This post was going viral on Reddit, “Are we living in a time of ‘widespread social collapse’?”
I think it’s more like small-scale, localized decay, not widespread societal collapse. This is not a particularly popular position. American exceptionalism is not just about economics or foreign pricy, but the belief that everything either centers around us or is unique to us, including even the collapse of America. Every generation thinks that its era is the the most pivotal, is the final act/inning, or are facing conditions that are especially unique to it. No one wants to be told that their generation or era is not special, just one of many in succession of others who also felt the same way about theirs.
Almost everything I predicted over the past 5+ years has come true:
1. No societal unrest or collapse, although things may feel worse. The ‘long peace‘ thesis of Pinker and the ‘end of history‘ of Fukuyama are still more or less intact. Because things feel worse or on the precipice of unrest or war, does not necessarily mean they are worse or that war will happen. Pinker and Fukuyama never promised a world free from conflict.
2. The US economy and stock market outperforming the rest of the world, especially post-Covid. The S&P 500’s outperformance, going as far back as 2010, is striking:
3. Continued strength and dominance of the US dollar. Despite the de-dollarization meme, the US dollar is close to 10-year highs having only given up some of 2022’s huge gains, and emerging market currencies keep falling:
Although I was wrong about inflation, in agreement with #2, Europe, particularly Germany, has had even worse inflation due to out-of-control energy prices and dependence on Russian natural gas. The media narrative during the ’90s and early 2000s scolded Americans for being too reliant on fossil fuels, enriching the Saudis, consuming too much, etc.–yet it was Europe that found itself in a more precarious energy situation compared to the US and dependent on Putin gas, as opposed to Saudi oil. As for corporate fraud, the VW emissions scandal in 2015 and the Wirecard scandal in 2020 further disabuses any notion of Germany being America’s moral superior.
This is further evidence that whatever problems the US has, are worse/magnified overseas, whether it’s unrest, fraud, inflation, wokeness, etc. (Yes, someone can point to a country like Luxembourg as being better, but I am mostly talking large, developed countries.) Rent is high ‘here’, but so are wages. In Western Europe, rent is high and homes are unaffordable–similar to the US–but wages are much lower. The wages/wealth aspect is almost always overlooked in comparisons of rent/housing, healthcare, or tuition in the US compared to overseas; Americans are wealthier and earn more, so it stands to reason they will pay and consume more.
America’s housing shortage is bad, but be thankful you don’t live in Germany, where housing is so expensive and in such short supply that most Germans rent. DEI sucks, but so is being arrested for tweeting, for speech that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment, which is a surprisingly common occurrence outside of the US, like in putatively ‘Western’ countries such as Germany or the UK (anyone else seeing the irony of arresting people who criticize a monarch who is supposed to be so ‘beloved’?).
Regarding unrest, just scan the headlines you will find some unrest, like civil war, going on in Africa. Or political unrest in South America. France has protests constantly. Meanwhile, as I argued earlier, America’s threats are almost always invented/contrived, overblown, transitory (so-called ‘current things‘), on the horizon/hypothetical, or self-contained/self-limited in scale. Americans have it so good, our wars are literally invented by the media or merely metaphorical (culture wars, ‘war on Christmas’, etc.). We’re so bereft of enemies that an errant balloon is a declaration of war (as I correctly predicted, the story deflated from the headlines and nothing ever came of it).
Historical perspective is also needed. In the 19th and early 20th century, unrest was so common, such as labor protests, bombings, and even a riot that broke out after Jack Johnson, a negro, won a boxing match.
The George Floyd riots of 2020 were bad, but over by November, lasting just months on and off sporadically across many cities. The Jan 6th Capitol protests lasted just hours. The same democracy that withstood two world wars, the Spanish War, the Civil War, and the Cold War–all within a century–was somehow on the brink of being destroyed by some guys in MAGA hats who didn’t agree with the outcome of the 2020 election, and had no strategy or plan. When one looks at body count or severity, the ’90s were arguably more or equally violent domestically (the Unabomber, the Columbine shooting, the World Trade Center bombing, the Rodney King riots, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, Waco, etc.) compared to the past two decades.
If things seem worse, it’s probably because of the availability bias. In a country of 300+ million people and almost every adult with a smartphone and a social media account, it means the odds approach 100% that there will always be some unrest, be it outburst or violence, captured on video that goes viral. Social media means that incidents of unrest that would have gone unreported in the ‘pre-smartphone era’, go viral today and are broadcast to an audience of billions worldwide. People turn to social media to see what is going wrong with the world, or for confirmation that their ‘side’ is good and the opposing side is bad, not for reasonable, civil, or nuanced takes on issues.
Some say wokeness is getting worse or here to say, but it was always with us. The difference now is that it seems more pervasive due to social media, as well as more peer pressure. If your friends have changed their avatars to LGBT colors or BLM-themed ‘fist pumps’, then one may feel compelled to do so as well. Howard Zinn’s highly influential and best-selling A People’s History of the United States was published in 1980, four decades before CRT was even a ‘thing’, and was required reading for many colleges. Also, there are more pundits and activists than ever who have built careers, on either side of the aisle, of making Americans angrier and more divided. But there is always some culture war going on. In the ’60s it was over desegregation. In the ’80s and ’90s it was gay rights and the AIDS epidemic. These seem quaint now, but abortion, flag burning, violent or obscene lyrics in music, and ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ were big issues in the ’90s. Gay marriage was a big deal in the early 2000s. Now it’s trans issues. IQ was a controversial topic even in the ’70s, as it is now. One would assume that the ‘fat acceptance movement’ is an outgrowth of social media, but it dates back to the ’60s, which came as a surprise to me at least.
However, I agree with the Reddit poster that in some respects, that not only do things feel worse, they may be getting worse, at least on a small scale. But I don’t think it’s destabilizing. The culture wars and political division will get more intense, but it won’t lead to anything like civil war. There will be more homelessness, more mass shootings, more drug addiction, lower social trust, more wokeness, etc.–but juxtaposed with record GDP growth, higher stock market, geopolitical stability, etc. Although the ‘official’ US unemployment rate stands at just 3.5%, the lowest in decades, after factoring in the growing ranks of the disabled, homeless, or addicted, it’s probably closer to 50%. It’s something of a miracle anything works at all given how many people are not contributing. My thesis, contrary to Vox Day, has been that America’s considerable economic, racial, and cultural diversity, at the cost of social trust, counterintuitively helps stave off larger scale unrest or instability. This is because successful insurgencies require some degree of coordination, which is less likely when social trust is so low. There will remain the contradiction of elites advocating policy whilst separating themselves physically from the consequences of said policy.
China is not going to do anything, such as making a move on Taiwan. I have never understood how a historically defensive nation, and one that is still scared of a virus as the rest of the world has moved on, is somehow going to initiate the next world war. The great ‘AI alignment’ is not going to happen either as much as Eliezer ‘Huberman’ Yud and others may insist so. Even in the unlikely event of global financial collapse or debt crisis, there is no reason to expect that the US would fare worse than other developed countries. If things ever got bad enough that the US somehow defaulted on its debt, likely so would other countries. As during past crisis, such as 2008 and 2020, the US economy has tended to recover faster compared to others and rise to the top above the rubble, as it has always done in the past.
The fear or possibility of being replaced, kept forces of cultural and societal decay in check. In the past, wounded or sick empires faded or were conquered, but when the rest of the world is also sick and wounded but worse, then maybe all we can hope is to just muddling along.