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The Axis of Upheaval
February 21, 2009 9:49 PM   Subscribe

The Axis of Upheaval: A special report on the coming age of instability.
posted by homunculus (61 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
fear sells
posted by philip-random at 10:11 PM on February 21, 2009


Man, Bin Laden must be laughing his ass off. Heck of a Job, bushe.
posted by delmoi at 10:23 PM on February 21, 2009


Instability has been part and parcel of human existence since prehistory. Perhaps it only stands out today in greater relief given that our image based mass media can setup such powerful dialectics between prosperity and ruin. I'm not sure what it is about despair that people find so compelling compared to periods of increase. Rarely do general history classes teach about old Turkish sultanates or Indian rajas or what have you that were able to reign for generations with no major wars and enjoyed advances in social relations. Rather, history tends to uncritically document body counts and land grabs and cruelty. This notion that we're somehow on some major downward spiral needs some adjustment, in my lay opinion.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:23 PM on February 21, 2009


Oh yeah they mentioned Mexico, apparently there is a huge drug cartel war (or something) going on, killing thousands of people.
posted by delmoi at 10:25 PM on February 21, 2009


Burhanistan: That's really not what I would have expected of you. Your comment can basically be boiled down to "Shit has always been awful, so it's okay that it's awful now, other than the fact that the damn media is telling people who are well off about how awful it is." Is that really your attitude? You've got your warm house and your fancy computer with your internet connection, so fuck all those people living in those hell holes, you'd rather hear about how great things are going in some wealthy first-world gentrified city neighborhood? I mean, that's basically what it sounds like you're saying when you're complaining about history talking about wars and cruelty instead of how awesome and peaceful those Turkish sultanates were.
posted by Caduceus at 10:38 PM on February 21, 2009


Caduceus, that's perhaps an uncharitable read of my comment. But I suppose I was simply reacting to the idea of a "coming age of instability". I wasn't saying we shouldn't be informed about these things. I certainly don't advocate not trying to help things be resolved. I never said it was "ok", but the full on panic mode isn't ok either.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:47 PM on February 21, 2009


The Axis of Upheaval is my favorite band in the new era of "instability rock".

unstable rock won third prize in the Oxymoron Championship of '02'.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:53 PM on February 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Okay, I see what you're getting at. You're right, full on panic mode isn't good at all. However, I honestly had no idea things were getting so bad in Mexico and Russia, and your comment struck me as a blithe dismissal of their problems, as opposed to a dismissal of the overall notion that things everywhere are getting much worse, which is what you seem to have meant. So my comment was an uncharitable reading of your comment, you're right, but I was surprised by how it came across and I exaggerated the sense I got from it to make my point. My apologies.

Probably I shouldn't be having serious political discussions when I'm this tired.
posted by Caduceus at 10:54 PM on February 21, 2009


Caduceus: no worries, and my original comment was a bit of a vague screed anyways. There is an interesting discussion to be had in why grade school/freshman history courses rarely touch upon anything other than the history of crime and how that influences attitudes and behaviors, but I suppose that's not in direct relation to the articles in the post.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:07 PM on February 21, 2009


There are a lot of people on the left side of the political spectrum who have been anticipating this problem, almost eagerly, and are quietly satisfied by how bad things are going, and secretly hope it'll get even worse.

Why? Because it looks like it may be the Marxist apocalypse, the collapse of the capitalist system that Marx predicted. With widespread economic collapse they hope there will be a rise in anger, leading to violence and revolution, after which the world Socialist utopia will at long last be established, as the sainted Marx predicted.

It's an interesting secular form of millenialism. It's almost a religious fervor among people who hold religion in the deepest contempt. (You can recognize them because they use the word "religiosity".)

The key term is "immiserization". Lee Harris wrote about it in this article. Marx expected that the bourgeois would exploit the proletariat, who would become increasingly miserable, until they had "nothing to lose by their chains" and then would rise up in revolution.

But for 150 years it somehow didn't happen. The problem was that the capitalist system also gave the proletariat an increasingly comfortable life, and they refused to believe that they were miserable, and didn't rise up in revolution the way Marx said they would.

Arguments about relative immiserization somehow didn't convince. (Harris talks about the failure of that theory, too.)

And now, finally, it looks (to some, anyway) as if the capitalist system is about to implode, leading to that long-desired nearly universal misery which is the essential precursor to establishment of the global Socialist state,

Myself, I don't think it's going to happen. The world economy has a lot of problems right now but I don't believe that they're fatal. The system will have to retrench for a while, but eventually the problems will get straightened out. There will be violence, but not world-wide full-scale revolution.

But there are those who truly hope that this economic crisis will lead to world-wide political instability, to riots in the streets, and from there to revolution.

