Why the World Is Spinning Out of Control This Is the Age of Extinction — And It’s Beginning To Trickle Up
Think with me for a moment about how the world’s changed. In just one decade.
Ten years ago, how different was it?
Politics was…night and day. By and large, our civilization was still making progress towards democracy. It was the heyday of liberalism. And then a right-wing tsunami swept the globe. Today? The list of nations that’ve turned far to the right is startlingly long, and growing. America. Britain. India. Poland, Hungary. China, and of course, Russia. Even former bastions of liberalism and democracy, like Sweden and Italy.
In just ten years. Global politics has undergone its greatest transformation since the 1930s. Perhaps even greater than the 1930s, because it’s arguable that more has been lost today. One decade. Name a country without a far-right party in power, or contesting it, and I’ll show you one that…doesn’t exist anymore. That’s a shockingly fast shift. In historical terms, the breakdown of democracy and the rise of what once used to be the fringe on the extreme right? It’s happened so fast it’ll make history’s head spin.
But it’s not just politics that has undergone a sea change. What else is different? In just ten years, our economies are completely different, too. Ten years ago, was a time of what economists called relative “price stability” — and wages to match, too. Today, though? Our economy, worldwide, has plunged into stagflation. Prices go on skyrocketing, and real incomes keep on falling. Meanwhile, central banks, baffled, bewildered, keep on raising interest rates, which only makes the problem worse, adding to people’s burdens, because now all that debt they’ve taken on is that much more expensive, too.
Think about what else has changed in the last ten years. The mega-scale impacts of climate change arrived. Ten years ago? If I’d told you that by 2023, region-sized megafires would be visible from space, getting worse every summer, while mega-monsoons would drown entire countries, you’d probably have laughed at me. If I’d told you a pandemic would sweep the globe, and those, too, are effects of rising temperatures, you’d have looked at me, baffled. What is this guy even on? And yet here we are. Just one decade later. How bad is this summer going to be? Canada’s boreal forests are already on mega-fire. Spain’s droughts are the worst they’ve ever been. I could go on. Summers barely begun. This one’s going to be worse than the last one.
Meanwhile, our societies are in brutal states of disrepair. Social bonds and ties have ruptured. People barely trust one another anymore, and take their resentments and rage out on an expanding circle of scapegoats. As a result, the social contracts of modernity are now under profound threat. That’s easiest to see in America — where all of a sudden, fundamental freedoms aren’t just “under attack,” they’re going, going gone. For women, who are now suspected criminals to be “aided and abetted.” For kids, who are to learn…history…science…literature…art…the way that fanatical demagogues want them to…or not. Books, banned. Entire ways of existence, being erased. Don’t say gay, or else. Teachers are criminalized — threatened with being made third degree felons — just for that.
That trend is expanding, too — shortly, Brexit Britain’s going to have (I’m not kidding) Nat-C conference, for “National Conservatism,” which its PM is apparently a supporter of. Totally normal stuff! Nobody worries about the rise of the…Nat-Cs.
One decade. That’s all it’s taken to get here. To levels of self-destruction that have already rocked the world. From Brexit, to the rise and return of Trump, to the way an axis of authoritarianism from DeSantis and his ilk are eviscerating social contracts, to a global economy that’s visibly badly broken, but nobody knows how fix.
Just one decade. And modernity is crumbling around us. No wonder people are more pessimistic now than at any time during the last century. Afraid, anxious, frightened, bewildered. What happened to our world? To the future?
The question all this raises, or at least one of them, goes like this: is this all just a phase? Or is it a shift? Is it just part of a cycle? Or is it a deeper transformation?
That question matters — much more than most of us think. Because most of us, or at least many of us, on the side of modernity and democracy — we assume it’s just a phase. All this wreckage, collapse, fanaticism, stagnation, ruin, which we’re not waist-deep in. We make that assumption, often, almost unconsciously, or maybe explicitly so. We say to ourselves — or some part of our unconscious does — “don’t worry!! It’ll pass!!” But nobody’s reassured by that very much, because, well, it’s just as assumption. Meanwhile, the assumption provides a kind of cold comfort, because what we’re saying when we tell ourselves “it’s just a phase” is a belief in a kind of homeostasis, that balance will prevail, the mean will revert, that things will right themselves somehow, because, well…it just has to. Is this just another kind of faith, then?
So let’s ask the questions rigorously. Is this just a phase? Or is this…something more permanent, a transformation, a lasting change? Why aren’t thing reverting back to the mean — why do we just keep on entering newer, deeper waters of toxicity, lunacy, craziness, extremism, distrust, spite, and hate?
What’s different about this age goes like this. To produce an extra percentage point or so of growth is increasingly costly. Those costs are escalating fast and hard. We strain to extract the last few resources the planet has to give us. Then we employ people in bullshit jobs to turn those resources into consumption. Those bullshit jobs — meaningless, hollow — feel pointless because they don’t have a point beyond enriching the ultra-rich even further. Trust in institutions and systems declines. A sense of pessimism and frustration simmers. Declines like that are easy prey for demagogues — who blame the meaninglessness of life, your loss of security and status, on the nearest powerless innocent. And repeat the same line, worldwide: if you just take their rights away, you’ll be better off.
