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The 21st Century Leans Toward Aristocracy

It has now been nearly 20 years since George W. Bush, the son of a president, inherited the grandest ship of state in history and splendidly wrecked it.  He could have passed into history as just one bad president but as the people desperately cried out for the ship to steer, it stayed the course no matter who the pilot was.  What little remaining illusion that the masses can meaningfully participate in the exercise of power peels quickly away.  Even Trump, the avatar of American popular discontent, finds himself powerless to bring decisive change and is only half-ironically called an emperor, as if in hopes he might somehow take up a more authoritarian mantle.

Counter-intuitively in this time of populism, we see conditions arranging themselves in favor of aristocracy and the ebb of the 20th century high tide of the masses.  The official state politics playing out before us is just one area where a few become increasingly dominant over the many.

Mass politics ascended toward its peak when firearms combined with industrialized logistics.  We may not appreciate now how revolutionary it was to have an army of hundreds of thousands of trained soldiers in the field at once in the Napoleonic Wars for prolonged periods, millions by the mid 19th century, and tens of millions in the 20th century.  Mass production, pasteurization, railroads, the telegraph made possible a condition of total war that was new to agrarian peoples.

Political power is ultimately backed by the potential for violence and since the inception of settled agriculture, only a few people could have the equipment and leisure to be skilled soldiers on the backs of massed peasant labor.  Among settled peoples war had always been aristocratic by nature.  Though there have always been levies, mercenaries, and conscripts, they were support for a backbone of warrior elite whose investment in the system gave strong incentive for loyalty and whose training gave them tight discipline in combat.

Even Roman legions that made heavy use of commoners promoted soldiers on retirement to citizen status for them and their posterity.  In our time, any warm body under a state is a “citizen” but for most of history that distinction has meant entry into the petty aristocracy.
Warriors not only need to fight well against others, they also need good reason not to overthrow the government and install one of their own.  So it follows warriors are by definition invested in politics.  Anyone who is relied on to fight for the state, gets a share in state power sooner or later.  Even if kept as slaves, the warriors just make themselves into kings, as the Mamluks did in Egypt.

As more of the population was potentially needed for state violence in the 19th century, suffrage became universal to every male and there the bloat exploded out of control to its conclusion with everyone but children and teenagers allowed to vote.  This craze has left us with an enormous political power bubble.  If elected leaders simply ignore a bunch of powerless peasants, what do they do about it?  “Oh yeah? How are you gonna make me?” applies to state power as much as it does on the grade school playground.  If there is no solid backing to claims of power, the illusion fades and reality begins to re-assert itself.  Just as the Mamluk warrior slaves could not be shut out of power, the helpless cannot long hold onto it.

Some suppose a coalition of single women, gays, and impoverished races holds the key to political power in the future because their helplessness makes them dependent and therefore fanatically loyal.  Yet once reality inevitably returns, a furious trans-genderist in a dress can shriek at the top of his lungs all he likes only to be sent tumbling into the mud with a saber slash to the face from a smug, mounted noble wearing a powdered wig.  A coalition of the weakest is by nature opportunistic and requires the support of the strong to hold power at all.  At best, they are tools who are ultimately discarded the moment they cease to be sufficiently useful as a legitimizing priesthood.  That moment always comes sooner than ascended undesirables think because a successful religion helps pacify the masses, save the ruler energy, and keeps the army inspired and loyal—a church of obnoxious political commisars inflames and sabotages things instead.

It was the possibility of mass conscription that ensured the common man the vote but since the atomic bomb wars of mass conscription have gradually all but disappeared and with it, the impetus for mass political power.  The battlefield has returned to being a realm only a small minority participate in directly and consistently.  Modern technology and the precise nature of objectives in 21st century war make it so that unskilled, inexperienced, unmotivated conscripts just get in the way and cause trouble. 
The US military has relied on volunteers for decades now and over time an increasingly small number of those are relevant to combat.  Now, even the tiny front-line military shares even this diminished role with mercenaries who answer directly to factions of elites.

