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Saturday Commentary and Review #89
Cracks in Anti-Woke Alliance, New Countries in the Digital Cloud?, Sri Lanka Collapses, EU Economies Down On Their Knees, When Birds Migrated to the Moon
One of my duties to you, the dearly cherished reader of this Substack, is to observe the shifts in the tides of US political culture in order to report it you and to try to make sense of it in the bigger picture. This means paying attention to the ebbs and flows of political subcultures that fuel or dissipate trends that will often not grab the attention of the casual reader. The metropole (USA) informs the provinces, so ‘they’ say.
Trump’s annihilation of Con Inc. during the 2016 GOP primaries upended the political field on the right in the USA, opening up once-closed paths to unorthodox groups such as those who pushed for economic protectionism, re-industrialization, and even Catholic social teaching in combination with the previously mentioned two. Turbo-charged by the perceived excesses of “woke culture”, disaffected liberals were only too happy to cross the aisle, seeing in the GOP (actually, Trump), a safe harbour from their blistering attacks on their culture.
A marriage of convenience has arisen between groups with views that clash with one another, as they view woke culture as being the primary threat to their interests. Social conservatives have found themselves in an unnatural alliance with libertines, protectionists who favour strong social safety nets with those who don’t want to pay more in taxes. Fear of the “other” makes for strange bedfellows.
I have from the beginning stated that this de facto alliance stands on very shaky ground for the simple reason that one group seeks to turn the clock back to the 1950s, while the other would be happy turning it back to the 1990s, and would even be satisfied with 2007. These newer social conservatives, or “TradCaths” as they are commonly referred to, are linked to Catholic Integralists that seek to re-purpose government so that it’s primary objective is the pursuit of the “common good”.
Disaffected liberals wish to use the GOP as a battering ram against the excesses of woke culture by putting a doorstep in place, returning to a previous liberalism where they were contented. This group abhors the idea of social conservatism as it champions that of individual liberty, and the libertinism that naturally flows from it. “Whatever you do is none of my business, so long as it doesn’t affect me personally”, is the credo.
This latter group is in pole position to succeed for the simple fact that they have the shortest path to what they would consider ‘victory’. Whether allied to the GOP or not, they would be perfectly content in denouncing those to their immediate right as “racists”, “homophobes”, “misogynists”, and so on, the second that their position of prime arbiter of social values returns. And they would be more than happy to join humbled radical liberals in doing so. The “Anti-Woke Alliance” has significant fissures that are already proving insurmountable, as per John Pistelli:
On June 24, with the news that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade with its decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, Barstool Sports CEO Dave Portnoy took to Twitter with an “emergency press conference” decrying the decision. Portnoy’s sports- and pop-culture-focused media company, not to mention his own Boston bro persona, is known for an adolescent male impatience with the social-justice-oriented sex and gender proprieties that have governed elite U.S. culture in the past decade. Portnoy’s raunchy anti-wokeness proved so popular and resonant that Matthew Walther, in a 2021 article in The Week, coined the term “Barstool Conservatives” to describe the unspoken-for contingent, presumably quite a large one, who shared this attitude.
What is a “Barstool Conservative”?
A Barstool Conservative is not systematically political at all, according to Walther, but likely to be a youngish male with libertarian inclinations in both politics and economics. In Walther’s telling, this Barstool bro is aggrieved at woke culture for adultering his football games with Black Lives Matter displays and his superhero movies with queer representation or feminist heroism. This frustrated everyman will therefore be forced to become, whether he likes it or not, “the future of the conservative movement,” because this movement is all that can hold back the tide of elite progressivism. The Barstool libertines will be compelled to make common cause with religious conservatives since they share a common enemy, an alliance between what the writer Mary Harrington has called “cads” and “trads.”
Not so fast!
