Going to Hell

Going to Hell is a page of opinions about the prospect of humanity declining into some sort of hell, arguably the nearly inevitable result of the ever-accelerating vehicle of technology and wealth creation spinning out of control with a tragic result.

People getting screwed? They ain't seen nuthin' yet. Post-Brexit & post-Trump, the great ripoff will have left the vast majority with nothing and with little or no recourse, as liberal democracy will be dead & buried. Just watch the GOP here, the Tories there, and their billionaire owners, they're partying like there's no tomorrow. - RAYMOND BKLYN, Comment on Roger Cohen's The Madness of Crowds, NYT, FEB. 28, 2017

Yes, people are angry. Yes, people are getting screwed. But they're angry at the wrong people (immigrants, Muslims, minorities, women) who they think are "taking over" their country. And they're getting screwed (and about to get even more screwed) by the buffoon they elected to office. Britain is already having buyers remorse over Brexit. By the time the people in this country open their eyes to what is happening, it might very well be too late. Beware of huge military expenditures — usually means a war is in the near future. - Jackie Shipley Commerce MI, Comment on Roger Cohen's The Madness of Crowds, NYT, FEB. 28, 2017

I see two pillars that support the madness. One is good old fashioned racism and its rejection of multiculturalism. Intellectuals underestimate the power of our genes. We are all born racist. We are born to reject the other. Culture binds us into separate groups. These motivations are the result of tribalism. We are this way because tribes compete for resources to survive.

We can learn to accept each other. We do it all of the time. This requires integration. Trump and Farge and the rest of the ultra-nationalists are using these dangerous and primal motivations to sway the electorate. All demagogues are expert at this type of manipulation.

The second pillar is the lie of supply side, trickle down economics. Vast numbers of people firmly believe that unrestrained capitalism will help all. So they reject any efforts to rein it in. They call such efforts socialism which is perceived as economic slavery. Consequently, they vote for policies that make the rich richer because that's better than taxing them more because that is socialism. Like Mr. Cohen said, people are not logical.

Add it all up and we have mob rule. Plato figured this out. The founders feared it. We have succumbed to it. - Bruce Rozenblit (a trusted commenter Kansas City, MO), Comment on Roger Cohen's The Madness of Crowds, NYT, FEB. 28, 2017

We are in the midst of the very forces that caused the failure of ancient Greece, Rome, modern Russia, China, and others. It only take sic one Caligula, one Hitler, one Trump, to pull apart the columns that support the system and ruin it for all time.
- Pete from Houston, Comment on With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and 'No Transparency' by ERIC LIPTON, BEN PROTESS and ANDREW W. LEHREN, NYT, APRIL 15, 2017

The number of mass shootings in the United States has risen sharply in recent years — to an average of 16.4 per year between 2007 and 2013, from 6.4 per year between 2000 and 2006. (These numbers come from the F.B.I. and exclude episodes tied to domestic violence and gangs.)
- JULIE TURKEWITZ, ‘I Want This to Get Over’: After Congressional Shooting, Complex Grief for a Gunman’s Widow, NYT, JULY 1, 2017

A President who tells lies every day, non stop war, guns everywhere with regular mass shootings, politicians owned by the rich, massive inequality which no one is trying to address, millions with no healthcare, race hatred and neo-nazis supported and encouraged by the President, religious extremists champing at the bit to persecute women and gays, Russian interference in elections, social media out of control and now pharmaceutical companies no different from drug pushers responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands a year.

What do Americans think about how the rest of the world sees America?