That circle’s expanded so far it now includes women, the LGBTQ, kids, teachers, average families. And so what once used to be modern societies are becoming snakes eating their own tails. These Ourobouros societies are consuming themselves, with a hunger that borders on madness — just look at how fast rights in America have been eviscerated, or how Britain, LOL, gave up the rights to live and work in Europe.
Let me put all that a little bit more formally now. To extract another point or so of growth has become ruinously costly. My fellow economists don’t really see those costs, because they don’t count them. But they should. Those costs are real. They include ecological costs. Societal costs, like the loss of trust, the meaningless, the despair, of a life trapped in a bullshit job, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to even have one at all. Purer social costs, like the rupture of social bonds and ties, as people turn on each other, forced into being cogs in this machine of extinction. Political costs — the rise of far right parties across the world, shockingly fast, as one age comes to an end.
As one age comes to an end.
Let’s talk now — again, now that we’ve discussed things a bit — about the distinction between phases and changes. Phase: homeostasis, things go back to normal, because the system heals itself. The rupture, the sudden breakdown, was an aberration. The trend re-establishes itself, as systems re-establish their functioning. Change: things don’t go back to normal, because the system can’t restore its former functioning. The rupture, the breakdown, the implosion is a sign of all that.
Why aren’t systems able to re-establish their former functioning? There’s a universal reason: they run out of resources. That’s true for any system, from a car to a star. Bang. They break down — and maybe, hitting a point of instability, like stars, explode. Now think about us. Our civilization. What’s true about us. What happened over the last ten years? We began to run out of resources.
In a kind of weirdly fractal way. We finally hit the point of mega-scale climate change impacts. Meanwhile, extinction rates began to explode. A pandemic arrived. Suddenly, the basics became scarce — food, water, clean air, medicine. Supplying those things — which we’d taken for granted — was suddenly something our civilization strained to do, and began, here and there, to fail.
Meanwhile, the ultra-rich monopolized the dwindling thing called “growth.” The average person’s real income suddenly began to shrink — while the ultra-rich became giga rich. That left the average person without resources not just in some kind of ecological sense, but in a simpler economic one: they began to struggle to make ends meet. Debt levels soared, as people borrowed whatever they could just to pay the bills. By now? In many societies, we’re down to the lenders of last resort for consumers, buy now pay later schemes…for groceries.
We began to run out of resources. Remember a thing called “trickledown economics”? It was a myth. Wealth never rained down on the average person. But the opposite is true. Instead, extinction is trickling up.
At this juncture in human history, most humanity is living under a dangerous delusion, one supported and promoted by an irresponsible media and a culture that won’t tell the story. That delusion goes like this. The planet can turn to dust, and life on it can go extinct, but we can go on…living the dream. Driving a bigger SUV every year, right into an elevator, that lifts it up to our…living room…like in a new luxury condo…in…LOL…Miami. Talk about a metaphor for the hubris of now.
Extinction trickles up.
What does that mean? Something very simple, at the end of the day. Sure, we can drive, for example, the insects and fish and plants to extinction. And while we do, we can even pretend that it’s not going to affect us, and go on being entertained by Instafluencers and crackpots on YouTube. But all the while? It’s trickling up. It’s creeping into our systems, infiltrating our capacities and abilities. To grow. To supply the basics at an even level, which isn’t even growth, just…stagnation. To supply them at a shrinking level, which is…stagflation…prices skyrocketing when there’s not enough to go around anymore. This is where we are now.
Extinction is trickling up. Every price that won’t come down. Every bank that’s teetering on failing. Every bullshit job that leaves someone insecure, unstable, desperate enough to turn to a demagogue to have someone to blame their meaningless life on. Give me someone to make even more worthless than I feel. Every fanatical party committed to destroying democracy. Every group in society now at risk of not being able to exist anymore, in full personhood. Modernity itself, crumbling around us.
All of that is extinction trickling up.
Is it just a phase? Or is it a change? You have my answer. I’m sure you have your own thoughts. Take some time to reflect on it. Think it through. And think about the disjuncture, too. Most of us have a sense, deep down, a profound unease, that this isn’t just a phase. And yet that’s what we tell ourselves, even if unconsciously. Think about the conflict in that. And how conflict like that paralyzes a human soul, fills it with confusion, anxiety, and worry — instead of being able to act on knowledge about time and being, which is wisdom.
Time and being. Why are things around us crumbling, so fast, so hard — that if you look at the world just ten years ago, in key ways, from politics to economics to society, it’s scarcely recognizable?
This is extinction, trickling up. That means: it ascends through human society, its ladders of power and privilege, coming for the least protected first. And some imagine that by allying with destruction, chaos, hate, ruin, they can save themselves from it. But extinction is the closest thing we humans have ever encountered to omnipotence. It doesn’t matter, to extinction, LOL, if we’re a little richer or more powerful or hate this kind of person or that kind. It’s coming for us anyways. Trickling up, in that sense, is maybe a poor way to think about it. Ripping upwards through a body, like a knife.
This is the part we human beings don’t understand, and don’t seem interested in understanding. At least not yet. What’ll it takes? Citiies on fire? States underwater? Banks collapsing? That’s all on the way.
How much has the world changed in the last decade? So much that it’d give you whiplash. So how much is it going to change this decade?
The last decade was when extinction began trickling up. Ripping upwards. That was why everything began to crumble, right down to modernity itself. So what about this decade? If you just shuddered, well, you got my point.
Eudaimonia and Co
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