inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #151 of 250: Malka Older (malka) Wed 13 Jan 21 03:41
It's a cliche to describe anything about this administration as
reality TV, or the meeting point of tragedy and farce, and yet,
there's a strong panem et circenses whiff to the unhealthily
compelling aftermath of the insurrection. Like so much that has
happened over the past four years, it is both serious - deadly, in
fact - and a distraction that allows the kleptocracy and destruction
to continue a little longer. 
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #152 of 250: George Mokray (jonl) Wed 13 Jan 21 05:50
Via email from George Mokray:

In the summer of 1671, elite dinner table conversation in England
was about the rumor that children were being abducted to provide
fresh blood to cure French King Louis XIV of leprosy.  (Source: 
Lady Bette and the Murder of Mr Thynn: A Scandalous Story of
Marriage and Betrayal in Restoration England by Nigel Pickford)

And then there's Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary, the "Blood Countess,"
also the title of the book Andrei Codrescu wrote about her, who
actually bathed in virgin's blood to preserve her beauty, and Gilles
de Rais, the comrade in arms of Joan of Arc who killed children for
"Satanic rites" (according to his accusers) and was probably the
model for Bluebeard. Norman Mailer wrote a never produced screenplay
called "Trial of the Warlock" about him.

Not to mention the 1969 science fiction novel Bug Jack Barron by
Norman Spinrad whose plot involves radiating children to produce a
medicine that gives the wealthy longevity and youth (does Ray
Kurzweil know about that?). If I were Spinrad, I'd sue QAnon for

We are living through a period of mad and maddening popular
delusions. Carl Jung would be having a field day explaining this
eruption of the collective unconscious but don't you get caught up
in it.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #153 of 250: fruitbatpangolin (jonl) Wed 13 Jan 21 06:00
Via email from fruitbatpangolin:

You are being distracted.

If I had my extra cynical tinfoil hat on, the one made of a
perfectly normal hat, I might say that the current political cycle
has a very Foundation and Empire/New Coke vibe going on. 

A friend commented when Trump was elected, that personally, he was
finally convinced that the Illuminati or their equivalent did not
exist, or at least were not in charge of anything much if they did. 

His logic was that no plan from a extant position of supreme
overarching political power would end up requiring a Donald, and
also that people operating from such a position would tend to
instinctively reject a Donald as a potential representative in any
major plans. Partly on grounds of taste, and partly on grounds of
extreme unreliability. 

The Donald, after all, is essentially Douglas Adams’ President
Beeblebrox, a pinpoint satire of US political power now made flesh
(yet again), but in an incarnation more unhinged than the fiction
and, in marked contrast to Zaphod, so unhip that it is a wonder his
bum doesn’t fall off. And also in contrast with Zaphod, no self
administered lobotomy as an excuse for saying stupid shit, at least
that we currently know of.

Because of this, his current political existence does kinda make the
most sense as a Russian political counterplay to the US enabling of
Boris Yeltsin stumbling blind drunk into power, giving Gorby a
chance he probably welcomed, that of retiring gracefully into the
1990s London free party scene. 

So therefore boringly old school realpolitik as per usual, a
skirmish between warring geopolitical blocks, planned and backed by
an experienced spook turned dictator, who has more than a bit of a
justifiable grudge and is busily playing a game of twit for twat.

Makes some vague sense of sorts.

But this got me thinking about whether there are any counterpoints
of moderately sane plans that actively require a Donald and are not
from the internal perspective of competing national power blocks.
And I kept coming back to Asimov’s Hari Seldon and the idea of
crashing a civiliszation in order to ‘save’ it. 

This isn’t purely a hypothetical strategy, given something in a
similar vein is one of the reasons suggested for the US being
helpful to Yeltsin; attempting shock economic strategies used
already on many other countries since the war, but this time on the

Trouble with that, as a plan, was that most of the folk round there
are not of exactly the shockable sort. Whereas other populations
might panic and try and reassemble their collapsing country, many
Russians seemed to shrug it off with the utter confidence that no
matter what happens today, the vast majority of their existential
state is still going to be around to try and kill them again

Now consider that one of the larger geopolitical pendulums, the one
from introversion to extroversion, may be as much biological as it
is  political. If we observe that behavior elsewhere in nature, we
may well conclude that the studied species has an evolutionary
adaptation to get both a wide selection of the gene pool, and fast
genetic drifts. And also that we can observe that behavior across a
wide range of other social species. 