I'll tell you, the rest of the world thinks America is declining very, very fast - faster than anyone could have thought possible and getting to the point where there is no turning back. I would give it 10-20 years before it is a failed state with civil war or armed gangs running around the country.
- Tom Baker, Tokyo, comment on Nicholas Kristof, ‘Drug Dealers in Lab Coats’, NYT, Oct. 18, 2017

The most admirable creations of the human mind, contrary to all expectations, have had as their main effect destruction and massacre; with a bit of pessimism, one may curse advances in knowledge and fear that someday some discovery might have as a consequence the destruction of mankind . . .
- Joseph Babinski, from Egas Moniz, “Dr. Joseph Babinski,” Lisboa Medica 1932, as quoted in Jacques Philipon and Jacques Poirier, Joseph Babinski: A Biography, Oxford University Press, 2008; quoted in Errol Morris, The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Part 2), NYT, JUNE 21, 2010.

Today, there are growing fears that Europe and the West have entered a period of terminal decline.
- SHERI BERMAN, A Grand Tour of the Crisis in Europe, NYT, NOV. 9, 2017

By the time of a Tea Party gathering in 2010 in New York, Steve Bannon had fully embraced a class-based diagnosis of the country’s woes: “In the last 20 years, our financial elites and the political class have taken care of themselves and led our country to the brink of ruin,” he said.
- SCOTT SHANE, Combative, Populist Steve Bannon Found His Man in Donald Trump, NYT, NOV. 27, 2016

We ignore the reasons why people turn to drugs in the first place. Our young people are bored, restless, and live meaningless lives. There's nothing for them to do. In our rural state of Maine, young people ride around all day in pick-up trucks, drinking and looking for action. They don't find fulfillment during long, dull days at school, and many of them cannot find engaging, meaningful employment outside of school.
- Susan, Mt. Vernon, ME, comment on GEORGE P. SHULTZ and PEDRO ASPE, The Failed War on Drugs, NYT, DEC. 31, 2017

But the situation has deteriorated. Not only the survival of open society, but the survival of our entire civilization is at stake. ...
The threat of nuclear war is so horrendous that we are inclined to ignore it. But it is real. ...
The other major threat to the survival of our civilization is climate change, which is also a growing cause of forced migration. I have dealt with the problems of migration at great length elsewhere, but I must emphasize how severe and intractable those problems are. I don’t want to go into details on climate change either because it is well known what needs to be done. We have the scientific knowledge; it is the political will that is missing, particularly in the Trump administration. ...
I want to spend the bulk of my remaining time on another global problem: the rise and monopolistic behavior of the giant IT platform companies. These companies have often played an innovative and liberating role. But as Facebook and Google have grown into ever more powerful monopolies, they have become obstacles to innovation, and they have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware.

Companies earn their profits by exploiting their environment. Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment. This is particularly nefarious because social media companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This has far-reaching adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy, particularly on the integrity of elections. ...
Social media companies deceive their users by manipulating their attention and directing it towards their own commercial purposes. They deliberately engineer addiction to the services they provide. This can be very harmful, particularly for adolescents. There is a similarity between internet platforms and gambling companies. Casinos have developed techniques to hook gamblers to the point where they gamble away all their money, even money they don’t have.

Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age. Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy. The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies.
- George Soros, Remarks delivered at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2018

Mr. Xi appears to share the view of many Chinese analysts and military officials that the United States is a superpower in decline....
- JANE PERLEZ, Xi Jinping Extends Power, and China Braces for a New Cold War, NYT, FEB. 27, 2018

“When I talked to my American friends in 2016, I always reminded them of what happened in Europe,” Scharioth said. “Nobody thought in the early 1920s that Italy would become a dictatorship. Nobody thought that Germany, supposed a quite cultured nation, would get rid of democracy in a very short time.
- Michelle Goldberg, ‘Evil Has Won’, NYT, July 13, 2018

“We’re just rolling toward the cliff, and nobody out there is going to stop it. ... How many times have we heard this attitude through history — that it will all be sorted — and then nothing’s sorted? I personally think nothing will be sorted.”
- Bill Wolsey, who owns a chain of hotels, pubs and restaurants based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, quoted in Ellen Barry and Stephen Castle, 6 Months Before Brexit, Many in U.K. Fear ‘It’s Looking Very Grisly’, NYT, Sept. 30, 2018

According to Gallup, in the first week of January 2004 more than half of surveyed Americans were satisfied with the direction of the country. Within a few weeks, however, that number had fallen below 50 percent. It has never recovered. Since the 2008 financial crisis, it has not cracked 40 percent. For well over a decade, a supermajority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Pew surveys consistently show that a majority of Americans believe that their children will be financially worse off than they are. At the present time, citizens do not believe that America is great.

