Thanks Aurélien; this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking post.

Canadian naturalist John Livingston wrote a remarkable book back in 1994 called Rogue Primate, arguing that we humans, in addition to domesticating other species for our own use, first domesticated ourselves. What we call a 'civilization', he said, is just a group of effectively-domesticated people. One of the points he makes is that undomesticated species entertain neither hope nor despair. They just do what needs to be done, what is in their power to do.

So perhaps one way of achieving the kind of 'beyond-hope' state of mind that will enable us to resist and work around the unfixable dysfunctions of our failing civilization, might be to cultivate our innate feral nature, to un-domesticate ourselves, un-civilize ourselves. Wild creatures live naturally in a state of grace that we domesticated creatures will have to relearn. There are ways to do that. Just a thought.

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"But protests is all they are: an outpouring of anger and resentment. So complex are the issues, so long has the destruction of small-scale European agriculture been going on, that even a frightened government that wanted to solve the problems, or some of them, wouldn’t know where to start. "

My SWAG is that it's not that governments couldn't solve the problems, it's that any solution on offer would upset entrenched interests. Any attempt to "fix" healthcare in the US has the same problem - by any objective standard, US healthcare offers subpar outcomes and does so at exorbitant expense.

But what you and I call "inefficiencies", other people call "vacation homes", and they will fight tooth and nail to protect their share of the loot.

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"Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, or you are a member of the Inner Party of the Professional and Managerial Caste (PMC), you will be familiar with the atmosphere of doom and gloom that increasingly permeates the lives of ordinary people these days. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before: a sour, disillusioned, almost nihilistic attitude, that extends well beyond anger with our broken political class. In my observation, in several countries, people have mostly just given up. They are beyond anger, and most of all beyond hope. There is no belief in even the possibility of a turn for the better, and a pervasive sense that we are near the end, and that things are falling apart now quite quickly. As I’ve suggested on a number of occasions, this decline goes beyond just government, to encompass the private sector, the media, education, and just about anything else that requires a bit of organisation and a dash of competence. So as somebody put it to me this week: “everything is shit and nothing works.”

My preferred historical analogy would be the late period Soviet Union. The security services still had fearsome power of repression, the state organs still spouted the old slogans and people went along to the extent that they had to, but nobody actually believed the pablum they parroted anymore, and certainly not the people on top.

For their part, the people at the top were busy settling old scores, making unlikely alliances, carving up territories and spheres of influence, and mostly looting anything not nailed down.

And of course, the basic kitchen table economic situation for the average frustrated Soviet citizen continued to deteriorate.

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The turn-arounds our host cites: occupied France , apartheid South Africa, and those which he does not, for example, Russians who overcame the outright "schande" of the Yeltsin years to form the patriotic, self-confident Russia of today; the Afghanis who, true to form, added two more "empires" to their graveyard; Vietnam who sent both France and USA packing, the struggle for Algiers where the French won the battle but lost the war, the emergence of modern Turkey where, after an extra four year armed struggle against the victors of WW1, the Turks tore up the Sevres Treaty; The Lebanese Hezbullah who fought the zionists to a draw in 2006 and are challenging them as I write...these are all existence proofs that change and improvement are possible, and there are grounds for "hope". IMO the PMC will vanish, sooner rather than later, and the world will see better days. We may have to go through hell to get there, but no matter. There are many who will not rue the exchange w/o any histrionics. Keep the faith. The Good will prevail!

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I have long maintained in conversations that the U.S. has been in long decline since my high school graduation. Aurelien pegs the descent from 1975, my graduation was in 1971. A great deal happened in those four years from `71 to `75, the withdrawal from Viet Nam, the Arab oil embargo, but the most devastating was the creation of the Powell memo. That memo was the template for the corporate capitalist takeover of our country and indeed probably Western society.

We need structural change and to me one way to seed this is to get our sense of community back. My childhood is full of memories of my parents and relatives all knowing their neighbors as fellow beings. Of course, WWII played a role in driving closeness. For my grandparents, the great depression taught the value of friendship and sharing.

I belong to the historical society that keeps municipal records of my small city. One thing that I have gleaned is that the automobile has destroyed the quality of life in my community. I going to press the case for a weekend car free day in our downtown, once that goes then start eliminating the vast ugly acres of municipal parking lots.

I know, pretty small bore, but this is within my skill set. Plus striking a blow against massive mobile hazardous objects will have positive knock-on effects in assailing the corporate ghouls that rule us.

