The Fourth Turning

The Fourth Turning is a book by William Strauss and Neil Howe, published in December of 1997.

The thing that first caught my eye was that they predicted an odd and rather catastrophic problem in US politics that would be unfolding between 2005 and 2025. It wasn’t entirely specific, but it was detailed enough to make me sit up and wonder, “How in the world did they know about THAT?”

Recall that, in 1997, Bill Clinton was president, Windows 95 was new, Islamic terrorists were firmly “over there,” the Twin Towers still stood tall in New York City, and you could wear your shoes all the way through the airports. The biggest, baddest thing on the horizon was the “Y2K Bug,” though it was comfortably three years away. Only scientists and science fiction authors talked about Hubbard’s Peak, and “Global Warming” was a private crusade of Al Gore.

Yet here the authors of this book were talking about Generation X (children born in the 1980’s, barely teens) being derided in the 2000’s as worthless in all possible ways, widespread distrust and disgust with all branches of national government including the Supreme Court, economic turmoil on a major scale, and the rise of fascism in the US, all brought about by a “trigger event” sometime in the mid-2000’s decade.

Think back, folks. Think hard. All of these things were purest dystopian science fiction in 1997.

Yet here we are.

How did they know about THAT?

There’s a remarkable simplicity to their observations: there’s a pattern in history. It’s as predictable as coming darkness, after the sun gets low in the West and the clouds start to turn orange.

I need to write about this, because writing is my way of thinking out loud and settling my thoughts. There is a lot to think about here.

Let’s start where the authors do, with the concept of the Saeculum. This is a Latin term, and it comes from a Roman concept, borrowed from the Greeks, and probably goes back as far in history as you wish to go. It is generally defined as a period of between 80 and 100 years, based on the measure of a long human lifespan. Most of us make it to our 70’s (if we survive childhood illness and wars and plagues), and always have. Many surpass 80. Some surpass 90. Few cross the 100-year line. Saeculum is the name for a historical period roughly equivalent to a “long human life.”

Another observation is the concept of a Generation. We’re all aware of the meaning of this, and most of us relate to a particular generation. A “generation” is not strictly bounded by dates or age. We could call it a kind of collective mindset. We talk about the “Boomer” generation, for instance, and nearly everyone alive either identifies with this generation, or does not, and usually quite strongly.

What’s interesting is that there is any identifiable thing called a generation. We are all born on different dates, and born to different parents over a wide range of ethnicities, wealth, geography, and recent history. First grade classes are always full, as are high school graduations, and new graduates enter the world as young adults every year. You would think we would be all quite different from each other, spread out along a continuum. Yet we somehow fall into these very distinct generational categories, and go through our life-changes as a cohort, or a “generation.”

Another observation is that generations have types that occur in a cycle over the course of the Saeculum. This is largely invisible to us as individuals, for the simple reason that there are roughly four distinct generations in a Saeculum, that is, a long human life. The generation most like our own was therefore our great-great-grandparents, and we will not see another generation like ours until our great-great-grandchildren. No one nearer in time is really anything like us, and because this spans the entire Saeculum, the long human life, most of us will never meet anyone like ourselves from a different generation. Our great-great-grandparents were gone before we were old enough to remember them, and we will be gone before our great-great-grandchildren will know us. So all that most of us ever see, throughout our lives, are the three generations before us, and the three after us, and they are all very different from us.

We all think — with good reason — that we are alone, and quite unique.

What I’m starting to notice, now that I’m a grandfather, is that there really are similarities between my own grandchildren, and my grandparents. Or in my case, my parents, since my parents were around 40 when they married.

Something about this concept of generations pulls all of us together into this generational collective mindset.

So let’s talk about this cycle of generations, using the latest cycle for reference. The authors give the generations “functional” (recurrent) names, as well as specific names that have been used to describe these particular generations in history:

  • Hero : G.I. generation
  • Artist : Silent generation
  • Prophet : Boomer generation
  • Nomad : X generation

The next generation to come is the Millennials, and they are currently in their school years. They will (or should) become the next Hero generation. The one that follows them is not yet named, because they haven’t been born, but they will be an Artist generation. The one to follow that will be a Prophet generation. And so the cycle continues.

The ordering of this is pretty much fixed, not just by the nature of the parental generation, but by the combination of the parent, grandparent, and great-grandparent generations, all functioning at different levels of society. When a generation is born, the great-grandparents hold the greatest influence within society, as the elders in government, religion, business, and communities. The grandparents hold the senior-management power: the supervisors, the deacons, the school principals, the senior bureaucracy. The parents form the young working class. This combination, and the tensions between these generations, are what shape the newborn generation.

As the new generation comes of age and starts having its own children, their great-grandparents are either dying or stepping-down, their grandparents are moving into fullest power, their parents are moving into senior management, and they themselves are becoming the young working class.

There are two major cyclic events within each Saeculum, one called The Awakening, and the other called The Crisis. The resolution of the Crisis is coincident with the coming-of-age of a Hero generation, while the Awakening is coincident with the coming-of-age of a Prophet generation. This is a straightforward pendulum between material and spiritual peaks. The Hero builds a functional society that glosses over spiritual values and justice in the name of expediency, and the Prophet addresses a spiritual awakening and re-assessment that glosses over functionality.

A Hero generation is an enthusiast of the society it has built. A Prophet generation is a critic of the society it lives in.

At cross-quarters to this cycle is the cycle of the Artists and Nomads. The Artists come of age in the midst of a materially functional society marked by stability, material opportunity, and cultural enthusiasm, but also by conformity, conventionality, and a certain kind of stagnation. The Nomads come of age in the midst of an increasingly dysfunctional society full of almost unlimited freedom (or license), but marked by increasing instability, declining safety and access to opportunity, and the need to improvise, partition, and disconnect just to survive.

An Artist generation is full of bright hope for the future of society, even if it is a tad dull. A Nomad generation sees little or no hope for the future of society, though it can be profitable and exciting if you are willing to be nimble and not-too-fussy about the rules.

So let’s talk a little about where we are in 2022. It sure ain’t 1997.

We are sixteen months out from an attempted coup by a sitting President to retain his office despite a resounding rejection at the polls.

We have a Supreme Court worried that a premature leak of a draft decision regarding Roe v. Wade is going to “damage confidence in the Supreme Court,” apparently in some strange universe where loss of decorum — rather than shit rulings — is what makes people lose confidence in the Court.

We have a Congress that simply cannot govern, and at least one party (Republicans) clearly not even interested in governing.

We have increasingly open Christo-Fascist movements agitating for dissolving the United States, by force and terror, with substantial support among Republican politicians at every level.

We have an economy constantly on the edge, just one misstep from inflationary collapse, supply-chain collapse, production collapse. The rot is deep.

We have a billionaire class rapidly advancing to a trillionaire class in an inflationary economy where much of the nation lives on less than $15/hour.

We have WW3 on the horizon, should an aging, ill, and demented Russian dictator decide, Oh, what the Hell….

We have global warming on a runaway course of destruction, and we are rushing into its arms like a lover.

The Prophet generation — the Boomer generation — is aging, and the Silent generation is dying out. The Nomad generation is well into parenting years, and the next Hero generation is is school.

We are moving toward a Crisis writ as large as WWII. Times that “try men’s souls.”

Here’s the comfort: this has all happened before. This has been the Saecular cycle for as far back as we care to look, with remarkable (though not infallible) regularity. The reason we don’t recognize it, as we recognized the cycle of day and night, or the cycle of the seasons, is that the cycle lives just outside living memory.

On the plus side of this comfort is that in the past, the US has always pulled through Crises into a new Saeculum that was better than what came before.

On the minus side of this comfort is that there is no guarantee that this Saeculum (or any other) will end well. Nations fall. Civilizations vanish.

I’d like to close with a figure he authors call the Gray Champion, dating from 1689.

King James II was about to strip the US colonists of their liberties and their fantasies of self-rule, and the Colonial Governor marched troops through Boston in a show of strength. As they marched, “the figure of an ancient man” with “the eye, the face, the attitude of command” appeared on the street and stood in the path of the soldiers, and demanded that they stop. His appearance was so daunting that they did. This so inspired the citizens of Boston that they deposed and jailed the governor, which set in motion forces that eventually led to the Revolution a century later. No one knew exactly who this “Gray Champion” was, save that he was once one of the young Puritans who had settled in New England a half-century before.

The Gray Champion has re-emerged in each of the major American Crises since.

A Prophet.

A Boomer of a bygone age.

