Saturday 25 July 2020

Weekend: American Lament - Darwin Awaits ...

If we don't much bang on about the USA so much on this blog, it's not for lack of regard; far from it.  Personally, I have worked for more than one US company and, whilst never resident, I have done a huge amount of business in the States (indeed, made most of my money there).  It's such a big country with so many traditions, and generalisation is often foolish: but in commercial terms most Americans are a delight to do business with: open-minded, and always ready to deal if you show there's something in it for them, without being overly concerned about what's in it for you.  They put most Europeans to shame.  (I exempt the London financial sector which happily shares this same characteristic.)

No: if we don't bang on about the USA so much, it's more out of a sense of not wishing to intrude upon the private grief of friends.  Because they have fallen into the hands of utter lunatics.

1.  There has always been a bonkers strand on the US fundamentalist Right.  I have worked with good professional geologists who claim to believe the Lord made the world in literally seven days some 4,000 years ago - and yet their entire technical discipline is based on, errr, a rather different account  - one that they must also maintain in their heads Monday to Saturday, so to speak.  But in the past it's not generally been too hard to leave them to their Sunday eccentricities**.

2.  The American sense of libertarianism is also somewhat hard to rationalise.  Yes, there are indeed some out-and-out cave dwellers maintaining a genuinely self-sufficient lifestyle in their Montana fastnesses.  (Well, they probably don't manufacture their own automatic firearms ...)  But for so many others, their professed enthusiam for individualism and personal liberty somehow doesn't apply during working hours, because the average American corporate is a tightly-run dictatorship. (Benign? -ish.)  Employee involvement most definitely not wanted: but blind, unquestioning loyalty most categorically required (and forthcoming).

3.  Finally there's the aggressive-woke-snowflake tendency in their universities (and increasingly their corporate HR departments), but we'll let that abomination pass just for now, because ...

It's the fundamentalist/libertarians that are my immediate worry, them and their commander-in-chief.  Their attitude to Covid-19 is likely to see Darwin swinging into action in a big way: a whole year of Darwin awards being issued.  And although we could just about make a pro forma evolutionary argument for how American society is going to emerge all the stronger for a good clean-out of the weak, somehow it doesn't ring very true.  "What doesn't kill me, makes me stronger!"  Yeah, maybe.  But you might want to check on the physical and mental condition of some Covid "survivors".

There are of course those on the Left who'd say Boris Johnson's Britain bears more than a passing resemblance to Trump's America.  It's not a wholly empty comparison.  But it's not a quarter as much perturbing (not to me, anyway, even if it's clear Boris has made a very bad fist of being king-of-the-world).  

Yes, the USA has colossal strength in depth, as the Japanese learned to their surprise and detriment.  And mighty empires don't crumble overnight.  But what Americans face today, on several fronts (Covid, China, identity politics ...), and the shape in which they face it, is frightening.  There's a long LRB piece here that addresses primarily the China apsect of this, concluding:
The US is currently preoccupied by the legacy of racial hierarchy and the last half-century of widening inequality.  But as it attends to the challenge of domestic reconstruction, its political class faces another question.  Can it fashion a domestic political bargain to enable the US to become what it currently is not: a competent and co-operative partner in the management of the collective risks of the Anthropocene?  After the shock of Covid-19 it is more urgent than ever.  
Sorry, my Trans-Atlantic friends, but under any probable political leadership over the next four years, I don't quite see how you come out of this, except materially diminished - relative to China at the very least.  Which is depressing indeed.


** I realise of course that many would attribute much worse things to some fundamentalists than just quirky ideas on evolution etc  


DJK said...

My expectation is that Trump will win in November, because faced with the alternative of anarchy, identity politics, defunded police, etc. people will choose the perceived strong man promising order and safe streets. But I see the Dems are already lining up their excuse for losing, saying that Trump is going to cheat and subvert the election process.

Really, it's all very sad and the disfunctional USA of today is quite a contrast to the self-confidence of the 1945-69 period. And personally, I'm glad we were able to take a holiday in NYC a year ago, before the downward spiral of white flight and riots set in.

My main worry is how much contagion we get over here.

dearieme said...

"the average American corporate is a tightly-run dictatorship." There's a fine memoire by a General Lee who was the American military attaché in London early in the Second German War.

