And we're off! The very first page of @MacaesBruno's "History Has Begun" is fire: "'We are about to become the first human type to live entirely in history.'" This is a very important idea, deeper than it might at first seem.
For non-human species, history ends at death; each newborn starts again at Year Zero. For humans, history transcends death.
For most past societies, though, their values and meanings were taken as received. In this schema, decline was possible, but not progress, defined literally. This might be termed the "classical" era of human history.
By contrast, today we live firmly in a post-classical or quantum age, enmeshed in a multiverse of possible meanings. This is sometimes criticized as "relativism," but that's not quite right. However, "'we are aware that nothing is permanent.'"
In this, we are very different people from our ancestors. Contra Ecclesiastes, today, and in the future, what has been may not be again, and there is indeed much new "under the sun." Our ancestors did not share this sense of change over time that is "in the air" today.
As a result - and Macaes' framing here is excellent - we are today fully in history, in a way that our ancestors were not. This inverts our naive assumption - that the past was more "history-minded" or that we have escaped history, just as we escaped the food chain.
On xii, important to note that productive capacity is all. This is why China matters, and ultimately why ISIS, the ayatollahs in Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Russia do not. They are obviously second or third rate players, rather than alternative suns.
“‘Might not the challenge to the ruling values come from inside the system rather than outside?’” (xii) Yes, excellent! The US ultimately built the international system as we know it today, and if it is to be changed, it will be the US that does it.
So refreshing to read something other than decadence and crisis, with which we are oversupplied at present (the marginal value of such pieces MUST be approaching zero at this point).
America in collapse is a perennial favorite, never out of fashion. Same was true of Great Britain, here below is a ruined London, contemplated by a New Zealander Gibbon, drawn in the 19th century. Image
This deserves to be quoted in full. I need to read “Dawn of Eurasia” now. Image
For better or (to its many critics) worse, America is the exemplar of liquid modernity. America endures, but always in the Heraclitean sense. Reinvention IS America. Never forget, there have been many Americas.
There is something great in every paragraph: on xiv, perhaps the best defense of “woke” that I’ve come across: in contradistinction to China, “‘the reinvention happening in America is natural and spontaneous.’”
As I’ve written about myself, anti-racism/social justice is nation-building, with American characteristics. You can attack it - but you should understand it first, and its critics usually don’t.
On xv, I will resist turning to 63.
“‘Conventional wisdom suggests America has reached its peak...What if American history is only just beginning?’” Shades of Thiel’s rejection of the “developed” label for the US.
In chapter one, consider how “Course of Empire” is wholly naturalistic in its thinking, reflecting the biorhythms of an individual life. Reversing the directionality is unnatural on some level, also decenters the individual thinker in an uncomfortable way.
All decadence narratives are really the same; Klion, Heer, Douthat, Drehrer, Manjoo: again, we are being overserved.
For the US, small wars like Iraq or Afghanistan are self-defeating. As @PaulSkallas says, it’s 1K year American empire and war only really gets in the way of it. America is too insidious to be defeated on a foreign battlefield.
Take Vietnam: who ultimately won? The US lost on the battlefield and today Vietnam is ally-adjacent and America is everywhere in Vietnam and there are millions of Americans of Vietnamese ancestry.
From 11, why is it so rare to see writers/intellectuals ask: what if we are at the beginning of something? What if we’re just in the foothills?
My tentative answer is because most thinking in one way or another analogizes to the body and biology; eg, naturalism. Also, because most writers are just eating the seed corn they’ve stored up.
(12) “‘The future is the true focus of history.’” So much richer than the usual formulation, that history is all about the present.
From (19), an almost Japanese-style interpretation of America (borrowing foreign elements in order to upgrade state capacity, from which something entirely new is smelted - an act of creation, which "History Has Begun" is really about).
From (23-24), a salutary reminder that anti-colonialism/anti-imperialism (from Alexander Hamilton, no less!) has deep roots in America, and is really (one of) its founding traditions. This is usually forgotten because of 20th century (Cold War) politics; the US aligned with
Western colonial powers (France, Britain) to oppose Third World communism.
"'Hamilton reads like the original critic of Western hegemony'" (24) - the current strain of American conservatism celebrates "Western civilization" but useful to remember the original Revolutionary tradition saw America as something apart:
"'the new American republic is introduced as a project to overturn it [European empire]'" (24). Americans aren't used to thinking of themselves as a source of revolution (many non-Americans have a different, and more correct, perspective on this though).
Chapter Two reads very well with Emmanuel Todd's "Lineages of Modernity" in mind; American family demographics relatively primitive (i.e., recapitulating pre-ag patterns of life). Todd would argue this is a base condition for the distinctive elements of an American civilization.
Todd would wholly agree here (34) with the recapitulation of Turner's frontier thesis, American civilization as a process of de-modernization (family structures tend to grow more articulated over time; in the US, this trend reversed).
It is the last that lends American society its peculiar stickiness and attraction. America is the Borg; resistance is futile. The reason for this has nothing to do with any particular US policy or even US economic strength, but rather that US family structures most closely
resemble those of humanity in a "state of nature," the original condition as it were, which provides American civilization a gravitational attraction wholly independent of any other consideration.
Is cultural influence always downstream of the political/economic? (34) In other words, is there a political science analog to Vannevar Bush's "The Endless Frontier" thesis where basic science yields applications/technology? No counter-examples come immediately to mind.
Funnily enough, Bush is wrong about the sources of theoretical science; the truth is nearer the opposite. But my contingent hypothesis is that the above proposition holds for the political sciences.
On (35), the through-the-looking-glass moment Harold Loeb experiences when all his European interlocutors can discuss with him is developments out of America reminds me of a history of the Russian space program - whose title escapes me - that when NASA researchers reviewed Soviet
documents looking for the sources of engineering inspiration, all they could find ultimately was translated materials (Goddard, for example) from the US. It's fun house mirrors, all the way down!
Today, of course, many in the US are looking to China for hints about the future (I think "History Has Begun" is a subtweet of China, although in a unique and distinct sense). Ever fewer are looking to Europe as model. Cultural affinities remain strong, and this is characterized
by a powerful regionality. Europe looms large in the Acela Corridor and amongst the elite political and media class. On the West Coast, there is much more of an Asian orientation. One way of illustrating this would be enumerate instances of references amongst the politicians and
the (elite) media to politics in Europe (the US needs an NHS, "socialist" Sweden is great or evil, etc.) vs the number of references to Asia (China=BAD aside). US pols/journos tend to have at least a cocktail party familiarity with European settlements, but I bet not 1 in a 100
could say anything about welfare and education policies in China or Japan. Asia might as well not even exist for these purposes. It's the exact opposite on the West Coast.
On (38), Tocqueville "'seems unaware that religion may have thrived in the United States because the democratic principle...was less pure and less rigorously applied there.'" So true. "Democracy" as such is usually overdetermined when analyzing America.
Or take (39), "...the United States remained in fundamental respects an archaic state." I would add: "and remains." That the US is also the world's leading source of scientific and technological innovation is no contradiction.
