Weekend Reading 2021-01-09
Historical Week Edition: America in Crisis, BLM in Budapest, US/Soros vs. EU/China Deal, Poland's Cultural Resurgence, More Neanderthals?
A lot of ink will be spilled and even more arthritis pain will be felt summarizing, analyzing, dissecting, and characterizing the events in Washington DC this past week. The temptation of comparing what went down to both Weimar and Ancient Rome will be too much for too many, but who can blame them?
The parallels with both examples above are many, and I myself like to toss into the mix the events leading up to the Spanish Civil War (I will write a full length article along these lines in the coming days, I hope) to give it a more rounded and fuller flavour. Rather than teasing that here, I’ll instead defer to Michael Lind who has outlined the 5 Crises of Present-Day America. Rather than excerpt the whole of each one listed I’ll truncate it to highlight the most important bits and allow the reader to read the rest at the source link.
The political crisis. The political crisis is the centralization of power in a small number of ambitious elite factions and coteries. Between the 1830s and the 1970s, the two major parties were coalitions of smaller de facto parties, each of which, in turn, was a federation of state and local party organizations. The nature of the parties as pluralistic grassroots federations limited the autonomy of national politicians. It also limited the power of presidents and congressional leaders, who were picked by party bosses and had to govern by consensus.
Thanks to the misguided adoption of party primaries in the 1970s, a democratizing reform that backfired, American politicians today tend to be picked by the small number of zealots of various kinds who show up to vote in party primaries. The national parties themselves are no longer functioning organizations, but mere brands, which Donald Trump successfully seized and which Bernie Sanders, another outsider, came close to grabbing. The organizations that count are shifting, kaleidoscopic alliances of donors, politicians, consultants, media operatives and ideologues.
At the same time that the parties have crumbled as grassroots federations, politics in the United States has been nationalized. There are no longer any conservative Alabama Democrats or liberal Connecticut Republicans. The party line in each party is set by national leaders and their donors, spin doctors and pet journalists.
A nationalized homogenization, characterized by intra and inter-elite competition, closed off to many to whom it was once open.
The identity crisis. Neither America’s partisan leaders nor their militant followers are any longer restrained by a common sense of cross-party solidarity and shared American patriotism. For decades, Republican demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan and operatives like Karl Rove have told Republican voters that Democrats are “socialists” and “feminazis” who want to destroy America. For their part, many Democrats—including the almost exclusively Democratic journalists of the corporate media and the practically all-Democratic professoriate—routinely describe the half of the electorate that votes Republican as white nationalists intent on creating a dictatorship and resegregating people of color.
The propaganda of both elites finds audiences in the population, in the absence of a common American narrative. With the Civil Rights Revolution, the older consensus narrative of American history from which Black Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian-Americans had been airbrushed out could no longer serve as the national story of a post-apartheid society. Unfortunately, no national story that both parties could share has replaced it.
Like in every one of the 5 crises listed, Lind goes on further in depth to hammer home his point. The Identity Crisis has resulted in at least two Americans (but in actual fact many more), with their own competing narratives that are often located within their own bubbles, online and off. There is no shared purpose, no shared story, no shared history.
The social crisis. People who are rooted in real communities—extended families, neighborhoods, occupational associations, religious congregations—do not make good foot soldiers in partisan armies deployed by remote elites who are battling for control of government offices. They have jobs they can’t miss and children they have to pick up from school and errands to run.
Isolated individuals are the natural sources for political armies. Though their ideologies vary, and different political warlords recruit them, the young people who vandalize stores and offices in the name of Black Lives Matter often share a common lack of social rootedness with their militant MAGA counterparts, a common Durkheimian anomie. Twenty-somethings who are married with children and have stable jobs and mortgage payments are unlikely to storm either Seattle’s or Washington’s Capitol Hill.
I like to characterize AD 1000 to 1900 Europe as one long, running battle between Church and Kingdom/State. This is a very simplistic view of course but I believe it has merit. By 1905, the year of Laïcité in France, the war was already won by the State. The only competing centres of power left were the nation and the family. Lind picks up on this theme above whereby the individual is the favoured being of western capitalist liberal democracy; stripped of his roots, shorn of any traditionally competing loyalties, he is easily convinced and deployed for their pet causes or core interests.
