Weirding Diary: 8

This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series Weirding Diary

Elections in India and EU, and the US-China trade war, have sparked a fresh round of prognostications in my feeds, on the expected length of the global reactionary swing. Here’s a thread of representative opining from Yascha Mounk.

Weirding is not the same thing as the global rightward swing, but I believe it is going to be co-extensive in time with a generation of extremist politics, with the initiative sparking back and forth between far right and far left across the horseshoe gap, with far right having the overall advantage. Centrist positions are underwater in terms of viability.

I’ve come up with an estimate of my own: the weirding will last another 21 years, or until 2040. Counting from 2015, that makes it a 25 year half-cycle, which triangulates well with the 25 year neoliberal half cycle that came just before, making for a 50-year full cycle. If I’m right, I’ll be 66 by the time we’re done with the weirding, so I might as well get comfortable.

There are, I think, four secular factors muddying a purely bang-bang horseshoe-cyclic view:

  1. The global societal response to the Internet
  2. Two generations coming of age amid precarity
  3. Climate change stressors and responses
  4. Inequality as a structural condition

I want to elaborate on the last one.

The geographic distribution of populations is now being shaped by the geographic distribution of wealth. People are choosing to live as close as they can afford to the sympathetic magic field of extreme wealth, rather than near sites of state power (which is weakening) or economic production (which is getting automated). Much of my own life has been funded directly by millionaires and billionaires in the last decade.

This structural effect is driving up cost of living, infrastructure pressures, gentrification, and NIMBYism in urban cores near where the wealthiest live. While this has an unexpected positive side effect (densification is a plus for climate action), in general, it seems to be an unsustainable trend, and something has to give.

It doesn’t matter if everything else gets cheaper with Moore’s Law, if rent, healthcare, and education costs race ahead of income. Those three costs drive hard choices, and that is putting existential pressures on institutions.

The first casualty appears to be education. A triangle of institutional death has appeared in education: the rich are brazenly gaming the system, the disadvantaged are ceding educational agency to profiteering social-justice grifters, and costs continue rising across the board even as returns continue to fall.

For actually acquiring a useful and enriching education, as opposed to earning a prestige credential or a political indoctrination, you increasingly have to resort to alternative means. Home-schooling, unschooling, autodidact college-level learning, and financially conservative models like lambda school make increasing sense. Paying for a 4-year degree, or even attending public school for free, increasingly appears to be a mug’s game in the West.

But for most, the default choice is to simply forgo education altogether and find postmodern analogs of premodern modes of survival. That foreshadows a Dark Age that will last longer than 21 years, since disinvestments from education have historically tended to compound and snowball across multiple generations.

The education system is officially down for the count. Other industrial era institutions will follow, as financially stressed people continue making hard choices, and privileged people choose between defending and fleeing public institutions. Lined up right behind education, there is a whole list of vulnerable institutions. Healthcare, news media, social security, the military, and the legal system. In the US, they are all precariously balanced on the watershed between public collapse and private flight.

In the near future, all schools at all levels will either be de facto rentier-elite finishing schools, or indoctrination schools for socialist revolutionaries.

Choices largely fall into two patterns of action: align with the wealthy, or against them.

The more people choose to align with wealth, the more larger-scale collective action will become impossible, and the closer we’ll get to revolutionary ecological resets.

The more people choose to align against wealth, the more public institutions will collapse, taken over by grifters as the privileged flee to private alternatives, and the closer we’ll get to revolutionary social resets.

Is there a way to hedge so we go down evolutionary paths? I don’t know. My personal strategy is increasingly to not bet on any middle-way compromise solutions at all. For the next 21 years, for every consequential thing, either the pro-wealthy or the anti-wealthy will win outright. A new institutional landscape will be carved out, one horseshoe lightning arc at a time.

Series Navigation<< Weirding Diary: 7Weirding Diary: 9 >>

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Wait, anti-Semitism is the apex of life’s meaning?

    • Big Pharmakon says

      The *meaningfulness* (not ‘meaning’) of life is highest at both ends of the horseshoe, at which point bolts of shared ideological prejudice flicker back and forth across the poles.

      Meaningfulness is not an index of content, it’s a measure of lived intensity, or capacity for finding meaning in the world. Both full-blown nazis and the ultra-woke find their experience of the world to be intensely meaningful, irrespective of the meaning of the contents of that experience.

      It’s not that the statement “nuke Israel” is maximally meaningful; it’s that both groups respond to it with maximally-engaged fervour.

    • Apparently, for both the far right and far left.

  2. Another possibility, that could shortcut the wealth dichotomy slightly, is the “charitable emulsion” that silicon valley types have been desperately trying to build for the last five years. Premise? You know it, but why not depict it. Data driven third world charity interventions applied 4 foot outside your gate; using mechanisms designed for positive social outcomes over long spans of control, folded over into very small physical spaces. Pop up hospitals, cash grants, microfinance, free laptops, free internet, remote courses..