Consider that the Industrial Revolution first occurred in a state ruled by a hereditary monarchy and a landed aristocracy and that the world's greatest industrialization (as measured by number of people affected) occurred under the aegis of a Marxist-Leninist regime.
Or take Houston, home to the world's largest medical complex, and also a major center of anti-vaxxing.
The point being that we should be alive to contradictions but rather than using these to falsify a given proposition, we should seek to recapitulate them at a higher level.
This intellectual approach is best made by Bernard Mandeville in "The Fable of the Bees," lesser known that Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations," but better and more sophisticated. The tl;dr? Bugs are features. Chesterton had the germ of the idea in his famous "fence" principle.
Emerson seems to anticipate Peter Thiel's "'fear of success'" (re: Europe & tech) bon mot (41). Also, the description here of Emerson's thought captures well how Emerson anticipated (and influenced) Nietzsche.
I really appreciated that on (42) Macaes describes how he (afterwards) recognized his unconscious repetition of Tocqueville during conversation. We all think with ideas and concepts inherited from defunct intellectuals (to borrow from Keynes). But not all of us take the second,
more consequential, step by moving beyond our priors. All authors should strive to be so clear about their intellectual debts, and how they transcended them (very few of us do so by writing such an elegant book, of course).
Something of a tangent, but Nietzsche called Emerson his “twin soul” and heavily annotated Emerson’s works. It seems that as with company founders, intellectuals also benefit from pairings - although for intellectuals, an oppositional pairing can also work.
What is magical about pairs is unclear, but the property doesn’t appear to scale.
"'You can hear the historic silence'" Macaes quotes William James (43). America is frequently argued to have no history. But this isn't quite right. It's just that America's history, properly understood, is a continual rebuilding, renewal, and reinterpretation.
Like the Ship of Theseus, America is constantly underway and continually being repaired. Parts of it are always in a state of partial collapse, but as a whole the ship continues to move.
At this, this is how I interpret (44 - 47).
James also has some affinities with Chinese philosophy that I had not previously appreciated, especially its (relative) avoidance of overarching truth claims and empirical focus. America's ongoing engagement with China seems to be revealing common elements between the two
civilizations that previously went unrecognized.
It occurs to me (45 - 47) that American civilization might be understood as a meta-open source project.
Books are the best technology yet invented to remake someone's worldview. From Chapter Two, the major updating to my thinking is the importance of understanding the US as a revolutionary civilization. This isn't the story Americans normally celebrate, with the US if anything
being seen as a conservative power. Revolution is something that happens "over there", not at home. But what is a constant state of becoming, of flux, of renewal - of people, ideas, technology - if not revolution in its most absolute sense?
In the context of Chapter Two, recommend the article linked. pullrequest.substack.com/p/make-westing
Regarding "The American Invaders" (49), it occurs to me that the exact same complaints - virtually the same language, word for word! - has been deployed by American politicians against Japan (1980s) and China (present day).
Ha! Jumped a little bit ahead, (49) ends with that exact point.
Conservatives frequently fall into the trap of essentialist/biological thinking (progressives have the same problem, but with the opposite sign). Yet as (50) relates, social pressure can, like the press forge with metal, create something new out of humanity's "crooked timber."
The above is obvious to anyone with historical awareness, eg. the Reformation, Confucianism, anti-slavery campaigns in the 18th and 19th century, but still the basic truth is often ignored.
(50) is also a salutary reminder that the US has been reformed, by design, in the past, not once, but many times. Industrialization was directed, conscious and purposeful. Political economy - usually labelled "industrial policy" - has gained an unearned notoriety since Reagan as
un-American and socialist. This is simply bad history. Unlike the Baron Munchausen, who pulled himself from the swamp by his own hair, industry did not arise wholly of its own efforts and unmoored from politics.
"The most dreadful of all nightmares: the end of history and the American salesman"! (51)
"...victory in war changes the way we look at a country." Assuming covid is akin to war, does China emerge from 2020 with more prestige than before, and the US relatively less? This seems to be the easy assumption; I'm unconvinced. The war isn't over yet.
Useful to remember that in WWI, the AEF was largely equipped with French and British materiel, due to scaling difficulties in US war production. And the US was world's largest industrial power by a healthy margin!
Similar experience in WWII, at least at the outset. The "Arsenal of Democracy" only became such over time; production problems persisted well into 1943. The US may be a steamroller, but it takes a long time to build to pressure.
(52 - 53) places the Versailles Conference in a different light from how I've seen it discussed before: US failure to run the table on the victorious Allies (the US was an "Associated" power, please recall) stemmed not so much from American pusillanimity as because the US had no
real wish to blow up the European-led global order, of which the US continued to understand itself as a member: the keystone, perhaps, but belonging to the same arch nonetheless.
Did not know (53) that Bertrand Russell considered the possibility of war between the US and the UK. Recall, though, that "war scares" between the US and Britain were a regular feature of the 19th century and concerns extended even into the 20th; the US and UK also competed
vigorously for advantage over landing points for transatlantic cables. London and Washington's interests increasingly dovetailed, but little love was lost between the two powers, despite Bismarck's observation towards 1900 that the most important fact to govern the 20th century
would be that "the North Americans speak English."
Also salutary is the observation (53) that European choices were largely to blame for the calamity of the Third Reich: "The United States had very little to do with it." This gets the balance exactly right; responsibility lies first at home. The exact same can be said about
American prospects versus China: if China does supplant the US as pole power, this will be an American choice first and foremost. Blaming China is easy, and has very little to do with it.
"without any theory, or even much thought, the United States was able to come out of the Depression and address its political failures" (61). One striking development in American politics from the 1970s is the evolution of an abstract, ideological model of how politics and
economics interact. It is especially associated with the GOP, but not exclusively so (witness Clintonian Third Way-ism) and explicitly privileges ideas above empirics. Following Macaes' framing, the directionality here would be towards Europe than something specifically American.
Seen in this light, it is unsurprising that the most important philosopher of the American right in the second half of the 20th century and the aughts of the 21st is Ayn Rand, whose Platonism in "The Fountainhead" and Nietzschean "Atlas Shrugged" is inexplicable when viewed
outside the European philosophical tradition. Certainly there is nothing pragmatic about Randian-style heroes and for all her celebration of the dollar there is little appreciation for the truck and barter of the market.
Page 63!
This is Macaes' secret key: "While European concluded that society had to be rebuilt on better foundations, Americans despaired of the task...and opted to look for ways in which one might simply escape from reality." Very fitting, for a country whose declaration of
independence listed "the pursuit of happiness" as a founding principle. What is happiness, if not individual, idiosyncratic, and virtual (i.e., - literally - "in your head")?
This would also explain, incidentally, why the US doesn't react so well, at least initially, to things like pandemics or wars: these are physical realities the key challenge for which is simply to get the US to acknowledge their existence. To give an example, imagine Osama bin
Laden's frustration to the US' response to his 1996 declaration of war: not dismissal, but a blithe self-regarding lack of awareness that such a challenge had even been issued.
You might think that a civilization as naturalistic as the US would be well-placed to deal with threats of the nature. But this would be to misunderstand pre-agricultural life, which was characterized by a rich imaginarium.
