And We Will Know Him for a Thousand Years

The Story So Far

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I blame part of my absence on the fact that I’ve been extraordinarily busy these last two months. But truth be told, the main reason for the pause in Five Futures was that my reading list had become so Trump-heavy that it was getting difficult to put these missives together. “Fine,” I thought, “I’ll just wait until after November 9th, and then the whole Trump thing will be behind us.”

Like everyone else, I sure did call that one wrong.

If you’ve been following along, then you know that while I thought Clinton was going to win, I expected it to be tight, and for the GOP to retain control of the House and Senate. Pollsters are going to be doing a lot of soul-searching over the next few years about where their models and methodology went wrong. For my own part, I think I missed two things:

As you can probably guess, I expect little good to come of either set of factors.

But before we get into that, some historical perspective. To take the edge off the present.

Deep History

Two issues ago we discussed how Aboriginal Australian tales appear to accurately record over 7,000 years of coastal changes. Now researchers and Aboriginal elders have re-identified what appears to be an ancient solar observatory that may date back 11,000 years. Observatories of this type are unknown amongst hunter-gatherer peoples, but are common in early agricultural civilizations. Indeed:

Custodian Reg Abrahams said the region around the observatory seemed to have once had semi-permanent villages with evidence of early fishing and farming practices.

“If you’re going to have a stone arrangement where you mark off the seasons throughout the year with the solstices and equinoxes, it kind of makes sense if you’re at least most of the year in one specific location to do that,” he said.

“So if that’s the case, it would make sense if you’re near permanent food and water sources.”

He said there were areas where eel traps would have been set up and even signs of “gilgies”, or terraces used in farming.

And yet intensive agriculture never caught on in Australia to the extent it did elsewhere. Why? Or was the observatory constructed by a people who were still nomadic?

The more we learn about Aboriginal Australian history and culture, the more mind-blowingly complex it appears. There seems to have been nothing else quite like it on Earth, and understanding how such complexity and memory were maintained for so long strikes me as important if we are to successfully meet the challenges of the next few thousand years.

The Empty Land

Native American culture is also deeper than most of us learn in school. Before the arrival Europeans, North America was already occupied by a variety of nations. Cities were built, land was farmed, animals were domesticated, and complex trade networks were maintained. Ironically, as Charlie Loyd points out in the October edition of 6,88, these trade networks led to catastrophe when European diseases began to spread. The resulting social collapse helped Europeans conceptualize of North America as a “primitive” and “empty” place, when in reality it was neither.

… Almost wherever European American people went, they saw Native American people in collapsed societies, because trade had already carried European diseases.


So European American explorers tended to perceive social formlessness and emptiness wherever they went for two interlocking reasons: first, racism, and second, that the societies they encountered were often in the middle of the equivalent of Europe’s Black Death or worse. The white people, generally, missed that huge parts of America were under agricultural management ranging from casual wildcrafting to intensive farming. They wrote these notes to each other about how oddly fertile and hospitable American land was, and how useful it would be once the local people were gone. It was as if to visit Berkshire and write home that it was full of naturally occurring dairies that would be very useful once all the damnable dairy farmers, milkmaids, and vets were killed. It was a massive failure of humanity, but also of basic observational skills.

While Loyd takes some pains to try to absolve the European legal concepts of res nullius and terra nulllius in principle, I’m not so sure that you can separate the principles from their historic use. And when you begin to consider that animals may have some sense of human-like agency, these concepts really become problematic. Was anything really ever res nullius?

When I talk about one of our central cultural challenges being how to conceptualize of people who are not people, these are exactly the sorts of deep-seated principles whose legitimacy I believe needs to be challenged.

The Subtle Knife

We discussed in the introduction how the behavior of white women as a voting bloc in this past election took me by surprise. I also mentioned that the effectiveness of current voter disenfranchisement efforts surprised me. This is not to say that I thought disenfranchisement wasn’t going to have an effect on the election, but rather that I thought it would take at least one more census/electoral cycle (i.e., 2022) for the effects to become sever. I seem to have seriously underestimated how bad the situation has already become.

