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Whose weird world are we living in? Politics and reality feel connected by only the thinnest of threads

Weird: Alec and Hilaria Baldwin.(Credit: Lionel Cironneau/AP)

Weird: Alec and Hilaria Baldwin.(Credit: Lionel Cironneau/AP)


January 7, 2021   6 mins

Is reality dictated by who wields power? If so, perhaps the unreal feeling of yesterday’s Capitol invasion by Trumpist protesters tells us something about the loss of clarity about who dominates that once globally hegemonic culture.

In 2002, there was no such uncertainty — at least according to one unnamed Bush aide, who explained how American imperial power was so unstoppable its government could remake reality at will:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

To put it simply: America got to decide what was real, because America was the only hegemon. Believe that or not, two decades on, our confidence in the plastic nature of reality has certainly been accelerated. With an unprecedented chunk of the population confined to their homes, and digital screens now the main window on to the world for many, politics and reality increasingly feel connected by only the thinnest of threads.

Something of this distorting effect — this weirding of public life — infuses the strange recent story of Hilaria Baldwin, the celeb-influencer wife of actor Alec Baldwin. Born Hillary Lynn Hayward-Thomas to all-American parents in Boston, she was revealed recently to have spent the last decade pretending to be Spanish.

Why did no one say anything? It’s a safe bet that Hilaria’s parents knew she wasn’t really Spanish. It’s also reasonable to assume that Alec has met his in-laws, at which point no doubt he would have learned that they were no more Spanish than Hilaria. Presumably most of her friends knew, too, and a fair number of her enemies. So why did everyone just nod and smile for a decade, while Hilaria pretended she’d forgotten the English word for ‘cucumber’ on cookery programmes?

There are two plausible explanations for this. The first is that the oath of omertà was upheld, even by those who didn’t wish her well, because her circle believed she had the power to inflict negative social consequences on anyone who broke it. The second, and to me more interesting, possibility is that no one wanted to be the one to dunk on the power of dreams.

For belief in this power – whether promoted by Walt Disney or under the scientific-sounding “Law of Attraction” – is held by Americans of all social classes, all the way from White House aides to the working class. Or at least it was in 2002, the year that Bush aide was interviewed, as I discovered when I took a solo post-university trip across the United States by Greyhound bus.

The Greyhound bus routes that lattice the USA are probably as close as that car-centric nation gets to affordable long-distance public transport. Most passengers are simply trying to get cheaply from A to B, but curious or foolhardy tourists can buy an open pass and go road-tripping. It’s best attempted when you’re young enough to go without sleep, showers and personal space. It’s also, by English standards, surreally friendly. Everyone talks to you on a Greyhound bus, whether you like it or not. Jammed into cramped seats, rattling through empty wilderness and humid one-horse towns, I had many such conversations. They left me with the impression that even the most impoverished Americans believed they could create their own reality, through sheer force of conviction.

Is it true, though? Or is it just another American Dream? Well, while the optimism underscoring this belief is very American, the Hilaria view of reality — perhaps we could call it “Hilarity”? — is not wholly baseless. What you expect to find in the world will, to a degree, colour what you actually find. If you’ve ever hunted madly for your keys while repeatedly looking straight past them because they were somewhere slightly out of the ordinary, you’ll know what I mean.

But there are also limits to Hilarity. I can’t believe my keys back into my handbag if my toddler has in fact buried them in the sandpit. Indeed, the fact that those around Hilaria grew tired of honouring her version of reality, and that someone eventually broke ranks, surely speaks to a wider disenchantment with the power of “positive thinking” that’s taken hold in the years since my Greyhound road trip.

For example, we know now that the confidence expressed in America’s reality-creating power by that Bush aide was misplaced. America’s ability to forge a new liberal, democratic paradise in the bomb craters of Iraq and Afghanistan was not, in fact, limitless. Nor was the absolute power of the Western financial system, later that decade, able to create money out of nowhere simply through financial engineering, without any substantive foundation in making anything.