That's why "a new age of instability" isn't seen as a frightening prospect in some quarters. It's a fulfillment of a dream, the prophecy come true at long last.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:10 PM on February 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dude, Class Goat, this kind of fearmongering comes from all sides of the political spectrum.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:12 PM on February 21, 2009


It wasn't Class Goat, although the two read about the same.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:16 PM on February 21, 2009




There are a lot of people on the left side of the political spectrum who have been anticipating this problem, almost eagerly, and are quietly satisfied by how bad things are going, and secretly hope it'll get even worse.

That sounds pretty crazy to me. Can you provide any links or evidence of this?
posted by homunculus at 11:28 PM on February 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


Could a Sudden Collapse of Mexico Be Obama's Surprise Foreign Policy Challenge?

I'm not sure I understand the scenario in which the Mexican government "suddenly collapses" due to either its weakening economy or to the increased violence of the drug war on its northern border...and that article does not help much. Mexico has its share of problems, no question, but it is a large country that has weathered a great deal--it seems like sheer uninformed hyperbole to say its government faces potential immanent collapse.
posted by ornate insect at 11:35 PM on February 21, 2009


There are a lot of people on the left side of the political spectrum who have been anticipating this problem, almost eagerly, and are quietly satisfied by how bad things are going, and secretly hope it'll get even worse.

Interesting, because I've always seen Foreign Policy as pretty far right, shading to neoconservative even.
posted by telstar at 11:38 PM on February 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


As someone who's pretty far off into left territory AND someone who likes to eat on a semi-regular basis, I have to say that Den Beste/Class Goat is completely full of it.
Our problem is that so much of our economy got into the hands of so few players, who ended up milking the cow to death. Sure, maybe a better way of doing things will eventually come out of this, but I really don't want to starve.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:40 PM on February 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fuck Marx. Nobody "on the left" is looking to bring back the Commissars to save us from the capitalists. Nobody even knows WTF Marxism is any more.

"The Left" in the US is dominated by closet rightists when compared to actual real-world leftists still extant in Europe. It is truly laughable that our pinheaded friends on the right consider Obama a radical leftist.

Now, on the right side of the political spectrum there's plenty of folks invested in The Collapse. These are Ross Perotists, the OKC bombers, the (real) Millenialists, the Y2K-bugists, and those resignedly buying their beans & bullets have tons invested in societal return to anarchy. THEY'RE the ones who consider the world "fallen" into sin and infamy, and needing a reboot.

The US is solidly Capitalist and always has been. That's a side-benefit of finding a fucking continent largely free for the taking as long as you didn't mind displacing the natives. When the last good land free for the taking was claimed several decades of settling in took place, and as the urban centers became crowded and the Gilded Age Laissez Faire wasn't proving to actually solve people's real world problems, Progressivism along with radical socialism became more popular but these movements were played out by the immediate wealth of opportunity that came with seeing Europe blow itself up the first time 1914-1918 and the resulting go-go 1920s.

Arguments about relative immiserization somehow didn't convince.

There was something going on in May 1992 on that score, enough for the President to have to call in the troops like some 18th century riot, and each of our great cities still have festering zones of inequity and hopelessness that only a free-marketeer glibertarian fool like you can still ignore.
posted by troy at 11:41 PM on February 21, 2009 [8 favorites]


This persistent idea the "leftists" and "Marxists" are drooling for an economic catastrophe that will ruin the prospects, or indeed the very lives, of a generation or more of people is a Big Lie.

People are not perfect and greed and shortsightedness will always be with us. Having in place some social provisions for the general good of everybody doesn't mean smart people with good and profitable ideas will end up as burnt remains on the barricades.

You Limbaugh lovin' ideologues can be such drama queens sometimes. But I still love ya.

posted by longsleeves at 11:42 PM on February 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


That sounds pretty crazy to me. Can you provide any links or evidence of this?

See the article by Lee Harris that I linked to.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:52 PM on February 21, 2009


There are a lot of people on the left side of the political spectrum who have been anticipating this problem, almost eagerly, and are quietly satisfied by how bad things are going, and secretly hope it'll get even worse.

Why? Because it looks like it may be the Marxist apocalypse, the collapse of the capitalist system that Marx predicted. With widespread economic collapse they hope there will be a rise in anger, leading to violence and revolution, after which the world Socialist utopia will at long last be established, as the sainted Marx predicted.


There are a lot of people on the right who are also pedophiles. Total coincidence, but the point is that the "lot of people" measure is pretty meaningless. Ron Paul and the gold bugs are probably cheering this on too, wanting desperately to nail America back to the cross of gold (after investing in gold mining, of course). Who cares?