Until, that is, Dobbs threw cold water on these strange bedfellows and forced Portnoy to leap out from under the covers. In his Twitter press conference, Portnoy denounced the Supreme Court decision, made a standard liberal plea for women’s rights, dismissed the Constitution in woke-activist style as an irrelevant document “written by people who had slaves,” and declared that “95% of the people in the country think like me: They’re socially liberal and they’re financially conservative.” Lamenting that the religious right was going to make him “vote for the morons like Biden,” Portnoy effectively scuttled the trad-cad alliance. In return, the Barstool editor was slammed by standard social conservatives like Fox News host Dan Bongino.
Take, for example, the journal Compact, founded earlier this year by two Catholics and a Marxist on an ecumenical platform of “a strong social-democratic state that defends community … against a libertine left and a libertarian right”—the opposite of Portnoy’s Clinton-era social liberalism plus fiscal conservatism. And in keeping with its nonsectarianism, Compact has published an ideologically diverse company of writers encompassing not only Catholic traditionalists and Marxist populists but also transgressive artists, dissident feminists, and renegade novelists. Yet just a few months after the magazine’s founding, on June 30, the masthead’s founding Marxist, Edwin Aponte Jr., tweeted, “The Catholic integralists, with their legislating of morality, and the libertine, transgressive anti-wokes are not going to be able to hold it together.”
We will see in the coming years which tendency on the right will prevail, but listeners might have seen a glimpse of the future in a recent episode of the podcast “Red Scare,” ground zero for the new right’s incursion into metropolitan culture. Hosts Anna Khachiyan and Dasha Nekrasova were joined by the new right’s premier political philosopher, self-styled monarchist Curtis Yarvin. When the hosts asked this theorist of elite power whether his fiancée, a self-described liberal and former BDSM writer, might not be an untoward companion for an arch-reactionary, he replied that liberals were today’s American aristocracy and that he felt himself irresistibly drawn to aristocrats, as all reactionaries are.
There is a noticeable growing resistance to woke culture, but until it begins to impact the bottom line in Corporate America, it’s place is secure. If it loses its position, the USA will default back to pre-woke liberalism, thus satisfying the disaffected liberal, exemplified by what is known as the Barstool Conservative.
“The Network State” is the title of a provocative new book by Balaji Srinivasan, Coinbase’s former CTO. In it, he makes the case for creating voluntary new countries through the cloud that would provide ‘virtual statehood’.
The desire to branch off and form one’s own polity is as old as humanity itself. Humans by and large seek to maximize their own personal sovereignty when conditions favourable to it prevail, or in reaction to an encroachment on personal freedom. Everyone has at least once daydreamed of setting up shop on a tropical island, where they and its denizens would be ‘free’ to rule themselves as they saw fit. Seasteading has been pursued by some, while others have suggested moving to Somalia when it lacked a proper central government.
Balaji instead makes the argument that physical occupation of territory is now rendered obsolete thanks to the hyperconnectivity of the online world. Techies will naturally propose tech-based solutions to perceived problems such as ‘surveillance capitalism’ and economic stagnation. Sam Venis asks if one could larp a country into existence?
Released provocatively this 4 July, the book presents Srinivasan’s case for a new model of digital statehood run and managed in the cloud. A network state, as he describes it, is basically a group of people who get together on the internet and decide that they’re going to start a country. With a social network to connect them, a leader to unite them, and a cryptocurrency to protect their assets, Srinivasan says a country can be born with laws, social services and all. A network state is a country that “anyone can start from your computer, beginning by building a following” – not unlike companies, cryptocurrencies, or decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). In a world where billionaires can run companies larger than countries, Srinivasan asks, could such a state achieve recognition from the United Nations?
Like all utopian visions, this one, too, is diagnostic – an answer to a growing list of “wicked” social problems like surveillance capitalism, economic stagnation, political polarization, and conflict among great powers. Just when we need leaders to solve our problems, Balaji argues, they are failing, and the reason isn’t just corruption or incompetence – the reason is technological. Central government is simply no longer capable of addressing our needs because the world for which it was designed has changed.
The internet, for example, has made place less important, so national borders seem increasingly arbitrary. And cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have proven that if enough people believe in the value of an idea you can create something worth trillions of dollars. Software has made it so that a few engineers can outcompete nations (think hacker groups and startups). And, in the age of social networks, millions of anonymous people can fit into groups that act and coordinate together; just look at r/wallstreetbets and Gamestop.