And so, were I to board a Greyhound bus today, I’m not sure I would find big dreams nearly as evident in what American writer and photographer Chris Arnade calls “back-row America”. Or at least, I suspect I’d find such dreams as battered by subsequent disappointments — just as the spooky, humid and beautiful city of New Orleans was by Hurricane Katrina, three years after I visited. Perhaps that goes some way to explaining why today, for many, faith in the power of dreams has curdled into its bleak mirror-image: belief in the pervasive presence of shadowy forces and malign conspiracy.

The power of this curdled variant of Hilarity made its presence known yesterday via hundreds of protesters in Washington. In Hilarity terms — or in terms of reality-as-symbol — the power of seeing the inner sanctum of that “shining city on the hill” stormed by QAnon characters has shaken America to the core.

Meanwhile, a stubborn rump of those nearer the top of the pile are still hanging on to the old, more stable reality. It is, after all, relatively easy to believe that the world is whatever you want it to be when you have a self-righteous internet filter bubble, as well as the political and financial resources to bankroll your convictions and shield yourself from evidence to the contrary. But if reality in the 21st century has proven most sharply disappointing to those at the bottom, the cracks in Hilarity are now visible upstream too. Just look at the elites’ repeated shock at “un-progressive” electoral results that were in fact anything but shocking. And with QAnon invading the Capitol, both liberals and conservatives alike are now waking up to the profound displacement of stable narrative that defines 21st-century American politics.

Still, if the eruption of Trumpism implied a threat to the grand progressive narrative, Trump’s deposition has been treated by many as a repudiation of that threat – despite not being the anticipated landslide at all. It has also been hailed as a return to American internationalism. After the election, Joe Biden promptly announced that America is “back, ready to lead the world”. That’s all very well, but it raises an important question: to what extent does that story still fit?

The initial signs are ambivalent. According to the prevailing narrative behind Hilarity’s world-as-we-wish-it, the democratic West should be forming a united front in support of freedom and liberal values. But just as Hilaria’s haters were only going to keep schtumm as long as they were afraid of her, those very ideals once promulgated by Pax Americana seem to be on the wane. As far back as 1987, Paul Kennedy argued that the USA could not sustain global hegemony indefinitely while its relative economic power continued to shrink. In this light, with China predicted to overtake the US economically by 2028, should we really be surprised to see the EU thumb their noses at the incoming Biden presidency, by declining a transatlantic alliance to contain China in favour of securing a market for German manufacturing with Beijing?

Yet at the core of Hilarity is the idea that belief can only be transformative if you really believe. Setbacks cannot derail the true believer. The existence of a competitor hegemon with increasingly tangible ideological and geopolitical clout is merely a minor setback, and unlikely to dent the faith of those still committed to America’s vision of global utopia. Witness the reaction of that high priest of progress, Stephen Pinker, to 2020’s war, death, famine, pestilence, snake-infested seafoam, and new Ed Sheeran releases: these events are blips, he insisted, and things are still getting better.

It’s not yet clear, then, whether the implosion of Hilaria’s personal myth-making is an omen indicating a general loss of American faith in the power of dreams, or just an intensified battle over doctrine. The American longing for power to define reality may become even more of a free-for-all. Certainly the emergence of “the QAnon shaman’’as the face of the Capitol invasion suggests how widespread and occult the American weirding of politics is. My bet is that this weirding is only just beginning. And I suspect the increasingly fractious elite debate about such events will continue to interact in unpredictable ways with those realities that stay irreducibly real whatever we want to believe.

For it’s all very well noting that the world has shifted for those who, in part thanks to the pandemic, now experience reality mainly through increasingly skewed and angry social media lenses. But for those whose occupations don’t allow for working from home, or who are facing the brutal pinch of the Covid recession, real versions of reality will not be displaced. Meanwhile, as world powers compete to shape the globe post-pandemic, this contest for hegemony may well take more material forms.

But amid this turbulence, the future belongs not just to the loudest voices. It belongs to whoever is best able to navigate the noise. That is, it belongs to whoever can build both power and a vision of a good society on seeing the world as it really is.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

It’s nice to see Mary have a dig at Pinker. Personally I think he is completely deluded about ‘the better angels of our nature’ and all that. (All these academics seem to be wrong, most of the time). Our lives continue to be governed by psychopathic governments and corporations, and criminals tend to prosper.