As the generation that has been charged with safeguarding the Spirit of the Nation, of looking deep into the spirit of the nation and of criticizing its hypocrisy, and injustice, and failings, it falls to us in our nation’s time of need to stand, and say, “This shall not pass.” To be the Gray Champion of our time.

And in so doing, to precipitate the Crisis, and guide the nation through it.

Just as it will fall to the Nomads to get us through the chaos by finding ways to keep the material side together.

Just as it will fall to the Heroes to build something — as a generation — that will rebuild from the wreckage, and inspire hope and enthusiasm for the future.

Just as it will fall to the next Artists to enjoy the harvest of fair times, to perfect and embellish.

Just as it will fall to the next Prophets to focus on what was left behind and corrupted in the chaos and compromise and rebuilding. To call out the injustice, and the spiritual emptiness, and the hypocrisy.

This is not a time to be cowed by statistics. This is a time to stand up for what is right.

To become the Gray Champion.

The Bells

The Witches’ Bells started to toll as the Senator entered the parking garage under the US Capitol. The Bells were loud today. They had been tuned to the Capitol building.

“It’s the speed of sound,” one of her staff had explained, back when the Witches had first started ringing the Bells. It reminded her of her father teaching her as a child to count off the seconds between a lightning flash and the thunder. He’d explained that it takes sound about five seconds to travel a mile, but light travels almost instantly. So if the lightning was a mile away, you would see the flash the moment the lightning struck, but the sound wouldn’t arrive until a full five seconds later.

There were thirteen Bells located around the Capitol area, and a master computer program timed them all. One stroke every five seconds, but rung at slightly different instants so that the sound would arrive at a location of choice at exactly the same moment. People called it “tuning” the Bells.

When you were at the tuning-point, it was an uncanny, disturbing sound. It seemed to come from everywhere, and nowhere, almost like you were inside the bell. It also seemed impossible to block out the sound. The thick walls and bulletproof glass of the Capitol building only muted it. If you used earplugs, you could still feel it in your chest and belly. The relentless five-second peal got into your head, into your heartbeat, and rubbed you raw from the inside out.

But it wasn’t merely an annoyance. The Bells carried a moral burden. A curse, in fact. An actual curse.

She remembered the first news item she’d seen, five years ago: an unsteady iPhone video from a bystander watching a street-performance, accompanied by the usual snarky commentary from celebrity newscasters. The video showed a portion of the Supreme Court building in the background, and three women, pushing a long cylindrical wind chime that hung from a wheeled framework. All were dressed in full-body leotards, with hooded cloaks: one wore white, one wore black, and one wore scarlet. Their faces were painted in the same colors as their clothing, with stylized features: the woman in white had a cold, pitiless face, like a porcelain mask; the woman in black wore an expression of permanent anguish; the woman in red had the appearance of a vengeful demon from Hell. The women gathered around the wind chime and stood motionless, facing inward. A small crowd gathered.

Then the woman in white pulled a large book from a pocket inside her cloak, and a large feathered quill. She opened the book, and wrote in it with the quill. She raised her face, and called out in a loud voice.

Allison Sue Baker!

The woman in black drew a black stick from her inner cloak pocket, tipped with a dull black rubber ball, and struck the chime. It was surprisingly loud and faded slowly, as the woman in black crouched and threw back her head, hands raised in supplication to Heaven, teeth bared in a grimace of pain.

The woman in red whirled, her cloak spreading out like wings, and she lifted her hands toward the Supreme Court Building, fingers twisted into claws. She called out in a loud voice.

I DO CURSE THEE, JOHN GLOVER ROBERTS.

Then all three women screamed.

The women had powerful voices, trained voices, opera voices, and the long shriek they produced caused the entire crowd to surge backward. It seemed to go on forever, then cut off instantly. All three turned back to face the chime.

Nine times they repeated this ritual, each time calling out a different woman’s name, and cursing another of the nine Supreme Court Justices. Then they wheeled the garden chime away, separated, and vanished into the Washington crowds.

The Senator pulled into her assigned parking spot. She knew the tolling of the Bells would continue for at least another hour, perhaps two. That was the real genius — the cruel genius — of the Bells. Each toll represented one young woman’s life lost to a botched self-administered abortion.

Statistics were just numbers. Six hundred thousand abortions per year, before Roe v. Wade was overturned. Divide by 365, and you have 1600 abortions per day. Roughly half of those were now classified as homicides in states around the country, so that’s 800 per day done with a coat hanger or knitting needle, or using deadly poisons. If only half of those resulted in a fatality, that was four hundred deaths a day. Four hundred out of a population of 300 million. Negligible.

But four hundred deaths, measured by slow bell, is 33 minutes.

Every. Single. Day.

And that isn’t counting the suicides.

The Senator gritted her teeth. She threw open her car door violently, dinging the car next to hers, and found she didn’t care. She closed her door partway, and then slammed it into the other car as hard as she could. It made a satisfying scraping sound.

She got out, slammed her car door shut, and strode toward the elevator. The tolling of the Bells echoed in the concrete cave of the parking garage. A curse, a scream, a death, every five seconds.

The Witches’ Bells were all owned by the Church of the Three Sisters, a new church that had registered as a tax-exempt religious organization shortly after the Three Witches had staged their street theater a stone’s throw from the Supreme Court building.

The Church had immediately begun to preach in favor of a national law codifying a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, medical care, and privacy. There was serious money behind the movement — they had been able to purchase the thirteen properties in DC where the Witches’ Bells were located, as well as create a national network of churches throughout the country. Those churches offered places for parents who had lost daughters to come together and grieve and speak freely. That had created a powerful political coalition that had put a lot of pressure on her party to pass today’s Women’s Rights bill.

The Senator was still a freshman Senator, only two years into her first term, but she’d been hand-picked by the Majority Leader to play hard-to-get on today’s vote. It had been a key role in ensuring that today’s vote would fail. She’d felt honored, and flattered.

Her role was to pretend to be on the fence, to act as a honey-pot to attract the attention of the other side. Several of her party had already defected, and if she joined them, the other side would be able to pass the bill directly. That was the honey: the other side knew they only needed one more vote, and she courted their attention. There were other members of her party far more likely to defect under pressure, but she’d managed to draw attention away from them by playing the second-year ingénue. Her vote with her party line today would not only scuttle the bill, it would bring substantial rewards for her.

A sudden instant of overwhelming panic and doubt almost made her stumble.

Am I ready for this?

She took a deep breath, and then continued toward the Senate chambers.

The Majority leader glanced up as she entered, and he immediately moved toward her.

“I’m surprised to see you here,” he said quietly.

“It’s an important vote,” she said.

“It is,” he said. “But you’ve already done your part, and done it well. We could have managed without you today. You should be home.”

“I need to see this through,” she said, her jaw tight.

He gave her a strange look. She broke eye contact and headed toward her seat.

She paid little attention to proceedings until the Majority Leader raised the Women’s Rights bill, S.12. She stood.

“Majority Leader, I wish to address the Senate,” she said, her voice firm.

He looked up, sudden alarm in his face. This was not any part of the script they’d discussed. She waited.

After a long moment, he said, “The Chair recognizes the Senator from Texas.”

She looked around the room.

“Some of you know that my husband and I have very recently suffered a terrible loss. The rest of you should know, as well. We lost our daughter over this past weekend. She is dead. What most of you would never learn is that she died by her own hand. She was a suicide.”

There was a stir of movement around the chamber, but now she had their full attention.

“She was also pregnant.”

The room became deathly quiet. Every eye was on her.

“My husband and I are devout Christians, as you all know, and we are deeply involved with our church in Texas. We have always believed that ending a pregnancy is a sin against God, and we celebrated the overturn of Roe v. Wade five years ago. I entered politics to ensure that abortion would never again be legalized, because we believe that there is always another way, a way that does not end an innocent life. We supported our daughter. We knew her boyfriend, and we felt he was a good young man. We were disappointed that they weren’t willing to wait, but we were more than willing to bless their marriage. 

“She refused. My daughter refused. She said she would not marry her boyfriend, and she would not give birth to the child. She demanded that we take her out-of-state to abort the child.

“We didn’t understand. We tried to reason with her. We told her that we would be there for her, that we could make it work. We counseled with our pastor.

“She finally told us that her boyfriend was not the father of the child. But she would not tell us who had fathered the child. We … we still didn’t understand.”

Her breath caught. She looked down. A tear ran down her face. She straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath.

“My daughter left a note. She explained in writing everything she could not say to us.

“She wrote that her boyfriend was not the father of her child. It was her boyfriend’s father who had sired the child. It was rape. A forcible rape by a man my husband’s age.