How would it work?
“Very few institutions that predated the internet will survive the internet,” Srinivasan said recently, in a lecture describing the book. So the solution, he argues, is to build an institution based on it. Here’s how it would work: a person on Twitter decides to start a country so they float the idea to their pals and begin to gather recruits. They put together a vision statement and a list of values, and soon enough people begin to join and tell their friends. It starts off like a social network.
By pooling their money and lending their skills, the community begins to develop social services and spawn its own mini-culture, providing things, in theory, like healthcare and insurance and passports and dope parties. With something like a hybrid of Twitter and Discord, they could connect, share ideas, and vote (think up- and down-voting on your favorite legislation). And with a currency like bitcoin, they could control their own money supply and protect their funds from encroaching governments. First they would buy small plots of land, like a national Soho house, and eventually, they would begin to migrate into chosen cities – probably to sympathetic jurisdictions like Miami, which, Srinivasan says, will compete to acquire these brave new digital citizens.
So there IS a physical element to it.
While the concept might bend our idea of nationality, the fact remains that a lot of precursors already exist. Consider Dudeism, a religion based on a character from the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film, with a reported population of 450,000 Dudeist priests. Or even, as Srinivasan points out, the state of Israel, which brought together a people scattered around the world and organized them around a common ideal. Many countries, Srinivasan says, that are recognized by the UN have populations around five to 10 million people with economies much smaller than what an equal size of tech workers might produce. That a bunch of crypto bros might test their fate on an eccentric leader doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Plus, the tech already exists.
What doesn’t fit so neatly into Srinivasan’s vision are little things like death and ageing and sickness. How will poverty be dealt with in a network state? “The future,” he wrote in 2015, “is nationalists vs technologists. A full-throated, jealous defender of borders, language, and culture. Or a rootless cosmopolitan with a laptop, bent on callow disruption.” It’s romantic, sure, but one could ask: what about people that just want a stable job?
My question is as follows: why would a “rootless cosmopolitan” (as Balaji ironically puts it) tie him or herself down to such a ‘nation’ when they can simply flit about the globe anyway?
Sri Lanka’s economy has collapsed, its citizens have stormed the Presidential Palace, and the President has fled the country in a military jet. This is a wild story because the island country’s collapse is due to the cascading effects of both the COVID-19 global shutdowns, and the attempts at restructuring national economies around the world in order to fight Climate Change.
All of us have been impacted by COVID-19 these past almost three years now, and the reverberations continue to be felt in our lives. For us westerners, the continued fall out post-shutdown regimes has been one of discomfort due to supply chain issues, or nuisance in things such as travel. They have not been existential matters up to this point. In places like Sri Lanka, the story is rather different. When attached to globalist schemes, the result is chaos, as Brendan O’Neill explains.
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is incredibly serious. The nation is bankrupt. Inflation is rampant. Food prices have risen by 80 per cent. Last month petrol prices rose by 24 per cent, diesel prices by 38 per cent. At the end of June the government announced that petrol supplies were almost at an end – it banned the sale of petrol except for essential services, essentially making driving illegal. People cannot make ends meet. Over the past year, half a million Sri Lankans have been plunged back into poverty. The UN says more than three-quarters of the population have reduced their consumption of food due to the severe food shortages.
It’s little wonder there have been months of rebellion. And huge political tumult, too, including the resignation of the cabinet in April; the resignation of the prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in May; and the fleeing of the president – Rajapaksa’s brother, Gotabaya – at the weekend. President Rajapaksa was spirited away by the army shortly before the people stormed his compound. Those images of struggling Sri Lankans lying back on luxury sofas in a palace abandoned by the petrified ruling class might just be the most iconic proof yet that a global revolt of angry working people is well and truly brewing.
The crisis in Sri Lanka is multi-faceted, for sure. But there are two important contributory factors we should be talking about. First there’s the impact of the global Covid lockdowns. They shattered Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. Tourism raked in $4.4 billion for Sri Lanka in 2018, making up 5.6 per cent of its GDP. In 2020 tourism contributed just 0.8 per cent to GDP. And things did not improve in 2021, as they had been expected to.
