T2B7: People Worth Watching II

Tom Cotton


In several decades of appreciating dystopia, of reading and re-reading the Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, The Castle etc, I had never heard of, let alone read, Evgeny Zamyatin. His novel, ‘We,’ was the inspiration for Orwell and perhaps Huxley too. On my reading list.

Surveillance vs Fossil Fuels

Trump got more votes in 2020 than anyone else before him besides Biden and Obama. There are more voters, but the degree of support for Trump has many people worried for the future. Typical headline:

If Joe Biden Fails Then His Successor will be a Christian Fascist Who is Much More Dangerous Than Donald Trump

For a more reasoned version of the same sentiment:

This New Yorker piece by Evan Osnos

Civilizational collapse is trending. I agree about the danger signs, but I think the complaints are looking at the wrong culprit - they are focusing on the divisions within the general populace when I believe the far more important development is the divide amongst the elite. In the New Yorker article I linked above, Osnos quotes the comparative politics expert Larry Diamond saying:

There’s no other way to say this: the Republican Party, with notably few exceptions, has become a party of semi-loyalty to democracy. If you want to stop this, the answer is very simple. The Republican politicians who know better, in the House, the Senate, and the governorships, have to speak up. If they don’t put the preservation of democracy and civility over their own political careers, we’re going to keep sliding down this path.

That’s a sign of elite power struggle, not popular resistance. Incidentally, in another recent article about Biden and India, Sadanand Dhume quotes Diamond:

Larry Diamond, an expert on global democracy at the Hoover Institution, includes Mr. Modi in a shortlist of world leaders who “are eviscerating democracies from within.”

That’s a discussion for another time.

Coming back to the US, it’s been many things: beacon of freedom, genocider of Native Americans and enslaver of African Americans, imperial power etc but what it hasn’t had is an authoritarian core within its elite. Let me be precise about what I mean by that: the US has bombed other countries out of existence, Washington (the man, not the city) spent years trying to ‘retrieve’ one his runaway slaves but only once has the US elite tried to kill or violate each other: during the civil war.

If events continue in their current progression, the civil war might not be the last instance. In response to the civil right movement, the Republicans ‘pivoted’ to being a party of white people - the infamous southern strategy - but since then demographics have changed dramatically with the US on the way to becoming a majority-minority country, i.e., a country in which non-white people are the majority, though no single group of non-white people would be in a majority on their own.

What follows are ideas I have been developing with my friend and colleague Frode Steen.

I have been in the camp that claims the Democrats and the Republicans are two wings of the Corporate Party. That truth hasn’t been falsified, but I also now see the emergence of genuine division in the US elite with sources of wealth and power that are in direct competition. There’s now genuine disagreement over energy sources, demographic base and means of extraction. Where is it all going?

It’s very hard to predict, especially the future, but here’s my prediction anyway: the clash between the rising bourgeoisie and the aristocracy prompted regime changes in Europe in the 18th and 19th century. However, that clash was between layers - the aristocracy on top being displaced by the bourgeoisie who were below but rising. Now I see a clash between columns: one column representing fossil fuel capitalism and one column representing surveillance capitalism. It’s a matter of chance that the two models of 21st century capitalism are antagonistic. In fact, the conflict is particular to the West; just look at China with its OBOR initiative (fossil fuel capitalism) and its social credit system (surveillance capitalism) to experience a society in which the two legs are attached at the hip. The big question:

Is the Chinese merger of surveillance and fossil fuel capitalism less or more unstable than the western clash between the two?

Tom Cotton

Once again, it’s very hard to predict. What’s clear is that race-dynamics alongside the ravages of capitalist globalization are creating the conditions for the rise of an authoritiarian elite. Trump’s election in 2016 opened the door for authoritarianism in America, but more disciplined politicians will be the face of the white authoritarian movement in the long term.

If I had to pick a name, it would be Tom Cotton.

Cotton has the right neoliberal credentials (AB and JD from Harvard) but he combines those with imperial street cred (Bronze Star in Iraq and Afghanistan) which he wants to import into the streets of Washington an Philadelphia. That’s the message of his NYT op-ed

Let’s not forget his comments on slavery:

"As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction."

‘Necessary evil’ being the key phrase here. Though he will never have the media celebrity that Trump has, Cotton is the kind of politician the Republican establishment could decide to back wholesale. Their ‘necessary evil.’ He’s only 43, a calculating, articulate and smart politician who could well become the first elected fascist president four, eight or twenty years from now.

A dangerous man.

Collapse Studies

Not to be alarmist, but remind me to take a ‘collapse studies’ point of view on T2B. You may not have to wait too long: could be as early as day after tomorrow 😀 For future reference:

  1. Joseph Tainter: The Collapse of Complex Societies

  2. Peter Turchin: Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall

This is not about the T2B transition or even the United States. According to Tainter:

“The world today is full,” Tainter writes. Complex societies occupy every inhabitable region of the planet. There is no escaping. This also means, he writes, that collapse, “if and when it comes again, will this time be global.” Our fates are interlinked. “No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

What can we do to save the world? Or perhaps the better question:

Is it even worth saving?

When we talk about saving the world, we typically mean saving the trappings of elite power - pyramids and Empire State Buildings. The Maya survived the collapse of their pyramids and perhaps we will too.