America the charnel ground

The America that our parents and grandparents grew up in, that colossus, is gone for good. Western civilization is in a death spiral. And humanity as we know it is not long for this earth.

This, by the way, regardless of whether we obliterate ourselves (in a nuclear holocaust or unforeseen systems collapse) or manage to make it to the Singularity.

My whole cohort might be vaporized, or cannibalized by our stranger-neighbors in a not-so-cold civil war. Alternatively, we get past it all, and are merged by AI into an optimization (pleasant or not) that has no interest in our individuality or in the human life cycle.

Our gonads might not survive intact; our progeny may yet be infinite, formless intelligence. Either way, we might be among the last to give our parents grandkids.

The only prediction I’m willing to make is that the rate of change will become unbearable if we continue to cling to things as they are. And we’re all doing it. In fact, I notice that I’ve become more prone to it than I once was, as I’ve seen more of the world, developed deeper relationships, and cultivated empathy.

The long 2016 has been a mindfuck—for the first time, I’m not bullish about America’s prospects. Everyone’s at each other’s throats, and we all know it. Visions of apocalypse have begun to take on an intuitive quality (that said: intuiting isn’t believing).

When The Better Angels Of Our Nature came out in 2012, I ate it up. Suddenly, The Black Swan seems much more important.

It would be best if I started regarding America, the West, and humanity in general the way the Tibetan masters regard a charnel ground (the place where bodies are laid out to be scavenged and burned)—as sites to viscerally experience the occasionally liberating, often horrifying truth: that all things pass, no matter how much we care about them.

And out of this awful awareness, cultivate a more ambient, less possessive sense of compassion.

The Brazilian Whitman

Attempts to explain poet and composer Caetano Veloso to non-Brazilians typically refer to him as a Brazilian  John Lennon orBob Dylan … Jessica Callaway, however, argues that if comparisons must be made, in spirit and sensibility, Veloso is more aptly described as a close comrade of Walt Whitman.

— The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics, ed. Levine and Crocitti

America in decline: nothing personal

When I arrived in the United States, curiously enough, it was precisely at the end of the long positive structural-demographic (SD) trend, which saw historically unprecedented rise in broadly based measures of well-being, including its economic and biological aspects. The trend reversal from the integrative to disintegrative SD trend can be dated fairly precisely to 1977-1978…

In other words, just as the US was triumphantly winning the Cold War and becoming the world’s sole superpower, deep down in the American society’s foundations, a disintegrative trend was gathering steam, the significance of which is becoming glaringly obvious only today.

— Peter Turchin, “1977-2017: A Retrospective

Our moment is the first in any living person’s lifetime (or in America’s lifetime, most probably) of convergence between structural-demographic “disintegration” and imperial decline. How does this manifest in today’s politics? “Make America Great Again” as an all-purpose banner for fear of emasculation and obsolescence.

Not being the sole (or even primary) geopolitical superpower isn’t a tragedy. Just ask the happy, prosperous folks in Denmark, or the happy, piss-poor folks in Bhutan. But for people who lived the unipolar moment of the fabled 90s, disorientation is to be expected.

To what degree is international status anxiety contributing to America’s internal “disintegrative” trend by making people feel like dispensable losers? It’d be hard to gauge. To be sure, it’s not the main driver of our spike in partisan rancor, mass shootings, fatal overdoses, and endemic complacency.

But the degree to which Americans cling to exceptionalism can’t be psychologically healthy (Hell, I voted for Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders, and the thought of America not being #1 even stings me a bit!). And when this clinging plays out at the ballot box, tectonic plates shift—and never in our favor.

How can we convince people that changes in the global order needn’t be experienced as personal tragedy?