That aside, i think ‘Hilarity’s world as we wish it’ extends to most of the West’s governments and populations. We continue to believe that:
– we can create so-called money out of thin air without consequences
– we can put generation after generation after hopeless education systems without consequences
– we can eat fast-food etc without consequences
– we can go around the world invading and bombing without consequences
– we can allow into our society millions of people who do not adhere to western values without consequences
– we can lock people in their homes and destroy their business without consequences
– we can have open borders without consequences

All these delusions – and many others – are undermining the West, probably to destruction. The Chinese, as we can see, are only too happy to pick up the pieces.

LJ Vefis
LJ Vefis
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It really feels like there is an all-out war on “western values” (rational thought, tradition, due process, humanity, whatever else…) at the moment.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  LJ Vefis

Yes, the West is over. Within just 30 years we have gone from defeating the USSR to handing the reins of global power to China.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

-we can be governed by career politicians with zip consideration for anything but their own lives and futures

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Pinker has an incredible faith in progress and it’s material instantiation, which far outstrips that found in any of the major religions. It’s a bit like a secular version of some of the odd American expressions of Christianity which claim that believers will have material success in their lives on this Earth, if they just believe properly.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

America has reached an odd point. We’re much like exes at this point, two large factions – and quite a few sub-factions – with no common reality. We’re a bit like the Indians of old and Afghanis of the present: various tribes confined within a common border. We no longer have a shared reality. The people who used to crow about the wonders of multi-culturalism now shriek “appropriation” at the dumbest things. Sorry, but appropriation is a feature of a multi-culti society, not a bug. I am no more offended by a white girl wearing a traditional Japanese govt than by a Mexican guy grilling burgers and hot dogs. What did these folks think would happen when people rooted in multiple cultures worked toward E Pluribus Unum?

Exes can be civil when necessary. They can be cooperative in matters of the children, but they are exes for a reason. Something happened to fracture the relationship and that thing cannot be undone. It does not require a shooting war to follow but it does require some remedial action. This is why Biden’s attempt at calling for “unity” rang so hollow. You cannot spend years insulting half the people and then want to wave it all away after an election. Trump tried the unity call, too, after his election and the result was the pink march that mostly made a mess in DC.

Yesterday’s dust-up at the Capitol summed it up: for months, actual riots that included arson, looting, even murder were termed “peaceful protest” when they were covered at all. But this incident was a riot, populated by extremists and the pearl-clutching was epic. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. Violence is either okay or it isn’t. It does not become either of those things based on who perpetrates it. And while each side was engaged in debating whose violence was worse, that chummy little club known as the US Congress rubbed its hands together and plotted its next move, thoroughly convinced that we now work for it instead of the other way around.

Dani Nortillo
Dani Nortillo
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Outstanding!

Michael
Michael
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Well said; spot on (love the “pearl clutching”). But a bit depressing…. as the way back to a shared and peaceful reality seems out of reach at this moment.

Eric Sheldon
Eric Sheldon
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Give this incisive writer a job at UnHerd!

Mark Budris
Mark Budris
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

You nailed it … A perfect analogy

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago

“Hillary Lynn Hayward-Thomas “Š was revealed recently to have spent the last decade pretending to be Spanish.”

They’re all at it.
Joe Biden has spent the whole of his life pretending to be Irish.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

All white Democrat politicians spend their lives pretending to be Irish. Hell, even Obama pretended to be Irish. There is no end to it.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Or worse.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Or worse!

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I visited an Irish couple I knew very well who’d moved to NY back in the late 80’s. We visited several ‘Irish bars’ where regularly the tin cup would be passed around for the IRA and the cause ‘back home’ (ducking contributing wasn’t an option). I’d wager excepting my friends barely a single person in those bars had ever stepped foot in Ireland, or more specifically Northern Ireland, for perhaps four or maybe more generations.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
3 years ago

Same time, same here in Glasgow Scotland; no ducking and no coins; Scots pretending to be Irish.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Surely they could find a real one.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Or worse!

