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So, now what?

The rule of law was taken off life support and euthanized in the US Senate on January 31st, 2020. What does this mean for the future?

There will be an infinite fractal series of spinoffs reflecting the hellishness from the smallest dimensions to the largest. A few things seem obvious, though.

Might now makes right. That’s the only alternative once the rule of law disintegrates, so we’re there.

When might makes right, there can be no trust because nobody knows what’s coming next. It all depends on the whims of whoever has money, guns, and all the attendant power.

Civilization — and I do mean civilization, that’s not hyperbole — depends on trust. Humans live in groups and divide tasks because we’re able to trust each other in very basic ways. Cooking food for a group requires trust, for instance. The cook is in a strong strategic position to just take it all. She (or he) doesn’t because human societies are based on trust.

Cooked food provides much more calories, so we have the energy to build buildings, and invent alphabets, and also do nasty but effortful stuff like organize for war. Contrast that with our near cousins the chimpanzees who could never start down that road because food sharing is minimal among them. When one of them has food, they tend to eat it right quick before some other chimp can beg or steal it away.

Yes, that’s an astronomically oversimplified point, but that doesn’t make it untrue. You get the picture. Civilization is completely based on trust. We have to trust thousands of people not to cheat us so our vehicles actually work, so our buildings don’t fall down on us, so our food is not poisoned. And so our governments will take care of business which allows us to get on with our lives.

You can see that last one eroding away before our eyes, because it’s the highest meta-level of trust and the first one to go.

Now that the Senate has dumped us all into a might makes right society, that trust will erode even faster and farther than it has so far. That means groups of people will hate and mistrust each other more than they already do. That means so-called “polarization” will get worse.

That doesn’t mean the US will fall apart into different countries. Yet. The side with power will be able to continue forcing itself on everybody for a while.

How long?

Well, a nonfunctional government means all the accumulating disasters stay unaddressed. The most inexorable of those disasters is the climate crisis. Big economic inequalities, which also destroy trust, we could reverse tomorrow. The climate? Not so much. The emergencies we’re already seeing, the wildfires, floods, famines will pile up more and more. (Have you heard about the locusts in East Africa that flew over from Yemen which had a huge hatch because climate change which people knew about four months ago and which nobody did anything about because war?)

Since people trust each other less and less, their response will be to try to solve their own problems by taking what they can from those horrible other people. Which will do nothing to solve the actual problem of setting the whole and only planet we have on fire.

So we’re now on a bad case scenario trajectory. Just how bad it will get before humans decide to do things differently, who knows. I’m sure it will be patchy. Some places where people still help each other will do better than those that fall for warlords. But one thing is for sure. Maybe soon, maybe in one hundred years, it means the end of the USA.

Unless USians bring back the rule of law. I’m no longer hopeful for November 2020, but that’s our next chance.

Another group of people who thought appealing to powers would somehow help them. Photo: Keith Jenkins. Alteration: three people removed from background.
Another group of people who thought appealing to powers would somehow help them. (Photo: Keith Jenkins)