2020: Fuel, Spark, and Fire

Peter Turchin talks a lot about social dynamics and cycles societies go through over time. He predicted 2020 would be a year of turmoil for the United States (warning; his material is very dense). Today I wanted to touch upon his idea that the conditions that create unrest take decades to form, but once these conditions have built, a spark can create an “unexpected” fire.

Fuel

If you have ever gardened, you know that the beginning stages of growth for a plant are slow (or seemingly slow). When the conditions are right (warm, loose soil, sun, and appropriate moisture), a plant will begin to make changes inside of the seed not visible to the human eye. By the time those changes are visible above ground, the plant bursts forth in quick growth.

What we see in America in 2020 is the visible part of the unrest and dissatisfaction. What most of us didn’t see were all of the small decisions we made as a society starting in about 1970 that led to an astonishingly divided country in 2020. Starting in around 1970, we switched our focus from the community to the individual. During and after the Great Depression and World War 2 (1930 – 1968), we began to come together to increase the quality of life for everyone. We passed generous social programs like the GI Bill and Social Security, and even made social progress in the form of Civil Rights. But then, for some reason, we stopped. My guess is that societies (like individuals) tire of discipline and “revolt” at some point.

Spark

These small gradual changes shifting from community to individualism are not in and of themselves bad, but when left unchecked for an extended period of time they can wreak havoc. These ideological shifts are the fuel that needs a spark. The spark could be anything. Namely, 2020 has brought us four sparks: a global pandemic, economic injustice (exacerbated by the pandemic), racial injustice, and an aspiring autocrat as President.

Now we have a fire on our hands. A fire in its natural state is cleansing. It burns up old dead leaves and shrubs. It creates fertile soil for new life. The duration and severity of our “America in 2020” fire depends entirely upon what we do next. If we remain obstinate and refuse to make systemic changes for the betterment of all people, the fire could rage and threaten to destroy our nation totally. We could make small cosmetic changes and put out a small fire, but be “surprised” when the next spark sets us up in flames. Or, we could be wise, notice the opportunity in our current fire, and burn up the old things that no longer serve us and use it as fuel to create a better country. I honestly have no idea what path we will choose, but all three options are equally available.

Why the 2020 Election will likely be Violent

I take no joy in doom prophecies. In fact, I consider myself a relentless optimist. However, the facts are mounting that the 2020 presidential election is going to result in some of the deepest civil unrest probably anyone has seen in their lifetime. I wouldn’t rule out another (likely more intense) bout of rioting coupled with an even more divided and non-cooperative federal government. After that is where I have no prediction for where things will go. The next couple years will likely contain even more upheaval, but also the opportunity for the transformation of our government and economy.

America Remains Divided

This is neither surprising nor unexpected. What is a little unexpected is that even in the midst of battling a foreign invader (coronavirus), we still haven’t found our common ground. Usually a “total event” (a war, pandemic, national tragedy, etc.) brings a country together. Coronavirus has pulled at our already loose seams even more. Wearing or not wearing a mask is becoming a political statement. States are deeply divided on when and what to reopen in their economy. Civic cooperation (as seen in a number of other countries) would have made for three months of lockdown, but many more months of a much better controlled spread. That has proven impossible here in the US.

Perhaps more importantly, America has yet to embrace a unifying figure. In order for substantive change and healing to happen, there has to be someone (or perhaps something) that brings Americans together. I was hopeful and excited with the campaign of Andrew Yang. One of his major campaign slogans was “Not left. Not right. Forward”. In my estimation, he was the only candidate with a specific agenda to heal our division. But Americans didn’t seem ready for him (despite a remarkable run for the highest office as a “nobody” in politics).

A divided country (probably at a level not seen since the Civil War) is a breeding ground for growing resentment and bitterness after an election. Donald Trump is openly adversarial to his “opponents”, but even Joe Biden doesn’t seem to represent national healing and unity. Furthermore, many Americans view him as an extension of the Obama administration, which was (not intentionally) part of the polarizing force that got us to where we are. If Donald wins, expect rioting, marching, protests, and civil disobedience. If Joe Biden wins, expect the same.