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Just like our politicians then. Diane Abbott has after all spent much of her career pretending to be numerate.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

*Diane Abbottom.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

To be fair, I’m not sure that she has ever pretended to be numerate, literate or even sane. She has not needed to be as it is not necessary to fulfil any or all of these criteria in order to become a member of the political classes.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

So much for Cambridge then!

Benjamin Jones
Benjamin Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Isn’t it bad enough being American without wanting to be Irish as well, to paraphrase Pub landlord Al Murray.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Benjamin Jones

A self- inflicted double whammy.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
3 years ago

I spent 40 years at work pretending to be interested.

Greg Maland
Greg Maland
3 years ago

Excellent point. How many of us are completely free of artifice?

Max Beran
Max Beran
3 years ago

“The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” Jean Giraudoux

LJ Vefis
LJ Vefis
3 years ago

Great piece. It’s all about turbulence. Amid this turbulence the towers of the bankers, the moneylenders, the derivatives traders, get taller and more numerous. I had a bike ride last week through what increasingly feels like an abandoned, post-apocalyptic (and dirty) London, ending up at the river near Greenwich, where I was confronted by the shining towers of Canary Wharf, with the Thames like a great moat around them. Here’s a good graphic showing how the area has changed in 20 years: https://www.reddit.com/r/lo… While we’re kept in a mad spin, our pockets are picked and the money funnelled up to the super rich.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
3 years ago

Another well written, thoughtful article on this site that was worth 5 minutes of my time reading. Thanks.

Sooner or later reality will puncture even the most elaborate fantasies.

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

Have a weird feeling we are in for a severe puncturing shortly! – Hope it is not CCP’s move on Taiwan not confronted by their associates in the Biden Kamala Cabal and so moving on through other countries – Maybe a pandemic where hardly anyone dies and you have to be tested to know you have got it would do ahh wait a minute …..

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
3 years ago

Practically everyone embellishes their personal history even in a very subtle way. For most of history people claimed to be “better born” they they were. People would imply connections to the gentry while the gentry would claim to be descended from the nobility. However with the coming of Marx suddenly people on the left suddenly discovered their working class roots. A miner carried more clout than a lord. Recently the fashionable genes are ethic with a former slave probably being Top Trumps.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Good article. I once did the Greyhound thing myself, although perhaps not to the same extent, and Mary’s account is accurate.

I found yesterday’s events to be inspiring, a forgotten and betrayed working/lower middle class striking back at a truly evil oligarchy of establishment Democrats and Republicans. Trump was their last hope and that hope was stolen from them. Their jobs will continue to be shipped abroad and their kids will be sent abroad to fight the Biden/Harris wars. Mary describes it as ‘weird’, but in truth it is back to ‘normal’. The establishment got what it wanted.

andrea bertolini
andrea bertolini
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I agree with you. What we’ve learned in the past 4 years is that the system will expel at all costs an organism with it considers dangerous to its own survival. Trump was far from perfect, but he did try to drain the swamp–but the swamp swallowed him whole.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago

“Politics and reality feel connected by only the thinnest thread”. Over the last thirty years our whole society has lost its hold on society. We have continuously undermined an essential pillar of our society namely traditional marriage and family life through easier and easier divorce; attacked the essential notion of the sanctity of human life through accepting abortion as a means of birth control, and moving ever slowly but surely toward euthanasia; allowed a tiny minority, the LGBT lobby, to dominate our national agenda, impose their culture and demand agreement to their way of life. We are now expected to flee from reality altogether by taking seriously the view that biology has no place in defining gender. Now any sense of reality and rationality has drowned in a seething mass of woke propaganda. Our great-grandchildren’s generation will look back and wonder what bewitched us.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

We’re in a very similar situation to the 1600s. With the advent of the printing press (seventeenth-century version of the internet), many publications appeared concerning demons, witches and other religious conspiracies. The Puritans (the Woke of yesteryear) banned celebrations of all kinds, even Christmas, in their zeal to achieve a sanctified state. Eventually this would spill over into witch hunts and other cataclysmic events like the Thirty-Year war. Like our times, the mid-1600s were also ravaged by a pandemic (the plague). Eventually, many European countries grew tired of their more puritanical elements, many of whom migrated to the Americas.

