Blogging the Apocalypse

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

Also read Philosophical Fragments I and Philosophical Fragments II

1. America, the Dictatorship

2. The New Politics

3. The Familiar Gone Awry

4. The da Vinci Syndrome

5. The New Dark Ages

6. Recession, False Recovery, Depression

7. Ten Predictions for the Coming Decade

8. How The Stupid Took Over the World

9. Arab Spring, Israeli Winter

10. Modern Hagiography: Steven Jobs and Recep Tayyip Erdogan

11. Liberty and Privacy: The Indefensible Values

12. I Hate This Brave, New World

13. The New Matriarchy and the Redundant Male

14. Post-colonialism Has Finally Arrived!

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Written February 27, 2006

1. America, the Dictatorship

Incrementally, but noticeably, the United States is shedding its democracy. Hard-won civil liberties are willingly sacrificed for the sake of illusory added security. Institutions are stacked with political, partisan appointees who do their puppetmaster's bidding. Laws are openly broken and the Constitution flaunted with breathtaking callousness and an ease that would have been considered unthinkable on September 10, 2001. I wouldn't be surprised if the forthcoming presidential elections are suspended due to this perpetual "state of emergency".

Largely ignorant of history and thus devoid of any meaningful or helpful perspective, people shrug off this doomsday scenario. They forget that Rome - a four hundred years old republic with venerable institutions like the Roman Senate - gave in to tyranny in the space of four years. The same goes for ancient Athens, the first truly participatory democracy on earth, transformed by wars into a hideous dictatorship.

America's is a malignantly narcissistic culture. Its denizens believe counterfactually that it is the richest, most virtuous, freest, society on earth. Reasonably, they are convinced that everyone is destructively envious of them. This renders them paranoid and violent. An early and observant traveller, Alexis de Tocqueville, noted this siege mentality and warned that the United States is walking a thin line between freedom and authoritarianism.

It is this ingrained belief that the world is hostile and harsh that will likely undo the American experiment. Psychology teaches us about projective identification - a defense mechanism that forces people around you to behave the way you are accustomed and expect them to. Treating everyone as a potential enemy usually turns them into ones.

2. The New Politics

Politics, in all its forms, is bankrupt. The notion that we can safely and successfully hand over the management of our daily lives and the setting of priorities to a political class or elite is thoroughly discredited. Politicians cannot be trusted, regardless of the system in which they operate. No set of constraints, checks, and balances, is proved to work and mitigate their unconscionable acts and the pernicious effects these have on our welfare and longevity.

Ideologies - from the benign to the malign and from the divine to the pedestrian - have driven the gullible human race to the verge of annihilation and back. Participatory democracies have degenerated everywhere into venal plutocracies. Socialism and its poisoned fruits - Marxism-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism - have wrought misery on a scale unprecedented even by medieval standards. Only Fascism and Nazism compare with them unfavourably. The idea of the nation-state culminated in the Yugoslav succession wars.

People are voting with their feet. Most elections draw to the ballot boxes and the polling stations less than half the electorate.

Three models seem to be emerging as the dominant forms of future politics:

I. Anarchism, both destructive (international terrorism, for example) and constructive (the Internet, for instance).

II. Participatory democracy, both destructive (mob rule and coups) and constructive (people power, especially in Asia and Latin America).

III. In certain countries, mainly in the West, a disenchanted and uninterested citizenry will relegate power and vest it in various oligarchies, forfeiting its decision-making prerogatives altogether and permanently in return for material welfare and personal safety.

3. The Familiar Gone Awry

In this nightmarish world of ours even the erstwhile comfortingly familiar has gone awry and menacing.

Birds, those soaring symbols of liberty and beauty now carry death and devastation in the form of avian flu.

Airplanes, the reification of overcoming gravity and attaining freedom, these harbingers of the global village, now wreak havoc by slamming into skyscrapers and bombing weddings.

The Internet, this eruption of joyous creativity and boundless interaction, is now a minefield of flame wars, malware, gambling, crime, spam, and child pornography.

The United States, once considered by many the beacon of democracy, the home of the liberal ideal exiled from Europe by wars and genocides - is now a thuggish, brutish, murderous threat to world peace and stability.

4. The da Vinci Syndrome

"The most scandalous charges were suppressed; the vicar of Christ was only accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy, and incest."

(English historian Edward Gibbon on Pope John XXIII)

The Bible: no other book has been compiled and composed by men of genius only to be avidly championed by the retarded and the insane. Institutionalized religion leveraged this discrepancy to great benefit. Consider the Catholic Church: its history reads like the annals of a global crime concern. It gave the world the inquisition, incestuous and murderous popes, religious warfare, paedophiliac sex scandals, idolatry, money laundering scandals, and the gnawing guilt that comes from embracing life-defying ideals. Its intentional lack of transparency, murky dealings, and refusal to be held accountable for the actions of its adherents and officials have rendered the Catholic Church complicit in the most horrendous events of the last two millennia. It might well meet the criteria for a “criminal organization” set in the London Charter and endorsed and implemented in the Nuremburg Trials.