More importantly, the global shutdowns, and the restrictions on production and trade they entailed, impacted on Sri Lanka’s supplies of food and essentials, too. As one report says, the ‘economic turmoil and human misery’ in Sri Lanka are partially a consequence of the ‘economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic’. The drastic slowing down of global economic output has stored up dire consequences for poorer parts of the world.
Now here’s where it gets very, very interesting:
The other facet of Sri Lanka’s crisis we must confront is the role played by eco-ideology. It is unquestionable that Sri Lanka’s suffering has been inflamed and exacerbated by its determination to become a Net Zero nation. A nation of fertiliser-free farming. A ‘good’ environmentally responsible nation that will please the green elites in global institutions. Sri Lanka’s severe green policies have had a devastating impact on food production and on its key export industries, worsening its crisis of inflation.
In April last year, the Sri Lankan government banned the import of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Its aim was to encourage organic farming. This was a borderline psychotic policy – 90 per cent of Sri Lanka’s farmers use fertilisers, and they predicted, rightly, that their crop yield would diminish in the absence of these modern substances. The production of rice, tea and rubber was seriously undermined by the ideological rush to organic.
Try to take this in. In 2019 Sri Lanka produced 3.5 billion kilograms of rice. In 2021, following the fertiliser ban, it is thought that rice production fell by 43 per cent. Self-imposed hunger, to appease the gods of environmentalism. Seventy per cent of Sri Lanka’s population of 22million are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, so the severe changes to farming predictably had severe consequences across society. They contributed to inflation hitting a 47-month high – 8.3 per cent – towards the end of last year, with food inflation reaching 11.7 per cent. The fertiliser ban was reversed in November, when its horrible impact became clear, but by then it was too late. ‘[Crop] yields may not rebound’, reported Reuters, which turned out to be right.
As with the global lockdown’s dire impact on Sri Lanka, these deranged and damaging green policies will feel to many Sri Lankans like an external imposition, something pushed on their nation by global institutions and global decisions. Yes, Sri Lanka’s own political elite feverishly embraced the organic lunacy. But as Michael Shellenberger points out, the World Economic Forum promoted organic in Sri Lanka. Many elite campaigners in the West advocated for Sri Lanka to move to full organic, some of them supported by funds from ostentatiously eco-friendly corporations like Google, Disney and JPMorgan.
Sri Lanka and The Netherlands are very far away from one another, but they do share a common threat to many of the citizens in both of these countries: a detached, globalist elite that is experimenting with tens of millions of lives in the name of a crusade from which they will naturally profit as they make up the rules of engagement for it.
I’ve written more than enough already for this Substack in previous weekend reviews and other articles about how the economies of the European Union are standing on the precipice of a serious recession…..or worse. So without further ado, I’ll leave it to former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar to give us an update on Europe’s economic self-immolation at the behest of the USA.
American Big Oil is laughing at the Europeans as it plans for a massive windfall:
American gas exporters have positioned themselves accordingly to fill the gap as Europe turns away from Russian imports. FT reported recently that “US liquefied natural gas producers have announced a string of deals to boost exports as the industry capitalises on shortages that have left Europe with a mounting energy crisis.”
The deals are so lucrative that Cheniere, America’s leading gas exporter, has taken an investment decision to push ahead with a project that will boost its capacity more than 20 per cent by late 2025, anticipating long-term supply deals and locked in purchases of US gas over the coming decades. The US producers of gas are reportedly running plants flat-out to increase supplies to the EU.
The US has overtaken Russia for the first time as Europe’s top gas supplier. Although LNG from the US is sold to Europe at much higher costs than pipeline gas from Russia, EU countries have no choice.
With Russian supply via Nord Stream at just 40% of capacity, and deliveries to be halted completely for annual maintenance on July 11-21, the outlook for near-term Russian gas supply to Europe appears bleak.
