Home > musing > The country is going to hell, whaddya gonna do.

The country is going to hell, whaddya gonna do.

August 28, 2012

Yesterday I finished reading Chris Hayes’s book “Twilight of the Elites,” and although I enjoyed it, I have to say it was more about the elites than about their twilight.

He focused on the enormous distance between people in society, how the myth of meritocracy is widening that gap (with healthy references to Karen Ho’s book Liquidated, which I blogged about here), and how, as the entrenched elite get more and more entrenched, they get less and less competent.

But Hayes didn’t really paint a picture of how things would end, although he mentioned the Tea Party and Occupy as possible important sources of resistance, not unlike Barofsky’s recent book Bailout (which I blogged about here), in which Barofsky appealed to the righteous anger of the people to whom government is no longer accountable.

Well, I guess Hayes did add one wrinkle which surprised me. He said it would be the upper middle class, educated class that actually foments the coming revolution. Oh, and the bloggers (because the mainstream media is so captured they’re useless). So me and my friends.

His argument is that we are the ones sufficiently educated and sufficiently insiderish that we will be at the window, with our faces pressed against the glass, looking in at the true insider elites, and seeing how stupid and incompetent those guys are, and how they are rigging the system against the rest of us, and we’ll eventually explode with disgust and righteous anger and that will signal the end.

Kind of feels like that’s already happened, but maybe I’m being impatient.

Two things I really enjoyed about his book:

First, the fact that practically everyone thinks they’re an underdog and has fought tooth and nail to succeed in this world. Absolutely true, including the guys I worked with in finance. I think the phrase he used is “people born on third base think they hit a triple”.

Second, he does a really good job describing the never-can-be-too-rich culture of our country; his example of going to Davos is an excellent one and brings that concept to life perfectly.

It’s enough to get you kind of depressed overall, though. If we are to believe this book’s thesis, our entrenched elite and dysfunctional political structure and economic system are doomed to fail at some future moment, and the best we can hope for is a moment where the hypocrisy collapses in on itself. What is there to look forward to exactly?

I asked that of a friend of mine, and how it was getting me down. His advice to me was to own it more. To make the coming apocalypse an event, kind of like the 4th of July or a vacation, that you plan for and enjoy thinking about.

He said plenty of people do this, it’s in fact a huge industry of doom and gloom. The country is going to hell, whaddya gonna do, he said, might as well have some fun with it.

What? Who are these doom and gloom people? Start here, where Dmitry Orlov compares the preparedness of the US to the former USSR for the coming inevitable apocalypse. He calls this the “Collapse Gap”.

It’s got some great points (although he can’t both say that lawlessness ensues and people take what they want, and also say that people behind in their mortgages will be homeless) and it’s really funny as well, in a completely cynical, Russian way of course. My favorite lines:

One area in which I cannot discern any Collapse Gap is national politics. The ideologies may be different, but the blind adherence to them couldn’t be more similar.

It is certainly more fun to watch two Capitalist parties go at each other than just having the one Communist party to vote for. The things they fight over in public are generally symbolic little tokens of social policy, chosen for ease of public posturing. The Communist party offered just one bitter pill. The two Capitalist parties offer a choice of two placebos. The latest innovation is the photo finish election, where each party buys 50% of the vote, and the result is pulled out of statistical noise, like a rabbit out of a hat.

Categories: musing
  1. Annie
    August 28, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Oh, there are always a lot of people out there saying how the world is going to hell in a handbasket, whether or not it’s true. There seems to be a constant demand for that sort of thing. As a counterbalance, I recommend Matt Ridley’s “The Rational Optimist.” He points out (quite correctly, in my opinion) that in fact, the world is getting better for everybody all the time. http://www.amazon.com/The-Rational-Optimist-P-S-ebook/dp/B003QP4BJM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1346160242&sr=8-2&keywords=rational+optimist

  2. August 28, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Annie,

    I’m sure you don’t mean for *everybody*.

    Cathy

    • Annie
      August 28, 2012 at 7:00 pm

      Oh, I was being sloppy. I meant “on average.”

  3. Etienne
    August 28, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Hello,

    A book which could be of interest to you (in french, sorry, not yet translated):
    “Peut-on être radical et pragmatique?” (“Can one be both radical and pragmatical?”)

    http://www.amazon.fr/Peut-radical-pragmatique-Ir%C3%A8ne-Pereira/dp/2845973586/

  4. August 28, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I have a hard time believing that something that could be described as a revolution would be driven by the upper middle class, at least not those our age. They (we) have too much to lose to risk the volatility that comes with precipitous social change. The people who are the most dangerous to the stability of the system are those who have very little left (or yet) to lose.

  5. August 28, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Cathy wrote: “What? Who are these doom and gloom people?”

    Among them are 1018, and counting, hate groups (find one near you) [http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map] who (for four years) have been buying massive amounts of weaponry to greet their call to glory and blood. These paranoid fragiles are among the inequitably dispossessed and oppressed, but they are also largely irretrievably insane, often driven off the edge by modern, powerful, destructive self-medication.

    As the fraudulent political conventions organize, group- and self-appointed wackos are also converging to their destiny with death, whether its suicide-by-cop or gaining MSM middle-name immortality. Whether some equally insane political strategists are counting on enjoying such perfidy or not, the national and local (public and covert) “security” forces are going to have their hands full with hundreds of real and fantasy and set-up plots in the coming weeks.

  6. None
    August 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Mathbabe, your maths posts are great but your politics stuff borders on wacko, it’s like you totally switch off your critical thinking abilities when the subject matter gets to politics. Do you really read the points in that Dimitri Orlov link and think “this is correct”, rather than “this is mostly nonsense” ?

    • August 28, 2012 at 1:42 pm

      Erm, thanks, I guess. But you’re right, I am not thinking critically about this- in fact I interpret Dmitry’s post as a joke, as entertainment. And it’s funny when you do that. Sorry if that wasn’t clear enough.

      Cathy

  7. Al
    August 28, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Is this the same Dmitri Orlov as in Bondal and Orlov? If so, apparently he has had some great ideas that I hope to understand some day :)

  8. Michael Thaddeus
    September 3, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Ever since my childhood, liberals have had this gloomy sense of foreboding. The system is so wicked, so corrupt, that its imminent collapse seems unavoidable. First it was nuclear holocaust, then global warming, now this. What happened to the Whiggish view of history?

    • sglover
      September 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      “What happened to the Whiggish view of history?”

      A little thing called the 20th Century.

  9. September 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    “His argument is that we are the ones sufficiently educated and sufficiently insiderish that we will be at the window, with our faces pressed against the glass, looking in at the true insider elites, and seeing how stupid and incompetent those guys are, and how they are rigging the system against the rest of us, …”

    I suggest that the malfunctioning of society’s institutions is more important than intentional “rigging”. Consider elections in this country: presidential nomination via the primary process is structured along an arbitrary ordering of state votes, effectively making some votes more important than others and votes in the actual election are funneled through the bizarre filter of the electoral college. Members of the House are elected by gerrymandered districts (a practice of both of the major parties).

    Did bankers play games with other peoples’ money? Yes, some did, to disastrous effect, but I think there are much bigger problems when the electorate pays more attention to which celebrity has a “baby bump” than the fact that the national deficit just soared past 16 trillion dollars.

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