With a modicum of justice it has been accused of anything and everything from collaborating with the Nazi regime (and helping war criminals flee justice) to instigating and perpetrating the more insidious forms of anti-Semitism. The Church’s current head – Pope Benedict XVI, former chief of the current-day intolerant incarnation of the infamous Inquisition - was a member of the Nazi youth movement: when he had joined, in 1939, only one third of Germany’s youth belonged to the Hitlerjugend although membership of Aryan youth was theoretically compulsory by law. The German Pope added insult to injury by reinstating patently anti-Semitic bishops, excommunicated by his predecessor (who, on his part, actively spread AIDS throughout the developing world by prohibiting the use of contraceptives).

Hence "The da Vinci Code" and a slew of other anti-Catholic tomes. This genre thrives on the widespread conviction that there is nothing the Catholic Church will refrain from doing or find too abhorrent to further its earthly wealth and might. Alas, history this time is on the side of the conspiracy theorists.

Written May 18, 2006 - Updated April 5, 2007

5. The New Dark Ages

Michael Hart's Response

When I was growing up in a slum in Israel, I devoutly believed that knowledge and education will set me free and catapult me from my miserable circumstances into a glamorous world of happy learning. But now, as an adult, I find myself in an alien universe where functional literacy is non-existent even in developed countries, where "culture" means merely sports and music, where science is decried as evil and feared by increasingly hostile and aggressive masses, and where irrationality in all its forms  (religiosity, the occult, conspiracy theories) flourishes.

The few real scholars and intellectuals left are on the retreat, back into the ivory towers of a century ago. Increasingly, their place is taken by self-taught "experts", narcissistic bloggers, wannabe "authors" and "auteurs", and partisan promoters of (often self-beneficial) "causes". The mob thus empowered and complimented feels vindicated and triumphant. But history cautions us that mobs have never produced enlightenment - only concentration camps and bloodied revolutions. The Internet can and will be used against us if we don't regulate it.

Throughout human history eras of infatuation with technologies of content delivery alternated with periods of emphasis on the quality of content. Currently, we are enamoured with smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets, rendering content a mere excuse to deploy these devices and marvel at the rapid succession of ever-escalating features.

Dismal results ensue:

The Wikipedia "encyclopedia" - a repository of millions of factoids, interspersed with juvenile trivia, plagiarism, bigotry, and malice - is "edited" by anonymous users with unlimited access to its contents and absent or fake credentials.

Hoarding has replaced erudition everywhere. People hoard e-books, mp3 tracks, videos, and photos. They memorize numerous fact and "facts" but can't tell the difference between them or connect the dots. The synoptic view of knowledge, the interconnectivity of data, the emergence of insight from treasure-troves of information are all lost arts.

In an interview in early 2007, the publisher of the New-York Times said that he wouldn't mourn the death of the print edition of the venerable paper and its replacement by a digital one. This nonchalant utterance betrays unfathomable ignorance. Online readers are vastly different to consumers of printed matter: they are younger, their attention span is far shorter, their interests far more restricted and frivolous. The New-York Times online will be forced into becoming a tabloid - or perish altogether.

Fads like environmentalism and alternative "medicine" spread malignantly and seek to silence dissidents, sometimes by violent means.

The fare served by the electronic media everywhere now consists largely of soap operas, interminable sports events, and reality TV shows. True, niche cable channels cater to the preferences of special audiences. But, as a result of this inauspicious fragmentation, far fewer viewers are exposed to programs and features on science, literature, arts, or international affairs.

Reading is on terminal decline. People spend far more in front of screens - both television's and computer - than leafing through pages. Granted, they read online: jokes, anecdotes, puzzles, porn, and e-mail or IM chit-chat. Those who try to tackle longer bits of text, tire soon and revert to images or sounds.

With few exceptions, the "new media" are a hodgepodge of sectarian views and fabricated "news". The few credible sources of reliable information have long been drowned in a cacophony of fakes and phonies or gone out of business. Like-mindedness and truthisms have supplanted real, contextual knowledge and erudition.

It is a sad mockery of the idea of progress. The more texts we make available online, the more research is published, the more books are written - the less educated people are, the more they rely on visuals and soundbites rather than the written word, the more they seek to escape reality and be anesthetized rather than be challenged and provoked.

Even the ever-slimming minority who do wish to be enlightened are inundated by a suffocating and unmanageable avalanche of indiscriminate data, comprised of both real and pseudo-science. There is no way to tell the two apart, so a "democracy of knowledge" reigns, where everyone is equally qualified and everything goes and is equally merited. This relativism coupled with the crumbling of social institutions (a confluence which is unprecedented in human history) is dooming the twenty-first century to become the beginning of a new "Dark Age", hopefully a mere interregnum between two periods of genuine enlightenment.

The original Middle Ages were a post-traumatic reaction to the cataclysmic fall of the Roman Empire: avoidant withdrawal, phobic attitude towards the new and the unknown, aggression and hostility directed at perceived threats, and the collective equivalent of clinical depression. But, trauma has many faces. The traumatic events of the 20th century have equally yielded a global PTSD: alienation, atomization, rising violence, anomie, pernicious narcissism, and the disintegration of the social fabric and of institutions – all amplified by enabling technologies that empower malignant individualism to the breaking point.

Written February 22, 2009

The Next 18 Months: Recession, False Recovery, Depression

The Obama stimulus package, worth some 800 billion USD, the 1.9 trillion USD in TARP funds and the endless Fed injections and auctions are bound to revive the moribund American economy by the third and fourth quarter of 2009. The Dow-Jones is likely to touch 10900, consumption will recover, as will housing starts and, in some markets, housing prices.