Neither behavior is the ‘correct answer’ in such an adaptation, as
it is the dynamics of the interplay between them that confers the
evolutionary advantage.

However, if such a thing were the case, you could know ahead of time
and approximately when, and in which populations, the next nazi
variant was likely going to go and accidentally do a nazi. But you
might also know that stopping these particular tides of history is
actually a right Cnut of a problem. 

One of the clear options available in such a situation, if trying to
minimize conflict, is to promote the most foolish leaders in the
movement so that they don’t have the logistical chops to organize a
genocide, turn the whole thing into a ludicrous clown show, and
inoculate a generation against the entire political idea, on grounds
of the whole thing looking really fucking stupid.

Enter Donald Trump, dressed in a cartoon frog suit, stage right.

Not saying that this is really the case, or saying that the first
reading is either. Personally I suspect that a better explanation
might just be that people are all just delusional crazy bastards, as
a feature.

I do, however, stand by my first sentence. Am a little bit off to
the side of it, to be precise, waving a can of special brew in one
hand and a placard in the other, while shouting obscenities at
passing ducks.

You are being distracted.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #154 of 250: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 13 Jan 21 06:53
Trump's election was probably an anomaly, an accident, more a
repudiation of Hillary Clinton and a celebration of our electoral
college, which disfavors urban centers, ensuring that they can't
override the will of rural America. This may be crazy and
undemocratic on the face of it, but it's what we've got, and it
means that Republicans have been able to place presidents for years
without winning the popular vote. This is why they wage emotional
campaigns in rural America, pretending to be a friend to those who
are increasingly overlooked as so many smart and capable Americans
swarm to urban centers and urban jobs. (Our remote work experiment
during the pandemic, if it sticks, might change the equation.)

Nobody thought a Trump could be elected president before it
happened. I say "a Trump," because it wasn't so much the guy who was
elected, but what he represented. A charismatic populist demagogue
who effectively hid his self-obsession and pretended to be a friend
- and a savior - to his followers. And a lightning rod for their
darkest thoughts. He made it okay to flaunt norms, ignore laws,
dismantle institutions. He's destructive, but the destruction is not
clear yet to his supporters. A charismatic bull in the China shop,
convincing all the shoppers that he's just there to browse, inviting
them to ignore the shattered plates, cups, gravy boats... 

Discussions of Trump aren't US-centric. You see weak strongmen
throughout the world, and they're pretty much like him, in fact he
studies and follows their moves. Having one of their own in the
highest position of power in the USA, as the "leader of the free
world," further enables and empowers them. Some have feared that a
Trump dictatorship would be the death of democratic movements that
have always been fragile. As Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker,
"The temptation of anti-democratic cult politics is forever with us,
and so is the work of fending it off."
-crisis-of-democracy> I.e. human nature can dismiss democracy readily and easily. 

Democracy was going to be an evolution to something better, but it
works against darker elements of the psyche that have a real
strength and a will to dominate.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #155 of 250: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 13 Jan 21 07:44
The fashionistas in Ibiza swiftly tried to make masks sexy, once
they realized that everybody would have to buy a mask and constantly
wear many of them, but that effort didn't pan out.  Nobody wears
cute fashionable masks.

The masks are too fearsome to be cute, because the Rona is a
respiratory disease and the masks are symbolic of pain and death
from breath itself.  So one can window-shop past the somnolent
clothing stores and all the masks in jolly punk/hippie/disco
patterns are at half-price now.

There will be *some* sexy masks, in the way that there are also some
sexy condoms.  One might think that condoms would be relentlessly
sexy since they're directly functional objects in sexual activities,
but no, they're not sexy, they're medical.  Condoms aren't fun and
flirtatious, they're all about the aspects of sex that are risky and
troublesome and possibly infectious, so they just can't get
glamorous.  They're a requirement, they're not an adornment.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #156 of 250: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 13 Jan 21 07:45

Ibiza is under lockdown again after a feeble yet infectious holiday
mini-season.  The cultural sedation will continue.

