Bad times are ahead. And we're not ready.
Thank you for writing this. That vague sense of dread you described about the beginning of the Ukraine war is certainly coming back now as my mind grapples with two all-out wars happening simultaneously, not to mention all the other conflicts in the world getting less attention. It's the feeling that events could really cascade in unforeseen directions and there are no adults in the room to manage it.
Damir, this is an excellent and haunting piece.
I share your sense of deep unease, but after reading this post, I realize that I too often bury the feeling. Our increasingly precarious world is difficult to stare in the eye.
Please keep banging this drum. We’re not ready.
Damir: You'll get a lot of comments on this so I'll keep it brief. The urgency vs. complacency issue you mention has always been at the core of WoC, as a disagreement between some form of "realism" and Shadi's (yes, complacent) "things are never as bad as they seem" heuristic (a starting point that defies all analysis).
It was hard at the beginning to see this disagreement for what it was, Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, most WoC conversations were about the US domestic situation, around which you, while hardly borrowing against future peace dividends, could express hope that US constitutional institutions and political traditions would contain radical polarization. They still may do that, but my guess is that today, you would grant the possibility that your wheels-coming-off metaphor applies locally as well as globally.
To me, it seems like politics and geopolitics are increasingly presenting us with the same dilemma. I wish I could simply look forward to seeing how this plays out in WoC, but I worry we are to the point where no discussion forum can possibly keep up with the headlines.
In the same vein as Kagan, it’s worth checking out George Friedman’s Storm Before the Calm and Peter Zeihan’s The End of the World is Just Beginning and Disunited Nations. And take a look at theprepared.com for fire starting tips...
As a happy new subscriber here, I found myself in full agreement with Damir about the re-entry of the U.S. into history, now that our half-century of economic expansion has curdled into a kind of late-stage surveillance capitalism.
But, contra his other contention, it's this economic condition, rather than the growth of "the jungle" (an ugly metaphor from the deterministic "clash of civilizations" theorists), that represents not just a coming storm but one which has fully arrived. If he's planning on taking to the streets a la 1989, as he mentions, I'll join him in resisting the new technofeudalism.
But I'd say the new calls to "put the country on a war footing"--with an annual defense budget already approaching one trillion dollars--are another and highly dangerous matter. We are watching one declining empire behave erratically (with its Ukrainian invasion) in a last-ditch effort to restore its imperial status. We should resist the impulse to become its mirror image.
As for the tragedy unfolding in Israel and the war fever mounting by the hour, I thought today of Jewish theologian Martin Buber and his hope that the source of Israeli identity would be "the upbuilding of peace" through Jewish culture and tradition, not nationalist ideology and the call to "join the wolf pack"--i.e., the other militaristic nations.
Buber considered this latter kind of nationalist assimilation to be "the most terrifying, the most dangerous". He stated, "That which we lose on account of it we shall perhaps never acquire again." And sadly he has been proven correct.
I suspect one dividing line in this excellent Substack conversation (the Damir T-shirts versus the Shadi T-shirts?) may be between those with anxiety that we no longer possess the animal tendencies and drone systems we need to confront some foreign "jungle" as opposed to those who suspect we already inhabit an economic jungle which is killing us reliably enough at home.
Europe looked away after Azerbaijan cleansed an Armenian enclave, because the Azerbaijanis supplied us with much needed natural gas. We’ve learned nothing. Only a matter of time before autocratic Azerbaijan invades democratic Armenia to take the Zangezur corridor, if not much more. So much for democracy vs autocracy.
Is there any hope for Europe to get its act together and try to stabilise what happens just across its borders? The Eurocrats talk a lot but can’t get security policy done, the French still think geostrategically but overestimate their own capabilities, and Germany still hasn’t rejected their smug self-imposed isolationism.
US spends far more than any other country in the world on its military. I think it should decrease military spending as such a large military is not needed when you have two oceans surrounding you.
"The jungle is growing back. And we naive civilized folks, we couldn’t even start a fire without matches, much less feed or defend ourselves in the wilderness."
Does this mean the rest of the world is the jungle and the West are the civilized ones? Or does it mean that the world as a whole is getting chaotic which is the jungle and the West might be civilized but naive and it doesn't mean West is the only place where you find civilized people. From what I know of you, I think the second more charitable reading makes more sense.