But this "recovery" will prove to be a false dawn. It will last 2 quarters at most and will be followed by a recession so deep and dangerous that it will truly qualify as a Depression. The current recession is merely a prelude to the depression of 2010-5.

Here are the reasons:

(i) The stimulus should have been more sizable, taking into account the dimensions of the crisis.

The fate of modern economies is determined by four types of demand: the demand for consumer goods; the demand for investment goods; the demand for money; and the demand for assets, which represent the expected utility of money (deferred money).

Periods of economic boom are characterized by a heightened demand for goods, both consumer and investment; a rising demand for assets; and low demand for actual money (low savings, low capitalization, high leverage).

Investment booms foster excesses (for instance: excess capacity) that invariably lead to investment busts. But, economy-wide recessions are not triggered exclusively and merely by investment busts. They are the outcomes of a shift in sentiment: a rising demand for money at the expense of the demand for goods and assets.

In other words, a recession is brought about when people start to rid themselves of assets (and, in the process, deleverage); when they consume and lend less and save more; and when they invest less and hire fewer workers. A newfound predilection for cash and cash-equivalents is a surefire sign of impending and imminent economic collapse.

This etiology indicates the cure: reflation. Printing money and increasing the money supply are bound to have inflationary effects. Inflation ought to reduce the public's appetite for a depreciating currency and push individuals, firms, and banks to invest in goods and assets and reboot the economy. Government funds can also be used directly to consume and invest, although the impact of such interventions is far from certain.

(ii) The US government should have nationalized the big banks, let other financial institutions that are not too big to fail do so, and force mergers and acquisitions on the rest. Half-hearted measures intended to provide balance-sheet relief are unlikely to restore trust in financial intermediaries. In the absence of such trust, banks will not resume their traditional roles of capital allocation and interbank lending. As it is, we are likely to see a run on some of the banks, including at least one major (probably Wells Fargo).

(iii) Europe's real economy as well as its financial sector are a mess. France, in sliding officially into a recession, has joined Spain, Ireland, and, now, the United Kingdom and Germany. Battered by a strong euro, expensive energy, and mighty competition from China, the US, and India, European exports have stagnated. As opposed to the USA (where exports constitute 18% of GDP), Europe is dependent on foreign carbon fuels and foreign markets for its goods and services. Exports constitute more than 40% of Eurozone GDP.

Moreover, Europe's commercial banks are in horrible shape - far worse than America's. This year alone, European banks must pay 1.41 trillion US dollars in principal and interest, mainly to bondholders. They don't have the money and they cannot borrow it from other banks because interbank lending has all but dried up. Many of them are already technically insolvent. They are also over-exposed to emerging markets in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Car repossessions are up 25% in Romania, as the members of a newly-minted class of consumers are unable to meet their obligations. Austrian, Greek, Swedish, and German banks are exposed to default risks throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Consumers and businesses in Serbia, Ukraine, Hungary, and other teetering economies owe Austrian financial institutions $290 billion - almost the entire GDP of this country!

As local currencies depreciate, debts, denominated in foreign exchange, grow more expensive to service. As the real economy contracts, in the first phase of what appears to be a prolonged recession, bad loans mushroom and reserves are exhausted. This requires cash-strapped governments to recapitalize major banks. Faced with current account and budget deficits, some of these sovereigns are scrambling for outside infusions from the likes of the IMF.

Europe's recession will be profound and protracted. Asia is likely to follow suit: Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are already technically in recession and China's growth rate is abating. A contraction of GDP in both India and China is no longer inconceivable. It seems that yet again, the USA will be faced with the daunting task of dragging the rest of the world back to growth and profitability.

(iv) To finance enormous bailout packages for the financial sector (and potentially the auto and mining industries) as well as fiscal stimulus plans, governments will have to issue trillions of US dollars in new bonds. Consequently, the prices of bonds are bound to come under pressure from the supply side.

But the demand side is likely to drive the next global financial crisis: the crash of the bond markets.

As the Fed takes US dollar interest rates below 1% (and with similar moves by the ECB, the Bank of England, and other central banks), buyers are likely to lose interest in government bonds and move to other high-quality, safe haven assets. Risk-aversion, mitigated by the evident thawing of the credit markets will cause investors to switch their portfolios from cash and cash-equivalents to more hazardous assets.

Moreover, as countries that hold trillions in government bonds (mainly US treasuries) begin to feel the pinch of the global crisis, they will be forced to liquidate their bondholdings in order to finance their needs.

In other words, bond prices are poised to crash precipitously. In the last 50 years, bond prices have collapsed by more than 35% at least on three occasions. This time around, though, such a turn of events will be nothing short of cataclysmic: more than ever, governments are relying on functional primary and secondary bond markets for their financing needs. There is no other way to raise the massive amounts of capital needed to salvage the global economy.

