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Those Pesky Declinists and Their Dangerous Ideas

General Ideas

Declinists claim to see the big picture. Their portraits are grandiose, subsuming, total. Consider one of the all-time bestsellers, the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth (1972). With more than 30 million copies sold in 30 languages, this ‘Project on the Predicament of Mankind’ gave alarmed readers a portrait of demise, mapped out with gloomy confidence about ‘feedback loops’ and ‘interactions’. In fact, it shared much in common with the good Reverend Thomas Malthus, including the obsession with diminishing returns. Fixated with the decline of arable land, Malthus could not see sources of increasing returns – at least not at first. Some of his friends eventually convinced him that machinery and colonialism solved the problem of too little food for too many mouths; later editions of his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) went through contortions to figure this out. In the same way, systems analysts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology simulated the whole world, but could not admit little pictures of ingenuity, problem-solving and adaptation – some of which had the perverse effect of unlocking so many more sources of carbon that we’d begin to bake the planet several generations later!

This piece by Jeremy Adelman is not worth of a detailed rebuttal, but I think it is deserves to be read as a literary piece. Truly brilliant, read it for its magniloquent sound, for instance, Declinists have a big blindspot because they are attracted to daring, total, all-encompassing alternatives to the humdrum greyness of modest solutions.”

But, apart from the daring, total, all-encompassing, etc, what is that Adelman finds so “dangerous” in declinism? Curiously, the term “dangerous” is used only in the title but never in the text. So, the whole danger of declinism seems to be that it can “impoverish our imagination.” Honestly, that doesn’t seem to be so dangerous. All his literary brilliance seems to have led Mr. Aldeman to forget what he was supposed to say. 

Cassandra’s legacy by Ugo Bardi

11 Comments on "Those Pesky Declinists and Their Dangerous Ideas"

  1. Duncan Idaho on Sat, 7th Apr 2018 12:11 pm 

    “A sane person to an insane society must appear insane.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

  2. Dredd on Sat, 7th Apr 2018 3:56 pm 

    The decline is the problem, not the observing of the decline.

    “Truth is never the fault of the messenger.” – Dredd

    “In other words, a society does not ever die ‘from natural causes’, but always dies from suicide or murder — and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown.” – A Study of History, by Arnold J. Toynbee

  3. onlooker on Sat, 7th Apr 2018 4:42 pm 

    “Impoverish our imagination ” or alert us to a really bad confluence of problems that are as apparent as they are difficult to solve . The only thing dangerous is mankind continuing to downplay the overshoot predicament we are in.

  4. DMyers on Sat, 7th Apr 2018 8:07 pm 

    Another perspective on the message of this article may be found in the recent piece by Charles Hugh Smith, which may be found on Peakprosperity and zerohedge, entitled, “this is the turning point.”

    I make reference to the specific fact that our past success is no guarantee of future outcomes, and that success was driven by specific, temporary conditions. As these conditions subside and with them their buoying affects, then we will return to the cold interface with Nature’s corrective measures that apply to all life on this planet.

    The argument is that it hasn’t happened yet, so give up and admit it never will. We’ve already addressed this after a recent Ehrlich critique on this site.

    But I will repeat my point that feeding the billions is not the same as nourishing the same. Therein lies the hidden fallacy. I would contend to you, my friends, that you are better off fasting and minimizing your food intake than consuming what is passed off as sustenance in current times.

    I’m not walking around with an “I love Malthus” sign. And I’m not saying I hope he was right. But he probably was right in the longer term, and much of what appears as phenomenological refutation of his thesis boasts of quantity and price while completely ignoring the equally critical factor of quality. Due to the intervention of calorie packed, poison food, we are dying slowly rather than quickly, but it is killing us, nonetheless. We haven’t solved the food problem. We have merely substituted bad food for good and foisted it off as an equivalent.

    If the Green Revolution and genetic modification were given a true accounting along these lines, then we would be in the proper position to evaluate the validity of our victories over Nature.