The demographic crisis. The rise of unmarried and childless young Americans in their 20s and 30s who can be mobilized by left and right for unrestricted partisan warfare is part of a larger demographic crisis.
In order not to shrink each generation, a nation must have a lifetime fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman. The overall fertility rate has dropped from 2.12 in 2007 to 1.77 in 2017 and may fall further as a result of the pandemic and its economic consequences.
This is not just a matter of individual choice. The American fertility rate of 1.77 is far below the average number of children that American women, native and immigrant alike, desire: 2.7.
In theory immigration can replace the shortfall in native (and naturalized immigrant) births each generation. But the politics of large-scale immigration are incendiary, as the rise of demagogues like Trump who have exploited both legitimate and illegitimate concerns about immigration shows. If national birth-rates are extremely low, then the share of a population made up by recent immigrant diasporas can balloon rapidly, provoking a nativist backlash and overwhelming assimilation and economic integration.
I think the audience will excuse me if I simply conclude that Lind has succinctly said what needs to be said here on the dangers of mass immigration when combined with a demographic collapse of already existing populations.
The economic crisis. Although values have played a role, the chief reason that couples have fewer children than they intended is delayed marriage, and the chief reason for delayed marriage in the United States is economic insecurity for young people. Unfortunately, America’s business community does it best to make early marriage and family formation and the resulting social stability more difficult.
The strategy of American business, encouraged by neoliberal Democrats and libertarian conservative Republicans alike since the 1970s, has been to lower labor costs in the United States, not by substituting labor-saving technology for workers, but by schemes of labor arbitrage: Offshoring jobs when possible to poorly-paid workers in other countries and substituting unskilled immigrants willing to work for low wages in some sectors, like meat-packing and construction and farm labor. American business has also driven down wages by smashing unions in the private sector, which now have fewer members—a little more than 6% of the private sector workforce—than they did under Herbert Hoover. Another wage-suppressing tactic of American business is replacing full-time employees with benefits with part-time contractors or gig workers with lower wages and no benefits. The MAGA assault on Capitol Hill came shortly it was announced that Albertson’s, the grocery company that owns Von’s, Pavilion, and other chains in California, is firing full-time delivery drivers and replacing them with gig workers.
The Precariat did see some notable gains under Trump in terms of wage rises. How will they fare under the Turbo-Corporate Biden Regime?
We’re all living in America, and you’re just cringing in it.
As I explained in last week’s entry (see Russia vs. US Social Media) American soft power is second to none and the US State Department is not shy in using it to push its foreign policy goals. This has led the absurd situation in Hungary where a planned art installation celebrating Black Lives Matter will be going up in Budapest for a two week period.
There are only 6,660 African-born people residing in Hungary, of which the overwhelming majority are North African Arabs or Berbers. The number of actual Sub-Saharan Blacks is most likely only in the few hundreds at most. There is no history of Black Slavery in Hungary (unless you count the Ottoman occupation era, as they indeed had black slaves, but they also enslaved Magyars), nor is there a history of Hungarian police killing unarmed blacks. Nor is there a comparison to be made between Hungary’s Gypsies and American Blacks.
“The BLM goals of opposing racism and police brutality are just as relevant in Hungary as anywhere else,” said Krisztina Baranyi, the ninth district mayor, citing the Orbán government’s relentless campaign against migrants and refugees, as well as the systematic discrimination against Hungary’s Roma minority.
Bullshit. Absolute bullshit. Hungary is not America, it’s fault lines are nothing like those found in the USA. This is little more than a copy/paste attempt to try to paint the Fidesz Government as akin racists or Neo-Nazis or whatever ‘evil’ group one can think of, so as to effect regime change in Budapest. Already the US State Department has cobbled together a coalition of communists, socialists, liberals, soc-dems, and right wing fascists under its usual ‘big umbrella’ strategy to try to somehow win power in the next round of parliamentary elections. This ‘art installation’ serves the purpose to de-legitimize the current government.
The issue was seized upon eagerly by government officials and the government’s stable of loyal media. “Black Lives Matter is basically a racist movement. The racist is not the person who opposes a BLM statue, but the person who erects one,” said Orbán’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyás.
Others laughed that it was an absurdity given there are few black people in Budapest.