The good news is that from the ashes of war-torn Europe, the Age of Reason began which brought about The Enlightenment. Hopefully, after all the chaos of this decade, we can look forward to putting the West to rights. I believe an enlightened form of Christianity is the way forward. Without it, we’ll fall further into the delusional kind of thinking that you mention in your post.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

The Hilaria Baldwin thing isn’t new. It’s become quite common among liberals and it involves white people pretending to be black or Native American. So many in addition to Baldwin have tried it, Senator Warren, Rachel Dolezal, CV Vitolo- Hadad, Jessica Krug, Ward Churchill. It isn’t actually creating their own reality, they don’t actually believe they are black or Spanish or Native American it’s just masquerading as something other than what you are to acquire its benefits. No one was afraid of Hilaria, (certainly her parents were not), they just were going about their lives. She likely never would have been outed had we not had a pandemic that left many people with lots of time on their hands.

As for the collective yawn in response to Biden saying America is back, it seems likely to me that the message isn’t bad but he may not be the messenger that will be taken seriously. It isn’t that he is a bad guy, he is just sort of there. An unlikely candidate to rally the western world in any way.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

If you think Biden is not a ‘bad guy’ then you really don’t know much about his history in terms of the wars he has voted for, the lies he has told, the millions of (mainly young black) men he has locked up for decades with his 1994 Crime Bill, the money he has taken from China etc.

Alfred Prufrock
Alfred Prufrock
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Were perhaps the millions of men he locked up mainly black locked up because of his crime bill or because they had committed crimes.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

They committed minor crimes – drugs possession etc – within the Three Strikes And You’re Out programme. For this they were sent to jail for many decades. Trump was starting to release some of them.

Meanhile Antif/BLM rioters who burn down business and kill people are repeatedly arrested then released back on to the streets.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

They are Progressive district attorneys put into office by George Soros money. Always forward looking, Sorors saw this opportunity to commit more crime and spread chaos years ago.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

No need to worry. With police being defunded in various places, I’m sure we will have fewer black people locked up.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
3 years ago

The reality kept from sight by our political minders is that FBI statistics show that 70+% of violent crime in the country is committed by 4% of blacks (young males). Blacks themselves are 13% of the population. This is a very inconvenient truth.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

There was a bill that locked up black men?

LJ Vefis
LJ Vefis
3 years ago

I’ll be interested to see if we start to get similar cases of Hilarity in the UK. It hasn’t happened yet…. Is it part of the identity/gender narrative, i.e. the idea your identity is up to you to decide/create?

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  LJ Vefis

Have you heard the way many of our youth talk these days? Patois I think it’s called.

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
3 years ago

‘Patois’ – Low status dialect the dictionary says – Surely that definition will have to be cancelled – What a weird inverted snobbery of a society so sure its rights and freedoms are sacrosanct because they are 75 years from perceived danger and assume no walls or defence will ever be needed.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

That was going on even way back in the 90s and before. When I was at college, I was at a loss as to why well-spoken middle-class boys were putting on yardie accents.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  LJ Vefis

It’s more of a business and money making thing, in the US anyway. Liberals do it because they can get jobs easier, make money easier, use it as virtue signaling, etc. It’s odd but with as much complaining as we hear that black and brown people are mistreated in the US, that so many white liberals want to be seen as minorities.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago

The words Markle and Megan spring to mind.

Micheal Lucken
Micheal Lucken
3 years ago

“I can be whatever I want to be” is at the heart Hollywood and much of the world of fiction. Hardly surprising it has taken hold of American culture and exported to the rest of the west. There are still those around who just want to get on with making a living, keeping a roof over their heads, feeding the family, paying the bills and having a bit of fun at the weekends but the media aren’t terribly interested in them, you have to be a “special” type to be noticed and cared about.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Micheal Lucken

As long as people are pointing and laughing every time one of these race pretenders is exposed, I don’t believe you can say it’s taken hold of American culture. Maybe if we limit it to the wealthy white uniformly liberal elites who actually perpetrate this scam, it would be accurate to say it’s taken hold.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago

There was another Hillary, also famous for fantasizing… just can’t quite recall the context…

Andrew E Walker
Andrew E Walker
2 months ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

Joe Blow. Oh, really? You do remember that Hillary got nearly 3 million votes more than Trump?

Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones
3 years ago

Thing is, in entertainment, people frequently pretend to be things they aren’t (and which everybody in the business KNOWS they aren’t) and nobody really cares. There’s a sliding scale of this too; if you are a nonentity like Hilaria and you aren’t bothering anyone you get left alone. If you are a rapey crap-bag like Harvey Weinsten but you make lots of money and get people Oscars, you similarly get left alone.

In the case of people like Hilly here, it only changes when you annoy/upset people enough (or you annoy/upset enough people) to make them want to take you down. In the case of Harvey it changes when you stop making money.

LJ Vefis
LJ Vefis
3 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Jones

cf. Jimmy Savile. 🙁

Signme Uplease
Signme Uplease
3 years ago

The oligarchs may be out of touch and may control the cultural narrative , but it’s still our responsibility as citizens to remind them what reality is and refuse to engage with their lies. Yet, it seems that human beings have simply lost their capacity for facing the truth. We love the lies they tell.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Signme Uplease

Don’t forget that in this time of twitter swarming, cancel culture, and “fact check” removal of perceived contrarian posts, many just move on-fully aware that (fill in the name) is not an Indian, Spanish, black, Hispanic, Irish, a Viet vet, or honest.

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
3 years ago
Reply to  Signme Uplease

But the lies are all there is unless there is a true counter-narrative and an objective reality to live by.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Signme Uplease

We do not love the lies they tell.We hate them, But the media is now in lockstep with the oligarchs and there is very little we can do about it. On the plus side, Farage’s Reform Party has just been approved by those crooks at the Electoral Commission. So for the first time in decades, there might be a major party to vote for.

Gary Anderson
Gary Anderson
3 years ago

I look forward to the day that I can read an Unherd article that doesn’t use some form of the word “hegemon.” We get it, already. You guys are intelligent.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Mary, your assertion that “China [was] predicted to overtake the US economically by 2028″ links to a story about forecasts from the CEBR, which also forecast that India would become the world’s third largest economy by 2030. These forecasts are garbage. The IMF estimates of GDP on a purchasing power parity basis for 2020 show China’s output exceeding Canada, Mexico and the United States combined. The same source shows China overtook the US as the world’s number 1 economy in 2014, when Joe Biden was Obama’s VP. India is already the world’s third largest economy, and overtook Japan for the number three spot in 2009. The CEBR says: “The WELT [World Economic League Table]is calculated by estimating the current year GDP in current price dollars for each of over 195 world economies, and then forecasting real GDP”Š for each country.” So it is projecting from exchange-rate-adjusted nominal GDP estimates, which are notoriously biased, always underestimating the output of low-wage countries like China and India as compared to the output of higher-wage countries like the US or the UK. However good the CEBR’s forecasts of country real GDP movements going forward to 2030 may be, its projected country rankings of economies are garbage, since the GDP projections are made from a garbage starting point.
Happy Orthodox Christmas! Hristos se rodi! (Christ is born!)

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
3 years ago

Mass delusion. What a twitter mob looks like offline. The sooner Trump disappears from public life the better. We need a leader that respects democracy and the idea of objective truth.

ray.wacks
ray.wacks
3 years ago

You can be anything you want in today’s psychotic world.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

It is the nature of any powerful entity to create a narrative that many people can get behind. That is the source of its power and ability to lead. Maintaining power and success is inextricably bound up with keeping that narrative going. Once upon a time, Britain perpetuated its own power in India by creating the narrative that it was there to “civilise” it. Today that seems vile but at the time it worked and enabled Britain to continue to reap the economic rewards of colonial rule under the veneer of moral rectitude.
The EU continues to survive because vast numbers of people continue to believe that it is the EU (together with its forerunners) that has put an end to war in Europe. Thinking rationally, you cannot say for sure whether the existence of the EU/EC etc. actually was the cause of long lasting peace: the period of peace has merely correlated with the existence of the various organisations. However, as long as people believe in the causal link, the EU will retain power. That also enables hardcore economic interests to be more effectively pursued (see the new investment treaty with China) under the guise of moral arguments.
The thing which makes the disintegration of the American reality so disturbing is that the whole world bought into that vision and oriented itself towards the USA. Their cultural, social and political reality became ours too, so when it all begins to crumble, we also feel the psychological strain.