Fuck Marx. Nobody "on the left" is looking to bring back the Commissars to save us from the capitalists. Nobody even knows WTF Marxism is any more.

Jim Cramer was a Marxist in college. True story.
posted by delmoi at 12:06 AM on February 22, 2009


Nice to see you posting again, SCDB.

Marx did not grasp, and you seem not to either, the thermodynamic limits of earth itself. He thought capitalism had periodic crashes because of overproduction leading to surpluses of goods that could not be sold. Instead, capitalism is heading toward a final crash because it has used up most of it's easily obtainable inputs-- like a fire burning everything to ashes-- at the same time its unintended outputs, CO2 and other greenhouse gases liberated by various thawings, are sharply reducing the carrying capacity of the planet.

We simply will not be able to feed ~10 billion for very long in a warmed world. The population bubble will pop, and in the process there will certainly be riots in the streets, but that phase will rapidly be succeeded by something like Cambodia on a global scale-- a frenzy of mass killing which will not abate until population falls to sustainable levels. Those levels will be much lower than they would have had to be if they had resulted from rational planning rather than mass murder with its attendant mass destruction of infrastructure and knowledge, of course.

This miight have been prevented by limiting population growth starting in the 50s or 60s, but the righteous and the right made that impossible, and are therefore more to blame than the left, but not much more. I don't think humans have the will to deal with each other having too many babies except by killing when there isn't enough food to go around.
posted by jamjam at 12:11 AM on February 22, 2009 [8 favorites]


There are a lot of people on the left side of the political spectrum who have been anticipating this problem, almost eagerly, and are quietly satisfied by how bad things are going, and secretly hope it'll get even worse.

Maybe, but Niall "Empire" Ferguson really ain't one of them.

If he has an agenda, it's more likely to be "this is why we need mighty Empires to prevent instability."
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:25 AM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


He thought capitalism had periodic crashes because of overproduction leading to surpluses of goods that could not be sold.

Now there's an unanchored, radical idea.

Instead, capitalism is heading toward a final crash because it has used up most of it's easily obtainable inputs-- like a fire burning everything to ashes-- at the same time its unintended outputs, CO2 and other greenhouse gases liberated by various thawings, are sharply reducing the carrying capacity of the planet.

Den Beste's spasmodic "religiosity" slur attempt above can find some prime and arguable deserving targets among the cadre of radical believers of Gorism.

The surface of the earth contains immense natural wealth, well beyond all human comprehension.

I'm somewhere between SCDB and the Kunstler doomsayers on this; we may lose prime grain output due to the Siberian permafrost melt turning the northern hemisphere into a Finnish sauna bath, but I have enough respect for the powers of the Invisible Hand to believe it won't have much difficulty finding alternative ways to produce Quarterpounders, Pringles, and Krispy Kreme's from alternate food sources like seaweed.
posted by troy at 12:29 AM on February 22, 2009


The surface of the earth contains immense natural wealth, well beyond all human comprehension.

That doesn't even make any sense. If someone can't comprehend it, they can't want it, and if they don't want it (and thus labor for it), it's not wealth.
posted by delmoi at 12:46 AM on February 22, 2009


^ sorry,"[an] immense quantity of natural wealth"
posted by troy at 12:51 AM on February 22, 2009


See the article by Lee Harris that I linked to.

I admit I've only scanned it at this point, but a 2002/2003 paper on "America-Bashing" from the cheerleading for the collapse of Mexico and/or Russisa. I think I smell a think tank produced strawman.
posted by homunculus at 12:53 AM on February 22, 2009


Hello all. I thought this was an interesting set of articles - I'd never read anything in Foreign Policy before. A couple of questions for those who have more political knowledge than me.

1) Quite a lot of this thread is discussing wide concerns (Marxism, Malthusian corrections, etc). While this is interesting, I was also wondering if any MeFites had strong political knowledge on the specific countries explored in the articles, and would care to comment, support or rebut the articles as appropriate? It seemed to me that the articles were foremost about problems in 3 specific countries, and that the "Age of Instability" would arise due to spillover effects from these and others (e.g. Pakistan etc).

2) Telstar mentions that Foreign Policy shades to the right. I was wondering if someone might recommend a leftish leaning periodical which also discusses foreign policy issues in depth. (Apologies if this second question is a derail; please ignore or drop me a MeMail instead if this is the case.)
posted by laumry at 2:08 AM on February 22, 2009


Well, it's probably safe to say that whatever the global climate, there will always be somebody there to try and turn it to their advantage, not just socialists.