Now check out the actual description of the installation:
The sculpture, which will be made in 12 pieces using a 3D printer and put together using magnets, is a “paraphrase of the Statue of Liberty”, said Szalay. The figure kneels, lifting her right hand in a fist, and holds a tablet with the inscription “Black Lives Matter”. There is also an LGBT-rights theme to the installation, with rainbow colours used to illuminate the monument.
It’s a provocation. One cannot call it stupid because the State Department-backed artist and event managers know exactly what they are doing: hoping for an over-the-top reaction so that foreign media can portray Hungary as an ‘intolerant’ country, swimming in hate thanks to its government.
Last week saw a lot of outrage from the USA in regards to the EU-China Trade Deal that was finalized only days before the start of the Biden Regime. Acting in a fit of ‘strategic autonomy’, the EU (and this push was headed by the Merkel-von der Leyen duo as Germany held the rotating Presidency) dared to close an important deal without US oversight, a sleight that Biden publicly denounced.
Not to fear, the willing European puppets of Washington DC in the EU Parliament are looking to toss a spanner into the works, with Soros’ pet, Guy Verhofstadt, leading the charge:
The European Commission argues that the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment deal is not "the appropriate instrument" to use as leverage on human rights concerns, but many MEPs argue it is impossible to keep the two apart.
Indeed, several lawmakers made the link immediately after Wednesday's arrests in Hong Kong.
"[The European Parliament] will never ratify the China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment without commitments and proof that the human rights of Hong Kongers, Uyghurs & Tibetans improve," Guy Verhofstadt from the liberal-centrist Renew Europe group warned in a tweet.
"These actions mark a violation of the spirit of the EU-China investment deal sustainability commitments," Bernd Lange, the chair of Parliament's trade committee from the Socialists & Democrats group, wrote in a tweet. His French colleague Raphaël Glucksmann, also from the S&D, tweeted: "HK democracy dies before our eyes. And the priority of our dear European leaders is to sell us their investment deal with Beijing ... How can [they] be so out of touch with the times?"
Within the parliamentary groups, the concern about the deal is strongest among the Socialists, Greens and liberals.
The biggest single bone of contention is the wording on forced labor, which China is accused of using in Xinjiang. Beijing denies the charges, but researchers and human rights activists estimate hundreds of thousands of people have been put into re-education camps and used as workers.
Under the deal, China is supposed to make “continued and sustained efforts” to ratify two International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions against forced labor.
This wording is a favored formula of the Commission, but human rights advocates and MEPs say they carry little weight. South Korea, for example, has regarded such language from the EU on ILO conventions as aspirational rather than binding. Critically, the EU agreed similarly fluid language in its trade deal with Vietnam but Hanoi was ultimately pushed into ratifying ILO conventions by the European Parliament, which threatened not to approve that pact.
The intent here is to get the EU Parliament to torpedo the deal, to ensure that any future deal gets the US Stamp of Approval, so that Europe continues to act like the occupied continent that it is, and doesn’t grow its own pair of balls.
Poland is in the minds of many in the West ‘drab, grey, industrial, and a cultural backwater’. The Communist Era no doubt plays a role in this imagery, and the destruction of the Polish nobility and other elites over the centuries has affected this perception as well. But Poland is a great country and the Poles a great people, with an incredible history, particularly with respect to culture.
Sapkowski’s scepticism was understandable. CD Projekt Red were an obscure company, and their demo for the game, renamed The Witcher, was, by their own admission, “a piece of crap.” Besides, Poland was not exactly known for its video games — and who outside of Central and Eastern Europe would be interested in a series based heavily on Slavic myths?
The Witcher and its sequels were a gigantic success. People across the world loved the dark, rich and morally ambiguous stories. More than fifty million copies of the games have been sold. A Netflix adaptation has been developed. In 2018, Sapkowski took CD Projekt Red to court to belatedly try to get more money than the few thousand dollars he had initially accepted.
Last month, CD Projekt Red released another game, Cyberpunk 2077, to critical and commercial success (if marred, on some consoles, by technical bugs). Even before its release, Poland, surprisingly, was the world’s fourth largest exporter of video games, behind only China, Japan and Hong Kong.