"Americans see the world as an action movie, Europeans as a documentary" (64). This is very good. Americans think in terms of television, movies - we all are the hero in our own personal drama. Trump understood that, a major reason reason why he is president today:
he turned his campaign into reality tv, with himself as the headliner, and extended the logic to the White House once inaugurated.
Must admit I was never a fan of Kagan, even back in 2003 when I read "Of Paradise and Power", and reading (67 - 68) confirms me in that opinion. He's good in that he reflects a portion of the DC mindset though.
Kagan always seemed to me rather procrustean in his thinking. As a matter of historical accuracy, if the US ever did pursue international objectives out of philosophical ideals, it did so purely by accident. Whatever America is or isn't about, it isn't about ideals, at least
any one particular set of ideals, "The Enlightenment" ones included. (Personally it has always appeared to me that the truth of the matter is that the "rules-based order" was propaganda for the rubes; no serious Washington player ever believed it. "The rules" were for the lesser
powers; the US reserved the sovereign right to violate its rules at will. Once a new power - China - appeared on the international stage that was no longer willing to play ball, the US quickly scrapped the whole conceit).
Ferguson's claims on (69 - 70) put me in mind of a John Von Neumann quote, from 1945, "The world could be conquered, but this nation [the US] of puritans will not grab its chance." Both strike me as fundamentally not understanding what America is all about.
As Macaes might put it, American civilization is The Simulation and when you're in The Simulation, you don't do anything so crude as colonization, which - ultimately - is bounded by the Earth's surface. The Simulation is spatially unbounded.
Besides, there are physical constraints to the exercise of American hard power whereas America does The Simulation better than anyone and the costs are much less too.
Did Girard read Sinclair Lewis? "Babbitt" has the mimesis idea implicitly. Of course, Girard spent a lot of time in the US. (70)
As an aside, "Babbitt" can be usefully read along with "Capitalism, Democracy, and Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery" by John Mueller.
"The problem with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings" (71) - really funny, and gets to the quick of the matter for all political mobilization or rage militarie; intensity is unsustainable over the long term, ordinary concerns always supervene, a "reversion to the
mean" type of effect. Will be true of Xi's China, for instance.
Is "Babbit" the greatest American novel? (72) I think it might be.
On the right - but not exclusively so - you frequently encounter criticisms of modern (US, UK - I'm thinking of Scruton here) cities as soulless, etc. I am open to being convinced that the US has never reached the heights of urbanity that Europe has achieved (but have they
been to New Orleans, or San Francisco?), but consider that these are wholly exceptional. The median case isn't Florence in its glory, but a poor rural farming village, and is this meaningfully different from a Nebraskan county seat?
"Europe...slowly became a fantasy" (72) - certainly true for the American political class!
Founding utopias has a deep history in the US; Brook Farm or Taliesin or the LDS hegira to Utah for instance. In the 20th century, you built your alternate community in situ, hippies in Haight Ashbury, Greenwich Village Bohemians, or electronics/software geeks in Silicon Valley.
David Warsh argues that "entrepreneurship" - broadly defined, and NOT just limited to business as such - is the key organizing principle to understand American society since the 1960s; or, in Macaes' terms, virtual reality - i.e., The Simulation.
The Simulation is the The Matrix, only you can't wake up, and being redpilled or whitepilled or blackpilled is just different virtual overlays.
The subject matter of "History Has Begun" is America, but really the book is about Europe. (74)
You really do see the hold Europe still has on aspects of American civilization by the proposed executive order mandating classicism in government buildings or the forthcoming National Garden of American Heroes, where the most American thing about it is the name.
America has not yet broken fully free of the Old World.
Certainly I will never understand Jackson Pollock the same way again. (75)
The Space Race, and Apollo, were really the greatest act of pure creation of the Cold War. What is the "technological sublime" (the term is Perry Miller's, not Nye's, to whom it is usually associated) but American dreamtime in its most absolute sense?
Elon Musk's goal of Mars colonization is entirely in this vein. "Occupy Mars" is both knowing - acknowledging another American fantasy, "Occupy Wall Street" - and extending the frontier to Mars.
It isn't surprising that the other civilization where space is most deeply rooted - Russia - is more like the US than it is like Europe. Russia is deeply religious, and space is nothing if not a religious enterprise.
From (76), Daniel Boorstin: "'[Americans] are the most illusioned people in the world.'"
Kennedy was really the first television candidate, and that the road is straight from Kennedy to Trump is not something I had considered in quite those terms before, but is really true. (77)
Ha! Anticipated Macaes again, this time re: the "space race." :)
Churchill remarked that "History will be kind to be because I intend to write it." Perhaps this is the answer to Bismarck's bon mot ("God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States"): America is the star in its own (first Hollywood, now streamed)
serialization.
VC=producer, entrepreneur/founder = main actor. (79) What a great way to put it. All great startups tell a compelling story first and foremost. Consider Elon Musk, the greatest living American novelist (tellingly, his preferred medium is Twitter).
It occurs to me that Ayn Rand was a Hollywood script writer before she became a phenomenally successful literary philosopher.
Reagan: "How can a president not be an actor?" (80) Augustus, (supposed) last words: "Have I not played the part well?" Rome too was an idea. No wonder it proved such an effective operating system for the Christianity application.
Reagan "never followed through with...the religious right...He was never able to reduce the size of the welfare state" (81). All true. But as Macaes argues, this misses the point. Key to understanding the GOP from the 1980s up through the present.
(81) reminds me of the following article: nytimes.com/2020/08/28/bus…
I have a visceral dislike arguments about the optics of things. I care about what the thing actually is, damnit! But considered rightly, the American Dream IS the optics and the fantasy IS the reality and this is what gives America its unusual power (chpts. 3 and 4).
Ben Rhodes, lets not forget, was a creative writer by background.
"The Great Gatsby" is really a European novel (84).
I am impressed by anyone who manages to complete "Infinite Jest."
Incidentally, art/fiction is a wonderful tool to identify change over time. Consider how William James prefigures 20th century physics, especially relativity. The point isn't that James somehow "discovered" relativistic physics - he didn't - but rather that in some sense the
worldview behind relativity, the thinking or framing that creates the possibility space including relativity, was path, the stepping stones, to the discovery of relativity were already prepared, waiting for someone intellectually bold enough to cross them.
(85) really contextualizes "woke" politics properly, especially the section on "The Marriage Plot."
How else to understand the modern usage of the word "journey" than as a narrative arc in a drama?
In the US, when an individual criticizes society, the implication is that society should somehow adjust. Outside the US, it usually the opposite. I think that's what Macaes is getting at with his "The Great Gatsby" section on (84).
"Why would the individual continue to battle the world of social institutions and conventions when this world so obviously lost all authority?" (86) Yes, exactly this.
Flinty puritanism really has been overthrown, I think. US founding myths encompass Plymouth Rock, but the Bay Colony is really Europe in America, and American civilization is something else entirely. (86 - 87)
Many arguments that woke is mainline protestantism in the streets. There is something to this. But I think better is a Warshian entrepreneurism and Macaes' virtualism fusion.