Public opinion no longer supports the reckless wars of a discredited elite, but simultaneously, rulers that no longer rely so strongly on a loyal public to fight wars does not need their consent so much as before.  They do not need to fear their subversion either so long as most people are prosperous enough to stay in an apolitical torpor.

In the culture we see the same principle of a warrior elite applies.  In an emerging neo-tribal age ISIS forces that may have numbered a mere 10,000 men fought multiple national armies to a standstill for years.  Similarly the altright and antifa each likely have no more than 10,000 operatives active in the field.  Yet when 300 alt-rightists have an event, their signal is amplified across the world by behaving strategically as a culturally disruptive vanguard.  Those 300 have more impact than the next 30 million who cast ballots from time to time and look on in disappointment as nothing happens.  In the mercantile modern world, tight group loyalties are far scarcer than money, enabling even a handful who can actually work together to run roughshod over millions of atomized serfs who just want that next paycheck.

In Silicon Valley a handful of people at a few companies hold a few billion consumers in the palm of their hands.   A few small cadres at national banks can influence the trajectory of all the wealth in the world.  A few incestuous social circles in a few big cities tell everyone what to think, tell all their stories for them, and make all their music and dance.  Even those active in the emerging counter-cultures are vanishingly small as a percentage of the population yet their impact is wildly disproportionate.

Meanwhile, the average worker scurrying to and fro from a job has almost no impact or influence on the culture, the politics, on finance, or anything that matters, even if they are among the dwindling number who live comfortably above subsistence.  Actually, comfort makes them that much more inert, their only attribute of significance an implacable dead weight for forces of change to push aside. 

It becomes increasingly explicit that nobody cares what ordinary people living their lives on facebook and netflix think.  Almost every meaningful interaction we see is propelled by just a few and when this is the reality, it is only a matter of time until there is aristocracy.

No Going Back to the 1950s – And What Lies Ahead

Some who celebrate (or mourn) Trump’s victory seem to think we will return to the 1950s status quo.
That won’t happen as never in history has any other historical period been revived despite the best efforts of thousands of years of reformers.  Erasmus always loses and even a successful Diocletian or Constantine end up creating something new rather than bringing back the old.
What we are left with is to figure out where we’re at and where the forces in play will take us.

To begin with, a majority of marriage age adults are now single and I do not foresee the trend away from matrimony will change anytime soon.  In practice a society of “free love” leaves a majority of males making free love to their hands but everyone dreams of having multiple desirable partners, the fulfillment of which always seems to be just a few clicks away.  Though most people will mathematically end up losers, the lure of being a winner is just too good to pass up.  Besides, the old system just isn’t cool.
Customs of matrimony require centuries, if not millennia of traditional reinforcement to establish and once undone require the right forces to coalesce once more.  Matrimony is reinforced by a pre-industrial world where resources are much scarcer and the long term pooling of resources between males, females, and their families is necessary for survival.  Marriage isn’t fun and it never was for fun.  It’s all about preserving resources in hard times and providing support for offspring whose survival was uncertain even with the best possible care.  So long as most people feel confident they’ll at least be able to eat and that their illegitimate kids will survive, it won’t change.  The combination of a steady basic food supply with low hopes of property acquisition, and social atomization that discourages pooling of family resources is an especially potent combination of disincentives.
Marriage will become much like it used to be, an institution that mostly serves the needs of the propertied classes.