This perceived decline and fall of the United States has inspired a 21st-century cottage industry of books devoted to how things went off course.
- Daniel W. Drezner, America Has Gone Off the Rails. Steven Brill Sees Ways to Get It Back on Track., NYT, July 2, 2018

While the unemployment rate, 3.9 percent, is lower than it was before the financial crisis, young people face a sobering list of economic challenges that make the middle-class lifestyle enjoyed by earlier generations seem out of reach. Wages are largely stagnant and student loan debt has ballooned to $1.4 trillion, saddling young people with payments that make it hard to start a family or afford to buy a home in a market with tightening mortgage rules and rising prices.

“A lot of us were told go to college, get a degree, and so many of us then got into horrible debt and now they can’t get a job in their field,” said Mikayla Damon, 26, the vice chairwoman of the Maine chapter of the D.S.A. “The whole American dream promise they were sold has kind of died.” ...
Kaniela Ing, a Democratic state representative in Hawaii, agreed. He said his doubts about capitalism were not “dogmatic” but were based on conditions in his Maui district....

“Often these debates get framed in an academic sense, which -ism is better, but that’s not the conversation I am hearing,” said Mr. Ing.... “It is that we know the current system isn’t working — it is guttural and common sense. People feel it.”
- Liam Stack, He’s a Long-Shot Senate Candidate With a Message: ‘Capitalism Unchecked Is a Complete Disaster’, NYT, Oct. 22, 2018

“It is not a case of a few rotten apples,” the report said. “Society’s major institutions have seriously failed.”
- Rick Rojas, ‘We Say Sorry’: Australia Formally Apologizes to Victims of Child Sexual Abuse, NYT, Oct. 22, 2018

Bruce Rozenblit, Kansas City, MO, Oct. 24, 2018:
It is too late. When millions of people reject the truth, when millions reject logic, when millions replace understanding with hate, when millions embrace cockamaime conspiracy theories without question, then there is nothing left to discuss. There is nothing to discuss. There is nothing that can be discussed.

When the President of the United States is the primary source of this societal pathology, who is there to override him? There is no one in our society who has a more powerful platform than the president. He is at the top and he is spewing the most vile poison of all.

This horrible terrorist incident is a reflection of something much deeper, more profound and insidious. It reflects the massive loss of respect for others and proper civil behavior. This goes way beyond words of disagreement. It exposes rejection of other's existence. Those other people should not be here. They are not real Americans, real people. Consequently, they can be assaulted, abused, shot and now blown up with pipe bombs.

Words have power in that words shape minds. Words plant thoughts in people's heads. This is what Trump is doing with abandon. He has attacked the truth with such ferocity that the truth has vanished to those whose minds have been filled with hate. Now that they have been brainwashed by Trump and Fox News, they cannot be reasoned with.
- Bruce Rozenblit, commenting on Alexander Soros, Alexander Soros: The Hate That Is Consuming Us, NYT, Oct. 24, 2018

More than 2 million Americans are now hooked on some kind of opioid, and drug overdoses — from heroin and fentanyl in particular — claimed more American lives last year than were lost in the entire Vietnam War. Overdose deaths are higher than in the peak year of AIDS and far higher than fatalities from car crashes. The poppy, through its many offshoots, has now been responsible for a decline in life spans in America for two years in a row, a decline that isn’t happening in any other developed nation. According to the best estimates, opioids will kill another 52,000 Americans this year alone — and up to half a million in the next decade. ...
The scale and darkness of this phenomenon is a sign of a civilization in a more acute crisis than we knew, a nation overwhelmed by a warp-speed, postindustrial world, a culture yearning to give up, indifferent to life and death, enraptured by withdrawal and nothingness. America, having pioneered the modern way of life, is now in the midst of trying to escape it.
- Andrew Sullivan, The Poison We Pick, New York Magazine, February 2018