On (87) I would add that sports as escape has very deep roots in Europe; for instance, witness the popularity of the state-sponsored chariot racing teams of Byzantium.
"Europeans see in sports...a return to the enchanted world of the past where fate...is beyond our control. For Americans, sports are an intensification of experience." (87) Exactly this! America may be a dreamtime, but the original dreamtime was a world of gods and demons beyond
human control. In America, we are the gods.
It occurs that Marxist reflects the period of maximum Western influence in China. Marxism, a classic (and classical) “final truth” in the European tradition, is not really a very Chinese idea. It was of course adopted at a period of low cultural confidence in China.
Whereas Leninism has obvious congruities to Legalism, and no wonder Xi talks about Party control as the distinctive feature of Chinese Communism.
China will become less explicable to Europe as a result. Possibly, however, the US will recognize more of China in itself.
Americans ARE loud. It’s a national characteristic. (87)
“American life continually emphasizes its own artificiality” (88) - This is the American project of nation-building in a nutshell.
America is an artificial nation, in the sense that it was created deliberately, rather than organically. It is an act of intelligent design, in a way perhaps no other state has been. Its independence declaration is, quite literally, a story.
It is the narrative that binds. Or more to the point, the narrating, all separately, yet together at once.
“It is only recently that artificiality invaded all spheres of life and society” in the US (88). In other words, the US is becoming more distinct over time.
An aside: I have never been persuaded by the argument of social convergence over time, either that we will have “one world government” or that people everywhere will become one. “History Has Begun” is really an extended argument against this thesis as well.
“‘Sanctions Are Coming’” (89) was really a classic moment in Trump statecraft. The consequences, though, for ordinary Iranians are very real. American Dreamtime doesn’t often isn’t virtual in the rest of the world.
“Their human problems are technical problems of storytelling” (89). Inclusion, a woke buzzword, is a process in answering these problems.
“History Has Begun” has caused me to considerably upgrade my rating of woke politics generally.
Trump “uses politics” as a “stage for his performance as an entertainer.” (91) This is exactly it. Trump makes no sense evaluated as a “normal” politician, as it wasn’t clear why he wanted to be president or what he wanted to do with it. But once you realize that, for Trump,
it’s all the same thing, “The Art of the Deal” and “The Apprentice” and Trump University and Trump meats, the product is Trump, the venue is irrelevant. People tend to think in different categories: this is business, this is media, this is politics. But in Trump’s mind, it’s
all converged, these categories are just facets of a unitary phenomenon.
"The Manchurian Candidate" was well ahead of its time. The irony of American politics is that people frequently act out characters and plots from movies, but without awareness; the stories are that well sublimated and indeed indistinguishable from the mental furniture of American
public life.

To take another example, consider how common talk of "good guys" and "bad guys" is, specifically in the military. I was struck by how common this language was 2003 on in Iraq.
America is a movie that does not know it is a movie, reality and the virtualization layer are that well interpenetrated.
The metaverse is a most natural technology for the US.
I've always wondered what whether Walter's tortoise and cybernetics generally may have inspired in some sense "The Manchurian Candidate."
The American Dreamtime isn't post-factual, it's orthogonal to facts. (Post-factual can still be falsified, after all). This provides a peculiar staying power. "Fiction would not lose its character by taking over reality." (93)
"As for voters, perhaps they are now better understood as viewers." (93) Absolutely. Politics today is screen-first and virtual.
Speaking of straight from central casting generals (here Mattis, (95)), look up Mark Clark. Preternatural sense of the camera.
"There was once the hope that Obama could play the role of great modernizer" (96). This is true, and a trap the left perennially falls into. Most recently, it has been the GOP (in a very un-conservative turn of events) that wishes to change America. But changing America is not
possible. It is what it is.
Recommend Tony Judt's "Postwar".
Should we compare the US to Asia? "Only if we want to confuse everything." (97).
America isn't traditional. It's naturalistic.
Guns in the US are theology.
People always blame the NRA for guns in the US, but really they should blame Hollywood.
Political correctness makes complete sense in a civilization of storytellers (100); in a very real sense, PC is politics.
"There will be a race question in America for as long as the country and the civilization survive" (100). True.
"The United States is no longer a European nation. In fundamental aspects it now looks more similar to countries such as India or Russia or even the Islamic Republic of Iran." (100)
Because Western European states are also highly developed, comparing the US to them seems natural. But W. Europe really isn't the relevant cohort for the US.
The AG Barr quote on (100 - 101) could have been made by an Iranian ayatollah.
"America is becoming a developing country but is doing so ironically." (101) The sense of this is that of developing in the Thiel sense of the US as progressing to something else. European is developed, and developed means stagnant.
As a description of economic change over the past 50 years, the US "imported reality and exported unreality" cannot be bettered. (104).
American civilization found itself on the internet (105).
A television mind is fundamentally different from a book mind or a pre-literate mind. (Shades of Julian Jaynes).
Reality tv is a better market fit because it is truer to the television medium, in the sense that what people are REALLY consuming is not a show per se, but the experience that they are in some sense in the show itself; that the show is happening to them.
Obviously books offer a related sense of transport, but humans a visual creatures, and television is more visceral.
This is why television will eventually be eaten by the video game industry, and why the future of streaming is delivering to each viewer an idealized avatar of themselves in Ancient Rome or slaughtering wights in Westeros.
Remember in "Minority Report" where Tom Cruise and the precog pass through a VR hall where a customer had paid to have simulated people stand him and tell him "you're important, you matter," etc.? That's the goal, each viewer their own movie or tv show.
"Today it is the real world which copies television" (107). True of pornography, as critics have tirelessly pointed out.
Scriptwriters are the "prophets" of America (108). Like I said above, politicians and would-be statesmen should hire more scriptwriters.
On (108-109), once all the world becomes television, by what metric do you gauge the real world?
Campaigning for president is a reality show and the prize is a nuclear arsenal is, on balance, probably not great.
"Democracy may be redefined as the ability to get the show we want" (109). Long thought that Americans decide elections based on what face they want on their televisions and in their heads for the next 4 years.
When was the last major work of fiction that was also a cultural event? It's been decades at least, I think. (This doesn't include fantasy or sci-fi or comics, of course). Part of the problem is that reality is better than any novel. (110)
The more complex the signal to be carried, the more stable the channel to carry it needs to be. American Dreamtime is impossible without a robust physical infrastructure.
Some presidents add new powers and authorities to the office, others content themselves with the ones that already exist. Trump has done neither.
A "Trumpland of the left" is all but guaranteed; that's how US politics works. Biden won't be that, though. Sanders might have been, but the Democratic Party didn't want him (113)
"One might think that some crisis would eventually jolt the country back to reality. I suspect this is very naive." (113) To understand this, consider Portland, for which protest is a native pastime, and parts of which have been overrun by protestors for the past few months,
resulting in significant - but highly localized - property destruction and violence. But do the protests have ANYTHING to say about the major productive capacity of the Portland region? No. Intel, Nike, Precision Castparts - for these companies, the protests might as well be in
a different universe. Some of the protestors might even work for these companies. The point here being that the productive backbone of the country is entirely unaffected by the ongoing unrest. This is also true of the widespread looting and physical destruction of property at the
end of May and the beginning of June this year. For all the property loss, the total value of it rounds to zero when considered in relation to the US economy taken as a whole, and the goods lost represent infinitesimal fractions of US production, quickly replaced by a robust
supply chain. The US has absolutely huge capacity. It's an ocean. Storms disturb the surface, and waves may (temporarily) displace it, but the bulk is unaffected. Only if - say - the urban unrest in Portland were to spill over into the productive engine of the region would it
effect any meaningful change. Of course, if this were to happen, government forbearance would vanish.
