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Your ending reminds me of nothing so much as Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch. This might actually be a reasonable metaphor for the dead frog situation... parrot becomes frog, storekeeper is America in denial trying to maintain the status quo, customer is reality barely being acknowledged. There's even a hat tip to the useless media at the end.

If you look hard enough, you can find most of life's useful lessons in comedy. ;-) Comedians seem to make a large percentage of the population that can actually glimpse the edges of Flatland (and maybe a bit beyond). On the down side, maybe that's why we lose so many of them so young... human nature and reality are not a cocktail that goes down smoothly.

The frog is well and truly cooked. This is an ex-frog.


On a more serious note, one wonders what we silly humans will do when a crisis arises that makes it clear, even in Flatland, that adaptation and denial are no longer possible. What then?

One shudders to think.

Dave Cohen




-- Dave


Dave said, "The American Empire has been in decline for almost 30 years now. Yet it is only in the last few years—specifically, since the financial meltdown in October, 2008—that a few Americans have figured out that the United States is not what it used to be."

Very true, of course, and I even remember how the world was in the mid to late '60s: Everything was shiny; opportunities abounded; my parents, for probably the only time in their lives, were a little fun to be around, expansive. Very quickly, circa 1973-1974, the atmosphere started souring: gas lines; father laid off, glued to the Watergate Hearings. I majored in philosophy to get some answers, but the comedians were the ones who gave me usable insight into human nature... and genuine solace.

Mel Brooks' Stand-Up Philosopher



It just became easier for liberals to attach themselves to the social issues instead of the economic ones the past four decades. As money became more and more important during campaigns, as lobbying grew in influence, and the revolving door nature of politics became more prevalent, "liberal" politicians began to resemble Bill Clinton more than the Kennedys. It was easier to claim credit for the social movements that took place during Republican administrations as much as it did during Democratic ones, and it was easier to go with the flow towards deregulation and privatization that the corporations wanted, than it was fight day after day for the interests of the lower brackets that used to form the identity of the Democratic Party.

There was mention of a guy a few weeks ago who was supposed to have "predicted" this race:

"In the book, Rorty predicted that what he called the left would come to give “cultural politics preference over real politics”. This movement would contribute to a tidal wave of resentment, he wrote, that would ricochet back as the kind of rancor that the left had tried to eradicate."

So, today has two disturbing bubbles to add to the boiling pot:


@Brian: there's a scene in the movie "The Age of Stupid" where a press secretary, presumably during a Bush- or Trump-like administration, finally admits that global warming is real and is a problem:

But, like a lot of that film, I think it's fantasy. Shifting baselines and human nature are going to create a steady and gradual shifting of perceptions without one great and global sudden realization. We'll have an unending series of new normals, always with the hope that we'll fix it, and always with the ignorance of the magnitude of what was lost.

Dave Cohen


Re: Shifting baselines and human nature are going to create a steady and gradual shifting of perceptions without one great and global sudden realization. We'll have an unending series of new normals, always with the hope that we'll fix it, and always with the ignorance of the magnitude of what was lost.


-- Dave

Some Guy

"Shifting baselines and human nature are going to create a steady and gradual shifting of perceptions without one great and global sudden realization. We'll have an unending series of new normals, always with the hope that we'll fix it, and always with the ignorance of the magnitude of what was lost."

Almost perfect, only problem is that the verb tense is incorrect - this is not a future event we are discussing.

Mike H

I think the frog has just been delivered in butter to the new Don Capote. There may be some godfather stuff happen to other family members but the takeover looks complete to my self from far away. The land of the free, now just an organised crime racket. Revisiting some of the bullshit that passed about for debate and policy, I gathered my wits and noticed that the Don never said he would do anything, but just that some folk by inference, say this and say that and we will do this, never once did he actually say I personally agree. The slogan about being great again was it seems the hook. I guess the only debate now is historically when did democracy cease to exist? probably earlier than 30 years ago. The next four years - just another protection racket. Trouble is the slavic and han family clans overseas are not going to play.

steve c

Animals typically are finely matched with their ecological niche, or they die out. Fitness for reproduction in the physical world is one of staying alive and gathering calories for survival. Should the ecosystem make a shift too quickly, the specialist animals will suffer, the generalists will probably make it.

Humans, as master generalists, lo these last several thousand years, no longer need to be handy at seeing, running, throwing, smelling etc.. as hunter gatherers. Instead, the culture, or civilization, is the more important environment to be adept at maneuvering in. Life threatening change can and does happen in much less than a lifetime ( Wars, empires rising and falling, general human cussedness).

To be successful at adapting to the lightning quick changes of social systems, humans must needs become quick at adapting to new arrangements, or they leave no descendants.

