The Socio-Economic Powder Keg

Or possibly the socio-economic multi-megaton explosive device.

The other day the very conservative but very intelligent Peggy Noonan wrote an essay deploring the behavior of Trump, Cruz, and Hawley, but the aspect of the essay that was far more important will likely be largely overlooked… and that’s the underlying reason for what happened at the Capitol, a reason Noonan hinted at, but failed to pursue.

She made the very valid point that true conservatives, not demagogue conservatives, are conservative because they understand that the veneer of civilization in society can be very thin, and can be easily disrupted, and that such conservatives are leery of change for that very reason, because change always creates disruption. What she didn’t say is what follows.

Just as conservatives feel that any change may be for the worse, liberals have a tendency to believe that any change is for the better. In that respect, they’re both wrong, but that’s not the point.

The first point is that change, any change, is disruptive. The second point is that technology magnifies the pressure for change, and I don’t think many people truly understand how these factors have energized and angered the Trumpists and red-state conservatives.

For the last ten thousand years or so most human cultures have been based, if sometimes loosely, on the “agricultural model” which put a premium on brute strength. The result of that model has been a range of societies based on two factors: male supremacy and the alienation of the “other” so that those of other race, color, creed, ethnicity, etc., were either minimized, enslaved, subjected to genocide, or various other repressive measures. And, as part of male supremacy, women were also minimized as individuals and maximized as broodmares.

Technology has rendered the agricultural model obsolete, at least in developed societies, because brain-power has largely replaced brawn-power, but it hasn’t significantly changed the underlying societal “assumptions” of male supremacy and the alienation of the other.

What is now happening in the U.S. is that minorities and women, as well as those who don’t fit into gender stereotypes, are gaining real power and pushing for true equality… and they’re tired of waiting, and are pushing for what they believe they deserve… and, in the U.S., what laws also state that they deserve [largely, anyway]. Now that better education and training are more and more available to all these groups, more and more of them can compete in the workplace and professions with, in the U.S., white males.

No matter what anyone says, there are only so many good paying positions in any society, and in a world competitive economy, those better educated and trained women and minorities are beginning to advance over white (or the dominant ethnic) men of lesser ability… and, guess what, after 10,000 odd years of male superiority over women and the “others,” the less competent “dominant” males don’t like it. They really don’t like it. Put in the vernacular, they don’t like losing their “privilege.”

What U.S. politicians and policymakers seem unable to grasp is that this isn’t just a teeny-weeny reaction by a comparative handful of over-privileged and under-qualified white males. It’s the leading edge of a total societal makeover – a change which will be massive, if it occurs, and a cataclysm that could literally tear apart societies and result in massive oppression if it fails.

The Trumpists who briefly took the capital are losers, in more than one way. They’re people who are losing their position in society, a position they believe was sacred and ordained by history, and they cannot and may not ever see that their position was based upon the oppression and/or minimization of others.

Too many of the liberals who have opposed the Trumpist followers merely consider them ill-educated and prejudiced white supremacists, or possibly just misguided conservatives. Such a dismissive view fails to understand the true magnitude and costs of what this societal change will entail. The entire image of sexual/gender/ethnicity roles will be recast, along with the associated economic factors and costs. And as such changes become more apparent, tens of millions of people will resist such change, because the very basis of society will have to change.

If it doesn’t, of course, what follows will make the gulags of the USSR seem mild, because oppressors really don’t like to be threatened. Just remember the Capitol… and consider that it was disorganized and poorly planned. Other such events might not be.

7 thoughts on “The Socio-Economic Powder Keg”

  1. Matthew David Runyon says:

    There’s a phenomenon in certain sorts of grand strategy games where every time you make a change to your country’s society, there is a pushback from those who don’t like it comparable to the size of the change. At the same time, you have a constant push from those who feel like it needs to change. If you don’t manage both of them carefully, you end up with a situation where you are fighting a revolt from those who want things the way they were, or a revolt from those who can’t stand things the way they are, or in the worst case, both simultaneously.

    I feel like we’re getting close to that last situation.

    The question I have is: What do we do? I don’t mean that hypothetically, I am actually not sure whether the best answer for this is to pour money into groups trying to improve our political system (RepresentUs, for instance); support groups trying to help de-radicalize people and try and bring us back from the brink; or if it’s time to go out to the gun range and start training so I can help stop something like what happened at the Capitol personally.

    I think there are a lot of people wondering that right now.

  2. Hanneke says:

    In broad brushstrokes, that analysis of people who fear losing their naturally-ordained/god-given spot at the top of the pyramid resenting that loss seems more or less correct.
    It misses a few things though.

    For one thing, it misses out the concerted push by a bunch of billionaires (mostly from the USA and SAU) to weaponise that discontent towards their own ends.
    Promoting ever-increasing economic inequality, and concentrating power in the richest hands, ensures that the discontent among the left-behind gets stoked ever higher.
    Owning the media, many supposedly neutral thinktanks, and a lot of the politicians (in more than one party) makes it possible to direct that discontent in such a way that the power of these elites is increased, and the followers never reach a sense of security and being able to relax.

    People need to feel themselves secure, economically and financially and socially. The sense of feeling socially secure is not just influenced by that top spot on the social pyramid you are talking about, but also by the economic inequality you perceive. Reducing the inequality between the top and the bottom of the financial pyramids also reduces social anxiety. US policy has instead been increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots for decades, as well as increasing the financial and economical insecurity for everyone except the top 10% or even 1%, worsening the social discontent.

  3. Frank says:

    Mr. Modesitt:

    I agree with your positions as to the overall structure of our current sad situation. I think many, many issues are “feeding into” the situation and need to be recognized.