I'm familiar with the Dean Baquet tape, and yet it is still astonishing (113 - 114).
On Dean Baquet: "Journalism has been replaced by literature." (114).
If "The West Wing" prefigured Obama - was "readily available to help American interpret the new style of politics" (114) - did "House of Cards" do the same for Donald Trump?
"Nothing about the new America can be called old" (115). Exactly, American civilization is naturalistic, but not traditional.
Pro-wrestling is Greek myth. The ancients would have loved it.
Eric Trump: "'the great Marcus Aurelius from The Gladiator.'" (116) Hilarious!
On Trump misrepresenting his father's birthplace (116): My guess is that he does so in the same way Brian Williams embellished his story about Iraq or New Orleans. It's a better story. Remember, he's the product.
Macaes agrees! (118) I feel like I'm getting pretty good at channeling him at this point :) Also, "truthful hyperbole" reminds me immediately of Berlusconi's "carry the sun in your pocket."
Another aside: In Kim Stanley Robinson's Martian trilogy, the Mars colonies are described as haunted by the landscape's ancient names, the demons of the ancient world in some sense passing through them into the inhabitants of Mars. The same for the US: the American Dreamtime and
the American space program are inextricable.
(119) All American (presidential) politics is transcendent.
In Chapter Five, Macaes really does get to the heart of Trump better than anyone I've read.
Every Trump story is the biggest ever, until the next.
The danger in the presidency as a reality show is that once people get bored, they change the channel. Trump's electoral fate rests in whether or not enough people, in the right states, want to stop watching.
"As much as Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff exerted themselves, they could not break the unreality spell." (122) Absolutely.
The obvious affinity between media "hits" (getting on television) and doing narcotics shouldn't escape notice.
At some point, I'm not sure when, "socialism" (at least in the US) stopped having any relationship to the means of production. (123) In European terms, this makes no sense. (Similarly, to most Americans, the idea that liberalism is actually conservative, sensu stricto, is,
quite literally, absurd).
Pure anecdote, but I know more than a few Americans of immigrant background who did not vote for Sanders precisely because of his calls for revolution; they understood his call for revolution literally; they did not appreciate the irony behind his words, and saw an explanation
thereof as naive and unworldly. But I understood Sanders in the same vein as Obama's nomination acceptance in 2008, "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
America is a world unto itself. America is also unusually self-regarding. If it doesn't exist in the US, for many Americans it simply doesn't exist, period. This is why it has always struck me as a losing proposition to claim something won't work in the US because it hasn't
worked overseas. Ranting about Venezuela and socialism on Fox is pointless; few care. Same for claims regarding health care, the minimum wage, etc. "Because it's done that way overseas" is never a winning argument in America.
The American Dreamtime depends on a robust techno-industrial foundation, but day-to-day has nothing to say about it (127 - 128).
To this, I would add the following: Compared to other countries of a similar developmental level, the US has noticeably low-quality public services and a less-competent bureaucracy. Yet the US notably does not have worse outcomes. What explains this?
The primary bureaucratic structure in the US is not governmental, but corporate. For the majority of Americans, and the vast majority of "prime-age" American citizens, it is their corporate management hierarchy, and their HR department, that is the most powerful bureaucratic
structure in their daily lives. It is this intermediate layer between government and citizen that patterns American life. Globally, US corporations are generally considered to be the best-managed.
They provide the basic ordering principle to American society as a whole, and enable the US to sustain an otherwise untenably incompetent public sector without noticeable loss (which is not to say zero losses, however).
The money power and the business power are features of the political system as a whole. Indeed, they both sustain and extend the system, and, unlike the Randian fantasy of business, and businessmen, are coterminous with it as a whole, the state,
not to be mistaken for the current regime in office, depend on business to amplify, and implement, its authority.

Tl;dr? No business, no dreamtime.
On (128), re: bullet trains and "is this the extent of her technological imagination?", a useful reminder that bullet trains as a technology are 60 years old and the origins of the idea go back to the 1930s.
AOC really is a master politician.
"Millennial socialism sees history as a struggle to control the memes of production" (128) is inspired, and bitingly true.
Rawls is a giant, unquestionably, but ultimately too bloodless for me.
(133 - 134) Macaes is absolutely correct, Rawls' "political conception of justice" is a kind of non-answer answer, and honestly, independent of his reputation, I don't think it would have enjoyed the same reception.
On (134), I really like the sketch of the inversion of public and private motivations in the transition from traditional to modern societies.
TV/internet is the multiverse (135).
"The new America is founded on a different principle. I call it the principle of unreality: everyone can pursue his or her happiness so long as they refrain from imposing it on others as something real - as something valid for all." (136) This is THE thesis of the book.
"The European would say: there is no truth; the American: there is no truth, therefore everything is true. The difference between Europeans and Americans is that...[Americans] embrace them [the fictions] all the more for being fictions." (139)
This puts me in mind of a book I read a few years back, "Nothing is True and Everything is Possible", by Peter Pomerantsev. Russia is in many ways much like the US, moreso than either is like Europe, I think. But the outcomes are completely different.
There is a specifically Russian version of unreality. Marxism in the Soviet Union was certainly a version of unreality. But it had very real - and tragic - consequences. As a contingent hypothesis, I offer the following: in the US, unreality arrived after the emergence of a
world-beating techno-industrial complex. In the Soviet Union, unreality was the platform or lever for its development.
There is a long tail of virtualisms, the art of statecraft is picking and choosing from among them. (140 - 141) But you need a "kill switch", lest we lose control of our creations - lest "things get too real". (136)
A sketch of a larger idea, not fully fleshed out: there is in the human animal an irreducible core, a quantum of violence as it were, driven by the somatic impulses of a status-seeking social creature. That's how I understand the message of "Westworld" I think "Chapter Six"
does so as well? The challenge for the state is not to wish this away, to create a "New Man" or a "New Jerusalem", but to build in release valves, fantasy zones where all possibilities - including or maybe especially including the dark - may be explored. As Macaes writes,
"the whole point [of Westworld] is to be immoral." (137) Consider also that the impulse for dominance and the impulse for excellence are closely related, and that the latter may well not be possible without the former. A world free of sin and evil may well also be a world where
no progress is possible. So we need to create artificial versions of the human "state of nature" to preserve these desirable attributes while building strict limits on how they scale, to channeling them in positive directions, while containing their obvious downsides. (139) makes
a related point: "The contemporary European culture of cafe life is a greater risk than the dangers of Westworld).
“The quest for total immersion is the holy grail of modern politics.” (139)
Put differently, the (felt) reality of danger, adventure, quest, risk, challenge, without the (actual) reality of final, ultimate, consequences.