The stories we have read of war or prison camps or depression survivors eating paper or shoes or just anything, and living in absolute squalor, are those of adapters. The ones who longed for meat, didn't like the stench and filth of bad times, well, they pined and died, so we didn't read their story.

Mike H

I guess by way of postscript the liberal intellectual mobs were too busy posturising and splitting hairs to really notice, hubris did the rest but as for the average Joe and Mrs Joe, well what can I say, this is the outcome of flatland thinking in a world of reptiles. Boy are you guys and the rest of us now in a world of hurt and thats before a very horseman called physics busts down the doors and comes to really stay not just visit. That horse has been knocking at the door for awhile now, the frogs should got out from underneath the lotus pad more often and come and joined the rest out in the dried up pans in the heat.

Mike Cooper

@ Dave - c'mon, you know what the Hope is nowadays - we're all going to Mars with Elon!!! :)

More tangently - Humans will adapt to almost anything and accept it as normal, but, there is so much marketing and money in retro/nostalgia recently, it must be true that even Flatland subconsciousness recognises that the world has gone to shit. And given that we expect the 'new normal' to become ever worse, I cna only see the nostalgia business becoming biger and bigger. In parallel with the 'let's go to Mars' business of course.

Interesting that 'Liberalism' as it is in the US hasn't really taken hold in the same way here. Identity politics is present, but nowhere near as big I don't think.


How can the USA be in decline? We have better and better phones. You can now share pictures with anyone, using your phone, in real time!

I see a great irony, in that people who want to 'reverse the decline' through 'growth', or tax breaks for the rich, or eschewing Socialism, or 'strong military' are kind of like a lung cancer patient who wishes they were healthy enough to be able to have a smoke again.


@steve c.

Evolution or nature, as you have it, doesn't make guarantees about quality of life. Only that genes of those best able to reproduce are passed on.

Humans have this weird idea that quality of life matters, so we create civilisation. We convince ourselves that civilisation is some kind of 'natural' adaptation, and therefore will just progress on its own. We forget that there is a compromise between dignified life, and natural processes and drives, and the more we operate according to those reptilian, or base instincts, the less tenable civilisation becomes.

As the USA is pretty much ideologically based on natural impulses (greed, self interest), the civilisation part has no foundation, and will decay. With a ruling class that has adopted an ideology which states that civilisation is founded upon naked self interest, rather than in spite of it, the goose is cooked.

You can point to the day when this ideology, progress through naked self interest took over, as the time of death. No financial reform, no 'traditional marriage', no tax cuts, no abortion rights or abortion ban, no 'anti-racism' can do anything about it.

We just have the appearance of civilisation because the body takes a long time to cool and rot.


Not to take anything away from the analysis given here of where we are and how we got here, I think it's worth remembering that humans live in a real world, whether or not they realize it. There are physical processes going on with humanity and they just do not have any teleology-- period. It's not like you can extrapolate backwards in a straight line to the garden of Eden either.

Yes, our frog is boiling at the moment, or may indeed already be overcooked, but the religion of decline is just as flawed as the religion of progress. It would be nice, and probably less overall suffering if there were less "ignorance of the magnitude of what was lost" (beautiful phrase @Jim) but no amount of awareness is going to significantly change the ultimate destination of our civilization. Humans are perishable beings. Civilizations are perishable entities. Humanity is a perishable species. I'm coming to believe that even once you "wake up" to Flatland, as it were, you still need somewhere to go with that knowledge.

I don't know, I guess I'd say there's as much ignorance of the magnitude of what has been gained as there is of loss. Or less value-laden: There is ignorance of process and change. I've been trying to come to terms with all of this and the closest thing to a plan has been:

(1) Get over your love of industrial civilization.
(2) Get over your hate of industrial civilization.
(3) Appreciate the glimpses of knowledge and wonder that this brief period has afforded us, and do what you can to pass it along as it all inevitably unravels.
(4) Zoom out and marvel at the glorious wastefulness of it all.

I'm muddling somewhere in (3) and (4), with frequent relapses into (2) at the moment. I think most people outside this blog are stuck on (1).

In a physics sense, as long as energy flows along a gradient, new structures will come and go, and along the way, any structure sets the conditions for its own ultimate dissolution. And that's OK.


@Some Guy: sure! But I meant it more in the future sense. I drew from the past and present to make a prediction about our future. We haven't seemed to suddenly realize all the other disasters we've caused in the past were our fault and we should change our ways - at least, not in the long run. We may learn from something awful like WWII for a generation or two, but as that memory passes and as new generations arise, our knowledge fades and our nature kicks in. We forget past mistakes and we hope with a blind faith that things will improve despite any new reality.