  5. DerHundistlos on Sat, 7th Apr 2018 11:03 pm 


    It would be nice if you could provide a link to the article you referenced. Thanks.

  6. DerHundistlos on Sat, 7th Apr 2018 11:17 pm 

    “Think about it for a second. The embattled, scandal-ridden Trump administration suddenly fires two hawkish, though tenuously mainstream, foreign policy advisers and replaces them with off-the-grid warmongers. Connect those dots and it gets scary, fast. In fact, the situation is starting to resemble a Hollywood-style, “Wag-the-Dog”, drum-up-a-war-to-distract-the-populace scenario.

    With whom? Given the proclivities of Pompeo and Bolton, the obvious candidate is Iran. After all, as their records suggest, both the incoming secretary of state and the national security adviser suffer from acute cases of Iran hysteria and have been beating the Islamic Republic war drum for years now. So look for Trump and his two new subordinates to strike a less than substantial deal with nuclear North Korea (to show their cuddly diplomatic side) and then pivot toward tearing up the Iran nuclear deal in May and heading for military action against non-nuclear – and so more vulnerable – nuclear-pact-adhering Iran.

    Count on this, at least: it’s going to be one hell of a ride for America’s already overstretched military men and women – and one hell of a cash bonanza for an already flush military-industrial complex.

    The Bolton Problem: No question about it: John Bolton is a nightmare. If he worked for Iran or any other Muslim state, we’d label him a fundamentalist extremist. But he’s ours and his religion of choice has long been chauvinist interventionism, so instead he tends to get the lifeless (and perhaps not even accurate) label “neoconservative.”

    How bad is he? Well, we’d all undoubtedly be far better served if Michael Bolton were national security adviser and just sang “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” throughout his term in office.

    The national security adviser holds an incredibly influential position and doesn’t even require Senate confirmation hearings. Need proof? The establishment’s favorite statesman-cum-war criminal Henry Kissinger started out in that position for President Richard Nixon. The thought of Bolton’s voice being the final one Trump hears (and he’s well-known to be prone to whatever last catches his attention) before making decisions about war and peace should chill us all.

    How dangerous is Bolton, who came to Trump, like so many others, via his position as a commentator at Fox News? Back in 2005, he couldn’t even pass muster among Republicans in Senate confirmation hearings to become President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations. Dubya had to slip him in with a recess appointment (a decision even he came to regret). But give Bolton credit, at least, for consistency. He’s been wrong about every significant foreign policy move since 9/11. Of course, he was hardly alone in that in Washington politics, but he does stand out for his unapologetic regime-change enthusiasm. He’s repeatedly called for preventive war with North Korea. He’s long called for regime change in Iran by force of arms and, back in distant 2017, even placed a time stamp on that event (the end of 2018)!

    He still insists that the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which shattered that country and the entire region, was justified, a fact that ought in itself to have disqualified him in the eyes of a president who, on the campaign trail, repeatedly called that war “dumb.”

    A man who hasn’t learned from or even accepted the failure of regime change in Iraq is now to take the helm coordinating U.S. military policy for the future. If Iraq didn’t constitute a mistake, then what would? It’s hard to imagine. If preventive war – not exactly street legal in international law – is A-okay, why not, say, regime change in Syria (another country the president recently claimed he wanted to get out of) and risk war with Turkey, Iran, and Russia as well? Or how about directly taking on Iran, an event that could make the invasion of Iraq look like the “cakewalk” it was billed as back in early 2003? There are plenty of nasty regimes out there and you can bet on one thing: Bolton will advise the president to use his $716 billion military for more than just parades.

    The president’s new appointees, civilians though they are, will out-hawk the generals any day of the week. Bolton, in particular, had made a name as a Fox News commentator calling for war with North Korea and Iran in the sort of language one doesn’t – in my experience – even hear in the military ranks. So, big picture, the national security state seems now to be moving from one threat to democracy, a politicized military, to another: the frenzied chickenhawkery of even more extreme civilians.