… 27,000 votes currently separate Trump and Clinton in Wisconsin, where 300,000 registered voters, according to a federal court, lacked strict forms of voter ID. Voter turnout in Wisconsin was at its lowest levels in 20 years and decreased 13 percent in Milwaukee, where 70 percent of the state’s African-American population lives, according to Daniel Nichanian of the University of Chicago.


How many people were turned away from the polls? How many others didn’t bother to show up in the first place? These are questions we need to take far more seriously. In 2014, a study by Rice University and the University of Houston of Texas’s 23rd Congressional District found that 12.8 percent of registered voters who didn’t vote in the election cited lack of required photo ID as a reason they didn’t cast a ballot, even though only 2.7 percent of registered voters actually lacked an acceptable ID. Texas’s strict voter-ID law blocked some voters from the polls while having an ever larger deterrent effect on others. Eighty percent of these voters were Latino and strongly preferred Democratic candidates.

On Election Day, there were 868 fewer polling places in states with a long history of voting discrimination, like Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina. These changes impacted hundreds of thousands of voters, yet received almost no coverage. In North Carolina, as my colleague Joan Walsh reported, black turnout decreased 16 percent during the first week of early voting because “in 40 heavily black counties, there were 158 fewer early polling places.” Even if these restrictions had no outcome on the election, it’s fundamentally immoral to keep people from voting in a democracy. The media devoted hours and hours to Trump’s absurd claim that the election was rigged against him, while spending precious little time on the real threat that voters faced.

Previously I’ve mostly focused on the effects of gerrymandering, and as such I’m happy to see efforts being made to address the issue. But it now seems clear that more “subtle” methods of disenfranchisement - “exact match” voter registration, trivial methods for removing voters from the rolls, recount eligibility rules that frankly fly in the face of why you’d want a recount in the first place, and, of course, felon disenfranchisement - may be more significant factors distorting the US electoral process. Given that the GOP now has a lock on two branches of the federal government (and probably soon, all three), I expect it to become increasingly difficult to ensure that the franchise is practically available to all of our fellow citizens.

Things Change

Trump’s campaign went out with a bang that was just shy of Fascism 2.0, and his post-election cabinet picks and advisers have ranged from run-of-the-mill kleptocrats, to dangerous proto-authoritarians, to borderline Nazis. The only silver lining to the situation appear to be that career Republicans, largely excluded from Trump’s nascent administration, are beginning to push back… But even this opposition seems at best half-hearted. Meanwhile, Democrats appear to be contemplating some level of cooperation with the incoming administration, a strategy that would make political sense only if one honestly believed Trump had any respect for the democratic and bureaucratic processes upon which our country is based - a position for which there seems to be diminishing evidence.

The entire situation has a distinctly Weimar-y vibe to it.

The best-case scenario at this point may be a (temporary?) descent into autocracy of the type envisioned by Sarah Kendzior. But with white ethnonationalism resurgent and a population increasingly receptive to military rule, now is probably a good time to begin imagining the unimaginable.

And We Will Know Him for a Thousand Year

At its worst, the Trump administration may represent the end of the republic. At it’s best, it may just be an episode of unprecedented level of kleptocracy and kakistocracy. Either of which would be bad enough. Unfortunately, the consequences of Trump’s presidency are unlikely to end with his administration.

Trump’s election represents a decisive route in the fight against climate change and global environmental degradation. Which is not to say that further efforts are futile. It can always get worse, and the need to address these issues is not going to diminish. But the world now seems destined for dislocating, terrible changes. We need to accept this. Mitigate what we can still change. Prepare for what we cannot.

Acceptance, mitigation, and preparation are not on deck in Trump’s administration.

I am not sure that I agree that Trump is the first demagogue of the Anthropocene (I think there are other good candidates), but his actions will certainly enable many more. And while Trump’s name may eventually be forgotten, the consequences of our acquiescence to predatory delay will continue to reverberate for a thousand years.


Existential risk and the end of civilization: The video game.