“Had our daughter bent to our wishes, she would have quietly, obediently married her boyfriend, and would have lived the rest of her life in the terror of another rape by her father-in-law. Of another child that was not her husband’s.”

The Senator took a deep, slow breath.

“HOW IS THIS JUSTICE?” she screamed.

A babble of shouts and arguments erupted.

“I. STILL. HOLD. THE. FLOOR.” the Senator shouted, each word like a gunshot.

The babble subsided. The Senator waited for complete silence.

“I set my sights on preventing the death of an innocent life,” she said, quietly. “I destroyed two innocent lives. Not one. Two.”

She paused for a moment.

“You do not set a bone before you straighten it. You do not give birth to a child — a precious child — before you at least try to straighten the life that will raise it.

“And there are times when you must amputate a limb to save a life.

“The criminalization of abortion is wrong. It is vicious, it is arrogant, and it is wrong.

“I will vote in favor of S.12. I urge all of you to vote for it as well.

“I yield the floor.”

She sank into her seat as an uproar rose around her. She ignored it. She lost track of time.

When she returned to the room, she found the chamber empty, except for the Majority Leader, who stood in front of her.

“What will you do?” he asked.

“What will I do?”

“Your career here is over. You’ve done some damage. No, I’ll be honest. You’ve done quite a lot of damage. But it won’t really change anything.”

“Oh, that,” she replied. “Yes, once the vote is taken, I’ll step down. Health reasons, probably. I haven’t really decided. I won’t look back. You needn’t worry.”

“So what will you do?”

She thought for a long moment.

“I think I might join the Witches,” she said.

She stood and left the Senate chambers.

She did not look back.

A Letter To Congress

I sent this today to my Representative, and to both Senators. Feel free to copy and use it yourself, or use it as a template for your own thoughts.

The technical phrase is: I release this to the Public Domain. It belongs to the public.


Dear Senator/Representative,

I am writing about a deep concern regarding the future of our nation. I apologize for the length, but it is a deadly serious topic.

The United States is ripping itself apart, politically. This much is obvious. Other democratic nations have noticed, calling us a “backsliding democracy,” even questioning whether we are still a democracy. I question it, too.

This has happened at least twice before, in the 1850’s, and again in the 1930’s. In both cases, the Union was at serious risk of dissolution. We are now in a similar position.

The core issue seems to be the same in all three cases: the entitlement of the wealthy to increase their wealth to the detriment of the nation.

In the 1850’s, the issue was slavery, the right of the wealthy to own other humans, work them as property, trade them for profit as property, and pursue them if they fled as “stolen” property. In the 1930’s, it was the dominance of corporations and trusts, which sought to evade the new federal taxes, manipulate the stock markets, and monopolize entire industries to eliminate competition; to raise prices and lower wages, all with no concern for the harm it caused the workers or the residents near their operations or the nation as a whole.

The issue since the 1980’s, culminating in the 2010’s with the election of Donald Trump, has been the attempt to reduce the federal government to a tool for the wealthy to protect their “investments,” returning all other political power to the states, which may choose to nullify federal regulations and any pesky amendments to the Constitution that offend them. To “shrink the federal government until it can be drowned in a bathtub.”

We see the kinds of powers the states wish to exercise in the behavior of Governor Abbott of Texas, or Governor de Santis of Florida. We are headed toward Balkanization, interstate economic war, and (eventually) military conflict supported by state governments and militias.

The nation fell into civil war once, and avoided it the second time. I am not confident of our chances this time.

It is clear that the entire Republican Party is deeply complicit in this matter. They have packed the Supreme Court with “originalists,” a philosophy that enshrines the Constitution as Holy Writ, and carries the potential for disregarding any of the amendments to the Constitution, such as the 14th, which makes human slavery illegal, or the 16th, which allows a Federal income tax. Under this philosophy, even the 1st amendment could be ignored. Or the 5th. When in the majority, Republicans use the filibuster relentlessly to shut down debate, discussion, and lawmaking. They were deeply involved in, and have turned a blind eye toward an attempted coup of the office of the Presidency — a coup that very nearly succeeded.

It falls to President Biden and the Democrats in Congress to carry us through this time. The Republicans will bring us to dissolution and war.

I do not wish to see a civil war. I have grandchildren.

I believe that the dry wood fueling this fire is a disaffected, angry population, with one broad underlying problem. Put in simple terms, we all live now in a nation-sized company town.

I’m referring to the “company towns” of the big logging and mining operations of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, where you could go to make big paychecks, but found that the company store would take it all back with inflated prices that kept your pockets empty. You would make great money, spend it all on necessities or small pleasures, and walk away older and no richer. The Trump supporters call this a loss of “freedom.” But it is really a loss of opportunity, based on a loss of security. You cannot pursue an opportunity when you have no time to do anything but try to make next month’s rent.

US Americans have no security.

Medical care is catastrophic. I went through a medical bankruptcy, for colon cancer. I watched a man suffering a heart-attack decline care because he could not afford the ambulance; he died that night, alone and in pain. I was forced out of independent contracting, trying to keep up with medical insurance under the pre-Obamacare price-padding from the insurance companies. Drug prices are a scandal, even with medical insurance, due to open price-gouging.

Housing is increasingly inaccessible. Denver, Colorado, where I once lived, has been reported as approaching a $1M median house price. California housing prices have long been ridiculous. Where does all that money go? To the mortgage bankers.

Old age is desperately insecure. My first “stake” in retirement was wiped out by the 2001 tech-bubble collapse. My second would have been destroyed by the 2008 meltdown, had it survived the medical bankruptcy. Social Security is coming up fast on the “boomer” trust-fund cliff, and the Republicans have successfully blocked any fix to that since Reagan.

Income for many is capped at a level below a living wage by monopolies on jobs. Throwing money into the workforce can create new jobs, as Biden has demonstrated, but it doesn’t address the fact that many of those jobs remain below living wage.

Education is no longer a right, but a speculative commodity, surrounded by loan sharks. It is rapidly falling out-of-favor with the young, for the very good reason that it no longer makes any economic sense for them.

Few believe the US government will rise to the challenge of global climate change — I certainly do not.

The common element underlying all of these ailments is ultimately the failure of the Federal government to finish the job it started in the 1860’s. Back then, the ownership class owned people. Now, the ownership class owns everything except people. Food. Water. Shelter. Land. Labor.

The Democratic Party needs to stop dithering, and face the core of the problem: the ownership class. The American oligarchs, barons, investors. The wealthy. The systems of ownership that make them wealth, and keep them wealthy.

Both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have thought deeply about these matters, and while their solutions may need more work, the core idea is sound: we need to return ownership of the nation to the people of the nation.

If the Democratic Party continues to dither, telling the citizens that this is the best they can do, then the United States will fail.

I feel this in my bones.

Isolation Disorder

By nature, I am an introvert.

A lot of people who know me casually might not believe this — I can be pretty outgoing and sociable. But it is true: I am an introvert.

The most intuitive and useful description of the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” I’ve heard are in terms of “energy,” meaning whether you “recharge your batteries” when you are alone, or when you are with other people. An introvert recharges by being alone. An extrovert recharges by being with other people. Introverts can party, and extroverts can sit and read a book in a quiet room, but in either case, it drains their energy, and they have to return to an environment where they can recharge. It’s like sleep: chronic lack of sleep makes people cranky and eventually psychotic.

Sometime in my late 30’s or early 40’s, I discovered how to reverse that flow of energy, entirely by accident. I was out, by myself, on a cold evening at a pub in Fort Collins, I think at an annual tapping of their Christmas Ale, and the bar got — well, “happy.” All of you fellow-introverts out there will understand perfectly when I say that my normal response to this would be to leave. It’s too much to handle, and processing all that “energy” — or information, or noise, or whatever it might be — is totally exhausting. But that night, for the first time, I just went with the flow. I found myself actually drawing from the energy of the crowd, rather than fighting to stay afloat. I damn near got high from the experience. And I wondered: is this what an extrovert feels in a crowd? Wow. Nice!

In the years since, I’ve found that I remain an introvert at core in the sense that I really need the alone-time to continue to function. But I’ve also been able to get into the extroverted mode of recharging from the group energy. I loved being in group environments.

The last five years have taken a brutal toll on me, primarily the Trump phenomenon, followed by COVID, and I’m finding that I’m not really enjoying my interactions with people any more.

My social life came to a stop with COVID, of course, for two long years. But it runs deeper than that. COVID restrictions are mostly over — in our area, for now — and I have the opportunity to get back out there.

I don’t want to.