    It appears to me that a large portion of the jobs that this mass of white, non-college educated males would have occupied in the near past. These jobs gave those folks an economic future, some security and even pride. Then, along comes Trump, who tells them that the evil “Left” has stolen those jobs from them, in essence sold them out to foreign countries and that only He, the great Trump, can get them back from the evil foreigners.

    This is, of course, patently untrue. The group that outsourced the jobs was primarily the ownership/leadership of the businesses involved, that were and are overwhelmingly Republican Conservatives. I am not accusing this migration of jobs as an evil plot, I think it was the natural outcome of the evolution of technology and the willingness of other countries’ populations to work for less money. And no one can just “get them back,” unless we are willing to accept products that cost more, simply because they are produced in the USA. I think this caused the group we are now seeing as “white supremacists” to be available, desperately unhappy, and looking for a way to assert their perceived primacy.

    Changing our educational system to include some sort of trade school vocational training may help relieve this. Even some economic protection in terms of trade fees (tariffs) may or may not help, but I would guess should be used very carefully so as not to, again, create an ongoing weakness in our economy.

    My point is only back to something you have been saying for years: these national problems are complex and connected to many other issues. There is not a quick fix available. And when one is offered…let the buyer beware.

    1. Postagoras says:

      Your points are well made. Globalization has eliminated jobs, and therefore diminished the privilege that white Americans had taken for granted.
      When this happened at the same time that whites were losing their majority status in the United States, it was tailor-made for cynical politicians to make the (completely false) connection.
      As Mr. Modesitt says, it was the folks who liked things the way they were (“conservatives”) who were most receptive to that message.

  4. Hanneke says:

    Also, a resistance to change is very human, and not limited to conservatives. I may be a moderate European left-wing progressive social democrat (i.e. a radical lefty socialist to US eyes), personally I am resistant to change and will only do so if presented with good arguments that it will make things better. In fact if I take a political poll based on policy questions it generally tells me I belong with the hidebound Christian party that doesn’t believe women should hold political power. A bit of a shock, that, for a moderately feminist atheist like me; but except for those two elements they do tend to think the same things are important as my green democratic socialist party does… they haven’t been completely taken over by the one-issue rhetoric from the US yet, but adhere to older Christian values like caring for the poor and sick, and being a good steward for the world.

    I just believe that taking sensible care of the basic needs of one’s citizens, for now and for the future (which includes taking care of the environment) is part of the good governance one should expect of any government.

    I’m a socialist democrat for a reason, and a hankering for change isn’t it. I believe that some form of collective responsibility for each other and for the future achieves the best results for all of us.

    A blind acquaintance with Aspergers living in Texas would be starving and homeless by now, after his parents’ savings ran out, if I and 3 other older women, mere acquaintances, hadn’t taken over buying his groceries at a distance, because his too conservative state makes it too hard to access any kind of disability pension (he’s been trying for years – his disabilities and lack of family mean he doesn’t have anyone to rely on, which makes it very hard). The landlord is now trying to help him gain access to the support he should be entitled to, in any reasonably humane and affluent society, but it is looking to take months, if it will ever get done. We cannot keep supporting a second household for a near-stranger from this far away indefinitely, but his own state is falling down on the job, creating an intolerable sort of dilemma: at what point do we let a stranger slide to his doom and save ourselves? If this burden is shared among 4 people it becomes too much to bear financially, but if it is shared with all the people in his state or the country it weighs much less heavily on each household.

    This is why I do not believe in the benefits of voting for republicans – when they run states, most of their own people suffer and are worse off, big businesses get richer from state subsidies and tax breaks etcetera, while their states grow poorer and more dependent on federal money contributed by the blue states.

  5. Tom says:

    I have always thought of Peggy Noonan as a smidgen left of center, a Conservative but not the current standard for Republican. Perhaps because I found myself agreeing with much of what she wrote which usually included references to costs and benefits.

    In the WSJ opinion “In 2021, All the World’s a Stage” she uses allusion to “The Music Man” . It seemed to me that she did bring out the benefits and costs of change, even if she applied them to the US pandemic rather than directly to Trump’s America.

    In “Bring the Insurrectionists to Justice” she states:- Mike Pence is a normal American political figure … which is weird for the reason of his White House weekly prayer sessions – maybe used as a balance for Trump’s TV “reality”. She does not mention Trump’s chief accomplice, McConnell, amongst the enablers (perhaps because in the insurrection scene he was not a direct instigator) but she certainly asks for Hawley, Cruz and others to suffer the consequences of their mistakes.

    I hope she is right about the resilience of the US and your possibility is wrong: may the anvil of the US society break the hammers of extremists and yet allow the formation of a better US society.

    This will require true politics and avoidance of extremism from both Republicans and Democrats.

    Avoid … “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” JFK

  6. Hanneke says:

    One more data point to add to the above argument. My Dutch town’s numbers over 2020 were just published, and we have 938 people who receive social security, for about 60000 people. That means per 1000 people we need to support about 16 who can’t work or can’t get a job, even after the nine months of Covid restrictions, which means the taxes from 60 people support 1 additional person. Add in a few other kinds of social safety-net support, like disability allowances and Covid-relief support for independent contractors, and it will come to 1000 people carrying about 20 people, or 50 contributors for each person needing help. Subtract the chikdren who don’t pay taxes from those 50, and you’ll still have 40 people sharing the load instead of just 4.

    Now contrast that to the haphazard, individual charity-based approach my friends in the US are subjected to, where one family needs to support their handicapped kinsman, or a few friends might share the load; and people without a large family or many friends with money to spare may well end up homeless and bankrupt, without access to healthcare or a dignified life – sometimes dragging their family down with them. The burden of care weighs very unequally on just a few caring people, that way; while sharing it out among 40 or so makes the burden much lighter.

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