Balloons and unidentified aerial objects are the latest ‘current thing’, replacing the egg crisis, or is now the Bing GPT crisis? It began with the Chinese spy balloon a couple weeks go, and has ‘memetically’ morphed into a national obsession. This has captivated Twitter and online punditry as being some major coverup or harbinger of doom in the indeterminate future, or as a general discussion piece or conversation starter.
I think this shows how good America has it that its threats are literally unidentifiable, compared to the rest of the world, especially Europe, which has been in non-stop crisis mode since 2008. Like UFOs, much of America’s problems are hypothetical or always on the horizon–be it nuclear war, the A.I. apocalypse, World War III, being overtaken by China, or political division that feels like the brink of civil war but never quite gets there.
For example, World War III was recently trending on Twitter:
Otherwise, the rest of the world has had to contend with actual threats. An egg shortage sucks, but it’s not as bad as thousands of people dying overnight in a natural disaster. Whatever problems the US has, like inflation or corruption, are typically far worse overseas. Compared to the US, overseas the unrest is more organic and decentralized, and symptomatic of long-standing underlying social problems, such as corruption as demonstrated in Mexico or Turkey.
Western and Southern Europe:
-Double-digit inflation, especially energy prices (2021-)
-2008 financial crisis, which led to the austerity protests in 2010-2012 and slowed economic growth.
-2010-2014 debt contagion
-Covid, which hit Western and Southern Europe much worse than the US. Also, much worse restrictions and lockdowns compared to the US.
-The 2022 French protests
-Brexit and aftermath (2016-)
-Anti-lockdown protests in Germany (2021)
-Assassination of Jo Cox (2016)
-Trucker convoy protests, much worse Covid restrictions compared to the US (2022)
-Deterioration of confidence in leadership (ongoing)
-Hyperinflation and debt crisis (2018-)
-Covid crisis (2020-2021)
-Sporadic protests and unrest, coup, and the Gülen Movement (2013-, 2016)
-Catastrophic earthquake (2023)
-Kurdish–Turkish conflict (ongoing)
-Russia-Ukraine war (2022-), War in Donbas (2014-2022)
-2019–2022 Chilean protests
-2022–2023 Brazilian election protests
-El Salvador and its Bitcoin experiment disaster
-Brazil protests over inflation, 2015 election
-Endless corruption scandals
-Endless drug wars and cartel conflicts
-Lebanon economic crisis (2019-)
-Iranian protests (2021-)
-Syrian civil war (2011-)
-War in Afghanistan and aftermath (2001-)
-Hong Kong protests (2019-2020)
-Taiwan-China tensions (ongoing)
-China Covid crisis, endless lockdowns, nascent unraveling or uncertainty regarding Xi Jinping’s grip of power (2019-)
-Assassination of Shinzo Abe (2022)
As Scott Greer (aka Mr. 187 IQ) puts well, Americans enjoy a relatively high standard of living and prosperity compared to the rest of the world, which is a disincentive to throw it away on social causes:
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to national divorce is the absence of any concrete justification for separation. Most national divorce advocates say that Red States must exit the union because of wokeness. Wokeness may be infuriating to millions of Americans, but for most, wokeness is an abstract concern. People are not going to give up their homes and 401ks over drag queen story hour.
As a famous viral 2014 Forbes article noted, the poorest state, Mississippi, is still richer on a per-capita basis than the UK (the empire that once ruled a quarter of the world a little over a century ago). America’s culture of self-sufficiency and atomistic individualism, like ‘negative rights’, is protective against the sort of unrest seen elsewhere in the world.
Of course, that’s not to say there are not real, tangible occurrences of unrest in the US. Jan 6th was obviously a big deal. But the major difference is such unrest tends to be much more self-limited and does last that long. The Jan 6th protests lasted just hours. Same for the George Floyd riots, which abruptly stopped after Biden won. Or why no one talks about kneeling anymore after it was such a big deal in 2017-2019. The convergence of corporations and activism is like making a BLM fist pump with one hand and holding a Starbucks 16-oz cup in the other. ‘No Racism’ stenciled on the endzones goes together with CTE like American Empress and unfunny comedians.
Same for ‘DEI’ and ‘ESG’, the latest successors to ‘CRT’ and ‘cultural Marxism’, which have fallen out of favor online. I think DEI is the quintessential ‘bullshit job’, but otherwise top tech companies seem quite meritocratic. Look at all the recent tech firings…Mark Zuckerberg and other CEOs have given ultimatums about employees not ‘putting in 200%’. Or how much scrutiny goes into hiring, such as phone interviews and long technical interviews, none of which have anything to do with diversity. It would be better if companies did not have DEI, but it’s not the end of the world either.
It just goes to show how staged it all is, on either side of the aisle. Like the news cycle changing, when the script changes, so does the performers. It’s hard to not become cynical to the whole thing.
But despite the ephemerality of protests and outrages, many of America’s problems seem to be of a more intractable or hopeless nature. A year later, no one has any idea what to do about Putin. And although not as bad as Western Europe or Turkey, 7% annual inflation is still quite a shock from 0-2% annual inflation pre-2021 that Americans had become accustomed to.
Nothing seems to work…watching the fed trying to fight inflation is like a 2-year-old trying to figure out how to insert the correct shapes into the holes of one of those toy boxes. A decade of ‘easy money’ policy has finally come to a head. Or that obesity epidemic in the US, which keeps getting worse despite food manufacturers literally making the packages smaller. None of these things are going to get better anytime soon.
Same for increased political and ideological division and polarization. It’s not that Americans cannot see eye to eye figuratively, but literally too. On the road, the red truck-class are elevated above the blue car-class.
Or loss of social trust and general unease. Rather than major civil unrest, there will be an increase of small crimes, like shoplifting, in addition to increased homelessness, opioid abuse, and mental illness. You will be able to feel the tension in the air, as if strangers are liable to snap on a hair trigger. Expect more public freakouts and random acts of violence, caught on smartphones and viral on social media. Like the Superbowl, the annual mass shooting has become another tradition in America.
American politics has been described as paranoid, but being the biggest and most successful nation in the world understandably comes with the fear of suddenly losing it all or being second place. The loss of civic trust and the gradual decay of cultural and social institutions, unlike UFOs, is real and is not something that will just go away like whatever current thing that momentarily takes our attention away.