Written May 24, 2011, Updated December 24, 2014

Ten Predictions for the Coming Decade

1.     Italy, the euro, and the US dollar

On November 24, 2010, I published (in Global Politician and elsewhere) an article titled “Italy will Kill the Euro”. Six months later, credit rating agencies have downgraded Italy’s outlook from “stable” to “negative”. Italy has never really recovered. It has endured another downgrade in December 2014. Like Greece, it is in worse shape than most members of the European Union (EU): at 3% of GDP, it has an ostensibly sustainable budget deficit, but its external debt (now close to 170% of GDP) is higher, in constant dollars, than that of the most egregious wastrels in the bloc, Greece and Ireland included. Italy's banking sector is over-exposed to borrowers in Central and Eastern Europe, a region habitually pendulating between recovery and economic calamity. If Italy goes Greece's and Ireland's way, the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - already over-extended by serial bailouts and with Greece on the brink of a second crisis - will be unable to stem the red tide. Italy may actually effectively default and, in the process, ruin the euro and restore the US dollar to its erstwhile glory.

2.     Korean Unification

By late 2010, a succession war was simmering in North Korea. His panoply of suddenly-bestowed senior political and military posts notwithstanding, the generals and military establishment are less than happy and impressed with Kim Jong-un, the younger son of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il. Each side flexes muscles in an attempt to burnish their nationalist and martial credentials. The outcomes of this internecine conflict are ominous: a series of ever-escalating military skirmishes with South Korea and the ramping up of North Korea’s already burgeoning nuclear weapons and cyberwar programs (as Sony discovered to its cost.)

 

North Korea’s leaders are likely to try to reform their country’s economy and introduce capitalism, but this will fail. The regime in North Korea is all but dead on its feet. These are its last days. China is facing the terrifying spectacle of a crony failed state with tens of millions of starved and destitute potential refugees swarming across its porous and indefensible borders. China’s ascendance to superpowerdom and its respectability are threatened by this association with the last remaining pariah rogue state. There is only one solution to all the problems of the Korean Peninsula: unification. The parties came close to discussing it in secret talks in 2002 and then again in 2009.

 

3.     China’s Economy and the Second Great Depression

 

As I predicted in an article published on February 22, 2009 and titled “The Next 18 Months: Recession, False Recovery, Depression”, the years 2010-2011 saw a false recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Mounting sovereign debts crises in Europe and an anemic rebound in America’s economy were more than outweighed by the emergence of Asia as a global powerhouse. Yet, the warning signs were there: China’s economic “miracle” was based on unsustainable dollops of government largesse and monetary quantitative easing. This led to the formation of asset bubbles (mainly in real-estate) and to pernicious inflation. The Chinese authorities’ attempts to clamp down on rampant speculation and price gouging are too little, too late. The economy will slow down considerably and the Chinese house of cards will collapse ominously and swiftly. This will bring the entire global economic edifice into disarray with mounting imbalances and increased risk-aversion among investors. The second phase of the global crisis will resemble closely the Great Depression with massive write-offs in the values of equities and mounting, two-digit, unemployment rates everywhere.

 

4.     Israeli-Arab War

 

The Arab Spring of 2011 empowered Islamist and other anti-Israeli elements in Arab society. Israel and its allies, the reactionary Arab regimes, were long and justly perceived by the oppressed average Arab as outposts of American (and, previously, British) mercantilist neo-imperialism. The popular uprisings unseated these entrenched dictatorial elites and replaced them with military and Muslim ruling classes bent on restoring the anti-Israeli hostility and enmity that characterized the Middle-East before 1979. Phenomena like Sharia-toting ISIL have become the mainstream norm rather than the exception in large parts of Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, and even India. In time, this – and heavy Iranian meddling - will lead to an all out war between Israel and its neighbours, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with any certainty.

 

5.     Russian Liberalism

 

On June 2, 2010, I published an article titled “Putin’s Last Days”. Putin is on his way out. The belligerent stance in Ukraine and the massive economic crisis that followed the West’s sanctions and the collapse in oil prices amount to Putin’s own personal Vietnam. With this clownish “strong man” gone, Russia is bound to become a far more liberal and democratic place. No matter who wins the next presidential elections or not, Russia’s oligarchs are a dying breed; the rule of law is asserting itself; property rights will be restored; a new cadre of politicians – young, educated, self-confident, and cosmopolitan (though not necessarily pro-Western) – will take Russia forward and free it from its pecuniary dependence on oil by diversifying its economy.

 

6.     First Cyberwar

 

In 2010, the Stuxnet worm delivered a paralyzing payload to Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, thus heralding the second salvo in a gathering storm of cyberwars (a Turkish pipeline was the first to have been attacked in 2008). Prior to Stuxnet, hacker networks – both government-mandated and self-assembling – attacked the Internet infrastructure of perceived enemies (the prime examples being Russian attacks on the Baltic States and on Georgia and Chinese attacks on dissidents’ accounts with Google). The resulting disruption was minimal and transient. Not so with Stuxnet which ruined the Iranian uranium enrichment infrastructure single-handedly and remotely and without a single casualty among the Israelis who launched it. Similar offensives will become common in the near future. State actors will also unleash guerrilla cyber skirmishes via hacker-teams and proxy computers (see North Korea’s humbling of Sony in December 2014).

 

7.     Change of Guard in International Institutions

 

The composition of and voting rights within the United Nations and its organs (including the World Bank) as well as other multilateral institutions (such as the IMF – International Monetary Fund) reflect the world as it was in 1946, after the Second World War. A lot has changed since then, most notably the emergence of Asia as the fastest-growing region, both economically and militarily and the relative decline of an insular Europe and depleted USA. Within the next few years, the upper echelons of the IMF and the UN will be revamped to reflect these gargantuan historic shifts: we will see Asians and Africans running the world.