This certainly does apply to the present, and it's not unreasonable to think it will also apply in the future.

To steve c's point - that is human adaptation. Even in a sudden and giant cataclysm, more people will just be trying to survive instead of figuring out what happened - and the people aiming to survive will have a higher chance at doing so. Their perspectives and individual realities will adapt to their new normal, they will have to have hope that things will get better, it will be easier for them to forget what happened in the past, and they will have no knowledge of the magnitude of past realities (although they could grasp an inkling of it).

@Jeff: to be clear, I wasn't implying that a sudden realization would help, or even that it would be nice. I'd lean towards Brian's aide of that. IF there was a sudden realization, I don't think it would be nice at all, or that it would ease suffering, just the opposite.

I'm struggling a bit with the rest of your comment. I don't want to assume your meanings. Are you saying that Dave or several of the people who read this blog suffer particularly from point 2 of your plan, and that there is a "religion of decline" here? Secondly, are you saying that the physical processes (maybe you should define those) supersede the biological ones? Or are you saying the physical processes are biological in nature?

Personally, I don't hate industrial civilization. It is what it is, and it's that way because we are who we are. That dives more than a bit into teleological language - but that's unavoidable.

It's more a horror of it. I can see it for what it is (or so I believe with all my limitations), and that includes its pluses and minuses.

On the positives, I dig technology. It's pretty freaking cool to listen to hours of amazing music on a device that can fit in my hand. I walk into a grocery store and know that nothing like it has ever existed in human history. Pretty much none of us would be alive today without industrial civilization, and we certainly wouldn't be able to communicate as we are without it.

But, I can also see what industrial civilization, despite its fruits, is causing, and what it will cause. I see no solid evidence to dispute that we face a dark future because of it. Is this "religion"? Or, is it religion equal to the one of hope rooted in point 1 of your plan?

I can't do point 4. My horror outweighs my appreciation, and I'm not sure some emotional distancing from our reality (to the point of admiring it) isn't anything more than adaptive self-protection.

Second main question: does our current predicament result primarily from physical processes outside our influence, or do the majority of these physical processes actually RESULT from our influence? Isn't the cycle of death and birth rooted within ourselves? Or, are we just like a mountain, which is formed and eroded in the fullness of time?

(I'm not suggesting a more accurate answering of these questions adjusts the outcome of the future of our species in the least. But, for the purposes of understanding our predicament, and to us as individual beings at least, it's important.)

Ben R

@Clancy, fantastic!

"I coalesce the vapor of human experience into a viable and logical comprehension."

Homo sapiens = Hot air

And nobody does anything while Paul Ryan says that free lunches provided to children by government programs give kids “a full stomach — and an empty soul.”


@Jim, I'm not claiming that any particular person is suffering from (2) or is guilty of believing in the religion of decline. I think Dave is generally pretty careful about delineating the situations where humans screw things up. I was more just issuing a caution-- to myself and to anyone reading-- it would be very easy to read this blog in that way and it can be tricky to stay on the tightrope. With the religion of progress and hope so prominent around us it's all too easy to move to the opposite pole.

Re: physical versus biological processes, I don't really draw a sharp distinction there. I could have said biophysical. This ties into your second question: I don't think either external forces or our influence is causing our predicament. I don't think there is simple causality going on here, nor do I really believe in any kind of independent human agency that is separable from "external" processes. Humans are an emergent phenomenon arising from biophysical processes and as such are locked into a tight dance with them with lots of tight feedback loops. There's no clean line to be drawn.

I hear you about emotional distancing and self defense, and I'd be lying if I said that wasn't at least partly true. But you've got to do something to get through the day. And note that I said "marvel at" rather than "appreciate". I actually struggled to find he right word there, but I was trying to convey that could can marvel at horror just as well as at beauty! I actually don't think we are that far apart in viewpoint.

More than anything I'm just trying to work through the idea that the absence of hope is not the same thing as despair. In the present circumstances I think that's important for us as individuals.


Well said, Jeff. If I may use the metaphor of journey and destination, as Dave has articulated over the years, it can be argued the destination is predetermined due to our hard-wired evolutionary biological predisposition for competition (greed), reproduction and survival. Which brings us to the journey...do we absent-mindedly circumnavigate the Exxon Titanic, like most people living in the ether, thinking there's a way to avoid the inevitable iceberg oilspill? Or during the journey can we marvel at the moments when humanity surprises us with new levels of sheer folly (we've managed to invent an unsinkable ship!), or if we're lucky with moments of unexpected altruistic self-sacrificing truth, and then laugh, not because it's funny per se, but because all of a sudden someone, somewhere realizes he/she is in a pot being slowly overcooked?

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