Polish culture may have been suppressed during the Cold War Era, but it was not fully extinguished:
Cultural activity survived throughout more than a hundred years of partition, and even the horrors of Nazi occupation. Amid industrialisation, and beneath the cold eye of the communists, Polish creativity endured. Western film aficionados could have told you about Andrzej Wajda. Television connoisseurs would have spoken of Kieślowski’s magisterial Dekalog. Poetry readers would have been acquainted with Wisława Szymborska, who would win a Nobel Prize in 1996. Literature buffs would have known the dazzling reportage of Ryszard Kapuściński. In general, though, state censorship and inadequate distribution meant that Polish art left a shallow imprint on the Western imagination — and that continued to exist in the years following communism’s downfall.
That seems to be changing. Over the past few years, Polish cinema and literature, as well as video games, have earned international acclaim — bringing modern craftsmanship to the nation’s history, and welcoming people to landscapes as brooding and mysterious as Scandinavia’s, cities as beautiful as France’s, and industrial wastelands as poetic as the North of England’s.
Ida, a loss-scarred film about people coming to terms with the Second World War, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2015, while Zimna wojna (Cold War) was nominated in 2018. Last year, the veteran director Agnieszka Holland was elected president of the European Film Council. Olga Tokarczuk, a novelist, won the Man Booker International Prize in 2018 for her fragmentary humanist novel Flights — and the Nobel Prize for Literature a year afterwards.
Polish productions have also earned more attention on the small screen. In 2018, Netflix produced its first original Polish series, 1983, based in an alternative timeline where the Cold War did not end. This month, Netflix announced that it is producing an animated series based on the classic communist-era Kajko i Kokosz comic books.
This cultural resurgence holds hands with Poland’s political and economic resurgence, making it the dominant power in the post-Communist EU.
For decades now the conventional wisdom has taught us that Neanderthals lived in small bands of 15 to 25 people, and that their overall population was rather low, numbering only above 4 figures at any one time.
But the rich fossil record that they have left behind suggests to us that there may have been many more than we once thought:
But these approaches paint strikingly different pictures of what Neanderthal populations would have looked like. The archaeological record suggested that very roughly 150,000 individuals spanned Europe and Asia, living in small groups of 15 to 25 — and that their total numbers fluctuated greatly during the several climate cycles (which included harsh glacial periods) that occurred during the half a million years they inhabited Earth, before going extinct 40,000 years ago.
Genetic sequencing tells a different story. Some gene-based estimates put the Neanderthals’ effective population at a measly 1,000; others claim they hovered at a few thousand at most (one study, for example, calculated that there were effectively fewer than 3,500 females). Two hypotheses might account for these results: that the population was indeed that low, even at its peak, or that the population was perhaps larger but had been decreasing for a very long time. In either case, the Neanderthals were always on the decline; their extinction seemed to have been foretold from the beginning.
Now, however, researchers led by Alan Rogers, an anthropologist and population geneticist at the University of Utah, have proposed a new genetic model that may reconcile those differences. It concludes that Neanderthals were more numerous than previous genetic studies often supposed, perhaps finally aligning genomic findings with the larger populations extrapolated from artifacts and fossils.
“If there were really only 1,000 Neanderthals in the whole world,” Rogers said, “it’s hard to believe there would be such a rich fossil record.”
But genetic evidence is exactly what Rogers and his colleagues have now cited to support their claim that the Neanderthals effectively numbered in the tens of thousands. They made their argument in a 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The key to this new result lies in the researchers’ assumption that Neanderthals had a much more diverse gene pool, but that it was divided into small, isolated, inbred groups of genetically similar individuals. This kind of fragmentation would have skewed the earlier genetic results: Estimates like that 2-in-10,000 number described the local populations and their regional histories but missed the big picture.
Out of Africa not once, but at least twice:
On the early split between the Neanderthals and the Denisovans:
Approximately 750,000 years ago, according to Rogers, the forerunners of Neanderthals and Denisovans left the ancestors of modern humans behind in Africa to make their way across Eurasia’s expansive territory. Once on their own, something nearly wiped them out entirely; the genetic data shows the population passed through a severe bottleneck, never observed in previous studies. But whatever caused that brush with disaster, the archaic humans bounced back from it, and just a few thousand years later — by 744,000 years ago — they separated into two separate lineages, the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. The former then split further into the smaller regional groups that so fascinated Rogers.
Read the rest of this fascinating piece here.