rvidunas
rvidunas
3 years ago

Turchin’s theory of historical cycles with “overproduction of elites” is relevant here. More concretely, it is the problem of surplus males — and the viking figure signifies that excellently. Check Chinese history: you can account its great uprisings or dynasty changes on surplus males. The expansion of Islam and the fall of Rome could be seen as other examples. The current episode is exacerbated by the drive to gender equality.

Ocxl Ocxl
Ocxl Ocxl
3 years ago

the tinkerbell effect comes to mind

Nick Wright
Nick Wright
3 years ago

Thanks for again making some sense of the nonsense. Would this drama have played out massively differently if Trump had won? A quote from Hillary Clinton in a Reuters article from August suggests not: “Eventually I do believe [Biden] will win if we don’t give an inch and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is.”

Until someone starts acting like a grown-up and offers a plausible, unifying “vision of a good society,” it looks like we’re stuck in this race to the moral bottom.

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
3 years ago

It’s not necessarily that they don’t understand what the truth is, it’s just that they would rather live with a fantasy. It seems to me that those who LARP are more likely to have fewer options to be a ‘hero’ in real life, or they want to check out with drugs and alcohol. Is it inherently a bad idea to live in a fantasy, what does this do to you mental state, does it corrupt all your thinking and view of the world? Is it more important to be in power than to be truthful, do the ends justify the means?

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
3 years ago

Is the American dream the belief that the ends justify the means?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago

I’ve no idea what I’m meant to understand from this article.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I think it’s reasonably clear until the final paragraphs. In particular, the last line:

‘That is, it belongs to whoever can build both power and a vision of a good society on seeing the world as it really is.’

The idea that the future will belong to people who will combine these elements is entirely delusional. The future will belong to the power-crazed and psychopathic. The notion that they have any knowledge of, or interest in, that which constitutes ‘a good society’ is simply absurd. And they will convince much of population to see the world as it isn’t, or as they want people to see it, not as it is.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Thanks.

‘We’re all doomed’, as Private Frazer would say.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Indeed we are. although Brexit and the newly minted Reform Party give me some hope to wing to.

Teo
Teo
3 years ago

The we are the world cartel got high on each others aspirations, a fantasy ride in a lead balloon.

Spiro Spero
Spiro Spero
3 years ago

One is reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s dictum that ‘When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, you can make them believe anything.’ Despite the recent madness in Washington, it is a tad unfair to single out the Americans in this way. After all, of all Western democracies, our own country has just spent 4+ years engaging in a mass delusion (national nervous breakdown?) of its own, that in the wider context of the hard power of the US and the rise of a new superpower in China has been frankly bonkers. Many in our own country were (are?) regularly told that:

1. There were nothing but positives to our empire.
2. That everything we Brits did in our history was just spiffing. All the problems we have are caused by foreign people and countries … let us hope the Chinese have forgotten that (ahem!) ‘business’ with the opium.
3. That we could leave the largest, single free trade bloc in the world (insulting all our closest neighbours in the process) and yet retain all the benefits with none of the costs.
4. That a border we imposed on Ireland, (under threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’ – Lloyd George, 1921) against the clear wishes of the majority of its population a century ago, and that caused a vicious civil war that killed 3000+ people, could now be magically wished away because it no longer suits us.
5. That all the immigrants who have been the backbone of our service economy for 20-30 years (many of them the ‘fruits’ of our empire) would also magically disappear.
6. A senior minister just told his people that ‘our’ vaccine was just spiffing, because we’re a way ‘better’ country than all of them, despite having the worst mortality rate for Covid in all of Europe.
7. Mogg declared the last few weeks to be akin to the ‘glories’ of Crecy and Agincourt.
8. Bill Cash told us that it was like the Glorious Revolution, all over again.