An illustration, by way of an aside: starting 2022, all passenger vehicles sold in Europe will be mandated to include an “intelligent speed assistance” function, which actively governs the car’s speed to the local speed limit. Drivers can, at least for the moment, temporarily
override the governor by pressing the throttle more aggressively, although reportedly this will occasion in-car alarms. Now, speeding is obviously a primary cause of injury/death, and both Europe and the US have taken significant steps to improve car safety, both for passengers
and for pedestrians. But I see this as a very European solution to the problem, and not American in the slightest. It also has the effect of further isolating people from the real world, of “nerfing” experience.
"The traditional state was founded on a set of revealed truths. The liberal state affirmed that truth does not exist...[and] took this as a new kind of truth. [For] the post-truth state...the whole world is a stage." (142)
Chapter Six especially feels strongly influenced by the internet/social media, and this is exactly right.

E.g., "Suddenly, almost everything seems to be permitted"; "society expands in both directions"; "society seems to be moved forwards and backwards at the same time." (142)
Clay Shirky in "Here Comes Everybody" had an inkling of this in 2008, but really none of the implications. Of course, 2008 was near-dinosaur era: Youtube was three years old, the iPhone only released the year before, Facebook was something you did on a PC.
"The temporal dimension, the narrative of progress, has disappeared." (142) Everything happens faster today, and everything is happening (or at least being said) at once. "The spatial limits" (142) have relaxed.
American civilization is (un)reality, and its religion is that of the Church of the Higher Hilbert Space.
"Our politics is liberal and progressive; while our culture comes from a different age - the only doubt is whether it comes from the past or from the future." (143) My answer to that is the past, or rather the past of the past; traditional societies are an evolved form of the
aboriginal human condition, which I term naturalism for lack of a better word. American is naturalistic. (Don't mistake, though, this for "back to basics" or living in the woods; it isn't that, at all).
"Liberalism...grants people the freedom to pursue endless possibilities, but...[at once] risks depriving those possibilities of the very substance that makes them worth pursuing." (144) This is what Macaes calls the "larger issue" (144), which next addresses through technology.
"Technology has become the new holy writ, the inexhaustible source of the stories by which we order our lives." (144) Hence, above, Musk as the greatest living American novelist. No contemporary novel has the power or passion or adventurousness of Tesla or SpaceX. They really do
have it all. Similarly, Silicon Valley is "changing the world." The latter has obviously reached the point of parody - e.g., the eponymous HBO series - but the parody at once wraps a more deeply felt celebration.
"Since...every grand narrative [is]...a direct violation of liberal values, the result is that we are simultaneously at war with technology." (145) Certainly true of the confrontation between the (elite) media and tech broadly.
"Should a modern society use its powers against those from whom the greatest historical transformations can be expected to come? Should it strive to keep things as they are?" (146)
For a great many, I fear the answer is yes. This would be one explanation, at least, to @tylercowen's complacency thesis.
The (146) section on society, the end of history, and perfection is precisely why Thiel hates the "developed" label for societies.
Imagine if the US is undeveloped. What does this change in perspective entail?
Many people instead take the present as given, and just want to nudge it in one or two directions (a sort of meliorist approach), or - in some case - just change their place in the rank order.
"Liberals want to believe they are fighting the clerical establishment or the tech oligarchy. In fact they are fighting religion and technology." (147) Religion and technology are naturalistic. You can't fight them forever.
Liberalism is a kind of trap: it does not provide the "freedom to go to new places and explore new possibilities." (147).
"Fear of success rather than fear of failure explains the current economic and technological malaise in Europe" (147, Peter Thiel).
"Freedom is approved [in Europe]...on condition that it should not be used." (147) (!)
"In a definite future, money is a means to a specific end. In an indefinite future, it is pure optionality." (148)
There is a China Dream, but is there a China Dreamtime? I think not.
As the sequel is rarely as good as the original, can the China Dream (obviously a counterpart to the American Dream), possibly be as successful a concept?
The US as a synthesis of China and Europe? (149) One effect of the rise of China is, I believe, an increasing appreciation of certain parallels between the American civilization and Chinese civilization.
For Silicon Valley, "technological possibilities are reverse rather than realities." (149)
"If trapped, then exit." (150) Universal basic income as a social emulsifier.
Inequality is naturalistic.
The idea is to "create a safe playground where every technological dream can be freely pursued because no one will be seriously damaged or harmed by it." (150) This is critical. Not all dreams are individual, but require others to realize. We are a social creature and by
definition much accomplishment can only occur in the context of others. If everyone gets a veto - or a regulatory inhibitor exercises it for them - then nothing happens; a risk inherent in the precautionary principle. The key is create a double-limit:
from an individual's actions on themselves (you get to play cops-and-robbers in Westworld, and the sheriff doesn't shoot you if you rob the bank), but also on social-spillovers: it's obviously suboptimal socially for people to be robbing banks. Similarly, how do we get the goods
of technological progress, but limit the negative effects (job loss, dislocation, rising inequality, etc.)
"The principle of unreality: everything is possible, but nothing is true." (150)
"Europe wants to live at the end of history but feels increasingly powerless to keep history at bay." (151)
This is the opening of a novel: "In the summer of 2002, Karl Rove arranged a meeting with the journalist Ron Suskind in order to tell him that reality - the whole of reality - was a thing of the past." (153)
Karl Rove's "'we are an empire now'" really captures Bush II-era DC.
Overseas, the sharp edge of American Dreamtime can be very sharp indeed.
American Dreamtime as the outcome of a failed encounter with reality (156).
Since anyone can become American, it is very difficult for Americans to grasp that some might not want to be.
A corollary of the last is that American civilization doesn't do well with (political) difference.
This is why the United States will never reach a workable accommodation with China, so long as China desires an independent path for itself.
"By wanting to take American values to the far corners of the world, it [the United States] ensured these values would look less attractive than ever before." (161)
The "Revolutionary in Military Affairs" brought the dreams of Douhet, Trenchard, and Billy Mitchell to fruition, midwifed by the dreams of Silicon Valley.
"The United States saw itself as acting in the world, but it was no longer interested in changing it." (166) I would put this differently. The American Dreamtime gives rise to different impulses leading the US to act overseas, the assumption behind this being that the world will
become America, over time. If Locke wrote, "In the beginning, all the world was America," we should append a codicil, "In the end, all [again] is America."
The real lesson of the First Persian Gulf war that there are two classes of states in the world, those with, and those without, nuclear weapons, and all the latter are vulnerable to attack, whereas the former are not. Or as Macaes writes, "Chechnya was real life" (168). There is
unquestionably a rich fantasy life to the decision-making behind America's overseas interventions, but there are limits to irreality which reality imposes, and the US is not blind to these.
"The struggle for meaning - rather than concerns about weapons of mass destruction or the spread of democracy - explains the decision" to invade Iraq in 2003. (168)
"It is easy to be in the middle of events and miss the point that they are their own reason and justification." (168)
"If the invasion and the war were a story, they were...composed of the simplest irreducible elements of every human story: the hero sets out to defeat a cruel enemy and returns home covered in glory." (169)
I've read probably two dozen books and at least a hundred articles on why the US invaded Iraq in 2003, and for all the rationalizations, and rationales, the argument that "it's Homeric myth" (which is Macaes') is the best of them all. Reality just doesn't come into it.