There's been some discreet discussion among the Ibizan
Great-and-Good about somehow vaccinating all the Ibizan locals and
then throwing the disco doors back open.  Just, you know, let 'em
fly in and infect each other, if they want to!  There's a certain
unspoken tradition to this cynic's approach, since Ibizan discos
used to be famous for their STD infection rates.   After all, if
footloose Swedes, Germans, Irish, Russians and Italians are all
swapping spirochetes in there, what, realistically, are you gonna do
about that?  The Bacchanalian licentiousness is the point of the

It's quite a dreadful image though — gigantic multimedia discos with
maximum sight'n'sound glare as loci of global fatal infection.  It's
almost a medieval Dance Macabre, or a shuddersome Breughel painting
after a handful of party-pills.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #157 of 250: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 13 Jan 21 07:45

I used to show up in Ibiza during the off-season when there was
nothing much going on, and I would get a lot of creative work  done
here.  The island was pretty and pleasant, and interestingly quirky,
but also small and a little dull, and it was isolating (being an
island).  So I could put my thoughts in order, and distill and
express things that I had experienced in busier places.  And that
was good for me; I felt energized.

Now Ibiza's duller than anyone in living memory has probably ever
seen Ibiza, and yet I lack the tumult from elsewhere that used to
inspire me.  So I find that I can re-write things, and tinker a bit,
but it's hard for me to break any new ground.  It's a contemplative,
hermetic life, it's not propulsive and visionary.

I didn't realize that I needed some off-kilter social energy to get
me off dead-center, but it seems to be true.  Nobody tugs my sleeves
here, and I've got plenty of free time outside of cooking, light
home repair and some minding of the Tiny Spaniard.  So I ought to be
on an endless writerly sabbatical where I really spin out the prose,
but, well, no, I'm not doing that.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #158 of 250: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 13 Jan 21 07:47

Mostly I stare, point and click at the tumult of the news, but since
it's all filtered through a glass screen and I don't venture out
physically to mix it up with the tenor of the times, it doesn't
inspire me.  I pay a lot of attention to the deeds of the world, and
I annotate it, and I analyze it, but I don't much feel like writing
about it, or, really, writing about much of anything.  It's like
trying to be a novelist among the Eloi in the H G Wells "Time
Machine," that pretty yet listless tribe who lack motivation, yet
also find their ranks thinned by midnight visits from the cannibal

I don't want to scold myself overly for this quietude of quarantine;
many creatives in many societies and situations clearly feel much
the same way now.  It's even an interesting proof that the audience
directly inspires the performer, that all creative works are
socially generated, like language itself is.  Stories arise from the
popular need to hear stories; a book merely happen to be voiced by
some individual with his name on the spine of the book.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #159 of 250: Sigmundur Halldórsson (jonl) Wed 13 Jan 21 07:52
Via email from Sigmundur Halldórsson:

One of the more interesting books I read last year was Deep Fakes
and the Infocalypse: What You Urgently Need To Know by Nina Schick


Which raised the fact that we're now seriously into the era of deep
fake videos. Which caused quite a stir when Channel 4 in the UK
created a fake Queens speech.


The issue that Nina raises is not so much that we'll be submerged in
all kinds of fake videos, but that we are now entering an era of
where we are completely unable to determine what's real. "Deepfakes
could give everyone the power to fake anything, and if everything
can be faked then everyone has plausible deniability.”
Disinformation is certainly not a US specific problem and if we are
moving towards a splintered ethnonational network, are we going to
also about to enter a period of ethnonational definitions of
"reality and facts"? The apparent willingness of many to move beyond
fact-based discussion has proven to be a disaster during the plague.
So while rule by the techno elite might sound quite dystopian, it's
also a question if the alternative is any less dystopian? Living
within the East Roman Byzantine empire after the fall of Rome was
probably better than being stranded in some less well-regulated
corners of the fallen empire. So which former empire do we want to
take up residency in?   
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #160 of 250: William F. Stockton (yesway) Wed 13 Jan 21 11:38
Ths was posted elsewhere on The Well. It's a nice, concise argument
for the stance that Peter Coyote calls Radical Optimism. Also fairly
well expressed by Russell Brand at times. In effect, "Look around at
how crazy the world is. There's your proof that ANYTHING can


One page. Worth the 2 minutes,imho.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #161 of 250: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 13 Jan 21 14:54
<doctorow> has said that blogging is how he makes sense of the

Here's how he blogs:
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #162 of 250: Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Wed 13 Jan 21 15:40
Caity Johnstone says it's not really that bad. I feel so much better
for having read that!
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #163 of 250: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 13 Jan 21 19:17
<karish> Are you referring to this?
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #164 of 250: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Wed 13 Jan 21 21:41
Even if mask fashion isn't big, it seems a few people are having fun
with it, online anyway?
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #165 of 250: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 14 Jan 21 07:50
I got a snail mail letter from the Internal Revenue Service. They're
concerned that I may be a victim of identity theft, so they're
advising me to assemble various documents from my previous tax
returns, and call them up voice-mail during office hours, and
attempt to verbally prove to them that I'm me.