 

8.     A Dictatorship in Turkey

 

Snubbed by the EU (European Union) and the USA alike, Turkey is re-orienting itself. Once again, it is playing the role of a regional potentate, with ties to regimes of all sorts: veteran and unsavoury; emerging and fundamentalist; terrorism-prone and peace-seeking. Turkey’s military and its secular political establishment have lost their decades-old grip on power. Moderate Islam, reified by Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan, is slowly being transformed into an authoritarian, fundamentalist, anti-Western pale imitation of Pakistan and Iran. Its erstwhile warm relationship with Israel is frayed. It surreptitiously supports terrorist organizations like ISIL against Syria’s Assad. Media freedoms and online access are curtailed and censored. Human rights are again breached and violated blatantly (especially where Kurds, intellectuals, and journalists are concerned). Turkey’s role in NATO, its special relationship with the USA, and its EU accession are all in doubt.

 

9.     War in Pakistan

 

The second war between the USA and China – directly and via proxies – will be fought on Pakistani, Indian, and Afghani soil. As an increasingly-Islamized Pakistan veers away from its frenemy, the United States, and towards its new-found ally, China, America’s vital interests in Afghanistan, India, Japan, and South Korea are at stake. Skirmishes will evolve into a full-fledged conflict, with a slate of nuclear powers as adversaries: Pakistan, India, China, Russia (who will back China), and the USA/NATO .

 

10.  Vatican in Conflict: An Assassinated Pope?

 

The job – and possibly life – of any Pope attempting to truly reform the Vatican is in jeopardy. The top echelons of the Catholic Church are in a deep crisis, faced with a reputation tattered by decades of unrelenting, egregious scandals, an ossified corporate culture, interpersonal relationships strained to the breaking point, and dwindling finances. The next few years will witness a titanic battle over the soul of this dysfunctional, secretive, and criminalized organization. A lot of money and power are at stake. People have been assassinated for less.

 

In general, the next decade will see a resurgence of political assassinations. Obama’s policies – lately on Cuba (remember Kennedy?) – put him at growing risk. ISIL may target one or more leaders of the European Union. An enraged and frustrated Palestinian may do away with an Israeli politician. The list of targets is long and growing by the day.

Written June 4, 2011

How the Stupid Took Over the World

The survival of the species depends on the establishment of an IQcracy, a Platonic Republic of the Intellect. At the top, serving as leaders and decision-makers, would be people with 150 IQ and higher. A soaring Intelligence Quotient (IQ), by itself, is insufficient, of course. Members of this elite of "philosopher-kings" would also have to be possessed with a high emotional quotient (EQ) and sound mental health.

 

The next rung in the social ladder would be comprised of those with an IQ of between 100 and 150. They will form and constitute the managerial, bureaucratic, scientific, and entrepreneurial classes. People with IQs between 80 and 100 will replenish the blue-collar skilled and trained working classes. Unfortunates with less than 80 IQ will be confined to simple, repetitive menial jobs. They will be barred from voting.

 

Why such drastic measures? Because Humanity is under imminent threat of being overrun by idiots, diluted by imbeciles, and submerged by a tidal wave of retardation. We often confuse technology with culture and civilization with progress. Nazi Germany is proof that such reflexive linkages are spurious. In truth, we have become Barbarians with iPads: we use the latest innovations to play Angry Birds and watch inane videos on YouTube and exchange trivialities on Facebook.

 

A study of nine million young adults over 40 years (conducted by Jean Twenge and her colleagues and published in the March 2012 issue of the Jour­nal of Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­o­gy) has starkly demonstrated the deterioration from one generation to another. Youngsters are now focused on money, image, and fame and disparage values such as community, volunteerism, the environment, and knowledge acquisition. Other surveys have documented a rising level of illiteracy. As if to illustrate the imminence of these new Dark Ages, the Encyclopedia Britannica announced that it will cease the publication of its print edition after 244 years. Its surviving digital editions are a far cry from the print equivalent in terms of depth, length, and erudition.

 

The Stupid, the Trivial, and the Frivolous are everywhere: among the working classes, of course, but increasingly you can find them displacing the erstwhile elites, spawning hordes of mindless politicians, idiot business tycoons, narcissistic media personalities, gullible clergy, vacuous celebrities, illiterate bestselling authors, athletes with far more brawn than brain, repetitious pop singers, less than mediocre bureaucrats, bovine gatekeepers, and even ignorant and semi-literate academics. Their cacophony drowns the few voices of wisdom, expertise, and experience and their sheer number overwhelms all systems of governance and all mechanisms of decision-making. Rather than futilely fight back this tsunami, the well-educated, the erudite, and the intelligent choose to withdraw and seclude themselves in self-constructed, schizoid ivory towers, all bridges drawn.

 

Imbeciles are a menace to the continued existence not only of our civilization, but also of our species. We may end up being all Homo, no sapiens.

 

The percentage of stupid people in the general populace may not have changed. It may even have decreased. But in terms of absolute numbers, there are more Stupid heads now than the entire human population only a century ago. Modern medicine makes sure that the retarded and plain dim-witted live on to a ripe old age. That we are faced with the daunting prospect of idiocracy is the fault of the malignant transformation of the democratic ideal and the recent onslaught of the media, both old and new.