"The aftermath of the Iraq War was a second crisis of empire, a crisis from which the United States has yet to recover." (169)
"Eurasian politics is politics on a grand scale." (170) I need to read "Dawn of Eurasia" - and "Belt and Road." Maybe my next Twitter project?
The American Dreamtime is tailor-made for the cloud.
"Were the Belt and Road [China] to reach all its goals, the United States would become an island on the shores of Eurasia - potentially still very prosperous and protected from direct interference in its affairs, but peripheral and absent from all global questions." (171)
On (172), Macaes asks what the end-goal for Washington is in its burgeoning appetite for confrontation with Beijing. My estimation? Assimilation, just as in Iraq (although it would never be phrased this indelicately).
The world will not remain permanently divided between the US and the non-US. Either China will accommodate itself to a role - even the lead support role - within a US-led order, or the nature (evangelical) of American civilization will change. There is no third option.
Meaningful economic decoupling, I believe, is implausible under today's economic conditions. Perhaps in some strategic sectors, but not as a general case. People sometimes suggest the Cold War as a possible analog. But this is a poor example. The USSR was impoverished; it had
no real means to buy. We just have no good examples of economies with huge buying power - in China's case, literally 10s of trillions of dollars - that are nonetheless unconnected with the broader global economy. Decoupling is pure Dreamtime; it'll never be realized. Never forget
that while America prefers unreality, it never ignores its core realistic interests. Dreamtime is a form of redistribution, but America never forgets the money - and the profits.
The past is no guide either. The Cold War is a poor analogy, as only one superpower actually created technology anyone wanted, and the other impoverished itself in the process of trying - and failing - to compete. Open war between China and the US is unthinkable - both are
nuclear powers. Both China and the US are the best places in the world to found new companies, and to scale. Each is the other's largest trading partner. The speed and volume of electronic communications is also without precedent. We are bereft of signposts.
Will the European Union build military power and national security bandwidth commensurate with its economic size? (174-175) On balance, I think no. (Macaes argues it may well take a major crisis (175), and I agree).
The reason for this is that the EU is a satisfied power; it is focused overwhelmingly on building its domestic capacity; it appears content with importing American - and Chinese technologies - layered with EU-specific rules that overall change little; specifically regarding the
security portfolio, this remains jealously guarded by the national capitals and at the international level, the major relationship is NATO. An independent security role for the EU would in practice require the abolishment of NATO. Plus the imminent withdrawal of the UK from the
EU means the EU only has one real military player at this point, France. Germany has the means to do so, but no interest. Europe is a flying buttress for the US-led security order, and will remain so, for the foreseeable future).
Russia poses a variant of the same problem as China, in that it is determinedly pursuing an independent path of its own, outside the US security order. Unlike China, however, its stagnant economy means that there is no real constituency in the US pushing for continued
engagement. Therefore, the US-Russian relationship will continue to be controlled by the national security dimension. A great heuristic for when/if this changes is if Hollywood falls out of love with Russian villains.
"Any rapprochement would have to come from the Kremlin and that will not be forthcoming, at least while Vladimir Putin is in charge." (175) Agreed.
The US should encourage both Japan and India to take more proactive roles. "And why should the US fear or regret such an outcome? To keep them inside its chain of command, useful only when acting under American leadership, is...profoundly self-defeating." (176)
India, unlike China, does not occasion fears in Washington, which makes its future development path much smoother. China's, of course, comes with any number of asterisks. But the sheer scale of India's developmental challenges I suspect will make India reluctant to shoulder too
much in the way of an assertive foreign policy. Outside its own local interests, India appears relatively satisfied with the US taking a lead on global security issues.
Japan, the world's third largest national economy, is aging rapidly, and its population declining. The stark realities of Japan's demographic profile will dominate all other considerations, whatever Tokyo's other ambitions or Washington's wishes. Japan's posture will remain
largely defensive; and it will ensure the US leads in any confrontation with China. As a major ally of the US in Asia, Tokyo will reap any gains Washington makes regardless, so undoubtedly calculates there is little benefit in a more forward posture.
"The US must become in relation to the Eurasian supercontinent what Great Britain was in relation to Europe", albeit with two modifications: 1) "splendid isolation" is not really workable given present-day politico-economic and technological conditions; 2) a "ready-made world of
competing great powers" does not currently exist. (176 - 177). As a result, America must be a "great creator" - the pieces exist, but the puzzle must still be solved.
But is the US capable of such a task? (177)
"The United States already regards the future of the world order as a great narrative whose main plot lines are written in Washington." (177)
This is exactly the point I was making earlier. It isn't so much that the US demands that different states follow its every whim and diktat (although sometimes this is the case, e.g. the list of seven non-negotiables issued to President Musharraf of Pakistan after 9/11) - the
US is considerably more flexible and sophisticated (or insidious) than this. Instead, the US requires that whatever political project you locally evolve for yourself is not directionally independent of the path the US has set. This is the problem with China and Russia; each has a
great power mindset, and isn't willing to take cues from Washington. You have to give up the highest ambitions - if indeed you do have them, most states don't - to ally with the US.
An illustration: Saudi Arabia. Saudi is about as differently constituted from the US as it is possible for a state to be and yet the US alliance with Saudi has been consistently strong since FDR. There are a lot of conspiracy theories and oil theories to explain this (the latter
conveniently ignoring how often the US has terrible relationships with oil producers: Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Libya) but the truth is much simpler, naively Saudi would appear to be the kind of state that gets little or no sympathy in DC, but Saudi studiously avoids challenging
US leadership (and, indeed, amplifies it regionally). The oil embargo was predicted to break the US-Saudi alliance, but didn't; the US allows you to make as much money off it as you want ultimately, you just can't doubt that it has the right to be at the head of the parade.
“What I am advocating is to replace the epic with the novel.” (177)
“The narrator should not pick sides, and this is why he and not the characters is ultimately in control...The narrator has learned not to impose a single truth.” (177)
I actually think that this is a very good description of what the US already does. The problem comes when some states don’t want to be part of the same novel.
Put differently, you can write whatever words you want on the (blank) pages. But the US had the pages printed, from pulp imported from China, and added as new leaves to the old novel.
China wants a new book, and can both print and write one, and therein lies the problem.
“The goal is to make the world safe for America without making it look like America.” (178)
“The tragedy of American foreign policy is the way it fails to respect the mystery of the distant and the strangeness of the unfamiliar.” (178)
Macaes: neoconservatism is the “command to defend universal interests in a world that is essentially like home.” (178)
Instead, the US needs the opposite: “‘Defend your interests in a world that is essentially alien.’” (178)
And: “For America, the age of nation-building is over. The age of world-building as begun.” (178)
Is it possible to let states foreign policy LARP?
I think @MacaesBruno is arguing in Chapter 7 that the Dreamtime should in a sense be extended to the entire world, and that this is a solution to incommensurate national goals.