I took a look at my blog, for instance. In 2010 through 2015, I was averaging around 40 posts a year. Since then, it’s looked like this:

2017: 31
2018: 19
2019: 17
2020: 11
2021: 4

2020, the year of the pandemic, when I was stuck in the house with lots of free time to spend on blogging, I posted only 11 entries, and in 2021, I managed only four. This is my second post this year, and God alone knows whether I will manage a third before 2023 rolls around.

When I do go out and interact with people, as I must in order to buy groceries, I feel awkward and uncomfortable. My “energy” drains out rapidly, and I walk away from every human exchange feeling badly, like I’ve made some kind of faux pas. Like I’ve just told an offensive joke, though all I’ve said, literally, is “Good morning.”

I’m choosing to call this “isolation disorder.” It doesn’t feel good, and it doesn’t feel right.

I’m writing about this because I strongly suspect I’m not alone in this. I suspect a lot of people are feeling this way, and I’m even guessing that some of the discomfort I feel in interactions with other people is an empathetic reaction to their discomfort at being with people.

So to talk about this, I want to take a closer look at that moment, years ago, when I “turned on” my extroversion. What I think lay at the core of that experience was trust.

I had a rather nasty childhood, which was typical for the time, but particularly rough for any bright kid in a small town in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. A single phrase from a story I once read sums it up: “Different is dead.” And I was different. As a result, I learned quickly to not trust the other kids. The adults of that time weren’t especially trustworthy, either. We were still in the tail end of the “children should be seen and not heard” model of childrearing and school-teaching, and Doctor Benjamin Spock’s “Baby Book,” published in 1957, in which he recommended being affectionate and flexible with your children, was considered scandalous: common wisdom demanded that caregivers be stern and provide rigid, inflexible boundaries. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” as the Good Book says. It was quoted often, and believed widely.

What I think happened as I approached the age of forty, in that first-time moment of extroversion, was an unexpected sense of trust in the midst of all these loud, rowdy, happy strangers. I didn’t have to protect myself from them, and their noise, and their good cheer. I was one of them, an adult among adults. I felt safe.

I don’t feel very safe these days, largely due to the Trump phenomenon.

It isn’t about Trump, as such. Yes, he’s a sociopath, and a compulsive liar, and a textbook narcissist, entirely self-centered and “what’s in it for me?” His business dealings are crooked, his presidency was corrupt, and then there’s that little attempted coup he fomented a year ago when he lost the election. He was a terrible president: he reduced the office to a reality television show about the office, but without script-writers. History will not treat him kindly.

The Trump phenomenon is something different, that involves the people in what many are calling the Trump Cult. These are the people who continue to blindly support Trump and believe his lies, but also all the hangers-on who see something in that movement to profit from.

This latter is a very large group. It includes much of the media, which continues to report on Trump and the increasingly demented drivel that comes out of his mouth. It certainly includes the Fox Network. It includes most of the Republican political class, and has iron control of the Republican Party across the nation. Many of the state governors dance wildly to Trump’s mad fiddle. It also includes a lot of rank-and-file Republicans who are party-loyal to a fault, even a fault as calamitous as Trump.

This last includes some of my neighbors. It includes people I know. It includes family members. It includes people in every group I might choose to mix with.

There is someone in the next block who flies an American Flag on his property, with a “Fuck Biden: Not My President” flag on the same pole. One of the landmark buildings in town has an attorney’s office on the top floor, and in his window is a 2020 Trump campaign sign, and a Betsy Ross American Flag, now a symbol of white supremacist movements.

This Cult has roped in most of the Christian Right and many of the American churches, white supremacists, American Nazis, and pretty much anyone who is willing to get angry (at something) and start shooting people, or driving cars into crowds, or marching on the Capitol in Washington and hanging people Trump has claimed are “corrupt.”

You can’t really have a conversation with members of the Trump Cult. I’ve had better — and more honest — conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door.

At a personal level, I’m back to my childhood rules. Different is dead. People cannot be trusted.

I don’t like living that way. So I’m taking little steps back into the world.

If any of my readers sees this, and feels the same way, let’s talk about how you are moving back into the world, post-insurrection and post-COVID.

Perhaps we can help one another.

Climate Change and the Young

I recently saw a YouTube post (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYSLyvbR_1w) featuring Bill Maher dissing the young for their widespread “hypocrisy” regarding climate change. There is something that rubs me entirely the wrong way about snide old men, who “love comfort and capitalism,” mocking younger people as hypocrites.

The problem is not climate change. The problem is our lifestyle.

The solution — the only solution — is to change our lifestyle.

Let me first brush the “alternative energy” concept out of the way. It isn’t that there aren’t alternatives to oil, or more generally, petrofuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). There are many alternatives. But there are no alternative sources of energy that can support our current lifestyle.

I’ve written at considerable depth about the hypothetical “cold fusion,” for example, and this would, indeed, be an alternative source of energy that could not only support, but expand our energy usage orders of magnitude. It’s been floating around as a concept since the 1990’s, and has come to nothing.

It’s perhaps (barely) plausible to think that the oil industry, combined with a sclerotic scientific establishment, somehow suppressed research and development into this magic bullet in the 1990’s. But Peak Oil was predicted back in the 1950’s, and its estimated peak date converged on 2005 back in the 1980’s. We’re now nearly 20 years past the peak, and are beginning to see the expected price volatility of the downslope. Within a century, at most two, we will no longer have an oil-based economy: oil will be too expensive to burn. There is no oil company in the world that does not know quite clearly that it has no long-term future. If cold fusion were viable, the oil companies would have patents and ownership rights locked in, and would have been introducing pilot plants as the Next New Thing for the last two decades.

In fact, had there been any economical alternative to oil, including nuclear energy, the oil companies — which have called themselves “energy” companies for some time — would have been advertising, introducing, and scaling up those alternatives for years. They’d be in the lithium battery industry. They’d be investing in solar panel production. They’d be digging up Magic Crystals from Atlantis. They’d be preparing to downscale oil production, shift mass-market revenues to the new tech, and raise prices on oil.

They haven’t done any of this. Instead, they’ve been fracking for oil. Which is like going through peanut shells on a tavern floor, looking for stray peanuts. That’s telling.

There are certainly energy alternatives to petrofuels. But no combination of alternative energies provides a way to support our lifestyle.

This was, in fact, the point of Maher’s article. It’s the lifestyle, stupid.

So what does an appropriate lifestyle look like?

Well, the last time we didn’t have oil powering everything, was (roughly) 1900. Let’s look at a few key features of life in 1900.

  • There was no air travel. The Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk was in 1904, and used a gasoline engine. Zeppelin flights didn’t start until 1928. Hot-air balloons had been around since the 1700’s, but drifted wherever the wind took them, and weren’t terribly useful.
  • There was no significant automobile traffic. The first automobile was invented in 1886, but automobiles didn’t become widely accessible to the public until 1908, and these used gasoline.
  • Commercial electric plants first became available in the 1870’s, using coal-powered steam engines. By 1900, electric power was common for street lighting (arc lamps), and for electric motors of various kinds. House wiring of any sort was avant garde.
  • The principle form of transportation was a good pair of shoes, and supported a maximum sustained speed of three miles per hour.
  • The main form of local goods transportation was the horse-drawn cart, with a sustained speed of 7-15 MPH, depending on load, terrain, fitness of the horse, and so forth. The pony express averaged only 8 MPH (1900 miles from St. Joseph, MO to Oakland, CA, in 10 days).
  • The fastest form of transportation was the steam-engine train, which averaged 25 MPH in the US, but could achieve 60 MPH over short runs under the right conditions. It was also the main form of long-distance bulk transport, such as grain and cattle.

There are a great many things that changed in the modern world as a result of petroleum use, which you spot instantly if you travel in the older parts of Europe, the most notable being the closeness of everything in Europe. Cities do not spread out over dozens of square miles, like Houston or San Antonio, and are not hundreds of miles apart. Towns are close to each other, and are separated by small farms and forests. Parishes and neighborhoods in larger cities are more distinct, and more diverse. City centers are readily accessible to foot traffic.

This was also true of the US in 1900. Daily life lay within a physical distance accessible by a half-day’s journey. Twenty miles takes nearly seven hours to walk: fourteen to travel there and back again. My grandfather’s farm in Oklahoma, built in the late 1800’s, was one mile from the nearest neighbor, and four miles from the nearest town. If you look at any US map of older blacktop roads in the plains states, you’ll see that every road is littered with ghost- or near-ghost towns every twenty miles or so, places that served as a necessary travel-stop and point of community contact in the early 1900’s, but ceased to serve much of any purpose at all by the early 2000’s.

