July 19, 2023•611 words
It feels like we are standing at the precipice of a new era. Or perhaps a return of the reverse of a long historical cycle that has trended towards ever greater centralization after the World Wars.
As the British Empire unravelled, the United States expanded its strength across the western hemisphere. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US found itself the sole superpower and, arguably, the world's de facto empire.
The generations that managed the growth of the USA up until 1991 were many things but standing out above everything else was that they were competent. With all its flaws and debacles and civil strife, the US had seriously competent people that understood the heavy task of defending western ideals. United in their appreciation of the principles enshrined in their Constitution and Bill of Rights, products of the Enlightenment's best, they embodied what the rest of the world called American exceptionalism.
You might feel differently. I can understand why. There are plenty of reasons to call this a nice packaging of a world that never actually existed except in nice speaches.
I see it as both. Many things are both, including each one of us. On net, it's probably closer to the ideals of the Enlightenment than not.
Yes. It's complicated.
As trust in institutions continues to decline with each passing crisis and lies uncovered, everyone is forced to turn to independent thinkers. Looking back in history it really was a long string of independent thinkers going against their time's consensus that got us the world we live in today. In fact, the founders of the USA were the rebels and contrarians of their day, for good and bad. The examples of such independents are countless and you already know many of them.
As the bureaucracies that manage the current empire rested on the previous generation's laurels they seem to only mimic competence. When they're proven incompetent, they lie and deflect. Their purpose is to maintain and continue to expand their power. It's the contrarians and underdogs that need to fight an uphill battle to temporarily force the bureucrats to solve problems. The examples of such bureaucrats are countless and you already know many of them.
As the public at large starts to lose trust in the bureaucracy, they increasingly look to outsiders. Many are not much better alternatives. But some are worthy of trust and consistently prove it through their actions.
As outsiders with loud, empty characters are proven to be fakes, it will increasingly become more apparent who are the independent outsiders worthy of the heavy task of continuing to reach for the ideals of the Enlightenment in the wake of a rusty, neglected, possibly pointless empire.
Perhaps pointless because the Soviet Union's highly centralized model crumbled not only through the competent strategy of the West but perhaps equaly through culture. Long before it collapsed in reality, it collapsed in the minds and hearts of its people. The blue jeans and American movies sold in the black markets all across the Soviet world showed its people a world where individual freedom, freedom of speech and agency over your own life can bring prosperity beyond what they could see even at the most oppulent communist events.
The gray communist bureaucracy was defeated by the blue jeans. They were the ultimate symbol of independence, worn in defiance of the Party. Each jeans wearer was a beacon signaling to their community that they were at the precipice of a new era.
Culture is the weapon that does not destroy.
What are the blue jeans of today?
I have a good idea.
But that requires a whole separate article.