He was struck that in confabulations of British officers the senior bods encouraged the juniors to weigh in and actually engaged with what they said. This practice was apparently unknown in the US army.

He also commented on the RAF practice of letting NCOs fly aeroplanes, that job being reserved for officers in the US forces.

He's full of telling insights like those.

dearieme said...

Anyway, anyway, what links the plight of the USA to the plight of the later Roman Empire in the west?

A sense of entitlement, perhaps?

Taking foundation myths literally?

Corruption of the ruling classes?

General decadence?

Nick Drew said...

2 cracking contributions, dearieme

in confabulations of British officers the senior bods encouraged the juniors to weigh in and actually engaged with what they said. This practice was apparently unknown in the US army

I've prob told this story before. In the European arm of a US corp where I worked, a new (American) CEO took over: he was young for the job, well-educated, well-travelled, and an Anglophile to boot. It seemed promising.

At his first Town Hall meeting with the staff (when he announced several sweeping changes), he invited all and any questions. Taking him at his word, one middle-management fellow, 'Andy', pitched in with a respectful but penetrating and 100% pertinent question. He got an answer of sorts. When the board next met (I was a director) the new man said: now I want it understood: Andy isn't gonna get fired for asking that question. He was deadly serious, i.e. he assumed everyone would themselves have automatically assumed Andy was for the chop.

He also commented on the RAF practice of letting NCOs fly aeroplanes, that job being reserved for officers in the US forces

That's actually a tortured issue in the RAF, and always was. There are many aspects: maybe I'll post on it sometime

what links the plight of the USA to the plight of the later Roman Empire in the west?

ah, History Corner beckons! You wanna write a guest post? (may wish also to consider the rather more drawn-out fate of the Eastern Empire)

E-K said...

Last time I looked CV19 deaths were a lot lower per million in the US than here and in several leading EU countries. The BBC likes to obsess about it though.

We cannot rule out sabotage - that the young Left and others have been spreading the disease deliberately.

rwendland said...

Not any longer E-K by a long way. If you look at the 7-day rolling average now of new confirmed CV19 cases per million you get:

US: 200, FR: 12.8 UK: 9.8 DE: 6.1

It is less pronounced on deaths, I guess because it is hitting younger-healthier people more in the US (because they still party/demonstrate?), and perhaps they test more:

US:2.7. UK: 0.9, FR: 0.09, DE: 0.06

Note this is last 7-day not cumulative as many newspapers use. As it came later to the US cumulative makes the US look better, though still very high.

The charts are at:

though you have to click UK to add it to chart, and pick your display options at the top.

DJK said...

For the UK C-19 breakdown, I recommend travelling tabby:

Nessimmersion said...

For US declared Covid declared deaths it wouls be very rash to ignore the fiduciary incentives:

Sort of brings the whole thing into extreme doubt.

dearieme said...

A guest post? Thank you but I must decline. My sparse blog posts have been about classical jazz, a minority interest if ever there was one.

Play that thing!

E-K said...

Dearieme - I found going 'over the top' a lot more difficult than I thought !

However, your postings have been...


E-K said...

Yet another person states a relative has died of NHS neglect (mistreatment for cancer) but gone down as CV19.

Why ?

To avert a claim ? Or to show up the hated Tories ?

E-K said...

PS. I previously noted this here:

"Police are 7x more likely to issue fines for lockdown to BAMEs - RACISM !"

The next day

"BAMEs are 7x more likely to die of CV19 - RACISM !"

(The BBC and others.)

dearieme said...

One stray thought on the plight of the USA: read up on the history of Germany for a few years after the armistice of 1918.

Don Cox said...

Dearieme, what's the address of your blog ?

I do like classic jazz.

Don Cox

Elby the Beserk said...

When I heat the word "Anthropocene", I reach for my pistol...even more so at the start of what looks to be the strongest GSM in centuries.

GSM? Grand Solar Minimum (sing to tune of "Hans Christian Andersen" sung by Danny Kaye.

"However, the historical warming of the Med during the Roman Empire is linked to intense solar activity, which contrasts with the modern threat of greenhouse gases.

For the first time, we can state the Roman period was the warmest period of time of the last 2,000 years, and these conditions lasted for 500 years,’ said Professor Isabel Cacho at the Department of Earth and Ocean Dynamics, University of Barcelona."

The warming at the end of the last century was at the same time as the most intense solar activity in some 8K years...

