A is for Anxiety, B is for Boredom…
Are there any of us in 2020 who are not dealing with these emotions? One of my benefits of the lock-down is the increased time I’ve had to read. Despite having over 300 channels on our TV, I find difficulty in discovering a program I want to watch. The movies that are showing are either ones I have already seen, or ones that for very good reasons, I’ve given a pass. We don’t subscribe to Hulu, Netflix, or any of the other rapidly multiplying streams of “prime entertainment.” In fact, the only reason we have Dish is that my wife is a huge tennis fan, and the regular channels don’t always carry the matches. The point is that I have not only had a chance to catch up on the backlog of books I have piled up for eventual reading, but also had the opportunity to read more magazine articles, both professional as well as literary.
The December issue of the Atlantic monthly has a piece by Graeme Wood called “The Historian Who Sees the Future.” It’s a story about Peter Turchin, one of the world experts on pine beetles, who in recent years turned his mathematical analytic models of the ecology of beetles to the study of human history. For those of you who are sci-fi fans and read Asimov’s Foundation series, he is not unlike Hari Seldon, who was able to foretell the rise and fall of empires through a scientific analysis of mankind’s history. It’s a fascinating article, bolstered by the not insignificant report Turchin made ten years ago, predicting a social cataclysm in 2020, very much like the one we are currently experiencing. According to his analysis, which has subsequently been shared by other quantitative scientists (though by no means the majority) this period of social upheaval we are currently experiencing will likely continue for at least five more years.
The ideas laid out in the article are a bit lengthy for me to try to summarize, but his main thesis is that we are producing too many elitists vying for a position in the ruling class in which there are too few job for elitists. This results in the ones who haven’t secured real power turning on the ones who do, and bolstering their position by recruiting the common man as their allies. Trumpism is a counter-elite movement, and is filled with people who couldn’t gain power in prior establishment governments. Turchin sees the demise of our system when the inability of the elites to pacify the unhappy common man with handouts and freebies becomes widespred. Then the elites have no option but to police dissent and oppress people. In his view, when the state exhausts all short solutions, then coherent civilization collapses and disintegrates.
Having finished the article, my anxiety level is higher, but I’m definitely not bored. I sincerely hope that Turchin turns out to be more a Nostradamus than a Hari Seldon, but I’m finding it difficult to dismiss his ideas out of hand. I would be interested to see what any of you think.