Inequality, Automation, and Coronavirus

As if we didn’t already have the perfect storm brewing, we add in social and economic inequality at multi-decade highs, Coronavirus, and the looming threat of automation as a response to a contracting economy. For all intents and purposes, the killing of George Floyd was a public lynching. This awakens the latent resentment that many Americans have toward a flawed criminal justice system. Americans are already feeling the economic heat in a very potent way. For some, coronavirus has been a chance to telework, but for many Americans, they left jobs that may not ever be coming back. And just our (bad) luck, many of the Government protections are set to expire this summer, and if a second wave of the virus hits in the fall, it could spell financial ruin for millions of Americans.

A long term effect of the coronavirus will be a turn toward increasing automation, creating major disruption in some of America’s largest industries. Food service for example is already shooting toward being contactless, making less need for waiters, waitresses, and hostesses. Grocery and convenience stores are already looking at ways to expand self-checkout. Walmart is going to expand cashier-less stores. What happens to the hundreds of thousands (likely millions) of Americans that will be displaced as a result? Your guess is as good as mine. On the campaign trail Andrew Yang spoke of the major disruption that driverless cars and trucks can have on our economy. Imagine this repeated over multiple industries, accelerated by the coronavirus.

I apologize that the tone of this post is mostly depressing. But if we fail to look at our coming difficulties with a truthful eye, we end up making ourselves less able to change anything, or at least take shelter for the coming storm.

In the long run, I am hopeful that the current and coming upheaval in America will see us better, stronger, and wiser on the other side. But there is no guarantee. Napoleon Hill wrote that “every difficulty has within it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”. That seed needs to be germinated and tended in order for us to reap the subsequent benefits. So in whatever ways we can, let’s do the work of unifying our country and ensuring a better life for generations to come. Thanks for reading!

Witch Hunts (and why they happen…)

The Era of the “Witch Hunt”

Perhaps to call it an “era” is an overstatement, because this is something we humans have been doing a long time. The idea of a witch hunt seems to have drawn a lot of attention lately because of Donald Trump. Whenever asked to confront a poor decision, provide an explanation of his actions, or admit guilt, he immediately frames the request as a witch hunt (whether overtly or covertly). I would argue that Donald Trump is not totally wrong.

This article isn’t about whether or not Donald Trump is a good person. This article is about why him framing any investigation to him as a witch hunt is a palatable idea for many people. Of course, those who detest him will proclaim that it’s all a front to change the subject (and it might be..), but others see this as a very real phenomena. They see it as the grasping of those who have been defeated. And I would argue that they are right

The Modern Witch Hunt

I would like to make the case that a witch hunt is the result our inability to fully cope with reality.

Let’s take a little trip back in time to the presidency of Barack Obama. For those who saw him as a beacon of light and hope, those eight years were full of smiles and positive growth. But the other half of the story is the story of sore losers.

Let us not forget that while some of America was rejoicing, other parts of America were in mourning. They lost. Bad. Their beliefs and ideas were hit very hard. The world began changing in all the ways they didn’t want it to. For goodness sake, he invited RAPPERS to the White House. He allowed “gay” people to get married. Preposterous!

So how did they react? Witch hunts.

Even with Obama’s eerily squeaky clean record, they found places to strike, “He is a socialist”, “He wasn’t born in America”, “He is a Muslim”. A picture of social panic was painted. Not because any of those things were true, but because the losers didn’t want to accept their fate.

Why Donald Trump is kinda Right

Fast forward to late 2016. The tables have suddenly turned. Those in mourning now rejoice, and those who were rejoicing now mourn. Then things get interesting, there is evidence to show all kinds of corruption in the new administration. And Donald Trump (quite cleverly) frames all of it as a witch hunt.

It sounds like such a good excuse to his supporters. Why? Because they did the same thing when they lost. To reiterate, this is not about Donald Trump. It is about what we do when we “lose”. Perhaps Donald Trump innately understands that if he can frame his opponents as sore losers, he can gain a base of sympathy.

Why Witch Hunts Happen

As I stated earlier, witch hunts happen because we are unable to fully cope with our reality. In our resistance of what is, we need to create an enemy (whether it be a person, philosophy, political party, etc.).

What this does is it partially resolves our conflict. If everything is bad because of something outside of us, it relieves us of some personal responsibility. Now, we can blame everything on the “big bad wolf” instead of 1) accepting our fate, 2) doing something to change it, or 3) finding a better situation.

As I said earlier, this article isn’t about Donald Trump. It is about how alike we are when we lose, and hopefully providing a new vision for coping with the inevitable reality that we will sometimes “lose”. Until next time…

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