 

Start with democracy, the Stupid People’s pernicious answer to meritocracy:

 

In the not-too-distant past dim-witted people had the right to vote once in a while and thus express their completely inconsequential opinion where it mattered least: in the ballot box. Alas, the inane idea of “one person (never mind how pinheaded, unqualified, or ignorant), one vote” has invaded and permeated hitherto hierarchical environments such as government, the workplace, and the military. With technology at their disposal, The Stupid repeatedly interfere with and disrupt the proper functioning of virtually every system.

 

Even the generation and transfer of knowledge have been “democratized” as crowdsourcing yielded enterprises such as Wikipedia, the “encyclopedia” that anyone can edit, add to, and delete from. Internet search engines rank results not according to the merits and authority of the content, but by the number of votes cast by ... you guessed it: mostly dense people (who now congregate on social networks). This widespread and much-lauded vandalism reflects the utter collapse and disintegration of the education system which turns out illiterate, nescient, and irrational graduates having annihilated its standards in order to lucratively embrace them as students in the first place.

 

The Stupid, dimly aware of their innate inferiority, are anti-elitist, anti-intellectual, and anti-excellence. But, while in the past these remained mere sentiments, today they have become an ethos, a code of conduct, a set of values and ideals. It is politically incorrect and impolite to claim any advantage and superiority. Egalitarianism is running amok. Everyone is equal: doctors and their patients; professors and their students; experts and laymen alike.

 

Continue with technology:

 

In an act of self-preservation, past civilizations had confined The Stupid to certain settlements, replete with their drinking establishments, entertainments, and sports arenas. There the “intellectually-challenged” could safely torment each other with their vulgarities and rampant, uninformed idiocy. The advent of radio, television, and, most egregiously, the Internet has changed all that: now stupid people have unmitigated access to the kind of technology that allows them to pollute the airwaves and the broadband with their inferior analytic capacity, low-brow output, trivial observations, monosyllabic exclamations, and harebrained queries. Thus, the New Media have transformed stupidity from a mental endemic to a viral pandemic. The wise and knowledgeable may broadcast while the Stupid merely narrowcast – but the Stupid have the upper hand, what with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Amazon, and YouTube decimating the traditional print and electronic media.

 

This technological empowerment is the crux of the problem: there are no barriers to entry, no institutional filters, and no erudite and experienced intermediaries to hold back the avalanche of doltish balderdash, the tsunami of nonsense, and the flood of misinformation, factoids, and conspiracies that corrupt our intellectual space. “Discovery”: separating the wheat from the chaff has become mission impossible. Commercial interests inevitably and invariably side with the brainless masses because of their superior aggregate purchasing power. The privatization of education is one manifestation of this creeping decadence. The mindless nature of television programming is another. The empty one-liners that comprise most “conversations” on social networks are its culmination. We are surrounded with clods, harassed by the lame-brained, criticized, censored, and ordered by simpletons. Welcome to the New Dark Ages.

Written June 11, 2011

Arab Spring, Israeli Winter

 

The Jews and their state, Israel, have always sported a pro-colonial predilection, relying on "Big Powers" (Britain, France, then the United States of America) to sort out the Middle-Eastern quagmire in Israel's favor. This default policy may no longer prove possible.

 

A consensus is now emerging in Europe - including Britain - that the "road map" for peace in the Middle East would be a futile exercise without some anti-Israeli "teeth". Recognizing the nascent Palestinian state in September 2011 may be just the start. Economic sanctions are on the cards as well. With Obama in the White House - a President the Israelis largely consider to be hostile - and with the Arab world turning palpably more democratic, the Europeans feel unshackled. Striving towards an Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation may prove to be the glue that reunites the fractious Euro-Atlantic structures.

 

But while the United State is reluctant to impose a settlement on the Israelis, the specter of sanctions against the Jewish state has re-emerged in the Old Continent's corridors of power. A committee of the European Parliament is said to be laboring away at various scenarios of escalating measures against Israel and its leaders. The European Commission may be readying its own proposals.

 

Not all Americans are Obamatons. The views of Conservative Americans are summed up by David Pryce-Jones, Senior Editor of National Review:

 

"Israelis and Palestinians face each other across the new ideological divide in a dilemma that bears comparison to Germany's in the Cold War ... Israel must share territory with Palestinians, a growing number of whom are proven Islamic terrorists, and who identify with bin Laden's cause, as he identifies with theirs ... The Oslo peace process is to the Middle East what Ostpolitik was to Germany and central Europe. Proposals to separate the two peoples physically on the ground spookily evoke the Berlin Wall."

 

Still, such sentiments aside, in the long-run, Muslims are the natural allies of the United States in its role as a budding Asian power, largely supplanting the former Soviet Union. Thus, the threat of militant - and even nuclear - Islam is unlikely to cement a long term American-Israeli confluence of interests. Moreover, with the prospect of representative regimes in several Arab states more tangible, Israel is losing its long-held title as the "Middle East's only democracy."

 

Rather, the aforementioned menace of armed fundamentalism may yet create a new geopolitical formation of the USA and moderate Muslim countries, equally threatened by virulent Muslim religiosity. Later, Russia, China and India - all destabilized by growing and vociferous Muslim minorities - may join in. Israel will be sacrificed to this New World Order.