A lot of support services went away during the 1900’s. The supermarket replaced the local grocer, because the automobile brought the supermarket within reach of a much larger local customer-base, and the trucking industry brought enough daily goods to keep the supermarket stocked for all those people. Corner stores scaled back or went out of business. Suburbs spread out into places that were wilderness in 1900. Horse-drawn wagons vanished. Horses mostly vanished. Carriages vanished. Ice trucks vanished. Families dispersed across the country. Family gatherings changed from weekly, to yearly, to not-at-all. The parish, the grange-hall, the community center all unraveled and became quaint historical monuments.

A lot of household-management technology went away, as well. The original idea of Home Economics in school, as I understand it, was to preserve and pass along the rapidly-vanishing art of managing a household. Cooking, of course. Food management: preserving, storing, unpacking, rationing in hard times. Basic nutrition. Sewing and clothing repair. Care of infants and small children. Basic medical diagnosis, treatment, and emergency care.

Shop classes taught basic manufacturing skills and tool management. I remember tempering my own chisel in shop class. Folding sheet metal. Working leather and copper. Measuring, cutting, and finishing wood.

My point is not to sing a paean to the hand-forged chisel, or to glorify the horse-drawn cart. My point is to call to mind how much has changed since the last time we knew a world without oil-powered trucks and automobiles.

As much will need to change in the next century as the oil economy winds down, and with that change will naturally come all of the new infrastructure that is needed to survive and thrive in a world without gasoline-powered cars and air travel.

This is infrastructure that currently does not exist. We spent a century dismantling huge pieces of it. We don’t know what pieces we’ll need to recover, and what pieces need to be invented. Even if we tried to anticipate this and get a head start on this infrastructure, no one would use it. Not while an oil-powered alternative still exists.

So to take your tone, Mr. Maher: Exactly what the fuck do you expect of the young? What behavior, exactly, would relieve them of the onus of your contempt for their hypocrisy?

Do you want them to voluntarily start raising chickens in their back yards, and putting up their own potatoes and bacon for the winter? Do you want them to walk two miles to school? Do you expect them to love comfort — or what is marketed as comfort — any less than you do?

Perhaps they do admire a woman who has a room full of clothing she has only worn once. How many of them actually have anything they have only worn once? How many Medieval daughters swooned over the idea of a silk gown? How many Medieval sons longed for a sword made of Damascus steel? How many actually burdened the world with such extravagances?

What people dream about rarely has much to do with how they live. It’s kind of the point of a dream.

Do you really expect the Zoomers to be any wiser than you were at their age?

The End of Liberty

There was a book by Reay Tannahill, years ago, titled Sex In History. It was a fascinating read, but the overall impression I gained from reading it is that traditional American views on sex are historically-atypical and grotesque perversions of the rather more commonsense views and practices of sex in different cultures throughout history — and most startling of all is our complete ignorance of how utterly parochial our views are.

It’s much the same with religion. The chief clue, in my mind, is in the Roman Latin root for religion, religio, which derives from the root ligare, or bond, and could (in my mind, at least) be viewed as “re-binding.”

Consider: among band hunter/gatherers, the band is the family bond. Simple. Intimate. Co-dependent for survival. There are origin stories that vary from band to band, but are passed down as traditional stories in a context of simple survival needs. There are rules that vary for swapping men and women with other bands, to prevent inbreeding: rules range from trade to warfare. This model moves fairly well into pastoral societies, which herd, but are generally migratory. But as soon as you form an agricultural society, you are stuck in one place. You have to become more militant to defend the land, and then you end up attracting other bands and tribes that are starving because they have become too populous and have stripped Eden of its treasures, so you either have to kill them, drive them away, or appropriate them into your culture. Only the latter is stable in the long run. So you have to re-bind them under a common origin story.

Re-read the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) in this light. Cain and Abel, the farmer and the hunter, where the farmer (the agriculturalist) slew the hunter (the tribal band) and was then expelled from Eden to till the soil. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and their interaction with, and assimilation under, the great agricultural civilization of Egypt. Moses, their independence from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, and eventual creation of an Israelite Kingdom. It’s all there: the birth of “civilization.”

Agricultural villages give way to city-states, which give way to kingdoms, which give way to empires, which give way to nation-states. Every increase in scope requires a new organizational structure, and a new re-binding under some kind of common origin story.

Catholic (universal) Christianity was the great binding story of the late Roman Empire, and as that empire split between East and West in decades after Constantine, the Catholic story broke into the Roman and Orthodox varieties. The Roman Church grew deeply corrupt as the remains of the Western Empire fell and then rebuilt, and was challenged repeatedly by “heresies” — many (all?) of which were reform efforts targeting the corruption. The Protestant Heresy successfully broke off in the 16th and 17th centuries, and created an entirely new model of belonging, with allegiance to “individual conscience” carrying an equal stature to the Word of God and the Authority of the Church, enabling the creation of an increasingly technological/economic/secular society.

The United States — post-1776 — was one of those secular societies, and one of the first European societies (I believe) to prohibit religion as a basis for governance. It was aided in this by the utterly fragmentary nature of Protestantism, owing to its elevation of individual conscience. In the US, diverse religions sprang up like weeds: Mormonism; Christian Science; Theosophy; various Fundamentalism(s). None recognized any contrary religious authority. None had secular authority to force acceptance of its own religious authority.

So what did the US do to re-bind its individual elements, and tribes, and religions?

I think it’s this word, “Liberty,” which only has meaning in the context of its antonym, “Tyranny.”

“Tyranny” was the iron hand of the Roman Empire. It was the brutal corruption of the Roman Church. It was the wars of all the European Monarchs, and most notably (for the US), the Damned British Empire. When the Leninists decided to create a worker’s paradise based on a totalitarian model, it was the Damned Communists. And then, of course, the Damned Nazis in Germany. And the Damned Japanese Empire.

Since 1991, when the Damned Soviet Union fell, what Tyranny are we fighting? What binds us as a people? What ARE we, in the absences of either a coherent religion, or a nation fighting Tyranny?

What does “Liberty” even mean?

I think what is happening right now in the US is EXTREMELY deep.

The Bullshit Recall Election

I’m referring to the 2021 recall election of California Governor Gavin Newsom, of course.

Vote — definitely vote — and vote “No” to the recall.

I’ll tell you why.

Here is the text of the Proponents’ Statement of Reasons:

The ground for this recall are as Follows: Governor Newsom has implemented laws which are detrimental to the citizens of this state and our way of life. Law he endorsed favor foreign nationals, in our country illegally, over that of our own citizens. People in this state suffer the highest taxes in the nation, the highest homelessness rates, and the lowest quality of life as a result. He has imposed sanctuary state status and fails to enforce immigration laws. He unilaterally over-ruled the will of the people regarding the death penalty. He seeks to impose additional burdens on our state by the following; removing the the protections of Proposition 13, rationing our water use, increasing taxes and restricting parental rights. Having no other recourse, we the people have come together to take this action, remedy these misdeeds and prevent further injustices.

California Gubernatorial Recall Election Official Voter Information Guide

Like most rhetoric these days, this statement is a giant serving of hysteria, misdirection, and outright lies. Let’s take them from the bottom up.


“Restricting parental rights” seems to refer to Newsom’s closing of both public and private schools during the worst of the 2020 pandemic, to be replaced with distance-learning. Both groups were represented in a lawsuit to prevent the closing, presenting it as a “parental rights” issue: public school parents lost their case, private school parents won theirs.

https://hslda.org/post/9th-circuit-newsom-violates-parents-rights

Real issue: Pissed-off parents who lost a state lawsuit against the governor.


Water rationing is currently a request in California, not mandatory, though it may become mandatory soon. “Rationing our water use” is, of course, part of the job description of a Governor during a statewide drought of the sort we are experiencing. People were asked to let their lawns die (we did). Boo-hoo. The Central Valley farmers are going to take economic hits. That’s agriculture in a drought. The Governor does not control the rainfall.


https://www.yahoo.com/now/newsom-hints-mandatory-water-restrictions-230000930.html

Real issue: Pissed off farmers and suburban lawn-owners in a drought.


“Removing the protections of Proposition 13” refers to Gavin’s support for Proposition 15, which removed the Proposition 13 protections on commercial properties valued at more than $3M dollars, leaving homes and small businesses (the real purpose of Prop 13) unchanged.

https://www.politico.com/states/california/story/2020/09/11/newsom-endorses-split-roll-property-tax-measure-to-overhaul-prop-13-1316671

Real issue: Pissed-off greedy corporate real-estate owners.