In other words, it's the sun, stoopid...

Sebastian Weetabix said...

I was once told by a US colleague “libertarians are just Republicans with guns and weed”

Elby the Beserk said...

Anonymous dearieme said...
Anyway, anyway, what links the plight of the USA to the plight of the later Roman Empire in the west?

A sense of entitlement, perhaps?

Taking foundation myths literally?

Corruption of the ruling classes?

General decadence?

4:25 pm

Or sudden cooling? The peak of the Roman Empire was at the time of the Holocene Optimum warm period - warmer than now despite what the climate people say (ref Ike's farewell address in which he specifically warns against govt interference in science, and funding of research, as a corrupting influence on science). The severe cooling that followed, from c500ad to 900ad was one of a number of factors that collapsed the Roman Empire. And we now call it the Dark Ages.

Interested - then enter the following search below, as is...


dearieme said...

@Don Cox: my jazz posts were on someone else's blog. I've just tried to get a link for you without success: maybe they've vanished into the ether.

I'll come back to you if that blogger can tell me how to find them.

Thanks for your interest.

dearieme said...

A suggestion for the unslickers: have you owt to say about these remarkable figures?

Nick Drew said...

It seems the Irish govt & media were hoping the Irish wouldn't notice

fat chance in the island of perpetual gab

DJK said...

I'm guessing that the remainers are even more powerful in Ireland than in the UK. After all, the logic of Irexit would be for Eire to join a customs union with the hated Brits.

Anonymous said...

Englishman resident in the US here. I love it. I don't find corporate culture any worse than in the UK -- in both countries, the difference between individual companies is far greater than any general national stereotype. Americans are far more relaxed about working from home as well, and the pay is better for most professional jobs (and taxes lower, and houses cheaper). Everything is cleaner here, and despite what you read in the news, life in most suburbs is entirely peaceful. I feel much safer here, and it's a nicer place to bring up a family. There's a sense of low-level aggression almost everywhere in the UK, whereas here, the vast majority of areas feel safe and you can avoid the bad bits more e<asily. Yes, guns are everywhere, but if you don't look for them you won't find them, and honestly it's nice not to live in fear of being burgled thanks to the AR-15 under my bed, and with the knowledge that I'm highly unlikely to be prosecuted if I kill an intruder in my home.

It's not perfect. Americans are simplistic, and have real trouble with nuance. They think like adolescents. (Generalizing, obviously -- they would retort that Europeans think like seniles, and they'd be right.) The police are frightening. The politics are nuts, but there's still a strain of genuine classical liberalism here, and even the survival of some social conservatism, so there is real disagreement over substantive issues, unlike in the UK.

The woke snowflake thing is frightening, but will come to the UK very soon. As for Covid, I know of three people among my second-degree contacts, and nobody among my first-degree contacts, who have come down with it. All are 70+. The hospitals have a colossal financial incentive to report it, so of course the figures are high.

Justin Webb thought the same thing:

E-K said...

Thanks for those cultural comparisons, Anon.

I have an old police baton under my bed. It's surprisingly effective at close quarters (having used it in action) and far less prone to overreaction.

Top weighted, flickable and very hard.

Banned by the UK police in favour of the Asp (something which stings rather than disables.)

E-K said...

Barring that an aerosol of Deep Heat.

Anonymous said...

What's happening in the US will be what's happening in the UK one of these days, so I wouldn't get too complacent.

It's the result of a) population change since the 1965 Immigration Act was passed*, combined with
b) the transfer of vast amounts of manufacturing to the Far East and
c) what Peter Turchin** calls "overproduction of elites" ie a lot of woke college grads
d) whose standard of living is falling*** compared with that of their parents and grandparents - due to a) and b).

Now we have all of these factors in the UK, so a bit of humility is necessary.

The immediate cause is trying to get rid of Trump by any means necessary, or failing that to produce chaos (and Covid casualties) right up to polling day, in which endeavour the authorities in many Dem strongholds are either ignoring or encouraging organised rioting/vandalism/intimidation. In Portland the police have announced that they can't/won't protect private property from attack. It's an attempt at a Colour Revolution, only an internal one.

Now you'll notice that when the USA was far more Christian (and white) than it is today, people accepted losing elections, not accepting was what happened in third world countries. Can you think of any other country where an election was lost and people spent years refusing to accept the result?