 

The writing is on the wall, though obscured by the fog of war and, as The Guardian revealed in April 2003, by American reliance during the conflict in Iraq on Israeli intelligence, advanced armaments and lessons in urban warfare. The "road map" announced by President George Bush as a sop to his politically besieged ally, Tony Blair, and much contested by the extreme right-wing government of Ariel Sharon, called for the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. The temporal goalposts may have shifted but not the ineluctable outcome: The State of Palestine is upon us, embedded in an Arab world far less amenable to Israel's economic charms (witness the cessation of Egyptian gas supplies to Israel under the new military "transition" dictatorship).

 

Israel has witnessed and survived through many convulsions in the Arab street. In 1953, Nasser's youthful and reform-inclined pan-Arabism swept the Arab world. The long-term fruit of this hopeful tumult, though, was Mubarak. The revolutionary Baa'th parties in Syria and Iraq gave us Saddam Hussein and the murderous Assad dynasty. Israel is very skeptical when it comes to yet another Arab Spring. It tends to support reactionary regimes because they are predictable and easy to do business with. Israel is a natural foe of progress and democracy in the region because it would like to maintain its monopoly on these important political currencies.

 

Written October 6, 2011

 

Modern Hagiography: Steven Jobs and Recep Tayyip Erdogan

 

Steven Jobs had one important insight in his entire life: that people are imbeciles and should be treated as such. Prior to this epiphany, this college dropout had failed in everything he had done and touched, to the point of being ousted by a soft-drinks executive from the very company he had founded. By 1985, his products had been roundly rejected by both the robust business market and the fledgling home market.

 

Maybe his exposure to Pixar taught him that the vast majority of people being stupid, consumers are more interested in visuals, bells, and whistles (and status symbols) than in content, functionality, and substance. What matters is how the product looks, not what it does. Hence the iPod, iPhone, and iPad: breathtakingly designed contraptions with decidedly inferior functions. Jobs created the perfect “content” (read: junk) delivery vehicles because, as the obnoxious narcissist that he was, he homed in on the vulnerabilities and shortcomings of the members of his cult.

 

Yet, Jobs is universally lauded in the media as a visionary and a genius. Why this blanket endorsement? Is it merely the infamous herd mentality of most journalists and pundits? Is hagiography back in vogue? Is being bon ton more important than being right? Indiscriminately fawning on public figures (recall Obama) is nothing new. But re-writing history the way the media has just done with Jobs is a nadir.

 

Erdogan, Turkey’s Prime Minister is another example of such unbridled and fatuous adulation. As Turkey’s potentate he succeeded to alienate the country’s two stalwart geopolitical allies (the USA and Israel) and to shoot his mouth off at polities and regimes near and far (from Greece to China.) Truly, he is nothing but an urbane version of Ahmadinejad, a newfound ally. Erdogan seems to prefer the company of Syria, Russia, Iran, Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina to the European Union and, more generally, the West. Steeped in anti-Semitism (the topic of a virulent play he had written, directed, and produced) and other peasant prejudices, he is far from being the brightest star in the galaxy. The list of malarkey and balderdash spewed up by this paragon of a new, Muslim Turkey is impressive in its inanity. Intellect is evidently not Erdogan’s strongest suit.

 

Yet, the international media hail this loser as the new Kissinger, replete with vision and the audacity to see it through. Why this oversight and deliberate blindness? Is it a sense of European guilt for having rejected Turkey’s advances? Does the dreariness of the landscape of world leadership make this backwater politician stand out? Is it his brave, principled stance against Israel (thus ingratiating himself with the Arab world)?

 

No wonder the Internet has become the prime source of news, relegating the traditional media, both print and electronic, to the dustbin. Readers can’t trust the press. One has to wade through several media outlets and to read between the lines to get to a semblance of the real picture. Far easier to accomplish these Herculean tasks online - or to give up on journalism altogether and to limit oneself to opinions and entertainment. Hence Steve Jobs and our brave, nescient world.

 

Written May 17, 2012

 

Liberty and Privacy: The Indefensible Values

 

In a world of rampant terrorism, recurrent market failures, the disintegration of the family, mass immigration and cultural dislocations, disruptive technologies, and globalization, the role of the state gets ever bigger and more ubiquitous. Liberty is on the decline because individuals willingly trade their freedom for a modicum of certainty. Liberal, “laissez-faire”, capitalism and democracy in their classical, 18th century form are a thing of the past and ill-suited to our postmodern universe. The founding works of thinkers like Montesquieu have been rendered obsolete by the inexorable progress of technology and medicine (the word “progress” to be read in this context neutrally.)

 

Written September 16, 2012

 

I Hate This Brave, New World

 

I hate this brave, new world where:

 

Illiteracy is 140 characters long and has a face-book;

 

Everyone has a thousand virtual "friends", but virtually no real friend;

 

Every child has a mother and multiple fathers, but no parents;

 

Knowledge is a matter of opinion and opinions a matter of fads;

 

Our idols sport muscles and vocal cords, but little else besides;

 

The right to vote is universal, but the will to vote is not;

 

Everyone has a right to free speech, but little of value to say;

 

Extramarital sex is considered recreation and monogamy a throwback;

 

The only ideology is self-gratification and collectives are mere dim memories;

 

The only certainty is uncertainty and the only permanent fixture is change (for change's sake);

 

Obsolescence is the driver of innovation, but science, art, and literature are obsolete;

 

As men and women lose their traditional roles, confusion and inter-gender enmity reign. In a unisex world, homosexuality, or sexual abstinence are rational choices. As malignant, narcissistic individualism is on the rise, the species is dying out. In many countries - including major ones such as Japan, Russia, and Germany - the population is declining precipitously. More than one third of the youth of these places opt for celibacy and singlehood. Sperm counts have plummeted by a whopping 70%.