As a point of clarification, up to this point my citations are drawn from the British version of "History Has Begun." My synchronous tweet/read of Chapter 8, concerning Covid-19, is from the American version of the text.
Disneyland, California, flag-raising as "'symbolic resistance'" (179) to pandemic is an arresting opening. The conflation of Disney and America really is quite fascinating, the fantasy and the reality: which is which? Disney is more real, more truthfully American, than most of
America, it seems. It also has a rather militaristic approach to public space, which is entirely apposite.
Andrew Sullivan: reality "wins in the end" Macaes: "At first, it might have seemed that reality would win." (179) Incidentally, back in March, this was my opinion, too. Pandemic is the return of the old gods, who cannot be ignored. But as it turned out - at least so far -
the American Dreamtime, American Solipsis, is so powerful, so rich in detail and possibility, that it can warp reality itself. In retrospect, I should have expected nothing else.
I am currently working on a first-draft history of the nature of the US response to Covid-19 and while Trump naturally has an prominent role in it, it is important to recognize just how insignificant Trump really has been this year, and how - except at a few key moments - Trump
hasn't really been that interested in changing this. (His most substantial contribution is probably the number of potential path responses he foreclosed). Much of the time he barely even conveys the impression that "the government" is something he has responsibility for.
Covid is a "symbol" and Trump sees himself in a "war of symbols", rather than a war against the virus per se. (180)
"Every point of view can be endlessly argued and the argument itself ends up shaping our perceptions of what the facts are." (180). Exactly so; arguments, at least in this context, are not an exercise in truth.
"First Trump evaded reality by believing there was no problem, then everyone else evaded reality by believing the problem was Trump." (181) Precisely! The latter of course is especially associated with the Democrats, and the Biden campaign. In a very interesting way, it is
actually the same argument Trump made in 2016 - the government's full of idiots, give me the power, I'll fix everything.
It's very much worth considering to what extent things would have different under a Hillary Clinton administration. Much harder question to answer than you might think. (Keep in mind, I voted for her in 2016).
Macaes identifies 3 stages to the US covid-19 response:
1) "denial or oblivion";
2) "high drama";
3)
It really is true, given the sheer diversity of media content available today, every real-life event gets immediately compared to a movie or television show, and given how the comparison flows back into base level reality (all reality is "in your head"), claiming one is more real
than the other misses the point.
It is a weird form of vertigo to live events first as (fictional) television, second in real life.
TV anchors really imagine themselves to be actors.
"Racial justice means the freedom to pursue your dreams without turning other human beings into objects of your darkest fantasies." (183)
Turning from pandemic to protest was a shift from one story to an even better story. (183)
On Trump's coronavirus press briefings (185), I think the only real way to understand them is that Trump is a hype beast, and what he hypes is himself, coronavirus was the biggest thing around, so naturally he had to be on the stage. What precisely was said was irrelevant.
"In America, and perhaps nowhere else, the coronavirus quickly became a culture war." (186)
Drama is naturalistic. Read the ancients; the gods are very human. "If you opened a newspaper in Spain, France or Italy, everything was about infection curves, vaccines, viral mutations and endless pages of statistics and graphs." (188)
By contrast, America preferred its "myths" (188). America is naturalistic. "Things in America felt like a disaster movie. In Europe they just felt like a disaster." (189)
Left the 3rd stage blank in an above tweet, it hadn't been revealed yet. Here it is: technology, specifically that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from fantasy." (189) An advance on Clarke suitable for the 21st century.
Also underscores that American Dreamtime depends on huge technological capacity.
The natural home of the Dreamtime is the cloud.
Technology and corona, two ways of thinking: 1) "the triumph of virtual life"; 2) "replace reality with an imaginary world closer to our wishes." (190)
The three characteristics of imaginary worlds, per Macaes: 1) they exist in the mind; 2) they are a "model or simulation"; 3) they are intended to "conquer or colonize reality." (191)
The imaginary worlds are "better than reality and therefore have a secret ambition to replace it." (191).
"The permanent conflict between fantasy and reality is the defining mark of the contemporary world." (191)
Chapter Eight is a really good expansion of Chapter Six. I would recommend reading C.6 and then C.8 out of sequence, before going back to C.7, actually.
"Fantasy is destined to win." (191)
"America regards reality as an enemy to be defeated." (192) In America, identify the good guys and the bad guys and all the rest follows.
"Death is what is left of reality in our time...it alone continues to defy every technological fantasy." (192)
This is appropriate place to recommend "The Age of Em" by @robinhanson.
America foreign policy requires enemies.
The terrorist was the "essential enemy" after the end of the Cold War, and was the "human embodiment of natural forces beyond reason or understanding." (192)
In the "War on Terror", America turned to its "preferred weapons. If terrorists wanted to...[enter] America, they would have to move undetected in an artificial landscape where everything is being continuously recorded and controlled." (192)
If anything, China has copied the US in terms of its techniques of digital surveillance and tracking.
The original mistake of the Total Information Awareness concept was the name. The program was cancelled, but the capability moved elsewhere.
A pandemic is the "purest instantiation of reality" - nemesis for any civilization "built on its negation." (194)
Would America be "brought back to reality" by the coronavirus? Or would America "leave reality behind?" (194).
Macaes offers two scenarios: in one, America converges with the rest of the world (194). This "seems implausible." (195)
For the US to "change the nature of its way of life...[is] equivalent to a form of surrender." (195)
But the US will react. It would not "trust luck or fate...it would build a barrier between the American Dream and the real world...A citadel upon a hill." (195-196).
Macaes predicts the same will be true of the 2020 pandemic, as well as climate change—"the irony...[being that] a system of digital surveillance is already in place to deal with climate change...[without it] we would be blissfully unaware that climate change was occurring.
Macaes on Palantir: "[It] does not want to create a world where machines rule" because that is a world of predetermination. It wants a world of "intuition, brilliance, genius." (197)
Palantir is a "video game...and we will be the ones playing it." (197). Only in this case, the bits move the atoms. The bits make the atoms interpretable and manipulable. The software is a programming layer for base reality.
Society-wide digital surveillance is coming to healthcare: "total virus awareness." (200)
Also need to create infrastructure to transform big data insights into deliverables: for instance, vaccines within weeks, enabled by trials conducted entirely in silico. (201)
"If the system works, America will be one step closer to its manifest destiny. Separated from reality by an impenetrable barrier—having pushed reality back into an ever narrower strip—it will return to the belief that the American dream has no limits other than those of the
imagination. The coronavirus pandemic may then be remembered as a famous battle in the long war between American and reality." (201)
Having come to the end of the book, I'm next going to add a number of questions.
Is "History Has Begun" optimistic or pessimistic about the United States? Or should I be using different words?
I originally thought this was an optimistic book, and it can definitely be read that way. But it occurs, now having finished, that there could be a Straussian interpretation here as well.
It might also be that @MacaesBruno intended a somewhat ambiguous note.
What if we see the flight from reality as the result of a failure of technology and economics? Does this change anything about Macaes' thesis?
"History Has Begun" can be read as an extended argument on why the foreign policy realist school does so poorly in the United States

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