"first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye"

* Lee Kuan Yew - "In multiracial societies, you don't vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion"

** Turchin actually predicted 2020 would be bad.


Anonymous said...

Re the USA and China, as a military man, ND, you might be interested in this interview with a PLA general, Qiao Liang, now retired but still seemingly influential. Google Translate does a good job on it. He's basically aligned with the views of Eamon Fingleton (In The Jaws Of The Dragon) and Paul Kennedy from 30 years back (The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers), that a country can't indefinitely support a top-class military without a top-class industrial capacity.

To dominate the 21st century, all China has to do is wait, and let the favourable (for them) demographic changes in the USA and EU do their work for them.

The same is true for the war. Today, the war is still the manufacturing industry. Some people say that fighting today is the confrontation of the system, the chip is king. Yes, chips do play an irreplaceable role in modern high-tech wars. But the chip itself can’t fight, the chip must be installed on various weapons and equipment, and all kinds of weapons and equipment must first have a strong manufacturing industry. Some people say that the United States relied on strong manufacturing to win World War I and World War II. There is nothing wrong with this. But does the United States still have such a strong manufacturing industry that can win World War I and World War II?

From half a century ago, after the dollar delinked from gold, the United States gradually used the dollar to profit from the world. In this case, they abandoned their low-end manufacturing industry and gradually made themselves a country with hollow industries.

If the world is peaceful and everyone is at peace with each other, there is no problem. The US prints US dollars to buy products from all over the world, and the whole world works for the United States. All well and good.

But when there is an epidemic or when there is a war, can a country without manufacturing be considered a powerful country? Even if you continue to have high technology, continue to have dollars, and there are US troops, all of these need manufacturing support. Without manufacturing, who supports your high technology? Who supports your dollar? Who supports your US military?

To understand this, China’s next response is to continue to maintain, develop, and upgrade its manufacturing industry, not only to upgrade, but also to maintain traditional manufacturing. It is impossible to upgrade all of them. If all of them are upgraded and replaced, the traditional manufacturing industry is thrown away. When the United States needs a large number of masks like today, the entire country does not even have a complete production line. Under such circumstances, it cannot respond to the epidemic as quickly and forcefully as China. Therefore, do not underestimate the low-end manufacturing industry, and do not regard the high-end manufacturing industry as the sole goal of China’s manufacturing development. You cannot throw away the housekeeping skills.

Anonymous said...

I really fear for the US, November could be a real source of violence.

The pro-Trump crowd are already getting their excuses in, and given Biden looks even deeper into dementia than Reagan did by the end, it's a real lack of self awareness. Trump picked the media (new and old) as his sword, the economy as his shield - and with the former he over-extended his reach, and latter has been damaged by his own actions and covid.

The incumbent in the Presidential election always has a great advantage, and that the Republicans - well, RINO Trumpicans - find themselves in such a position against such a weak opponent, speaks volumes.

Much of the US Libertarians have shown their true colours, as have the right - suddenly States Rights aren't quite as important when you've got the Great Orange Hope on your "side" at the Federal level.

The fundies have done the same - aligned with Trump, which highlighted the hypocrisy of it all. Trump may as well be called Borgia, his power-grabbing, amorality and philandering counter to all the fundies claim to hold dear.

And the Tea Party are back too, apparently a lot of them they didn't do their due diligence on Trump, a man who based his wealth on the old adage of if you owe someone a hundred quid, you've got a problem, if you owe them a hundred million, well, they've got a problem. And now they seem a little angry about that.

From politics to religion to ideology, regardless of affiliation, hollow men all.

And this at a time when the US is finally coming face to face with its history and deep rooted issues with Black America, at a time when leaders and healers are needed, people who can tell the middle class white people, engaging in a gobsmacking level of appropriation of other peoples anger, to go do one, and focus on tackling the US' long standing issue with race (which cuts across party lines), it's got...

The old Alien vs Predator meme has never seen so appropriate looking given the choice in November: "Whoever wins, we lose"

Nick Drew said...