You'd think that they could just ask Facebook, or Amazon, or Google,
or Amazon, or Microsoft, who must have many, many terabytes all
about me and my existent me-ness.  But no.  On the contrary. It may
indeed be that some criminal algorithm has purloined my identity and
is filing fake tax returns with the IRS and wants the IRS to pay

So I reckon I'll have to attempt to do something about it.  I have
few illusions that this will be quick or easy.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #166 of 250: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 14 Jan 21 07:57
I hope and plan to return to my native soil next month, to meet with
my family, but that trip will be difficult if it's possible at all,
and to greet my relations during an epidemic will be dangerous.

Also, to walk into an IRS federal office with some of my extensive,
authentic ID, so as to prove that I'm me to my government, is gonna
be ten times MORE dangerous.

However, here in languid, idyllic Ibiza, Covid-19 just broke out in
my own apartment building. It could have been me bringing it to the
neighbors -- by some statistical fluke, it isn't -- but the wolf's
at the door.

Interesting times.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #167 of 250: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 14 Jan 21 08:00
Claire Boucher says she has Covid-19 now.  She's better-known as
"Grimes," the current mistress of the richest man in the world. 
Even before her extensive dalliance with Elon Musk, I've been quite
the Grimes fan.  I don't just listen to Claire's music, I cheerfully
pay for it.

Whatever happens to musicians will happen to everybody.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #168 of 250: Lena via lendie (lendie) Thu 14 Jan 21 09:28
I doubt the IRS is taking walk-ins these days.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #169 of 250: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 14 Jan 21 09:36
This would indeed be an "interesting" time for you to visit the home
front. We might be living in a different world a month from now.
There's trouble brewing, it's hard to know exactly what to expect.
I'm hearing that the raid on the US Capitol had the effect of
rallying the troops, now driven underground as their public social
media presences have been disconnected. The downside of
disconnection is that we can't see as clearly what they're up to -
but that clear visibility didn't prevent the storming of the
Capitol, so perhaps that's not a loss.

Word is that there's more to come, and the protests over the next
week will be armed, and will in all state capitols as well as DC. 

This is trouble that's been brewing, really, since the end of World
War II. Consider this re. the work of historian Bradley Hart, who's
studied Nazism in the USA: "...the threat of Nazism in the United
States before World War II was greater than we generally remember
today, and that those forces offer valuable lessons decades later —
and not just because part of that story is the history of the
'America First' idea, born of pre-WWII isolationism and later reborn
as a slogan for now-President Donald Trump." 

"Hart, who came to the topic via research on the eugenics movement
and the history of Nazi sympathy in Britain, says he realized early
on that there was a lot more to the American side of that story than
most textbooks acknowledged. Some of the big names might get
mentioned briefly — the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin, or the
highly public German American Bund organization — but in general, he
says, the American narrative of the years leading up to World War II
has elided the role of those who supported the wrong side."

inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #170 of 250: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 14 Jan 21 09:47
    <scribbled by jonl Thu 14 Jan 21 13:01>
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #171 of 250: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 14 Jan 21 13:19
    <scribbled by bslesins Thu 14 Jan 21 16:54>
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #172 of 250: Scott Henry (jonl) Thu 14 Jan 21 13:50
Via email from Scott Henry:

I got one of those IRS snail-mail letters a couple of months ago. It
turned out to be much easier and quicker than I had anticipated. I
spent less than an hour on the phone, and very little was queue
time. Mine was a bit complicated,so I would expect most people
would spend less than 1/2 hour.

They told me that the IRS is only taking walk-ins if it can't be
resolved over the phone.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #173 of 250: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 14 Jan 21 16:55
(Scribbled my post since it was in response to Jon's, which was
meant for a different topic.)
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #174 of 250: Jane Hirshfield (jh) Thu 14 Jan 21 22:56
Having just caught up on many days of this conversation, I'm
grateful for the thoughts, perceptions, directions it's taken... 
and for the words of the contributors from outside the Well.

