Summary: We usually worry about the wrong threats to America. The threats that fill the newspapers are known and minor compared to the ones we ignore – against which we are unprepared and vulnerable. We need to and can have clearer vision.
About those predictions of doom
Lots of doom predictions of out there. For decades, some have predicted that America will get crushed by its high levels of government debt. Or by its private sector debt. Or by a collapse of the US dollar. Or by inflation. Or by climate change. Or by resource exhaustion (e.g., peak oil). During the 1960s and 1970s pollution and overpopulation were said by some to cause the end times. Now falling population is certain doom. It is a long list.
I have written that none of those is likely to cause collapses in our times (for the next generation or so; longer range predictions are just wild guesses). But beyond the specifics of each scenario, there is a second reason to give low odds to such predictions: everybody knows about these threats.
Y2K and Peak Oil are examples. Everybody knew about it. Doomsters predicted certain disaster. But its visibility sparked massive programs to prepare, which were successful. Similarly, rising oil prices after 1999 signaled an approaching problem. While doomsters predicted the end of civilization, exploration increased, efficiency was improved, and new sources of energy were developed.
Social collapses most often are caused by unexpected problems (excluding natural disasters and losing wars). There were many problems discussed during the 1920s, but few anticipated the collapse of America’s banks in 1930-32 – or the magnitude of shock that would create. We regulated the banks. But I have found nobody that predicted that the banks would crash again in 2008 – or the global shock that would create. We fell into the Cold War, with the world on the verge of nuclear annihilation for 20 years (and it is still possible, although less likely). Few saw the threat of mutual destruction until the weapon systems were built.
The risk of dangers widely feared is low because people are not total fools. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, we began to (slowly) uncock the threat of nuclear weapons. The danger of increasing pollution sparked regulations. And so forth.
We should be looking for serious but unseen problems which might wreck us. The equivalent of lead exposure in ancient Rome, a silent invisible poison. There are several candidates. I will mention two.
Political change: instability, regime collapse, or revolution
First, there is the washing away of America’s (and the West’s) social cohesion. It has been our greatest strength, and has carried us thru many hard times. See the data on people’s support for our political system. There is no need to wait for the crash of our politics. It has already happened. The dam has burst. The flood just hasn’t yet reached us. We have not noticed, since we focus on money money money. Other things are more fundamental, such as political legitimacy.
Trump’s election showed that our political system is hollow. An outsider (a clown) easily captured Washington, with all its power. I wrote on 20 January 2016 that Trump would win – and that this would be a milestone event. Within six months of his inauguration, the implications were becoming clear:
“Trump began with almost nothing in terms of campaign organization, reputation, or funding — especially compared to the front-runners Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. He ignored or mocked the standard campaign procedures. And he won.
“Trump’s success, despite his fantastic weaknesses, reveals the hollowness of America’s political regime. I am certain that notice has been taken. Now strong leaders are making plans to gain power. They might be politicians, from Wall Street, corporate America, or the military. But no matter where they are, they are thinking “if a clown like Trump can take the White House so can I.” Some of them will have more appetite for power than Trump.”
I pointed to a similar milestone event in the history of Rome.
“Although Nero’s death had at first been welcomed with outbursts of joy, it roused varying emotions, not only in the city among the senators and people and the city soldiery, but also among all the legions and generals; for the secret of empire was now revealed, that an emperor could be made elsewhere than at Rome.”
— From The Histories by Tacitus (~56 – 117 A.D.).
Nero’s reign began a period of instability in Rome, as legions realized that they were the real power in the Empire. Trump’s election might begin a similar period of political instability in America. We should think about the possible size and nature of the problem – and act to prevent (or mitigate) this threat.
A second threat is social instability created by the rapid and massive change in gender roles during the past few generations (an eye-blink in history). Like monkeys at the controls of a nuclear power plant, we have spun the dials with little understanding of the machinery. We have ideology, so no testing or experimentation needed! We are fiddling with the keystones of our social structure, heedless of possible ways this could end badly.
I have written 200 posts about the resulting gender wars. Others have given us deeper analysis. The most recent, which I strongly recommend reading, is “Hunting Predators: #MeToo and the Strange Psychology of Mob Justice” by Samuel Veissière at Areo. Here is a brief excerpt. It is not a summary, just an example of the many insights in this article.
“Over the past century, living conditions and opportunities for women have significantly improved. In Western democracies, men’s legal privileges have been entirely eradicated, while positive discrimination practices (in the form of specialized scholarships, hiring policies, the training of educators, gender studies programs, the moral obligation to embrace feminism, etc.) benefitting girls and women have become the norm.
“In popular culture, the virtues once assigned to traditional markers of masculinity like strength, endurance, dignity, protection and selflessness have slowly eroded, giving rise to largely absent, or at best confusing, models of culturally admirable social roles that men can embody.
“In her book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys (2011), Kay Hymowitz plots the rise of a new archetype of man the loser in American TV and movies of the 1990s and 2000s: a trope she argues has come to offer one of the most prominent role models for Gen X, and millennial (now Gen Z) boys. Homer Simpson, for example, embodies the stereotype of the goofy, impulsive, unsophisticated, accident-prone idiot, incapable of functioning without the wisdom of his wife Marge. In contrast with her brother Bart, who is equally impulsive and troublesome, Lisa is the picture of genius, talent and virtue.
“By the late 1990s, a new archetype of the man-child, can-never-get-it-right goofball was fully installed in our culture, and was being broadcast in films and series starring such actors as Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, John C. Reilly and Will Farrell. We might term this the Seth Rogen effect. In this modern myth, the masculine loser archetype usually comes to show or develop redeeming qualities, but typically needs the wisdom of a woman to help sort him out.”
This essay is a remarkably bold analysis for a social scientist, verging on career-ending political incorrectness. It is descriptive. Readers must apply these insights to see their social impacts.
Also see his paper about this material: “‘Toxic Masculinity’ in the age of #MeToo: ritual, morality and gender archetypes across cultures” at Emerald Insights. It’s well worth reading. Samuel Veissière is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and co-director of the Culture, Mind, and Brain Program at McGill University (Montreal). An anthropologist and cognitive scientist by training, he has published widely on the study of cultural evolution, social dimensions of cognition and mental health, social polarization, and cultural shifts in gender relations.
Be skeptical about doomsters preaching about well understood threats. Instead worry more about threats in the shadows, against which we remain unprepared and vulnerable. Expect the unexpected.
For More Information
Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see posts about doomsters, about shockwaves, about the precautionary principle, about forecasts, and especially these …
- Spreading the news: the end is nigh! — An assortment of peak oil doomster predictions.
- Requiem for fear. Let’s learn from failed predictions to have confidence in ourselves & our future.
- Threats come & go, leaving us in perpetual fear & forgetful of the past.
- Dreams of apocalypses show the brotherhood of America’s Left & Right.
- Collapsitarians and their doomster porn.
- Doomsters warned of End Times from overpopulation. Now *fewer* people are disastrous.
- A new survey reveals American’s top fears, showing our true selves.
- We love scary stories. The reason why reveals a secret about America.