Back on course:
Essentially, the article is arguing that history is repeating. The author compares the early 20th century to the early 21st century, and draws a number of similarities, concluding that similar consequences will eventuate. The author is a prominent historian, so his views shouldn't be dismissed lightly. But the article itself is too short, and lacks a clear articulation of how the "three factors" led, predictably, to brutal upheaval in the past. Admittedy, he does say that he's written extensively on that partiular matter previously, but I haven't read it, and I was none the wiser from reading this particular article.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:11 AM on February 22, 2009


366 kidnappings in Phoenix in 2008. I wonder when the US might notice the insurgency has found its way to our Homeland.

This massive rise in power for the Mexican cartels might be the most compelling reason yet to legalize all drugs in the USA -- for our own security.
posted by surplus at 2:46 AM on February 22, 2009


Class Goat/SCDB writes "There are a lot of people on the left side of the political spectrum who have been anticipating this problem, almost eagerly, and are quietly satisfied by how bad things are going, and secretly hope it'll get even worse."

Ah, a bullshit assertion with absolutely no citations. I'd expect no less from you.

Speaking as an American on the left (I prefer to think of it as the reality-based community) I don't think my country is about to collapse (although Russia might), but eight years of Republican economics (hyper-deregulation and tax cuts for Paris Hilton and George Soros) definitely did a shit-tastic job of taking a hammer to the lower and middle classes. Sorry it punctures your little ideological balloon, but once again it's a Democratic president who's going to fix a Republican mess, just like Clinton had to.

But please, continue to babble and shit your diapers within your little ca. 2003 neocon cocoon.
posted by bardic at 2:54 AM on February 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


There are a lot of people on the left side of the political spectrum who have been anticipating this problem, almost eagerly, and are quietly satisfied by how bad things are going, and secretly hope it'll get even worse.

Like how Rush Limbaugh said he hopes Obama fails?
posted by JHarris at 3:15 AM on February 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


The surface of the earth contains immense natural wealth, well beyond all human comprehension.

What is human comprehension? A mere million does not fit within the human mind unless simplifying symbols are used, but with those symbols gigantic numbers can be treated with easily.

I submit that the amount of natural wealth on the Earth's surface is not relevant. What is is the ratio of Earth natural wealth over the world's population.
posted by JHarris at 3:21 AM on February 22, 2009


What is is the ratio of Earth natural wealth over the world's population.

Well, to start, if you divide the Earth's volume by its present population each person would get a cube of matter 5km per side (sell your nickel stocks). Somewhat surprising to me, though, I see that if you do the same for the world's oceans you get less than an olympics-sized swimming pool of seawater per person.

I guess that shouldn't be surprising considering how fish stocks have been dwindling as we allow the continued hard-core strip-mining of the sea.

The world's farmers produce around 350kg per capita of grain per year. Just about half of that gets pooped out by all the tasty livestock of course.

One core basis of wealth production is energy, and it is in this area that I hold the most sanguine expectations for this century. If we can't successfully transition from our present 20th-century petroleum economy if & when the time comes, then I guess Kunstler will be proved prescient and not the crackpate I think presently he is.
posted by troy at 3:54 AM on February 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Not sure exactly who the blowhard who wrote the article Steven C. Den Beste linked to is, but he seems to be arguing not with Marx but his interpreters and some figments of his own imagination. The whole canard about Marx's theory standing or falling on the notion of "immiseration" (an idea he got from Ricardo but soon abandoned) is rubbish - for example, here's a couple of random academics on a listserve I googled up refuting that argument back in 1998, and I'd read texts from the 50s saying much the same. Wonder if the author of that article actually read anything other than secondary sources before purporting to sum up the theory.
Mild source of amusement to find myself often defending Marx on MetaFilter. Back home was constantly at odds with certain self-proclaimed Marxists; only when I encountered the utter comedy that passes for thinking from the U.S. right* did I begin to look at the man's work more seriously, to find that while it's not some Nostradamus de nos jours and the man was no infallible sage, it does indeed remain an outstanding contribution to analysis of the global political economy.
I'd imagine Norman Cohn, who is presumably the locus classicus for the link between left thought and millenarianism, would be saddened to see a similarly crude appropriation of his far more thorough-going work as you yourself offer, SCDB. Your never-ending war on the men of straw continues.
* which would be the only "America" I ever managed to muster any "anti-Americanism" for - it's not about you, sweeties! Though I suppose I should thank you for making me interested in what Marx actually wrote.
posted by Abiezer at 4:58 AM on February 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


If you think we're heading for a Mad Max world, buy some gold. If you think our society has a future, buy the stuff people are selling (at firesale prices) in order to finance THEIR gold-buying. Don't be the herd; eat the herd.

