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Incivility and Declining Civilization

Defining an opponent — putting them on the defensive with caricature — is a crucial and proven tactic for candidates in competitive races. There is a graveyard of failed contenders — names like Kennedy, McGovern, Romney, Gore and Hillary Clinton — who found themselves branded by an opponent in portrayals, often unfair, that ricocheted across the political playing field and the media.

Mr. Trump had been adept at this.
- Adam Nagourney, An Unexpected Struggle for Trump: Defining an Elusive Biden, NYT, July 10, 2020


Our information system has slipped its moorings, and as a result, lying and scheming and fraud has simply become too effective a life strategy. As I argued in March, when the celebrity college admissions scandal broke, we’re seeing the “uberization” of corruption — bending the rules is becoming routine and pervasive, a push-button cheat code for modern life.

It’s not a big leap from “Trust no one” to “swindle everyone.”
- Farhad Manjoo, The Next Decade Will Be Just as Bad, NYT, Nov. 20, 2019


But this year, we move the Clock 20 seconds closer to midnight not just because trends in our major areas of concern—nuclear weapons and climate change—have failed to improve significantly over the last two years. We move the Clock toward midnight because the means by which political leaders had previously managed these potentially civilization-ending dangers are themselves being dismantled or undermined, without a realistic effort to replace them with new or better management regimes. In effect, the international political infrastructure for controlling existential risk is degrading, leaving the world in a situation of high and rising threat. Global leaders are not responding appropriately to reduce this threat level and counteract the hollowing-out of international political institutions, negotiations, and agreements that aim to contain it. The result is a heightened and growing risk of disaster.
- Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Closer than ever: It is 100 seconds to midnight, January 23, 2020


Unwanted social contact occurred with increasing frequency, leading to increased stress and aggression. Following the work of the physiologist, Hans Selye, it seemed that the adrenal system offered the standard binary solution: fight or flight.2 But in the sealed enclosure, flight was impossible. Violence quickly spiralled out of control. Cannibalism and infanticide followed. Males became hypersexual, pansexual and, an increasing proportion, homosexual. Calhoun called this vortex “a behavioural sink”. Their numbers fell into terminal decline and the population tailed off to extinction. At the experiments’ end, the only animals still alive had survived at an immense psychological cost: asexual and utterly withdrawn, they clustered in a vacant huddled mass. Even when reintroduced to normal rodent communities, these “socially autistic” animals remained isolated until death. In the words of one of Calhoun’s collaborators, rodent “utopia” had descended into “hell”.
- Edmund Ramsden, The urban animal: population density and social pathology in rodents and humans, Bull World Health Organ. 2009 Feb; 87(2): 82.



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