Summary: We gave our elites the greatest gift that America can give. Understanding this, we can make a powerful resolution for the New Year – and change the course of history.
It’s a Christmas gift to our ruling elites!
The difference between ordinary epidemics and horrific pandemics is in their frequency, duration, and size. This applies to social ills as well as diseases. For example, America has been wracked for generations by an extraordinary series of moral panics. These are an ordinary illness of societies, as described by the Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences.
“A panic or overreaction to forms of deviance or wrongdoing believed to be threats to a society. Moral panics are usually fanned by the media and led by community leaders or groups intent on changing laws or practices. …Moral panics gather converts because they touch on people’s fears and because they also use specific events or problems as symbols of what many feel to represent ‘all that is wrong with the nation’.”
Stephen Davies explains in more detail at the American Institute for Economic Research.
“The concept of a moral panic was first explicitly formulated and given that name in a book by the British sociologist Stanley Cohen, published in 1972 under the title Folk Devils and Moral Panics. The book used one particular panic …to illustrate a more general thesis. This was that societies periodically suffer from episodes of panic and anxiety of a particular kind.
“In these episodes, there is a widespread fear and anxiety over a perceived threat to society and order. The fear and anxiety are excessive and unreasonable (hence ‘panic’). This is because either the threat or problem is completely imaginary or its extent and severity is seriously exaggerated even when there is a real phenomenon. The threat is often associated with a specific deviant group or identity. These are the ‘folk devils’ of Cohen’s title. The group may be a real, actually existing one that is demonized and caricatured, or it may again be completely imaginary, with no actual existence.”
For more information, see the Wikipedia entry. It shows that, like most social science concepts, it gets wildly overused. Mostly for threats where there is little or no moral component (e.g., epidemics).
America has an amazing number of moral panics of extreme size and duration. In the 1980s and 1990s we had the Satanic Abuse hysteriaand Day Care Child Abuse hysteria. Both were huge and long. These put people in jail after trials that made those of the Salem witches look like models of rationality (they also helped make Janet Reno Attorney General of the USA). There were also a host of smaller moral panics during that period and afterwards. Our institutions seemed unable to respond to these, no matter how absurd they are.
Now we are in the midst of two moral panics that made those before look penny-ante: RussiaGate and the Climate Emergency. Although neither has much factual foundation, both continue to burn today, with no end in sight.
We do not know the origins of RussiaGate. We might never know its origins. It lies somewhere inside the military-industrial-complex’s programs to incite Cold War II, creating a foe that can justify our continued insane level of military spending. This was attractive since it meshed with another major goal of US foreign policy: the destruction of all non-allied major oil producers (e.g., Iraq, Libya, Iran, Russia). We moved US power ever-closer to Russia’s borders (breaking the tacit agreement ending the Cold War that allowed Russia to have neutral buffer states). We imposed brutal sanctions. Any response by Russia other than surrender was a sign of aggression, warranting further attacks.
This allowed anyone making commercial contacts with Russia to be painted as an enemy agent, muzzling voices that might otherwise declare that the Emperor was butt-naked.
From this toxic stew came the spark of RussiaGate. The original spark was a conversation of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos with professor Joseph Mifsud (who has been missing or dead since October 2017, per the Italian newspaper il Giornale).
It became a wildfire when fed the opposition research report known as the Steele Dossier. From the first, it was obviously preposterous. Turning a leading candidate for the US president into a Russian asset would be the intel operation of the millenium. Christopher Steele said that Russian officials gave him information that blew the operation. He never said why they did so or what he offered them in exchange. If true, the best they could hope for was a quick death. The story made sense only as disinformation from Russia intel agencies directed at the US and laundered through Steele.
It ignited a firestorm that still burns in America. Wild claims were made by leading figures in all segments of American society. Trump was Putin’s puppet. Trump would establish death camps and begin the genocide of America’s minorities. Trump would ignore the 2020 election results, overthrow the regime and stay in office. Analysis showing the empty nature of these claims were ignored. The White House was largely paralyzed. Critical problems were ignored as increasingly bogus headlines occupied the attention of our elites in Washington.