I think we'll pull ourselves out of this mess, personally, so I'm betting on us having a civilized society. If I'm wrong, well, so be it; I'll have valuable cool knick-knacks to amuse myself with as Rome burns. And if I'm right, then we'll still have a civilized society, and I'll be wealthier too.
posted by jamstigator at 5:08 AM on February 22, 2009


jim cramer also has a poster of lenin on set that looks exactly like him :P

as for marxist socialism, labours' surplus value wasn't so much stolen by capitalists as it was used as protection money to buy off aggression and conflict in what ernest gellner calls the social bribery fund - "For our economy (and indeed our society) to function we must produce and consume more this year than last and more next year than this in perpetuity. Failure to do so will result in political, economic and social upheaval..."

personally i think a more equitable solution -- or ownership society, heh, cf. interfluidity re: equity (vs. debt) finance & transfers -- is needed (or the masses revolt!) and that 'growth' should be redefined not only so that it's smart, but also wise...

mexico is certainly garnering more attention:
Every day, newspapers and the airwaves are filled with stories and images of beheadings and other gruesome killings. Wednesday's front page on Mexico City's La Prensa carried a large banner headline that simply said "Hysteria!" The entire page was devoted to photos of bloody bodies and grim-faced soldiers... the United States helps fuel the violence, not only by providing a ready market for illegal drugs, but also by supplying the vast majority of weapons used by drug gangs...

Such dire problems call for a new way of looking at the situation, some say.

"The unthinkable is happening," Birns said. "People are beginning to discuss decriminalization and legalization. ... There's only one thing that can be done: Take the profit out of it."

Pastor calls the problem in Mexico "even worse than Chicago during the Prohibition era" and said a solution similar to what ended that violence is needed now.

"What worked in the U.S. was not Eliot Ness," he said, referring to the federal agent famous for fighting gangsters in 1920s and '30s. "It was the repeal of Prohibition."

That viewpoint has picked up some high-level support in Latin America.

Last week, the former presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil called for the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use and a change in strategy on the war on drugs at a meeting in Brazil of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy.

"The problem is that current policies are based on prejudices and fears and not on results," former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria said at a news conference, in which the 17-member commission's recommendations were presented.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has taken the war on drugs to the cartels and some say it's not working.

"It's as if the burden of being the main arena of the anti-drug war has overwhelmed Mexican institutions," Birns said. "The occasional anti-drug battle is being won, but the war is being lost. And there's no prospect the war is going to be won."
(otoh i don't think picking three countries and calling them the axis of something is particularly that helpful, altho perhaps rhetorically pleasing... like it's not like pakistan [1,2,3,4] or afghanistan [1,2,3] is in any danger of being 'usurped' or that we can suddenly forget about iraq & turkey [1,2] or the kurds [1] ... cheers :)
posted by kliuless at 6:06 AM on February 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


huh, i always thought it was foreign policy that shaded to the left and foreign affairs to the right...

anyway, fwiw, obsidian wings' progressive foreign 'policy' guy eric martin is editing a new site called the progressive realist :P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 6:32 AM on February 22, 2009


SCDB: "There are a lot of people on the left side of the political spectrum who have been anticipating this problem, almost eagerly, and are quietly satisfied by how bad things are going, and secretly hope it'll get even worse."

Take a look around at the survivalist sites, the "prepare for the apocalypse sites" - they are all overwhelmingly right-wing.

Let me even step up to the plate as "a person on the left" who has been "anticipating the problem". Yes, there are many of us on the left who have anticipated the problem, who've watched a bunch of loonies destroy our infrastructure, loot our safety margins and stick them into their pockets, and engage in unsustainable Ponzi schemes with no apparent concern for the health and happiness of future generations.

I'd even buy "almost eagerly" - but only in the way that you "almost eagerly" wait to throw up when you're sick because it will mean that the sickness will be over soon and you can start recovering.

But when you get to "hope it'll get even worse," you are projecting the ethos of the right onto the left. Let me explain to you that the huge difference between you and us (we never set out to create these divisions between two conceptual "sides" but they're just as real even if our side didn't buy into them) is that we really do believe that we are our brother's keeper, that each man's death diminishes us and that selfishness is not a virtue.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:07 AM on February 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hmmm. I've noticed a degree of smug satisfaction the extremes of both left and right - a sense of "I told you so" glibness among both the religious nuts and the unsustainability theorists (I say this as someone who thinks the latter have some good points - being right doesn't preclude schadenfreude). It seems to me, though, that the only real "eagerness" for the collapse itself as a historical event is among the survivalist right-wing.
There's a pretty good critique of the entire "axis of upheaval" concept here, actually.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:34 AM on February 22, 2009


I got a brand new dance and it goes like this!

boom a badah ka-boom boom abadah!