    And why is this an emulsion? Because low key effective altruism practices become essential to combat the resentment that remote-workspace-ecosystem gentrification produces, while still allowing you access to variety, lower rent, and the most intelligent people in the local area; for a while, the distributed social capital from obscuring the ad-data business model, the sense that information services were being given as gifts, produced a kind of generalised goodwill that allowed hackerspaces the implicit passports required to be embedded within communities without issue. Now people are really working out how to maximise the value of that data in psychological interventions, and companies like Uber have withdrawn enthusiastically from this account without necessarily providing much in return, (and it is becoming more obvious to the average person how that works), being able to find anything on google or amazon now seems already priced in terms of ambient social effects of their platform, which they are now held responsible for.

    In that context, preserving the low social investment of the lifestyle engineer requires someone to take on refilling that account, in increasingly infrastructural terms, but which are, necessarily, framed as interventions; as google shifted from a gift to a platform, the brand hedonic treadmill quickly banked those results, so it is only by marking these interventions as continuously external, and ready to be removed at any time, that their conditionality and value can be preserved.

    In this context, America becoming a third world country cannot come soon enough, because those who are willing to pay attention to third world countries, are the only ones with professional experience sufficient to get silicon valley’s resources and positive feelings over the space-x-like hill from amatur explosive performance to effective action.

    There are people now who have completed their entire education in tent cities run by NGOs, without official citizenship of the places they call home. Psuedo-temporary cities built off of systems of bare minimum generosity, designed to engineer human needs to as low amounts of material transfer as possible.

    If you ignore language skills and quantities of human contact, the material lives of the backpacker coder and the posted charity worker are surprisingly similar, with the latter group having developed ways to extend their model to bringing up their own children, setting up “international schools” and home learning in a kind of parallel of the private schools of america, but with those who surround them nevertheless still remaining grateful to them for being there.

    If the hacker-coder-entrepeneur subculture wants to remain welcome in the places it distributes itself through, I suspect it will have to adopt similar practices, if not merge entirely with the ngo class.

  3. After the Alabama abortion law decision I’d expect an even stronger segregation into red and blue states. Likewise in Europe where Orbans Fidesz is among the few parties with a stable majority.

    Will the pendulum swing back towards liberalism? Unlikely, because some aspects of it are always but not universally rejected: economic freedom, mass immigration and racial diversity, sexual liberty, political expression(ism), access to drugs, indifference towards planetary affairs, deregulation … All of this together increases the stress level witout promising a crisis and a resolution.

    In the near future, all schools at all levels will either be de facto rentier-elite finishing schools, or indoctrination schools for socialist revolutionaries.

    Looks like you have a romantic image of the upper classes. As if they lived at an eternal court, created by the Ladys and their minstrels, the garden architect and his highness. The Ladys are responsible for beauty and good manners, the pals care for sports, politics and the army. There aren’t even fisnishing schools. They engage their own teachers.

    Without the equation of Havard with “The Cathedral” / leftist indoctrination there is no understanding of modern reactionary sentiment. When neolib is at the nadir of meaningfulness because it represents a subjectivism without substance, why then isn’t it capable to produce anything but fractal images of mass culture? The free agents do not look as if they were actually detached but servants of their image, created and maintained by others. As if they have surrendered to the Hegel/Marxian dialectics of master and servant which has became their only truth.

    • Oh I think enlightenment liberalism has been dead for at least 30 years. Zero romantic notions about. My image of the upper classes though, is not romantic, but is certainly eternalist. As in Pareto’s circulation of elites model. Through revolutions and evolutions the same elites seem to constantly reinvent themselves and persist at the top or in-waiting on one side of it. Every revolution brings at most a few new players to the table, and kicks a few out.

      I find guillotinism to be a romantic philosophy though. The idea that chopping off a few elite heads changes the nature of elite power and its constitution.

  4. somecommenter45356 says

    Interesting take on the education system. The current system with most schools being a combination of research institutions / professional schools on one hand and the ____ studies departments on the other is definitely unsustainable. I assume that your predicted split is that at some institutions will eject the social justice departments and others will be overwhelmed by them. I can see the former happening as the remainder has clear economic value, but where will the funding come from for the socialist indoctrination schools? Seems like the only source would be the governments of extremely liberal jurisdictions like NYC as you mention, and this would cover only below the college level. Hardly an even split.

  5. internaut says

    Do you know what Moravec’s Paradox is?

    It explains why

    > Paying for a 4-year degree, or even attending public school for free, increasingly appears to be a mug’s game in the West.

    The tldr; is that the white collar class is competing with information processing and should expect to go the way of the Farmer in this century. Ancedotal but look at the price of a framer today in the USA – that may be the future of most blue collar jobs. This has happened before in the industrial revolution but it’s so long ago even the possibility is out of mind.

    I believe MP is the single most important factor behind the patterns we are seeing in technology, education and the economy, it’s my hedgehog play. Most people in the field are foxes and many intelligent people reject MP but it has been remarkably consistent a pattern since computation became a thing.