The religion of the 1950s is not coming back either.  Even back then, it had been going steadily downhill in influence for centuries.  Christian religion requires faith in abstractions that is difficult to maintain in a world where information on every subject is abundant.  From now on, Christianity will only be useful as a value system for the prole classes, never again as the ruling ideology of a society with mass modern communications.
From now on, spiritual feeling will revolve around symbols and symbolic people that make abstract social concepts tangible.  We are seeing already a return to idolatry.  As people once imagined earthly human hierarchies in heaven and hell, they will return to a more primitive mindset of regarding earthly human hierarchies as heavenly.  Many only somewhat ironically refer to President Trump as God-Emperor.  They all know he is just a man, but they associate the idea of God-Emperor with the social and political forces he represents, just as Zeus represents lightning storms and leadership of his pantheon, or Hades stands for the land of the dead and riches mined from the earth.  
It may seem absurd at first but for human minds that cannot rightly grasp the magnitude of a million people any more than the size of a galaxy, godhood is the best concept to describe those humans whose barest whims affect the lives of millions.
The primary purpose of spirituality will not be to legitimize a moral philosophy but as in the days of cavemen to usefully describe the ethereal social sphere through concrete metaphor.

The economy of the 1950s is not coming back either.  Trump will be doing the right thing by at least removing policies that make the problem even worse and buy us some time, but no one can change the underlying forces. Human labor will be ever less in demand as world economic growth becomes static.  The seemingly endless easy gains of the industrial revolution are coming to an end and we have been entering a sort of new dark age.
I have a saying “diversity is easy in times of plenty” because once you have a pie that’s either static or actually shrinking the need to survive combined with the extreme competitive pressures in a free sexual market reduces the whole world into two categories.
-People who increase your chances of securing scarce resources and social status.
-Everybody else.

The forces in play are pushing humanity back towards tight tribal associations.  We now see widening fault lines along ethnicity and class and that will continue—but ultimately determining allegiances will be complicated.  Especially as it becomes more permissible to analyze humans by intelligence and temperament just as if they were breeds of dogs, so will humans divide up by neurotype and form the basis of the tribe-state.

The basis of sovereignty will no longer be primarily by geographical territory, but by the existence of a group, the culture it shares, the wealth it controls, the political power it wields.  In any given state or city in the West there are representatives of every type of person we can imagine.  Secession as we once would have imagined it is impossible.  What we will end up with is nation-tribes doing business, making treaties, and when that fails making war, as often by buying up real estate and businesses or setting the doctrine in schools as by outright violence.

Right now, Trump is among the first generation of leaders of the Neo-Tribal dark ages.  He rose to power on class and ethnic loyalties with a persona of stripped of pleasantries appropriate to the norms of our more barbaric times.  He gives us a template of what leaders will look like from now on.  In a dark age, people believe leaders should have the biggest winning rather than the finest principles.  So from now on the people in charge will be aggressive, generous desert sheikhs flaunting the money and harems everyone else admires.  The most honorable man will be he who has many children, has slain many men in battle, and delivered bounties of plunder to his followers.  With the old social contract shredded to pieces the people will have no more patience for staid married family men who are frightened of saying anything mean.

The tears and screaming of Hillary supporters is not irrational.  They sense in their guts, correctly, that their social universe is going through the apocalypse.  The system they have devoted their entire lives to as virtuous cooperator acolytes with all its ritual jumping through credentialist hoops and saying the right things for status is beginning to crumble all around them.  They have massive investment and sunk costs all up in flames.  They do not even know of, cannot even begin to understand anything else.  Learning in one cataclysmic event that history does not always favor “progress” is like a sheltered true believer hearing someone say “God doesn’t exist” for the first time.  It is to face a horrifying void.  Against every doctrine they were ever taught once-invincible civilization is actually regressing.

We return to primitive norms because only the extreme pressures of civilization ever made us otherwise.  This is why civilizations always change overnight the moment people have enough wealth to have any alternative whatsoever.  Civilizations persist by keeping people secure enough but at bare subsistence enough that they cannot dream too far and therein lies its fatal weakness when confronted with the slightest taste of prosperity.  The real change this time, though, is the access individuals have to information—far more agile and orders of magnitude beyond what even the printing press could offer.  Societies both primitive and civilized require most people to be ignorant so they can be indoctrinated into irrational beliefs that hurt the individual while benefiting the whole.  The result of millions empowered to advocate in their own interests is a recipe for upheaval, and so we go forward into uncertain territory.

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