And yet, still we lap it up, and ‘our’ media say nothing! So no, we’re definitely not in a position to look down snooty noses at our American cousins.

Paul
Paul
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

“Our media say nothing” – have you been in a coma since the referendum and the elections? The Graun, Mirror, Star, Express – even the Times kicking off. Huff post, BBC (TV and radio), ITV, Channel 4, sly news. Your selective ignorance is staggering.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

Oh God. Give it a rest. Whatever your problem, I assure you that the EU is not the answer.

Anthony Devonshire
Anthony Devonshire
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

I agree with you that the EU – in its present format – is not the answer. I suppose I was what you could label a ‘reformist remainer’ ie. that it would have been better for UK to be inside and leading reform of the institutions and processes. Fundamentally, i suppose ideologically, I was also opposed to the loss of the rights that formerly I could exercise as an EU citizen.
UK is now, to anthropomorphise it, like a sort of bum, a drifter, sustaining its unenviable situation with invented histories and delusions about the present and future. Here is where my post is relevant to content of the actual article – as opposed to most other posts, including yours, on this soapbox of a website that are essentially just written noise, just agressive ill-informed yells into nowhere – which is, the state of the relationship between reality and politics. I maintain that this link within the UK is broken. What do you actually think about that? Or can you merely yell into nowhere?

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago

I can sympathise, but I can’t agree. You cannot be an EU citizen, because there is no country, or coherent political entity, called Europe. Your citizenship is an illusion. I know he was wrong about other things, but when Powell said that you cannot have European democracy because there is no European demos, he got that right. Well we can all be right sometimes. Maybe you will manage it one day! And democratic accountability is of overiding importance. I can’t be bothered to repeat Tony Benn’s arguments – Look them up yourself. He got the big thing right: The entire point of the EU is to stop electorates ejecting their rulers.

“…including yours, on this soapbox of a website that are essentially just written noise, just agressive ill-informed yells into nowhere”
Know thyself, Anthony, because that is all you are doing.

dinoventrali
dinoventrali
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

“…despite having the worst mortality rate for Covid in all of Europe.”

Have you ever heard of Belgium?

Carl Goulding
Carl Goulding
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

To quote the columnist ” What you expect to find in the world will, to a degree, colour what you actually find.”

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

The irony of your post is that the only people saying this are those who share the same views as you.

Until you try harder listen to people’s real reasons, and try to understand their motivations and concerns instead of projecting your own fears, Brexit and other ‘confusing’ things will keep happening around you.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

“The irony of your post is that the only people saying this are those who share the same views as you.”

It’s true – there are lots of people criticising the British for glorifying the empire – but almost none actually doing any glorifying. About the best you ever get is – it wasn’t entirely bad.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

New Years Honours just been announced. Pretty much glorifying the Empire – CBE, OBE etc

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Actually it is pretty much glorifying celebrity, sports and political toadying.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Sadly yes.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

They are just honours. Nobody thinks about “the Empire” when they get one – not the corrupt politicians or the nice old lollipop ladies – only the idiot types who think that what they read in the Guardian is reality are still obsessed with the British Empire.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

Honors decided by whom?

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

And the Order of the Garter was created by someone who believed it was his right to wage war against France to reclaim his dynasty’s lost lands.

We can keep the traditions without getting bent out of shape about the origins of them.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

You missed out the Second Boer War and the Mau Mau Rebellion plus the shortage of potatoes in Ireland in the 1840’s.

Still it wasn’t all doom and gloom, we did manage to loot and burn every US Government building in Washington DC, including the White House, and Congress, on the night of the 24th August, 1814.

Something that Mr Trump’s supporters singularly failed to do yesterday.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

You missed out the Second Boer War and the Mau Mau Rebellion plus the shortage of potatoes in Ireland in the 1840’s.
Still it wasn’t all doom and gloom, we did manage to loot and burn every US Government building in Washington DC, including the White House, and Congress, on the night of the 24th August, 1814.
Something that Mr Trump’s supporters singularly failed to do yesterday.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

I think there’s something wrong with your telly Spiro – it seems to be picking up programmes from the 50s.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

Sorry, that is a load of stupid BS and outright lies. Grow up.