    What President Trump seems to value most is sycophantic loyalty not to the nation but to himself, a quality that’s the most essential aspect of any cult of personality. Which means one thing: outright dissent of any real sort inside the administration is a thing of the past (an autocratic mood that could, sooner or later, spread to the larger society). What did McMaster and Tillerson ultimately have in common? Simply put, both attempted to restrain Trump’s more extreme impulses and neither truly clicked with the president on a personal level. Big mistake. What this president wants above all else isn’t critical thinking or informed debate on crucial issues but total allegiance.

    The defining characteristics of this White House are nepotism and sycophancy. John Bolton is never going to temper Trump’s most bellicose instincts and Pompeo is already a Trump sycophant. When defending Pompeo’s appointment, Trump’s two main arguments were that he was a West Point graduate and that they are “always on the same wavelength.” It’s been widely reported that the two men have hit it off on a personal and professional level, as Pompeo personally delivered daily oral CIA intel briefs in the Oval Office (since Trump loathes reading). Pompeo grasped just how to get what he wanted in such a situation: stay in the boss’s good graces. Mind-melding with the president is the path to promotion in this administration.

    As America enters the second spring of the Trump era, it’s creeping ever closer to yet more war. McMaster and Mattis may have written the National Defense Strategy that over-hyped the threats on this planet, but Bolton and Pompeo will have the opportunity to address these inflated threats in the worst way possible: by force of arms.

    Trump finally has the minions he wants: devoted and fervently militaristic. And while the public remains focused on the man’s outlandish shenanigans, his team will be cooking up something far worse: a new war to put all the others to shame.”

    ~~~Charles Hugh Smith~~~

    Smith is right. If there was ever a president who would involve the US in a war to deflect attention from any number of self-inflected disasters, it’s President Dump.

  7. Kat C on Sun, 8th Apr 2018 5:14 am 

    Thomas Homer Dixon addresses the fact that ingenuity can’t solve everything

    The problem for us humans is that we can’t accept that we are animals and as such that we are mortal
    “The book’s basic premise is that human civilization is a defense mechanism against the knowledge that we will die.”

    But we will all die and likely we humans will extinct ourselves and most if not all lifeforms. But denialism will probably persist right up to the end.

  8. DerHundistlos on Sun, 8th Apr 2018 5:38 am 

    So very true, Kat, and thanks for the information on The Ingenuity Gap. I just purchased the book!!!

  9. Cloggie on Sun, 8th Apr 2018 5:51 am 

    Trump finally has the minions he wants: devoted and fervently militaristic.

    Strange that if Trump is indeed so war-like as you say, he nevertheless urged for a quick withdrawal from Syria and admit defeat:

    Doesn’t add up.

    Tout Washington wants none of it, of course. These folks will not rest until they have the entire world under control… or are put to rest.

    I place my bets on the 2nd option. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But I can’t see how 220 million aging European-Americans, 110 million non-whites, all led by the nose by 7 million or so youknowwhos, can seriously hope to subjugate 700 million Europeans and 1.3 billion Chinese, not to mention 1.5 billion Muslims. Good luck with that.

  10. makati1 on Sun, 8th Apr 2018 6:04 am 

    “But I can’t see how 220 million aging European-Americans, 110 million non-whites, all led by the nose by 7 million or so youknowwhos, can seriously hope to subjugate 700 million Europeans and 1.3 billion Chinese, not to mention 1.5 billion Muslims.”

    Arrogance, Cloggie. Pure arrogance. I think they believe their own propaganda. They cannot admit that the Us is no longer Number one in anything except debt. The Russians are ahead militarily and the Chinese economically. Both are the “immovable objects” while the Us is no longer the “irresistible force”.

    The goat farmers of Afghanistan are still winning after 15+ years. Iran laughs at the ’empire’. N.Korea calls the US prez names in public without fear. Even the Ps prez calls the Us prez names and turns to China and Russia. The Us is a toothless old dog, soon to die. Only the most blind say different.

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