“Unilaterally over-ruled the will of the people regarding the death penalty.” This appears to be true, if grotesquely over-stated. The national consensus, as well as the state consensus on imposing the death penalty has been changing: every election held in California on this matter has less support for retaining capital punishment, and the last time it came up, it was nearly abolished. Newsom did issue an executive order suspending prisoner execution, which was already under moratorium by Federal Court order since 2006.

https://www.npr.org/2019/03/12/702873258/gov-gavin-newsom-suspends-death-penalty-in-california

Real issue: Public blood lust thwarted.


“Highest taxes, homelessness, quality of life…” Taxes are set by the legislature, not the Governor. Plus, linking these three different items together is the core of the Libertarian/Randian econo-religious creed, which bears no relationship to economic reality.

No single reference for this: read any decent modern book about economics and monetary theory.

Real issue: Popular appeal to the rich and the stupid.


The rest of this Statement is about “illegal immigrants.” The complaints are empty, and just plain wrong. I’ll cite only one source, from the CATO Institute, which is a Libertarian institute founded by Charles Koch, and is on the whole very much in political alignment with what used to be conservative talking points. Even the CATO institute thinks that the arguments against immigration are simply wrong.

https://www.cato.org/blog/14-most-common-arguments-against-immigration-why-theyre-wrong

Real issue: American racism, xenophobia, Fox Network propaganda, and hysteria.


The governor of California faces a normal re-election in 2022, just fifteen months from now, regardless of who sits in the governor’s seat. If the recall fails, it will be Newsom seeking re-election. If the recall succeeds, it will be one of the forty-six inexperienced, unknown opportunists on the recall ballot who will face re-election.

There’s really no need for this recall. If the public doesn’t want Newsom, they can vote him out in 2022. In fifteen months.

Real issue: Petitioners are counting on people blowing off this recall election and not voting, since they have almost no chance of voting Newsom out in a general election in 2022.


So all of the above raises the question: why are we having this bullshit recall election?

Even if Newsom is recalled over this laundry list of inflated whines, the proponents don’t have a single good candidate on the list of forty-six. (I have no doubt there will be at least forty-six objections to that opinion, which I will comfortably ignore.) Anyone on this list that they replace Newsom with will almost certainly be run out of office in 2022.

So what is the point?

I suspect that it has something to do with the 2022 national elections. Given what the Republicans were involved with in 2020 — pressuring secretaries of state to “find” votes that weren’t there, and the Department of Justice to claim fraud that wasn’t there, and culminating in a violent attack on the Capitol during the counting of the state votes — I cannot see this bullshit recall effort of a Democratic governor in any benign or even neutral light.

If Newsom can’t carry the vote in 2022, well and good. But given the national situation, in the midst of a second pandemic and only seven months out from a failed insurrection inflamed by the President of the United States himself, we should not recall Newsom fifteen months early.

That would be irresponsible.

Vote, and vote NO to the recall.

A Field Guide to Trolls

Given that we have an infestation of foreign-national trolls on social media and website comment sections throughout the civilized world, particularly the US, I thought it might be useful to offer a field guide, so that you can identify the different types of troll, and how to handle them.

Types of Troll

There are basically two kinds of troll:

Genuine Trolls are the prototype for all other kinds of troll. A genuine troll is an official disinformation agent, typically associated with a particular government agency, political party, commercial interest, or other group that involves money, resources, and a specific motivation to deceive.

Pseudo-Trolls are ordinary persons spreading disinformation for any of the ordinary human reasons, including social bonding, virtue signaling, group conformity, desire for attention, or actual belief in the disinformation.

Troll Motivation

Genuine trolls are paid, or otherwise incentivized, and their incentives are tied to typical marketing metrics such as repetition rate, response rate, penetration, visibility, and so forth. In particular, when they are “arguing” with you in a social media thread, they are not actually arguing — they are using your response as an opportunity to repeat their original disinformation, or to post another piece of disinformation. Their fundamental method is, as in all marketing, repetition. Let me say that again. Repetition. To repeat: repetition.

See how that works? Repetition.

They aren’t arguing with you. In many cases, they can’t actually argue with you, because they aren’t following the conversation at all. They will often, like a commercial fisherman, have multiple lines in the water in many different social media pools, and when you respond to their bait by posting a reply, it’s a twitch on the line: they know there’s a fish nibbling on that line, and where there is one fish, there are likely more. Someone is listening. That’s an opportunity to put their message out again. They aren’t paid to argue with you: they are paid to get eyeballs on their message.

In addition, the genuine trolls often work in teams, in shifts, from an office. The troll you are arguing with may not even be the same person from hour to hour, or post to post. They have hierarchies, like telephone marketing, and there are managers and star-performers who may step in to escalate the disinformation if it seems appropriate. I’ve seen a single, clumsy, flawed-English comment start a comment-frenzy, and shortly after the churn begins, the level of original commenter’s writing (and English) improves dramatically and magically. The disinformation becomes more subtle, and the tone changes.

Almost like it’s a different person talking to you. Well, it probably is.

Identifying Trolls

It can be tricky to identify trolls, but here are a few simple pointers that may be helpful.

First, if you are on a social media site that has an extensive user profile, like Facebook, your first step should be to click on the user link and go to their user profile page. A very typical (low-echelon) troll signature is that they will have virtually nothing on their user page but two or three identical images of a beautiful woman or man that looks like it was taken in a professional modeling photo-shoot. It probably was, and was simply copied from a Google image search for “cute girl” or “cute guy.” These are the profiles of trolls, or other fake people with hidden motives. Just block them.

This is especially important if the person is asking to be your friend, without introducing themselves first. What they are actually asking is to be invited into your circle of friends and acquaintances. They want your friends list, so they can ask to be their friend, and expand their circle of influence. They are up to no good. Decline and block them.

On any social media platform, if you can see a user’s history with other users, as in chat groups or comment streams, you can look for patterns. Normal people spend most of their time having normal conversations with other people they get along with. They support each other. They get snarky with outsiders. Often they quibble, sometimes they argue, sometimes they come around to the other person’s viewpoint, sometimes they agree to disagree, sometimes they get so angry they curse each other out and then block each other. They have pet peeves with each other, nicknames, inside jokes. That’s normal human behavior.

A troll doesn’t behave like this.

Most of the foreign-national trolls are incentivized to help destroy social cohesion in the US. They have two broad strategies.

On the extremist social media sites, the strategy is to raise the level of anger and hatred that already exists. That means they’ll basically agree with the group, which is already in a hating place, but they’ll push it further. They’ll promote disinformation about how things are much worse than people on the site think. We could call this strategy, “DidYouKnow-ism.” Did you know that Joe Biden is going to make hamburgers illegal? Did you know that conservatives use Nazi themes in their home decoration?

On centrist and more thoughtful sites, they will disagree with the group, call them names, claim the site is an echo chamber, and promote disinformation that is flagrant nonsense. The strategy is not to convince anyone, but to stir up a tempest of counter-disagreement that disrupts the site, and also gives the troll an opportunity to continue to repeat their disinformation to an engaged group. We can call this strategy, “WhatAbout-ism.” You libtards complain about Trump, but what about the Iraq invasion under Obama? When the observant readers point out that the Iraq invasion was under Bush, it invites the response, “But what about Clinton’s Socialism?” More correction invited.

They aren’t looking to win an argument. They are looking to get the disinformation out there, and they want people to see it. They want to get the Coke logo out there, the Doritos brand, the Alka-Seltzer theme song. They want the idea to slip past our guard.

Ask yourself the question, “Is this a sane conversation with a normal person?” and if the answer is, “No, this is weird,” then you are very possibly conversing with a troll.

How to Handle Yourself Around a Troll

The simplest, and best, way to handle a troll is to stop responding.

If you have a lot of other people in your circle continuing to churn around the troll, call out the troll: “Can’t prove you’re a foreign-national troll, but you are behaving like one, and troll-is as troll-does. You’re ghosted.”

If your social media venue gives you the option to block the troll, do so, without hesitation, and without remorse.

If your social media venue does not give you this option, then just ignore the churn. Ignore the troll’s protests that he/she is Canadian-born. Ignore the whining. Ignore the name-calling. They’ll give up quickly. If your line isn’t twitching, their bosses aren’t paying them. They will move on.

What About the Pseudo-Trolls?

You will mis-classify, from time to time. The person you are calling a troll might be nothing worse than a jerk.

You still have to ask yourself if that makes it worth putting up with their troll-like behavior.

What If the Troll is Your Friend?

As in, your real friend — someone you actually know — has become a right-wing (or left-wing) pseudo-troll. You know that no one is paying them to be trollish. They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, and they are now True Believers. They think the election was stolen from Donald Trump. They think Obama was born in Kenya. They think the Earth is flat. They think space aliens are among us and are planning to cook us all up in a stew.

