularly for America. This is primarily due to the unique distortions of the collapsing American system that insisted on seeing itself as the Enlightenment “City on the Hill” and the paragon of democratic capitalist republics. While this served well early in the 20th century and through the American peak in mid century, it became so distorted from the 1980s and through the collapse of the USSR, which had become a spiritual raison d’etre, that it grossly distorted the opportunity to evolve to a more aggressive and survivable form of democratic socialism. This also allowed a particularly vicious form of predatory capitalism to grow that greatly worsened the political collapse.
The weakness of the 18th century democratic republican form of government had been protected by the success of market capitalism and the rise of global neoliberalism. The assumption was that market capitalism was inherently tied to the democratic representative form of government. No other models provided a working alternative after the failure of the Soviet central managed, large economy. That is until the rise of the Chinese stated supported economy that put the emphasis on administration of a combined free market. In essence the history of an efficient bureaucracy as the target, whether achieved or not, evolved a governmental system that became, arguably a functioning and better model with senior positions allocated to career state managers rather than often incompetent elected officials. While the formal Chinese system was increasingly presented as a better alternative to troubled African states it was carefully not presented as an alternative for states with a long history of the popular elections and representation at all levels.
The reality of this was to carefully keep political domination out of the arguments of economic growth that could, again arguably, be more effectively converted to sustainability than the loose and often highly corrupt American model. The presence of the Chinese alternative gaining strength and popularity quickly by removing what was the clearest failure of the old democratic republics can only be expected to foster imitation and alliances particularly in the western metropoles of the American Pacific coast.
Perhaps by accident the planet is seeing a new economic and administrative model with a greatly reduced political process just as the American system failed. Whether the Chinese model could be adapted to a stronger and more robust system of rights and full diversity is the largest question moving toward 2020 and massive social and political change.