European Leadership - Dumb and Dumber:
Germany is heading for a major economic crisis. The head of the German Federation of Trade Unions has been quoted as saying in the weekend, “Entire industries are in danger of collapsing forever because of the gas bottlenecks — especially, chemicals, glass-making, and aluminium industries, which are major suppliers to key automotive sector.” Massive unemployment is likely. When Germany sneezes, of course, Europe catches cold — not only the Eurozone but even post-Brexit Britain.
Welcome to the European Union’s “sanctions from hell.” The US literally hustled the Europeans into the Ukraine crisis. How many times did Secretary of State Antony Blinken travel to Europe in those critical months in the run-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine to ensure that the door to any meaningful talks with the Kremlin remained shut! And American energy companies are today making windfall profits selling gas to Europeans. Won’t Europeans have the common intelligence to realise they have been had?
How long can Europe continue to punch itself in the face?
How long does Biden think the Europeans will want to be involved in a protracted proxy war with Russia? Bild reported on Sunday that 75% of German respondents see recent price hikes as a heavy burden, while 50% said they feel their economic conditions are worsening; every second German fears a lack of heating this coming winter due to reduced Russian gas supplies and rising inflation in the European Union.
Yet, Biden says war will go on “for as long as it takes” and fuel shortage will continue “for as long as it takes.” The European economy is expected to start contracting over the course of the second half of 2022 and the recession may continue until the summer of 2023 at least.
Analysts at JP Morgan Chase, the US investment bank, said last week that Russia could also cause “stratospheric” oil price increases if it used output cuts to retaliate. It said, “The tightness of the global oil market is on Russia’s side.” Analysts wrote that prices could more than triple to $380 a barrel if Russia cut production by 5m barrels a day.
Putin’s decree last week is ominous — the Kremlin taking full control of the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project in Russia’s Far East. State-owned Gazprom held a 50% plus one share stake in the project and its foreign partners included Shell (27.5%), Mitsui (12.5%), and Mitsubishi (10%). The decree stipulates that Gazprom will keep its majority stake, but foreign investors must ask the Russian government for a stake in the newly created firm within one month or be dispossessed. The government will decide whether to approve any request.
This will unsettle energy markets further and put more strain on the LNG market, and can be seen as a move to put more pressure on the West by concurrently restricting gas supplies to Europe and creating more demand for LNG in Asia that will draw off supplies currently going to Europe. Sakhalin-2 supplies circa 4% of the global LNG market!
Germany’s Deutsche Bank is already suggesting (and modelling) that Germans switch from gas to wood to heat their homes and apartments this winter. Rationing is on its way for the continent, and the Russians still have more room to squeeze them further.
Meanwhile, Germany’s top union official is warning of wholesale industrial collapse in the country.
Science and Learning have taken out a lot of the mystery of life. For every bit of knowledge that we gain, there is a feeling that we have lost something at the same time (although this can often be very good, with the obvious example of advances in medical treatment).
This weekend’s Substack ends with a piece about how those from previous centuries explained the disappearance of birds come every winter.
The story of the Spaniard is not just about travel to the moon, but also about a terrestrial phenomenon that was one of the great scientific mysteries from the ancient Greeks to the 17th century: Where did the birds go in winter? This was an annual event: As the winter approached in Europe, numerous species of bird flew away somewhere or just vanished. No one knew where they went.
In the 4th century BCE, the philosopher Aristotle had two theories about this. He postulated that they hibernated during the winter as other animals did. Swallows, for example, encased themselves in little balls of clay and sank out of sight to the bottom of swamps. His other idea was that the missing species transformed themselves into the birds that did stick around for the winter, and changed back when summer came.
The little old man in de Bergerac’s tale was an imagined Spanish soldier called Domingo Gonsales, and he was the hero of another story. In 1638, just a couple of decades before Cyrano’s “A Voyage to the Moon” became available, the English cleric Francis Godwin published “The Man in the Moone,” a fictional account of Gonsales’ lunar adventure. In the book, Gonsales trained 25 swans to pull an ‘engine’ he had made. One day, he took a jaunt in his swan carriage which happened to coincide with the time birds were accustomed to disappear, as it seemed, from Earth.
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