The name of the dance is the Apocalypse Twist!

Boom a ka-boom! oh no ka-boom!

Just go-go down as far as you can go
Everybody do the Apocalypso!

ka-boom oh no! dear god oh no! Ka-boom oh no! oh god oh no!

You go round and round, burn it down and down
Panic to the left and riot to the right
Do Apocalypso with all of your might, oh yeah!

posted by The Whelk at 8:43 AM on February 22, 2009


-From Axis Of Upheaval's first album, Instability Rocks.
posted by The Whelk at 8:44 AM on February 22, 2009


Now I've finished reading the articles, I'm disgusted that anyone could read them, read about the collapse of Mexico caused by the American "right"'s insane drug policies, read about the horror of Somalia due to the insane, genocidal action of the Bush government... and then talk about how the "left" wants this to happen. It's like a rapist trying to convince his victim that she enjoyed it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:58 AM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yikes, I shouldn't post when I'm sleepy and about to go to bed. The comment above should say something more like: I admit I've only scanned it at this point, but a 2002/2003 paper on "America-Bashing" is a far cry from anyone today actually cheerleading for the collapse of Mexico and/or Russisa. I think I smell a think tank produced strawman.
posted by homunculus at 8:59 AM on February 22, 2009


Somewhat surprising to me, though, I see that if you do the same for the world's oceans you get less than an olympics-sized swimming pool of seawater per person.

C'mon, obviously that can't be right. Olympic-sized pools do not hold 50 billion gallons.
posted by ryanrs at 9:53 AM on February 22, 2009


i don't think the coming 'apocalypse' breaks down to the traditional left/right [(progressive) liberal/(neo) conservative] axis per se

SDB's anti-transnational progressivism (or UR's anti-universalism) i think is more of a reaction (or revulsion) to some NWO global government -- or cosmopolitanism -- whether explicit (say attempts to strengthen the UN) or implicit (e.g. that there's some elite/effete habsburg-esque conspiracy ruling class controlling everything)

like it's more to do with whether sovereignty or the fundamental political unit of the times still resides in nation-states* (as, presumably, SDB would have it), some galactic world federation (à la star trek) or a devolution to a more city-state-like share/stakeholder-citizen governance that MM has been advocating

i'm (practically) agnostic and more focused on outcomes of the descriptive debate process, but on the normative side, at least for now, it does look like the 'conservative' nation-state is holding its own -- iow, as long as relevance still rests with military/economic [cf.1,2,3,4,5] superiority (with a 'democratic' UI) even tho tested the fed/treasury presides over the world's reserve currency 'OS' -- there is no (visible) contender to the throne that (existentially) threatens the US, its system, or (unipolar) sphere of influence, except perhaps the rot within, i.e. america is still looked to for emulation; why is it that aspiring 'great powers' seek nukes and moon landings, or sends their kids to be edumacated by washco?

---
*that, as yet, appear ill-equipped dealing with problems/externalities requiring global cooperation and coordination -- environmental pollution/climate change/resource management, int'l trade/finance, interstate crime/piracy/terrorism (by 'non-state' actors), genocide in 'failed states', WMD proliferation, copyright/IP, disease/epidemics, migration, etc. like there isn't a consensus on whether any of the above should be considered or even constitute state problems, much less to what degree -- gov't denial leads to 'collective action' and on and on
posted by kliuless at 10:10 AM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you divide the world's oceans amongst each human, you'd get a cube just over one-half a kilometer on each side (which is the same as ryanrs' 50 billion gallons).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:32 AM on February 22, 2009


Hmm, that number for the amount of ocean water per person seems off.

Wikipedia says that an olympic swimming pool is at least 50m x 25m x 2m, or 2500 cubic meters. That's pretty tiny, even if you add in a few hundred extra for the diving area.

Now, according to Wikipedia, the oceanic "volume is approximately 1.3 billion cubic kilometers." Not meters, but cubic kilometers. 6.8 billion people, more or less, right?

I hate doing conversions. Fortunately, there's google: " (1.3 billion (cubic kilometers)) / 6.8 billion = 191 176 471 m^3"

Of course, most of that is empty, the real issue is we are killing off the fish faster than they can reproduce, polluting their environment, and generally subjecting the oceans to the tragedy of the commons.
posted by Blackanvil at 11:02 AM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


troy, ryanrs, lupus yonderboy, yes yes, but you miss my point, which is that the numbers that represent the size of the Earth start to seem less huge once you compare them to other huge numbers, like the number of people in the world.

Once you start asking how many natural resources each person in the world is alloted, you have to wonder about how some of us could have so little, and those of us who have vast amounts more than others....

But wait.... if the world's oceans divided by the world's population is a half cubic kilometer per person, then the Earth's volume divided by the world's population should be much larger, since the earth's oceans are a lot less than a tenth of its volume. And why would its volume even matter, isn't it the surface area that matters concerning food production and resource exploitation?
posted by JHarris at 11:05 AM on February 22, 2009


Interesting set of articles. Reap what you have Sown.
From the introduction:
Economic volatility, plus ethnic disintegration, plus an empire in decline: That combination is about the most lethal in geopolitics. We now have all three. The age of upheaval starts now.

As for the trouble on the Southern Border:
The former U.S. drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, was in Mexico not long ago, and this is what he found:
The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, RPG’s, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50 [caliber] sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.
These are the weapons the drug gangs are now turning against the Mexican government as Calderón escalates the war against the cartels.
Ciudad Juárez , where the police chief just resigned, registered a third of all drug-related homicides in the country last year, as well as more than a staggering 17,000 car thefts and 1,650 carjackings in 2008.
And all this violence is just to control a market that is rampant in the US where there is also an overload of guns although some are trying to regulate this, probably without much success. Europe has largely got over its adolescent love of guns maybe the US should too.
Looks like its going to be a rough ride.
posted by adamvasco at 11:16 AM on February 22, 2009


Sea water isn't nearly as important as fresh water. Divide that up and let's see how panicky-feeling it is to recognize how little fresh water there is.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:50 AM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


And ultimately I concluded, in The War of the World, that three factors made the location and timing of lethal organized violence more or less predictable in the last century

Two points: 1) He's missing a fourth factor: enormous changes in weaponry helped increase the level of violence in the 20th century. Whether it was industrial warfare between states, the airplane allowing massive bombing campaigns, or tribal warfare with cheap, reliable, powerful AK47s.

2) He means retrodiction, not prediction. Anyone can predict the past. We already know how it turned out. :-)
posted by wastelands at 1:23 PM on February 22, 2009


you miss my point, which is that the numbers that represent the size of the Earth start to seem less huge once you compare them to other huge numbers, like the number of people in the world.

Numbers also seem less huge when the calculations are off five orders of magnitude. :-)

if the world's oceans divided by the world's population is a half cubic kilometer per person, then the Earth's volume divided by the world's population should be much larger, since the earth's oceans are a lot less than a tenth of its volume.

Your cube of dirt is ~10x larger than your cube of water on a side. So take the third power to find a volume ratio of ~1,000. This is approximately correct (actual dirt/water ratio of earth is about 800).
posted by ryanrs at 2:03 PM on February 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


like it's more to do with whether sovereignty or the fundamental political unit of the times still resides in nation-states* (as, presumably, SDB would have it), some galactic world federation (à la star trek) or a devolution to a more city-state-like share/stakeholder-citizen governance that MM has been advocating

This is the closest I've seen to my own take on the situation facing us. The Treaty of Westphalia, which 350 years ago established the concept of the nation-state (an ethnic/cultural people bound to a land with defined borders and a government with a monopoly on violence within them), is failing under challenge from below & above. Below in the form of network organizations such as Hezbollah, the Taliban, al Qaeda & MS-13; and above from transnational corporations that see themselves as beyond the power of any one state to control. As nation-states are stressed by a multitude of crises beyond their ability to react and cope, these groups will either step in & fill the gaps or take advantage of systemic vulnerabilities to further destabilize & delegitimize the governments they seek to weaken. I don't think anybody's crystal ball is good enough to see how it'll turn out, but that's the outline of the conflict I see on the horizon.
posted by scalefree at 8:49 PM on February 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


scalefree--you are certainly not alone in thinking that the paradigm of the nation-state as we know it may not survive.

Of course, anarcho-syndicalists and other like-minded souls have been predicting as much for a long time now.
posted by ornate insect at 10:21 PM on February 22, 2009


The Treaty of Westphalia, which 350 years ago established the concept of the nation-state is failing under challenge from below & above.

An astute and interesting idea. If the corporations continue to drive toward social-economical-political domination, I think it is inevitable that they will drive a significant proportion of the world to guerilla-/terrorist-style action.

Although, granted, the UK has essentially attained the kind of society described in their futuristic novels about Mother: Clockwork Orange, 1984, Brave New World sort of surveillance, ASBO, detector vans, drunken gangswarming violence, all that good stuff, and they haven't turned to arms yet. So maybe us Westernized humans will docilely submit ourselves to a future where corporations dictate our laws and lives. I'm certain the mid-East ones won't (but they're headed to an equally dismal future of religious dictatorships.)

There are methane bubbles coming up through the arctic ice. You can light fires in the bubbles, like swamp gas, but with that really cool visual of ice and winter and unexpected flame. We're so fucked: the permafrost is melting rapidly.