Sigh. Yes, it happens.

You probably aren’t going to be able to talk them out of it. You have to decide if the friendship transcends the crazy.

But remember that we all go a little crazy every once in a while. We join a church that turns out to be a religious cult. We start a business that, in retrospect, we realize had no chance of success. We join a political movement that is entirely mad.

Most of us — I think — eventually outgrow such fits of madness, and return to a form of sanity. We don’t get to escape the consequences, though. And that may include some irrecoverably lost friendships.

All I can advise is, be kind to your troll-friend, but keep good boundaries.

Thoughts on Trump’s Failed Coup

Roughly 70 million people voted for Trump in the 2020 election.

I say that, by the way, only because I happen to believe that the election results were accurately counted. Otherwise, I would not believe that so many voted for him. Of course, the election was a full month before Trump’s attempted coup. If a new election were held today, he would certainly not do that well.

Not all 70 million of those voters are seditionists and terrorists. In fact, I’m pretty sure almost all of them are grandparents, students, laborers, high-rise executives, retail clerks, teachers, ministers, just like all the rest of us. I think almost all of the people who voted for Trump were as horrified as I was by the attempted violent coup on January 6, 2021. It appears that most of them are profoundly confused, now: the evidence is coming out in the open, and it’s very clear that this was Trump’s coup: he was the cause, instigating it, inflaming it, and finally, turning it loose.

70 million people are all slowly coming to terms with the fact that Trump has been lying to them. Some will never accept it. But the rest are starting to see it, and it is a large and bitter pill to swallow.

There’s a lot still to be investigated and exposed. There’s a lot that will probably never be fully exposed to the public. But what is out there now is sufficient to make a few observations.

The mob was, indeed, an out-of-control mob, a group of people from around the nation, raised to a fever pitch by inches since the election, and then lit on fire at the rally on January 6, by Trump, Trump Jr., and Giuliani. It became a mindless, screaming mob, shot out of Trump’s mouth like a bullet, aimed at the Capitol.

But it had other people mixed in with the mob, and they had an agenda. A covert agenda.

It seems reasonably clear that the agenda was three-fold: first, break into the Capitol building; second, find the electoral votes and destroy them; third, capture, terrorize, and possibly kill various politicians, perhaps on livestream video.

There is increasing evidence of planning and conspiracy within the Capitol Police, the Department of Defense, and the Republican Party in Congress. Panic buttons had been torn out of the walls in safe-rooms. Capitol Police forces had been reduced to unusually low levels, on a day when both houses and the Vice President were present. National Guard assistance was blocked. Members of Congress had given an unusual number of tours to some of the terrorists the day before the attack, to orient them to the large and confusing building.

And still, the coup failed.

I say this with some confidence, because it makes absolutely zero sense for Trump to have so carefully nurtured this terrorist attack, and then have it turn out as it did.

It has been a catastrophe for Trump. No matter what he does at this point, the best he can hope for now is to go down in history as the twice-impeached Sedition President, who endured the third-hardest election spanking of any incumbent in US history (only Hoover and Van Buren got spanked harder). But it will likely not go down that gently for him. He’s been permanently banned from most social media, and to get the attention he requires as his daily breath, he’s going to be stuck roaming the Internet underbelly with Alex Jones and Glenn Beck. The last bank that would loan him money has stopped doing business with him. The PGA Tournament has gone elsewhere. His “brand” is deeply, deeply tarnished, if not ruined. And, of course, all those New York indictments are waiting for him like limousine drivers at the airport, each holding up a little sign with his name on it.

It has also been a catastrophe for the Republican Party, which is now starting to fracture because of the coup attempt. Their corporate campaign donors are closing their wallets. Their constituents are angry with the Party, and will grow angrier as they come to terms with Trump’s lies. They lost control of the Senate. As the FBI continues to investigate, some of them are going to have to answer questions they don’t want to answer, and they may lose their seats. A few might even end up in prison. There are no good optics in this for them, anywhere. The Party itself may split, and if it does, it will take decades for them to regain any power.

On the other hand, had the coup succeeded — had the electoral votes been destroyed, and politicians been killed on livestream video — the country would have been in a terrifyingly different place. And Trump would probably remain President, or rather, Dictator, under some emergency pretext until he died.

That potential outcome, in a murder investigation, would be called “motive.”

At the moment, though, I am more interested in the failure. Why did it fail?

I’d like to turn back to a (perhaps) slightly-prescient post I wrote just after the fourth of July in 2017.

Some of the people caught up in the chaos of the coup were without a doubt exactly that: caught up in the chaos. Extras on the set of Ben Hur. They came for the rally, and stayed for the coup. Once inside the Capitol, they wandered around, staring at the ceiling, taking selfies, stealing stuff, and defecating on the carpets. But there was another group that went in, armed and equipped.

Those folks certainly weren’t MOSSAD, or FSB, or rogue SEAL, or rogue FBI. Maybe rogue CIA, channeling the spirit of the Bay of Pigs invasion…? Nah. Whoever they were, they were not a real team.

I think I know who they were.

They were the American Gun-Toting Patriots I wrote about in 2017. The AGTP. Those who have been arrested certainly sound like AGTP.

I’ve known a few of these folk, and they really believe that Government Is The Problem. When they say “limited government,” they really mean “government that will never tell me anything I don’t want to hear.” Like wear a mask. Or a seatbelt. Or pay taxes. They don’t particularly care what the government forces undesirables — black people, Native people, non-Christian people, Democrats, women — to do, or under what conditions. But if it infringes on their “rights,” boy-howdy do they get themselves riled.

Remember the Bundy Boys, up at that bird refuge in Oregon? Protesting the government? Using the Internet to plead for groceries, to be delivered by the USPS?

I don’t want to make light of what these domestic terrorists did on January 6. It was as serious as cancer. The FBI is talking about charges of sedition, in the legal sense, and them’s big guns. At least one of the terrorists will be charged with murder, once they track him down. There was nothing humorous about this.

But I think they failed for the same reason the Bundy Boys eventually walked away from their rebellion, and at root, it’s because they were everything but Patriots. Somewhere along the way, they lost their faith in (and in some cases, their sworn loyalty to) a nation of people, and replaced it with loyalty to a slick-talking con-man who convinced them that he, and he alone, could restore their lost faith. They weren’t really ready to die for their cause. They weren’t even prepared to die for their team. There was no higher cause, there was no team.

They were, however, ready to shit on the carpets, and to terrorize, and to do murder. And then — somehow — thought they would walk away free and clear, lauded as heroes.

There is reason to believe that this twice-impeached Sedition President has more foul deeds up his sleeve, and if there is one thing we have learned about Donald Trump, it is that there is no bottom to how low he will go. The mob of AGTPs he has riled up may cause more trouble. He may still cause trouble.

So stay safe, all of you. If you see crowds wearing MAGA hats, stay away from them. They’re crazy, and dangerous.

And especially to Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi — and I know you are already acting on this advice — please take a lot of extra precautions.

Our hopes are with you.

Mudsills and Trump

I’ve been trying to understand the Trump presidency for four years. Not so much trying to understand what it is doing, other than sowing chaos, but rather, trying to understand how it could have come about, and how it almost got extended another four years.

It has made no sense to me at all, up until a very recent addition to my personal library1. I still haven’t finished reading it — I’ve subtitled it, “The most uncomfortable book I’ve ever read,” and I can’t manage more than a chapter or two before I have to lay it down and think. Sometimes weep. But it has brought an unexpected, pellucid clarity to my mind.

To discuss why Trump was elected President in 2016, we have to start a little over five centuries ago: the year 1493 to be precise.

I should set the stage: the Gutenberg moveable-type printing press is only a half-century old. Lorenzo di Medici, patron of the Italian Renaissance, is just a year in his grave, and Florence is burning under Savonarola. The Spanish Inquisition has just begun torturing Conversos. Copernicus, the man who will remove the Earth from the center of the universe, is a young man of twenty. Martin Luther, who will be called the father of Protestantism, is a lad of ten. King Henry the Eighth of England, the first Protestant King, is in his swaddling cloths. William Shakespeare’s father will be born in about 40 years.

This is the late Middle Ages, a time of rising kings and walled cities and peasants and pestilent fleas, where the Catholic Church reigns forever — for a few more years, at least — supreme in its decadence upon the ruins of the fallen Western Roman Empire.

The year 1493 was the year of Christopher Columbus’ second voyage, consisting of seventeen ships, roughly fifteen hundred colonists, priests bent on converting the “savages” to the Catholic faith, and soldiers and adventurers seeking rape and murder and gold and slaves.

