Amid all the recent hubbub and frightening global messes, what can I possibly offer you?
Perhaps some step-back perspective? A litle context? Not just bigger-picture habits learned from astronomy and science fiction, but also from the real obsession of most SF authors... which is human history.
I refer to the 6000 year litany of pain, crises and dreadful errors that afflicted all our ancestors. That grueling climb from mud, caves and superstition was almost always far worse for those forebears than anything that 99% of us today have ever experienced. Yet, they persevered through a morass of sickness and oppression and death... of mistakes, good intentions, delusions and agony, mixed with streaks of utter malignity, then dollops of heroism and brilliance that - during just the last couple of centuries - finally became something resembling progress...
...and more recently, something bordering on marvelous! Proving that we can rise up and do and be better. Even if we wind up choosing - tragically - not to.
So let's go for a little of that context. Starting with an absurd (and noxious) notion being pushed nowadays, that the Great Enlightenment Experiment or GEE is no better than our foes - those who aim to bring it crashing down.
We'll start with the rationalizations offered by foreign rivals... and then by our own domestic traitor nut-jobs.
== Those rivals are busy in ways that seem... frantic ==
Let's begin with the obvious, that both Russia and China have been expressing resentful revanchism for all of this century so far, demanding control over neighboring regions based upon dubious historical claims, over-riding or ignoring local sovereignty and popular will. There are different textures to the same theme, as told by Nathan Gardels in Nōema:
“China and Russia are battling different demons of the past. Xi is seeking to rejuvenate Chinese civilization, hoisting it back to its rightful centrality in the world after being subordinated by Western imperialism. Putin, possessed by a millennial vision of restoring the “great Russia” of the 11th century, is seeking to recover from the post-Cold War humiliation of becoming a rump state.”
Let's recall that ol' Vlad was recorded many times calling the fall of the USSR "The greatest tragedy of the 20th Century." He and his fellow "ex"-commissars - the very same fellows whom folks on the U.S. right hated, back when they recited Leninist chants and wore hammer-sickles - became darlings of the U.S. right, after simply changing lapel pins and erecting some statues to Nicholas II. Of course the renamed KGB is staffed by the same agents and plotters, using the same methods (including blackmail of western elites), with the same goals.
‘Multipolar world’ and ‘civilization state’ are phrases used to provide a patina of high minded diversity-cred to those goals, justifying an end to a presumptively bullying American Pax – whose most macroscopic outcome across 80 years (outweighing many awful mistakes) has been inarguably the best era of progress, science, development, prosperity, freedom and per-capita peace the world ever knew. The greatest compared to all other eras… combined.
In China’s case, there are rightful complaints about past colonialist bullyings that wrought almost as much harm to that great nation as mal-governance by their own feudal castes! (It's hypocrisy to blame one without acknowledging the other.) Though attributing any of that colonialist oppression to America is a real stretch. In fact, that broad-brush untruth is slanderously ingrate fabulation and almost-pure calumny, playing upon clichés and ignorance to justify anger at a nation that - across 4000 years - was China's only real foreign friend. But that is for another time.
(I do welcome wagers though, with major escrowed stakes, based on actual, historical facts.)
Putin’s revanchist pitch has differences, but there are two shared themes.
First, that ‘rule of law’ is only a mythology, spread by Western imperialists in order to justify continued hegemony…
…and second that lifelong tenure of a single leader and clique – the kingship pattern that made the previous 6000 years a morass of unaccountable misrule – must be preserved! Presumably because their respective nations cannot afford to risk a regular churn of leadership that allows fresh talent to rise from hundreds of millions of fellow citizens.
It is the tiresomely venerable (veneriable?) myth of the irreplaceable man.
For all of America’s political dysfunction, the regular cycle of leader-churn is observable evidence to the world of a nation unafraid of replacing leaders with fresh talent... though what it all means is a matter vexatiously wrestled for 240 years, along eight phases of America's ongoing culture war.
What's fundamental here is that this is not about multipolarity, or tolerance of diverse civilizations. Hey, you want diversity? Diversity-R-Us! Let eight billion varied flowers bloom!
Want a fair competition based upon happy-prosperous populations, freedom and measurable outcomes? A fair, grownup rivalry between different versions of state-moderated market economics would seem just fine. I expect that later decades of this century might see loose 'leader-status' of this globe pass across the Pacific. Even the language that folks use for culture and commerce may migrate.
What matters is the core thing that enabled the post 1945 world to flourish as never befere. Some call it Rule-of-Law - much derided by every autarchy on the planet. Others call it Democracy - a word that Fox shills now deride, while riling a re-risen Confederacy against everything that actually 'made America great.'
If rule-of-law and democracy aren't the deepest, fundamental, then what?
I say it's something far more basic. It is recognizing that all humans - especially all leaders - are inherently delusional! (So are you! So am I.) And only one tool ever offered a way to pierce delusions, reducing the wretched litany of error/calamity/misrule that we call 'history.'
That method requires freedom to reciprocally criticize one-another, even ... especially ... the mighty. To spot (and denounce) each others' errors. To form and renegotiate agile coalitions, generated from below. To inconvenience power and encourage negotiation based on facts... and maturity... and transparency & light.