Investigations have shown that there is no basis for RussiaGate. Former Federal attorney Andrew McCarthy’s book, Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency, is the best public analysis. Internal government investigations have found little basis for the RussiaGate narrative, other than misconduct by government employees: the report by the Office of the FBI Inspector General on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation (aka the Horowitz Report) and the report of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. Like almost all such reports, both are whitewashes of the government’s actions – but their significance lies in the lack of evidence for the years of hysterical claims.
The Climate Emergency
In 1988, climate scientist James Hansen warned about the effect on the climate of our emissions of greenhouse gases – and proposed additional research. During the next quarter-century, five major reports by the IPCC documented the findings of the resulting scattershot research. Since this was science, each was evaluated and given one of five confidence levels (the average was “medium”). Scenarios were created to help communicate our possible futures, with RCP8.5 the worst-case (if things went wrong, with adverse changes in long-standing trends).
Somehow this became a classic moral panic. Science was pushed to the side as “too conservative”; those with the most vivid nightmares became sages in the headlines. Normal weather became pathological. Weather records were ignored, instead declaring normal weather to be “the worst.” Warnings proliferated of doom for civilization, for humanity, and for life on Earth. The most recent IPCC report warned of possible dangers ahead. This became a warning that we were doomed in 12 years.
Unrealistic forecasts of greenhouse gases became certainties. Uncertainties about key factors were ignored. For example, how much the planet will warm in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide – ‘equilibrium climate sensitivity’ (ECS)? The IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5, 2013) provided a range between 1 and 6oC, with a ‘likely’ range between 1.5 and 4.5oC. Combine those two unknowns, and a wide range of futures become possible. But to the increasing numbers of panicking people, only the extreme forecasts are real.
Those that spoke about science and its uncertainties are demonized as deniers. Those so labeled are deemed not just illegitimate but evil voices – to be banned from public spaces and their work defunded. No rational debate is possible. Attempts to do so are like spitting into the wind, or talking sense to a stampeding mob.
The resulting political gridlock prevents not only preparation for climate change but also for the inevitable repeat of past extreme weather. I believe that we are worse off after 30 years of panic than if Hansen had not begun this project.
Why? It’s the crazy years!
“When I was sixteen, I went to work for a newspaper in Hong Kong. It was a rag, but the editor taught me one important lesson. The key to a great story is not who, or what, or when, but why.”
— Elliot Carver, in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).
Each of moral panics has obvious roots. America’s politics and society are changing at an incredible rate. We feel anxiety about these changes and their mysterious and many causes. RussiaGate gives us clear enemies to blame: Putin and Trump. It gives us heroes to cheer: the intel agencies and The Resistance.
Ditto for the Climate Emergency. We are changing the world at an incredible rate. Strange chemicals pour into the environment. We are reshaping the biosphere, casually and thoughtlessly. More ugly changes lie ahead as Earth’s population grows to ten or twelve billion. The Climate Emergency compresses this complexity into a simple story (ignoring all the key details) and gives us demons to blame: the deniers.
Both are crusades for virtue that anyone can join by adopting the right politics. Unfortunately, these are irrationality given form, making rational government impossible. This chaos was predicted long ago by science fiction author Robert Heinlein. His date for the madness was 50 years early, but nailed the details. Let’s worry that he as accurately predicted its conclusion.
“The Crazy Years: Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions, terminating in mass psychoses in the sixth decade, and the interregnum.”
— From Robert Heinlein’s timeline of his future history stories; first published in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1940. This series was published as The Past through Tomorrow.
The Greatest Gift
While causes are useful to know, only results matter. These massive moral panics show that Americans are no longer capable of self-government. We lack the rationality, balance, and self-discipline necessary for this most difficult and rare of tasks.
We have given our elites the greatest gift we can bestow: proof that we are unfit for democracy. America is theirs now, untill we prove that we can retake control of our affairs – and our destiny.
“Every nation has the government it deserves.”
— Dark words said by Joseph de Maistre (lawyer, diplomat, philosopher) in a letter dated 13 August 1811, published in Lettres et Opuscules.
What comes next?
Revival of the spirit is the core of humanity. We can become better than we were and are. It begins with the decision of individuals to work for change. This can spread like a clensing fire though a people. You can help start this process. Make that your top New Year’s resolution. Here are a few score specific ways to take action.