One thing that's scarcely found mention are the sources of
resilience, in individual human psyches and cultures.
Beauty-perception and beauty's making, in small and large ways.
Love, in all its forms and shapes and versions. A sense of
participating in something larger than one's own small fate. Art.
Stories. Jokes. The deep pleasure of trying to figure things out on
one's own and with others, of trying to understand with more
complexity, concision, and even sometimes style. For some us growing
things, for others cooking, or sewing-- any activity that doesn't
take well to ignoring the actualities. The recognition of being in
it together with everyone and everything else. 

What am I leaving out? 

I do take it as a manifestation of sanity-robustness that the U.S.
election and then the Georgia one went as they did. It could have
been otherwise. Over the past four years, one source of resilience
for me has been taking some political action, however useless it may
have felt, every day. Not just my own home-action of writing and
public speaking, but the action of doing some of the basic grunt
work. Indivisible-recommended pestering. Voter-informing handwritten
postcard campaigns. Anything-- donating, signing on to a petition --
but: daily. And before the pandemic, when I would say I was doing
this at public events, I could see--one or two people out of a few
hundred might take up the practice. Or do something at least, not

For me, that sense of simple solidarity in intention and action has
been a source of resilience. 

Solidarity can go badly awry. Solidarity-hunger is a neutral
longing. When not coupled with some active desire for eyes open to
reality-consequence and some active desire for the well-being of all
beings, it can lead to QAnon and to half-sacking the Rotunda.
Wanting to belong is not enough, on its own.

I don't find resilience in simple tribalism, but I may be an outlier

I have found some restoration of resilience in setting aside the
self for swaths of time. But that also is a neutral technology,
whose effect and meaning vary by context. As was posted above,
distraction is not a good answer to the cries of the world.
(Buddhist reference there: Avalokiteshvara, bodhisattva of
compassion-- the name translates as "the one who hears the cries of
the world and comes.")

It's my sense that the people in this conversation--everyone here,
really--are people engaged in that wish, one way or other. To see
reality accurately and to attempt to leave the world a bit better
for all, present and future, by our own passage through it.

When we look at the State of the World, that isn't what we see. But
as with mycelial networks, above-ground invisibility doesn't mean
non-presence. Something is keeping the story going, so far, keeping
us fed, sheltered, raising children, taking care of one another and
our elders as best we can, able to wake up in the morning and
(mostly) not fall into complete despair. And so far the oceans not
emptied entirely, the forests not stripped entirely, the cities not
burned entirely, pain not reduced to mutual slaughter entirely.

We've spoken little this year about biosphere and climate. The
pandemic and the politics have been this year's protagonists. But
here in the Bay Area, on Sept 9th, when the fire smoke kept the day
dark red and headlamps and streetlights and house lights needed at
eight a.m., nine a.m., noon,  two p.m., four p.m., right back into
nightfall, it felt to me that some scrim of normality had been
pulled back and I was seeing the damage as it truly always is now. 
And I saw somewhere, in the past couple days, that fires are
starting in Australia now again.

The pandemic of course helped the planet a bit, lowering emissions.
Birds in San Francisco went back to singing the old-ways songs, not
heard for decades, when they didn't need to compete with traffic. It
showed, to say the obvious, that if we humans decide we need to
stop, we greatly can. Not completely, but greatly. 

That's really something. All it takes is a this-moment fear for your
life and the lives of those you love, and look: some large
proportion of us change what we think and do, in ways that are

Two months from now, a lot of things are going to be clearer--about
the vaccines and how quickly they will reach how many and where.
About U.S. political landscape and social contract-- which could be
better by then, but could also be far worse than it is now.

The state of the world is granular, particular, various, revealing
itself a bit differently to each of our eyes and lives, even when
we've pretty much all gone through one shared calamity at
precipitous, dizzying speed (that's somehow felt also a slowing).

I've been thinking of Victor Frankl and Primo Levi, of the
preservation of a sense of meaning as aid to survival in the most
concrete ways, and also, thought frequently over these many months,
of a haiku by Issa:

we walk
on the roof of hell,
gathering blossoms.
inkwell.vue.510 : State of the World 2021
permalink #175 of 250: Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 15 Jan 21 05:34
Yes. Thank you, Jane.


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