Many Brexit fans call threats of a no-deal doomsday a bluff, an attempt to scare voters with exaggerated worst-case scenarios that won’t come to pass — a propaganda project to instill fear.

But polls show that a majority of voters believe a no-deal Brexit is more likely than not. ...
If Britain were to exit with no deal in place, it would “quite likely to be the worst political, economic, and social crisis for a generation — maybe longer,” said Rob Ford, a professor of politics at the University of Manchester.
One of the problems, he said, is the false belief that no deal would allow the status quo to simply continue.

“But it fundamentally doesn’t mean that in this situation,” Ford said. “No deal means you burn the whole house down, and I don’t think awareness of that is anywhere near high enough.” ...
Ian Dunt, author of “Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?,” said that it was “quite hard to talk about the scale of the calamity, in food, in general trade, in the whole way society operates, without sounding hysterical.”
- William Booth and Karla Adam, Theresa May just warned of a ‘no-deal Brexit.’ Here are some of the doomsday scenarios., Washington Post, September 17, 2018

As a foreign correspondent I covered collapsed societies, including the former Yugoslavia. It is impossible for any doomed population to grasp how fragile the decayed financial, social and political system is on the eve of implosion. All the harbingers of collapse are visible: crumbling infrastructure; chronic underemployment and unemployment; the indiscriminate use of lethal force by police; political paralysis and stagnation; an economy built on the scaffolding of debt; nihilistic mass shootings in schools, universities, workplaces, malls, concert venues and movie theaters; opioid overdoses that kill some 64,000 people a year; an epidemic of suicides; unsustainable military expansion; gambling as a desperate tool of economic development and government revenue; the capture of power by a tiny, corrupt clique; censorship; the physical diminishing of public institutions ranging from schools and libraries to courts and medical facilities; the incessant bombardment by electronic hallucinations to divert us from the depressing sight that has become America and keep us trapped in illusions. We suffer the usual pathologies of impending death. I would be happy to be wrong. But I have seen this before. I know the warning signs. All I can say is get ready.
- Chris Hedges, The Coming Collapse, truthdig, MAY 20, 2018

The extreme redistribution of income — upward — has multiple causes. Some of them, like technological change, stem mostly from private-sector forces. But government policy plays a crucial role. Tax rates on the wealthy have fallen sharply. Labor unions have been undermined. Big companies have been allowed to grow even bigger and more powerful. The United States has lost its lead as the most educated country in the world.

More often than not over the past 40 years, our government has helped the rich at the expense of everyone else. As a result, economic inequality has reached Gilded Age levels.

In the face of these trends, the radical response is to do nothing — or to make inequality even worse, as President Trump’s policies have. It’s radical because soaring inequality is starting to threaten the basic fabric of American life. Many people have grown frustrated and cynical. Average life expectancy, amazingly, has fallen over the past few years.

Over the sweep of history, the main reason that societies have declined, as the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have written, is domination “by a narrow elite that have organized society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people.” The name of Acemoglu’s and Robinson’s book on this phenomenon is, “Why Nations Fail.”
- David Leonhardt, What’s Really Radical? Not Taxing the Rich, NYT, Feb. 3, 2019

A tech company founded on creating human connection is now ripping American society apart and compromising our civic foundation, though not because it has overtly wicked intent.
- Tom Bissell, An Anti-Facebook Manifesto, by an Early Facebook Investor, NYT, Jan. 29, 2019

(For contrasting opinions, see Heaven on Earth.)

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