From the very beginning, the European incursion into the Americas was marked by violence and slavery.

Over the next two centuries, a caste system formed in the North American colonies, much like the caste system of India in all its essential features.

African slaves were preferred in the US to work the fields, as they were physically strong, and more resistant to malaria and other tropical diseases that were endemic to the Southern colonies: they were considered the better investment. The Dutch, French, and Portuguese slave trade reached its peak, bringing thousands of Africans to the US as slaves to be bought and sold on the open market, against their will.

It was seen as necessary to break the spirits of these stolen people, as you would break a horse, or a mule. Out of this arose a system of control, of continuous oppression of black slaves, that required the slave submit to the master’s will in all things. This system of oppression was enforced by law, justified in religion, and gradually became a system of caste based on skin color, in which the black-skinned people were considered to be born into their inferior state, and could never rise above it. The lighter-skinned people — the “white” people — were likewise born into a superior state, from which they could never fall. This was ordained by God.

By the time “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” was first penned by liberal-minded Deists, the colonies had three centuries of immersion in a skin-color-based caste system in which the lowest white person was judged as superior to the highest black person: the very opposite of equals in any sense.

Within eighty years of adopting the Constitution, the tension between the high ideals of constitutional government, and the systematic oppression of the much older racial caste system, broke out in open war over the issue of slavery itself, to which at least half the country’s (white) population consigned black people on the basis that they were of the lowest caste and thus fit for nothing else.

Black people were considered the mudsills of prosperity, according to writers of the time. A mudsill is the first footing laid down on the ground, in the mud, as the foundation of a house. It is the lowest thing in the grandest of houses, and everything above is built on its back. It cannot rise without destroying the house. It must endure, suffering the gnawing of rats and the incursion of damp rot, bearing the perpetual burden of stone and finer timber and grand ballroom dances with many feet.

As slaves, black people were the economic foundation of the US: the manual laborers who did all of the hard labor, which the owners claimed and used to build prosperity for themselves. The disparity was unconscionable, but conscience was soothed by the idea that black people were simply not capable of rising above the level of mudsill, being born to that state by their own nature and the Will of God.

After the Confederacy lost the war and slavery became illegal, the caste system went underground. Black people could no longer be owned and whipped by their owners, but they could be oppressed in other ways. Loans were denied. Businesses were burned. The KKK formed, and lynchings became commonplace public events at which celebratory photographs were taken and mailed to relatives as holiday greetings. Lynching photos were so popular that the greeting-card industry even opened up a card category for a while: Birthdays, Anniversaries, Lynchings, Easter.

We call this the “Jim Crow” period, from 1865 until the early 1960’s, in which a constant reign of terror was sustained, particularly in the deep South, to “keep the Negro in his place.”

So brutal and effective was this Jim Crow period, that when the German Nazis in the 1930’s were trying to codify their laws to eliminate the Jewish “race” from Germany (and ultimately, from existence), they turned with great admiration to the oppression of blacks in the United States. They wanted a caste system like the one in America, but with Jews placed in the lowest class.

Politically, the Democratic Party was the Party of the South (and Jim Crow) up until the early twentieth century. The Republican Party and its Laissez Faire economics (let the thieves take anything they can carry) ended up with the blame for the Great Depression, and the Democratic Party became a populist party that — in some desperation — supported common laborers and public works projects above the bankers and industrialists who, if they had not already thrown themselves off a ledge, were not able to pull the US out of the global recession. For the first time black workers in the north began to vote for Democrats. The South clung to the Democrats out of a sense of tradition, but with increasing unease. In the 1960’s, when the Democratic Party supported the Civil Rights Act, the South abandoned the Democratic Party, and the Party let them go. The Republican Party picked them up, and the era of “dog whistle politics” began.

“Dog whistle politics” in the US is where campaigns are run with cues and clues that are audible to people well-attuned to the race-based caste system. Those who are not attuned, simply don’t hear the clues at all. Because of the Civil Rights Act and the widespread disdain for “racism,” laws that explicitly targeted people in the black caste as during Jim Crow could no longer be passed or openly enforced. But politicians could still draw the white caste members’ votes with a wink and a nod that said, “I share your pain, brother. It ain’t right. It just ain’t right. And I’ve got your back, unlike my turncoat, traitorous Democrat opponent.” And they could (and did) work in government to block or poison any national law or program that truly threatened the caste system.

This brings us to President Obama, and if you’ve followed me this far, I think you see what is coming. A black man moved into the White House in January of 2009. A black man, destined by the Law of God to be lower than the lowest white man, was elevated to a position higher than the highest white man.

Under the American system of racial caste, this was an abomination. It was a Sign of the End Times. It was intolerable.

Supporters of the American caste system, bluntly put, lost their shit.

So when Donald Trump came on stage in 2015, blowing a full brass band of racist dog whistles, however badly, he was nothing short of a savior to those who wanted to keep the caste system in place.

Who are those people who supported (and support) Trump? The statistics are clear: the core of his supporters are working-class whites.

The question the media has been distracting us with since 2016 is, why are the working-class whites stupidly voting for Trump? Trump has done damn little for them, and a whole lot against them. His incompetence has made their lives a lot more insecure. They are clearly voting against their own interests. Are they really that stupid?

The answer comes from asking the question, “What if they aren’t stupid at all?” Or more specifically, “What if they aren’t voting against their interests?

Is there a way they could actually be voting against their short-term interests, but in favor of their longer-term interests?

The answer is: Yes.

The American caste system asserts that the lowest white man is higher than the highest black man, by birth, by nature, and by God. Another way of saying that is, so long as there is a black man available to press into service as a slave, then no white man can be pressed into slavery. If a white man is pressed into poverty, it will never be as deep or hopeless or lacking in dignity as the best condition of the black man. Even if a white man loses everything else, he still has his self-respect. Which means he is still honored as a white man, above the highest black man. He will never be at the bottom.

So long as caste endures, the white man will never be the mudsill, with his face in the mud and the whole economy forcing him to work for no return, with a smile on his face.

Now, remove the caste system.

As far-more-capable black people are allowed to come boiling up out of the caste-based Hell we’ve created for them, they will displace white people, and nothing will prevent those displaced white people from sinking all the way to the bottom.

The white people nearest the bottom of the white hierarchy stand to lose everything if the caste system goes away. So it is actually in their best longer-term interest to vote for an incompetent, loudmouth racist who offers at least the hope of preserving the caste system. Even if he steals a little from them.

I’m hoping that as I finish the book, the author will provide some insights into how we might untangle this mess. Because in the true long-term, this system hurts everyone.


Addendum:

It got late and I didn’t quite finish this.

There’s a lot of divide-and-conquer going on right now as the Biden administration gears up for Dec. 9 (Electoral College vote), early January (the Georgia runoffs for the Senate), and of course, January 20 (Trump is evicted), and one of the fights shaping up is “social issues (racism/sexism), or the economy?” Choose one.

I think they are two faces of the same problem.

The real problem with our economic system is that it is extraordinarily cruel. It is also unstable, and in the long-term — which is rapidly shortening — inviable, both of which suggest it will become even more cruel.

In my conversations with conservatives, it always seems to come down to the word “undeserving.” There is a belief that there exists a living-wage job for everyone, and anyone who is suffering financially is simply lazy, and therefore undeserving, and therefore should not be rewarded with “free handouts.” This almost always ends in a flash of anger and a statement along the lines of, “I worked my ass off for everything I have, why should some lazy bum get a free ride?”

The idea of the “lazy bum” is a variant of the “lazy slave.” Both are undeserving of kindness or pity, and therefore, should be punished to get them moving, rather than coddled and allowed to lie in the sun. If necessary, they should be whipped, starved, or allowed to die. This relies on the idea of a “mudsill economy,” with a ranking from the mudsill class, to the lordship class, where the latter is deserving of all the profits of everything built upon the mudsill, which deserves nothing beyond bare maintenance.

Any attempt to address economic inequity results in screams of “Socialism” and “Theft of Private Property,” and raises the mythology of the “undeserving” poor: the lazy welfare queen, the lazy bum, the lazy slave, the lazy Millennial, all of which is based on the idea of a hierarchy of deserving. And our example for the bottom of that hierarchy is the untouchable caste, the black slave. Our economics are cruel because the hierarchy of deserving is rooted in a rightful starvation in a gutter while billionaires stride past on the sidewalk, an ethic with its root in the unmourned death of a disobedient black slave.

We aren’t going to shift the economy in any meaningful way until we recognize that it is profoundly cruel. And we cannot see the cruelty so long as we have an untouchable caste.

1Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson