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History shows that societies collapse when leaders undermine social contracts

History shows that societies collapse when leaders undermine social contracts

When good governments go bad
The ruins of the Roman Forum, once a site of a representational government. Credit: Linda Nicholas, Field Museum

All good things must come to an end. Whether societies are ruled by ruthless dictators or more well-meaning representatives, they fall apart in time, with different degrees of severity. In a new paper, anthropologists examined a broad, global sample of 30 pre-modern societies. They found that when “good” governments—ones that provided goods and services for their people and did not starkly concentrate wealth and power—fell apart, they broke down more intensely than collapsing despotic regimes. And the researchers found a common thread in the collapse of good governments: leaders who undermined and broke from upholding core societal principles, morals, and ideals.

“Pre-modern states were not that different from modern ones. Some pre-modern states had good governance and weren’t that different from what we see in some democratic countries today,” says Gary Feinman, the MacArthur curator of anthropology at Chicago’s Field Museum and one of the authors of a new study in Frontiers in Political Science. “The states that had good governance, although they may have been able to sustain themselves slightly longer than autocratic-run ones, tended to collapse more thoroughly, more severely.”

“We noted the potential for failure caused by an internal factor that might have been manageable if properly anticipated,” says Richard Blanton, a professor emeritus of anthropology at Purdue University and the study’s lead author. “We refer to an inexplicable failure of the principal leadership to uphold values and norms that had long guided the actions of previous leaders, followed by a subsequent loss of citizen confidence in the leadership and government and collapse.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Social Contract Between Government and People Is Unraveling – Quicktake

The Social Contract Between Government and People Is Unraveling – Quicktake

Numbers, budgets, charts and graphs about government finances. That’s what we do here. We try to understand where public money should be spent and what it accomplishes.

Through that lens, it’s difficult to know where to begin on what has befallen the Chicago area and most of the country.

For now, this simple observation seems paramount: The most fundamental element of the social contract between government and the people is cracking. That’s the obligation of government to keep its citizens safe. For that, we surrender a portion of of our freedom and wealth to government for the collective good.

Thomas Hobbes

That arrangement has been recognized as a foundational philosophy of civil society since Thomas Hobbes articulated it over 300 years ago.

Citizens expect government to protect them from rioting and looting just as they expect it to protect their lives and adhere to to a civil process when being arrested. Both expectations are now broken.

“The sight of looters and arsonists pillaging stores at will has shaken the confidence of many that law enforcement is capable of maintaining the peace. It has also tainted the very real grief felt over the tragic loss of life.” That’s not from a source that’s unsympathetic to George Floyd or protesters. It’s from an editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

What will be the consequences breaking the social contract? Speculate if you want, but know that it may extend far beyond George Floyd’s murder and the resulting violence.

The JackPot Chronicles Scenario 1: Force Majeure

The JackPot Chronicles Scenario 1: Force Majeure

This is the second instalment of The Jackpot Chronicles: Four Possible Post-Coronavirus Scenarios.

Force Majeure means:

a chance occurrence or superior force that renders a contract unenforceable and frees all parties from their obligations under it.

We are frequently told that there exists some manner of “Social Contract” to which we are implicitly bound by virtue of being alive. This implied Social Contract confers legitimacy upon the institutions that order our world, the national governments, the central banks, the miltary and police. And by extension certain communication outlets and media are endowed with a status of official curators over the narratives around institutional power.

Under the Force Majeure Scenario, the first of four possible Coronavirus aftermaths posited in “Welcome to the Jackpot”, the overwhelming or superior force is not the pandemic itself, but rather the collapse of the debt supercycle, the monetary system that derives from it, and the structure of nation states that are burgeoned by it.

The last time we were here, when a systemic crisis has shaken the foundation of the social order, the policy response was favourable to one party of the social contract at the expense of the others.

The GFC, which I now call GFC 1.0 or GFC ‘08, saw the financialized class, those closest to the monetary spigots of the Central Banks enjoy accelerating prosperity as their asset values rose, whilst the rest of the population endured stagnation and a steadily increasing cost-of-living (which mainstream commentators refused to acknowledge as inflation).

The policy response from the last crisis has led us directly, in a straight line to this one. The only surprise being the exact nature of the catalyst which would pop the Everything Bubble, and perhaps the ferocity with which the air began to let out once it did.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

State of Apocalyptic Nature: A Contract with Gaia

State of Apocalyptic Nature: A Contract with Gaia

As for the individual, every one is a son of his time; so philosophy also is its time apprehended in thoughts. It is just as foolish to fancy that any philosophy can transcend its present world, as that an individual could leap out of his time or jump over Rhodes.

The very fact that something is determined as a limitation implies that the limitation is already transcended. – Hegel

Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and most recently Rawls have all been exemplary practitioners of contract theory.

As is well known, all four of these political theorists began with a particular conception of the state of nature or put into other words man’s original existential situation prior to all forms of government or social contract.

In each case, the state of nature is pre-historical because pre-political.

How each thinker viewed man’s primary condition dictated the course of their further arguments concerning humanity’s fundamental political decisions and actions.

This profound intellectual tradition led most famously to the political beliefs and institutions that founded the United States (at least in theory if not in future practice) and later supplied the world, in part through the consequences of the French Revolution, with today’s democratic principles and ideals especially as they relate to Universal Human Rights.

Although, practically speaking, the fruits of contract theory have by no means been fully applied they nonetheless have provided and arguably still provide the intellectual and spiritual resources for critical projects of reform and even revolution.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

2019: The Three Trends That Matter

2019: The Three Trends That Matter

Look no further than Brexit in Britain, the yellow vests in France and the Deplorables in the U.S. for manifestations of a broken social contract and decaying social order.

Among the many trends currently in play, Gordon Long and I discuss three that will matter as 2019 progresses2019 Themes (56 minutes)

1. Final stages of the debt supercycle

2. Decay of the social order/social contract

3. Social controls: Surveillance capitalism, China’s Social Credit system, social globalization

The basic idea of the debt supercycle is simple: resolving every crisis of over-leveraged speculative excess, evaporation of collateral and over-indebtedness by radically increasing debt eventually leads to an implosion of the entire credit-based financial system.

The final stages of the current debt supercycle are manifesting all sorts of interesting cross-currents: de-dollarization and the unprecedented expansion of debt in China to name just two.

De-dollarization describes the efforts of many nations to reduce their dependence on U.S. dollars for trade and reserves. Since the USD remains the largest reserve currency in both trade and reserves, this trend threatens to reorder the entire global financial system, with potentially disruptive consequences not just to the USD but to a variety of institutions and norms.

China’s total systemic debt has soared from $7 trillion in 2008 to $40 trillion in 2018. This is of course only a rough estimate, as China’s enormous Shadow Banking System is famously opaque, as are many of its institutional and corporate balance sheets.

China has embraced the narrative of “growing our way out of stagnation by quintupling debt,” but the banquet of consequences of this speculative orgy is finally being served: China’s dramatic slowdown in 2018 is just the appetizer course of the banquet of consequences.

This excerpt of a recent (and immediately censored) talk given by a Chinese economist illuminates the result of debt-fueled mal-investment and speculation on a grand scale:

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Culture of Cruelty: the Age of Neoliberal Authoritarianism

Culture of Cruelty: the Age of Neoliberal Authoritarianism

criminal-record-3

George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian society casts a dark shadow over the United States. As American society has moved from a welfare to a warfare state, the institutions that were once meant to limit human suffering and misfortune and protect the public from the excesses of the market have been either weakened or abolished.[1] With the withering, if not evisceration, of the social contract, the discourse of social responsibility has been removed from the principles of democratic reform. Relegated to an object of disdain by right-wing extremists, the legacy of democratic principles now withers under a social order marked by a hardening of the culture and the emergence of an unprecedented survival-of-the fittest ethos. This is a mean-spirited ethos that rails against any notion of solidarity and compassion that embraces a respect for others. The consequences of this emerging authoritarianism speak to a different experience of total terror in the 21st century.

The basic elements of this new neoliberal authoritarianism can be seen clearly in the ongoing and ruthless assault on the social state, unions, higher education, workers, students, poor minority youth, and any vestige of the social contract. Free market policies, values, and practices with their emphasis on the privatization of public wealth, the elimination of social protections, and the deregulation of economic activity now shape practically every commanding political and economic institution in both countries. Markets now use their economic and ideological resources to weaponize and militarize all aspects of everyday life, increasingly held in place by a culture of fear, a pedagogy of repression, a banal celebrity culture, game show aesthetics, and a politics of precarity, control, and mass surveillance.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Curse of Totalitarianism and the Challenge of an Insurrectional Pedagogy

The Curse of Totalitarianism and the Challenge of an Insurrectional Pedagogy

Introduction

The forces of free-market fundamentalism are on the march ushering in a terrifying horizon of what Hannah Arendt once called “dark times.” Across the globe, the tension between democratic values and market fundamentalism has reached a breaking point. [1] The social contract is under assault, neo-Nazism is on the rise, right wing populism is propelling extremist political candidates and social movements into the forefront of political life, anti-immigrant sentiment is now wrapped in the poisonous logic of nationalism and exceptionalism, racism has become a mark of celebrated audacity, and a politics of disposability comes dangerously close to its endgame of extermination for those considered excess. Under such circumstances, it becomes frightfully clear that the conditions for totalitarianism and state violence are still with us smothering critical thought, social responsibility, the ethical imagination, and politics itself. As Bill Dixon observes:

[T]he totalitarian form is still with us because the all too protean origins of totalitarianism are still with us: loneliness as the normal register of social life, the frenzied lawfulness of ideological certitude, mass poverty and mass homelessness, the routine use of terror as a political instrument, and the ever growing speeds and scales of media, economics, and warfare. [2]

In the United States, the extreme right in both political parties no longer needs the comfort of a counterfeit ideology in which appeals are made to the common good, human decency, and democratic values. On the contrary, power is now concentrated in the hands of relatively few people and corporations while power is global and free from the limited politics of the democratic state. In fact, the state for all intent and purposes has become the corporate state. Dominant power is now all too visible and the policies, practices, and wrecking ball it has imposed on society appear to be largely unchecked.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Power and Compassion

Power and Compassion

Time to tackle a topic that’s very hard to get right, and that will get me quite a few pairs of rolling eyes. I want to argue that societies need a social fabric, a social contract, and that without those they must and will fail, descend into chaos. Five months ago, I wrote the following about Europe:

Europe, The Morally Bankrupt Union

The European Union is busy accomplishing something truly extraordinary: it is fast becoming such a spectacular failure that people don’t even recognize it as one.[..] the Grand European Failure is bound to lead to real life consequences soon, and they’ll be devastating. The union that was supposed to put an end to all fighting across the continent, is about to be the fuse that sets off a range of battles. [..]

The carefully re-crafted relationship with Russia, which took 25 years to build, was destroyed again in hardly over a year, something for which Angela Merkel deserves so much blame it may well end up being her main political legacy.

To its south, the EU faces perhaps its most shameful -or should that be ‘shameless’? – problem, because it doesn’t do anything about it: the thousands of migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe but far too often perish in the process. [..]

But the biggest failure is not even in politics outside of its own territory. The union rots from within. Which starts with its moral bankruptcy, obviously. If you allow yourself to be an active accomplice in the death of over 6000 East Ukrainians, and you simply look away as thousands of migrants die in the seas off your shores, it should not be surprising that you just as easily allow for a humanitarian crisis, like the one in Greece, to develop within your own borders. It comes with the territory, so to speak.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

 

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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