Freedom, democracy and rule-of-law have proved to be the best methods for delivering that reciprocal error-correction. They are the tools we have used to (partially, so far) save ourselves. They are justifiable - and worth fighting for - not just because they are morally good, but also because they smash any claim by despots to offer better, positive outcomes.
Make no mistake: this is about sheer survival. If we return to an era of delusional Big Man rule, immune from thorough criticism - in a world of nukes and designer bugs and cyber Skynet gods - we're all gonna die.
Scratch the surface and it isn't about this or that multipolar 'civilization.' It is literally - and not metaphorically - about friends-of-light vs. enemies-of-light.
Which brings the topic back on home.
== Our own neo-feudalists want rule-by-Nero ==
Across America and Europe, the 'populist' Mad Right’s fetish - its only priority - is neo-feudalism. It has always been thus, in every phase of the 250 year American Civil War.
In 1778 Lord Cornwallis went south because he knew he'd find more king-lovers down there. In 1861 it was "Gone With The Wind" plantation barons who got a million poor whites to march and die for their slaveholder 'rights.' (Mark Twain blamed that Phase 4 of the Civil War on the romantic-feudal novels of Sir Walter Scott!) Today it's billionaires and their inheritance brats who Republicans must protect - at all cost! - from being forced by the IRS to pay their share of taxes. But also from nerds, who keep inconveniently reciting those fell words that oligarchs most hate to hear.
"Sir, that is factually untrue."
Alas for the hopes of would-be lords, it appears that the voting populace is wising up. Soon, citizens are likely to start using democracy to rectify skyrocketing wealth and power disparities. And if voters might do that, then democracy, itself, must be demonized! And then made to go away. Leading at last to:
“For the last three years, parts of the American right have advocated a theory called Caesarism as an authoritarian solution to the claimed collapse of the US republic in conference rooms, podcasts and the house organs of the extreme right…”
I've been denouncing this trend, ever since it was a festering yammer cult in fetid corners of LaRouche-land and rage sci fi, back in the 1980s. Now, funded lavishly by fellows like Peter Thiel, it is burgeoning, as I said it would. (See the 'Holnists' in The Postman.)
Let me put it plain: After 6000 years of wretchedly stupid misrule by inheritance-brat kings and lords, we broke from that feudal Divine Right romantic twaddle, accomplishing vastly more - in every conceivable category - during the last 250 years of gradually improving constitutionalism – and especially during the post-Rooseveltean era – than ALL other human cultures… combined.
Yes, I mean combined. Put up wager stakes.
Anything that is consensus-good and factually verifiable has done vastly better in liberal democracy. Like the % of human beings who have been able to raise healthy children in conditions of light and peace. Or science. Or production, economics or entrepreneurship. Or the thing Adam Smith promoted, but that now the neo-lords hate, above all else. Flat-fair-creative competition.
Of course by any name, Red Caesarism is an insane goal, chased by incel yammerers who see no other way to become Top Dogs. So, let me turn and address them, directly.
Sure guys, you will try, and we know you are girding your bluball loins for this. If the 2024 elections don’t go your way, you will unleash on us waves of McVeighs, expecting, in masturbatory fantasy land, that macho howls and basement arsenals will outweigh mature competence. That nerds won't rise up and respond, when everything we all depend upon is attacked.
Only, what if we're far more ready than you imagine? Exactly how do you think this is gonna go, when you are waging all-out war vs ALL fact using professions? From science and teaching, medicine, law and civil service to the heroes of the FBI/Intel/Military officer corps who won the Cold War and the War on terror?
Against ALL the nerds who know cyber, bio, nuclear, chemistry and all the rest?
(See how Heinlein predicted today's mass anti-intellectualism and racism as a recurring American madness.)
In fact, it goes both ways. Science fiction – sometimes even well-written – has also played a role in nurturing this cult! Foremost among those pushing rejection of the American Experiment has been Orson Scott Card – a writer of unquestionable persuasive genius and gifted psychological manipulativeness. Scott spent his entire career relentlessly inveighing that democracy is futile - all hope of decent institutions is forlorn naïveté - and we all should all throw ourselves at the feet of some super-uber-Caesar, hoping that the demigod will be as nice as Ender Wiggin.
Only, as in Card's prescriptive manifesto EMPIRE, the new Caesar should also have an all-chastising whip – and maybe cattle cars and smokestacks – to back up his unquestioned (unquestionable) wisdom.
== The story is the same, inside and out ==
Okay this was a long one, so let's bring it around. Strip away all the rationalizations... from Putin's rabid ethno-nationalism to 'clash of civilizations' to MAGA nerd-hatred, to vapid "both side-ism."
Those who plot downfall of the Great Enlightenment Experiment (GEE) seek one thing: a return of the Big Man (feudal) model that dominated nearly all human societies - aside from a few islands of light... e.g. Periclean Athens, daVinci's Florence... that were crushed by surrounding oligarchies and kingdoms, for daring to question absolute rule by imbeciles.
Now, faced with the spectacular successes - top to bottom - of the GEE, they try to counter that undeniable record with magical incantations. I described some of those pushed by external rivals... and other chants fomented (under lavish subsidy) by domestic traitors. There is so much more to say... and I'll get around to more. (You know that!)
How I wish the Good Guys leading the GEE right now had better tactics! I tried to offer some in Polemical Judo! But for now, what I have tried to say, this time, is...
...about why we (including you) must gather the courage and resolve to fight for a world of light.