Anon @ 11:02 - "In multiracial societies, you don't vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion": a wily old bird, that one. My feeling is that the Labour Party is starting to feel the draught on this one, (and that Starmer knows it)

Anon @ 11:22 - well, yes, I fear for America too (hence the post) and there's a strong sense in which I 'agree' with everything Qiao Liang says. US strategists will definitely have taken full note (he's said similar things before)

but do recall that both Japan (1941) and USSR 20-30 years later, have made the ultimately fatal mistake of assuming they have the "overmighty, arrogant, complacent, flabby" USA on the back foot: "just a matter of time" etc

Marxists believe they can predict the course of history; I don't

Anonymous said...

re Japan and USSR, it's not even Reagan's America any more, let alone FDRs. Demography is destiny, as LKY and his successors still acknowledge - IIRC the terrible fertility of Singapore Chinese (expensive cities are fertility sinks) is redressed by allowing immigration of overseas Chinese plus a few from the PRC, with a view to retaining an 80-85% Chinese population.

Don't know about Starmer, but Boris's plan for several million HK Chinese immigrants is either a piece of insanity cooked up by some 25 year old libertarian think-tanker, or a brilliant and Machiavellian pivot, an opening of the gates to our new masters. The PRC is a bit like Israel in that they expect their co-ethnics overseas to support the old country when push comes to shove.

Still, there's a deal of ruin in a nation. I imagine those billionaire bolt-holes in New Zealand are safe for another thirty, maybe forty years.

andrew said...

"Marxists believe they can predict the course of history; I don't"

I think that goes a little far, and in my turn may well be mischaracterising but,

they believe that history is shaped by the availability of resources (natural) and historical social forces that will bring down capitalism, and not by any 'great leaders'

No particular timetable or claim.

Personally disagree on 2 counts:

People do matter
Significant leaders:
(Roosevlet / Churchill / Hitler)
WW2 could easily not have happened. if germany had a different leader who stopped at the pre WW1 borders and stopped paying war damages, I think it would have fizzled out before starting.
WW2 could easily have been lost.
Others you dont hear about:
Alan Turing

The definition of 'resource'
Marx called it land / labor / capital - that is all there was to see at the time.
Things are bit more complicated now.
Like bitcoin - I do not know what it is, think its value is 0, but a _lot_ of people disagee.
Like the adaptability and depth of resource availability there is in the US - if you said that they will be net exporters of oil in 2002/3 very soon, you would have got strange looks.

Nick Drew said...

Andrew - I don't have too much beef with trying for a materialistic explanation of history (Marxism has some illuminating explanatory value, some of the time) but like "econometrics", something that can be genuinely useful retrospectively dos always cantilever forward into the future

we could add to your list of complicating factors, e.g.

- history isn't remotely one-directional. With the fall of the Roman empire, certain scientific & industrial achievements were lost for 1,000 years! History is only a ratchet in the sense that the long-jump record is a ratchet - from a God's-eye perspective

- technology, as you say. Marx reckoned that capitalism would (inter alia) develop the methods of generating such surpluses of goods, with so little labour, that when the Revolution comes (in every industrial nation, simultaneously (!!), but only when this 'effortless surplus' point has been reached) the overthrow of the ruling class would enable these surpluses to make everyone's life a featherbedded doddle of material satisfaction

He forgot that people's views on what satisfies them change with every new offering. Nowadays (to hear lefties talk) if you don't have access to a good PC plus ultrafast broadband plus a powerful smartphone, you are living in serious deprivation which the State must rectify.

There will never be "surpluses" ...

dearieme said...

"a wily old bird, that one": double starred First in Law.

He married a clever girl: one of their sons graduated as Senior Wrangler.

It's just as well that genetics has no influence on intelligence or just think how clever that boy might have been.

Anonymous said...

As a young lawyer in Malaya LKW defended Malayan Muslims who stabbed a British woman and her child to death on a train in "protest" IIRC at a Dutch girl, raised by Muslims during WW2 as a Muslim after her parents were imprisoned or killed, being moved to a convent pending an appeal for her return by the family.

LKW appealed to the religious and racial prejudices of the Malay jury, and the murderers went free. He said he knew justice hadn't been done, and when he came to power he was determined that such things shouldn't happen in Singapore. No jury trials. All very well in a monoethnic society, but not a multiethnic one.

The late Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman might have agreed, were they able to comment.

Polidorisghost said...

"Things are bit more complicated now.
Like bitcoin - I do not know what it is, think its value is 0, but a _lot_ of people disagee."

I agree that it is worthless, but I hold some because other people believe it has value. So I guess that I do believe it has value.
Complications get complicated.