Nation states or not, it's time to focus on global issues.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:40 PM on February 22, 2009


Nation states or not, it's time to focus on global issues.

Yes but at the same time we each need to work on developing & expanding our own zones of resilience. Tansition Towns seems to be the model gaining the most traction at the moment. Dmitry Orlov's central point is that when the Soviet Union fell, its official systems were already so dysfunctional that its informal, resilient economy was well-developed & absorbed much of the shock from the collapse. But Western & especially American systems function so smoothly under normal circumstances that no need for an alternate infrastructure has ever taken root. Paradoxically, hyperconnectivity has made our primary systems relatively brittle against large-scale failure; when (not if) they fail en masse, they will fail badly. It's our responsibility to start working on something that can absorb the shock when that happens. And yes, at the same time continue to work on global issues within the existing structures.
posted by scalefree at 12:44 AM on February 23, 2009


An interesting group of articles, although it's odd that the unstable countries selected for the series didn't follow Ferguson's thesis more closely. Somalia is pretty ethnically homogenous, and mounting ethnic tension doesn't seem to be a driver of Russia and Mexico's current problems.

Of the three of them, I thought the Somalia and Mexico articles were very informative, and the Russia article to be more of an "If This Goes On" style editorial, with lots of steamy speculation instead of actual reporting. At one point, Ostrovsky says that the current economic crisis has hit Russia harder than almost any other country in the world, but he doesn't give any examples to back up that statement. Kind of frustrating if you want to use his article to learn something, rather than just back up an argument.

The Mexico article was very informative. Here in Canada we almost never think about Mexico, except as a winter travel destination for middle class folks who never leave the touristy enclaves. I had no idea the drug war had gotten so bad there. Quinones editorializes a bit in his article, but since he's interested in actually solving the problems and not just shouting "Doom!" it reads much better. But rather than advocating the drug legalization that a lot of MeFites favour, Quinones seems to be saying that the solution to the violence lies largely within the hands of Mexicans themselves. Namely, strengthening and properly funding Mexico's municipal and state governents, and their police forces, so the local environment won't be as conducive to corruption and criminality. In any case, if the problems there began with a decline in empires (the Columbian cartels and the PRI), then they may continue until new, stable power structures emerge.

I think the Somalia article is the best written of all three, since it paints such a vivid picture of the region. Somalia's slide from third-world nation to Hobbsean anarchy is horrifying, not least because it just goes on and on and just seems to get worse with time. If (as Gettleman seems to imply), the Somalians were actually on the brink of creating their own solution with the Islamic Courts Union, then America and Ethiopia share a lot of blame for squashing that movement, and all the violence that has happened since. Perhaps Somalia could be more or less stable right now, but instead its become more of a breeding ground for Wahhabi extremists than ever.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:30 AM on February 23, 2009


America and the World After Bush: 12 Step Recovery Plan.
posted by adamvasco at 3:34 AM on February 23, 2009


For completeness, 'cause I suggested it a bit back:
You might be surprised at how little of Earth's water supply is stored as freshwater on the land surface, as shown in the diagram and table below. Freshwater represents only about three percent of all water on Earth and freshwater lakes and swamps account for a mere 0.29 percent of the Earth's freshwater. Twenty percent of all fresh surface water is in one lake, Lake Baikal in Asia. Another twenty percent (about 5,500 cubic miles (about 23,000 cubic kilometers)) is stored in the Great Lakes. Rivers hold only about 0.006 percent of total freshwater reserves.
Two bodies of water account for nearly half the fresh water. Whoa.

Anyhoo, let's count it all. From the same source:
  • 1.386e+21 liters total water volume
  • 3.503e+19 liters fresh water (2.5%)
  • 2.4064e+19 in ice, and some small amount elsewhere.
  • 1.0462e+17 in surface water
  • And 676e+9 people.


    So about 50 million liters each. Though only 155 000 liters that's easily accessed, and forty percent of that amount is in one of the two big-ass freshwater lake systems.

    We greedy-ass Canadians piss our abundant fresh water away at the rate of 330 liters a day. So over a lifetime, we're each gonna use nearly 10 000 000 litres over a lifetime. So we're tapping it at 20%. Which is really ugly-greedy. Though, much to my surprise, not as bad as some. And here I was certain Canada was leading the pack for water consumption.

    Anyhoo, seems we've got plenty of fresh water. Like other essentials, it's a matter of distributing it in a sensible and fair manner. Hah, no, I kid: the corporations will have dictatorial control of it, and we'll pay them handsomely for the privilege!

  • posted by five fresh fish at 6:06 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]




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