 

We are in the throes of vanishing.

 

Written February 9, 2013

 

The New Matriarchy and the Redundant Male

From the dawn of history to the late 1950s, the collective had been the organizing principle of human affairs. The pursuit of happiness was channelled via collectives and even dissidents and rebels formed collectives to express their grievances. But, this old system brought humanity to the verge of extinction. Disenchanted with mass ideologies, people switched to the opposite pole: militant individualism, which became the new battle cry and organizing principle of increasingly more narcissistic collectives and individuals alike.

 

As increasingly more potent technology was and is being added to this volatile mix, power is shifting from elites to the masses, from majorities to minorities, and from states and institutions to individuals. Thus, a varied range of hitherto exclusive and intermediated activities, both benign and pernicious, have been devolved are now the domain of empowered individuals and citizen collectives. Example include: gatekeeping in publishing; barriers to entry in various industries; inaccessible education; cross-cultural exchanges; journalism; and the state’s monopoly on violence.

 

Consider women:

 

Throughout the agro-industrial era, which lasted several millennia, men, possessed of muscle-power, ruled the roost. As emphasis shifted from brawn to brain and from mindless collectivism to self-centred networking, women, equally if not better equipped than men to cope in this brave, new world gained power and prestige to the point of eclipsing their male counterparts. In several Western countries, they now constitute more than half the workforce, including in professions such as law and medicine; by a growing margin, more women garner advanced academic degrees than men; single women earn more than single men in the USA and, in the US and the UK, one third of all main breadwinners in surveyed households are female. Women dominate teaching on all levels of education throughout the world (except in Africa and small enclaves in Asia.)

 

Increasingly, women refer to themselves in terms which were once the preserve of men: as being dominant, ambitious, assertive, goal-oriented, and aggressive. The rate of extramarital affairs (“cheating”) among women now equals men’s (and women increasingly justify their shenanigans with the old male adage: “It was only sex! It meant nothing to me!” or claim that they felt the need for sexual diversity and gratification). Men are on the retreat as they withdraw from professions “invaded” by women.

 

The symmetry ends here, though. Men are either monogamous or polygynous. They seek to leverage their money and power to have sex and relationships with one or more female partners. In contrast, women seem to relish their newfound freedoms because they allow them to avoid men, except as casual sex partners, or sperm donors. More and more women choose to remain unattached and childless, or to become single mothers. Men are seen as a redundant nuisance and are actively shunned as women form exclusively feminine social circles and engage in predominantly same-sex activities.

 

Post-colonialism Has Finally Arrived!

 

Historically, polities with access to the sea (in Europe, Japan, USA) have established overseas empires while essentially landlocked entities (Russia, Germany) opted to spread on land and at the expense of their neighbours. The USA started off as a land empire, but fast acquired holdings across various seas (Caribbean) and oceans (Pacific.) The disintegration of the British Empire and the rise of Germany and Russia forced the USA to abandon the Monroe doctrine and directly intervene in European affairs in the course of three globe-spanning wars (the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War.)

 

As empires crumbled in the wake of the two World Wars, agreements made by erstwhile colonial masters regarding “national” borders and newfangled “nation-states” were assiduously observed, defended, and preserved by ostensibly post-colonial rulers and regimes. The Cold War was about maintaining these colonialist fixations and about perpetuating imperialist-mercantilist confabulations which took little notice of ethnic, cultural, and social realities on the ground.

 

The unanticipated demise of the USSR wrecked this precarious equilibrium. Suddenly, it became both conceivable and doable to redraw colonial-era borders to better reflect ethnic and historical facts: in Europe (Yugoslavia, Ukraine, and perhaps soon in Spain and Scotland); in the Middle East (in Iraq, in North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring, and as a consequence of any peace process in Palestine); in Central Asia and other parts of that continent (East Timor; the islands disputed by China, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines; Hong Kong and, soon, Taiwan); and in Africa (South Africa and South Sudan, for instance.)

 

As a “sole superpower” in a “unipolar world”, the self-appointed and exceptionalist “cop of the international community”, the USA spent two decades, rivers of blood spilled, and countless trillions of dollars in an attempt to stanch this imminent avalanche of geopolitical realignment. To no avail. Realising the unsustainable folly of trying to prop up a zombie world order, President Obama instituted an isolationist foreign policy and military stance, in all but name. He withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan, kept away from an imploding Syria and a besieged Ukraine, and largely left the Middle East to its own devices. The USA has reverted to form: acting as a Pacific power. Yet, even Obama’s Pivot to Asia was stillborn as was his alleged newfound interest in Africa and its prospects.

 

The future would witness the rise of trading nations, economic empires the likes of Venice and the Netherlands in the 13th-17th centuries: Germany (aka the EU), China, the USA, Australia, and, probably Africa. These would be multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, usually banded together within supranational arrangements. The areas excluded from such commercial-economics juggernaut clubs will be carved up according to ethnic, tribal, and religious affiliations to yield a patchwork quilt of obscure and obscurantist impassable and backward nether regions.

 


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