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Most of the comments here address a personal response to the modern world. However indivual acts of resistence and a positive mindset do not really address the systematic failures of our societies. In my country- the UK -nearly everything has gone wrong. Accessing healthcare makes you sick, transport is static, cheap reliable energy is erratic and expensive, sanity is thought crime, healthy food makes you fat, education makes you ignorant, poverty relief increases want, policing increases crime, diversity and inclusion policies create more discrimination, affordable housing means life-long debt, tolerance equals rage and anger, customer service isn't and government is definitely not there to help. I saw this article today which helps explain things I think https://charleshughsmith.blogspot.com/2024/02/the-phantom-legion-problem.html

As a retired and fully paid up member of the PMC at least I don't really have to navigate the shallows and reefs of modern life to the same extent of the young. I may be on the planet for another 20 years. So it is not my future that is at stake. The younger generations have to deal with the world and the onus is on them to change it. I am not passing the buck here, merely pointing out that when you talk to most younger people, they can often moan a lot, but seem oblivious to the need to actually try to change their world and certainly don't listen to old farts like me. It is easy to pass on blame between generations and I am at risk of doing that in these comments. However it may be that there will come a generation who are so dismayed that they will actually take the world by the scruff of the neck and start to restore a functioning society based on rational thought and not the semi-religious ideology that passes for intellect these days. The young generally adhere to this drivel and nonesense but then wonder why their world fails to function.

And I am not sure, but suggest this is an issue related to the Western civilisation only. The rest of the world has not gone insane. I think they look on the suicidal decay of the west with bemusement.

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Feb 14·edited Feb 14

I've always lived life in the way described of Henry Miller in Paris in the 1920s/30s, and I would encourage everyone else to do the same. A lot of the time I don't have much money but every so often I do have a bit and so I enjoy myself for a short time. It surprises me that this way of doing things isn't more widespread, but it certainly explains why so many people are angry and annoyed a lot of the time. If you expect life to be going fantastically well all the time, you're almost guaranteed to be annoyed and angry. (And putting the focus on the fact that some people are always well-off is not a point that I think is of any important whatsoever, which I know will be a controversial point of view to anyone on the left of the political spectrum, because it's the main thing that gets them up in the morning). So, in summary, don't have massive expectations, but always hope for the best. Consider this: isn't it interesting how easy it is for people to assume - when they, say, see someone dining in a fairly expensive restaurant - that that's part of their normal lifestyle? It's much easier, and satisfying, to assume that, then to consider the possibility that maybe it's someone who's having their "once every 6 months" expensive meal, and that the rest of the time they wouldn't be able to afford to do that sort of thing, and would instead be eating out in cheap places, or just having tins of soup at home. It doesn't fit "the narrative" of annoyance that people like to indulge in. But it's exactly what a lot of people do, and used to do, for example my grandparents who lived on a council estate in the West Midlands all their life. Just occasionally, they'd be able to afford to do something indulgent. But that didn't mean they could do it all the time. I keep making this point, because it's an article of faith to many people that there are basically only 2 types of people: people who can afford to live luxury lifestyles, and people who never do anything luxurious. Total nonsense. Sorry to burst the bubble of people who do think in that way, and like to wallow in it.

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I write with an unearned optimism embodied by a man who, at a quarter past one in the morning, is eating pancakes filled with a caramel apple spread that I first sampled two months ago, from a miniature pot pried from the inner compartment of an advent calendar. I realise that, when the guillotine goes up on the forth plinth in Trafalgar Square, it will be these words that condemn me.

When I began reading this article, a song that I haven't listened to in years popped into my head: 'My Secret Reason' by Lisa Germano which creeps into view one sentence at a time as if the narrator is carefully laying down a manifesto, though it is the manifesto of someone who knows that life was better in the past but can't explain how things got to be worse. In particular, I thought about the refrain at the end of the song - "faith among disbelievers, faith among disbelievers", which sums up one of the themes of the parent album, Geek The Girl - the story of a young woman who is badly treated by life but who maintains her optimism in the face of her hardships.

I have reached a point in my life where I am losing things and not replacing them, either because they cannot be replaced or because I have decided that it is time to let them go. My passport has lapsed. I will not renew it. I am done travelling. I have concluded that growing old with dignity entails being able to accept with grace the loss of everything that you have built up around yourself, and to think of what you once had as blessings that touched your life and that endure in some way even in their absence.

Many years ago, while marooned in Assab waiting for a boat to return me to civilisation, I emptied my rucksack onto my bed and divided the contents into two piles - things that I wanted and needed, and things that were superfluous and that I should never have brought with me. The former of the two piles was remarkably small. I think that I can live in this failing world and be happy, no matter what it might take from me.

Curiously, I spent the afternoon writing the monologue of an Afrikaner who leaves Cape Town for a server farm in rural India, though his migration takes place years after the end of the apartheid and is more mercenary than idealistic.

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Thank you, truly, Aurelien🙏

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Brilliant. In the first few paragraphs I thought, “You know who doesn’t have this problem? The truly poor”. They have mostly never known hope and yet they simply get on with it. They find some joy where and how they can. They don’t usually take the overt steps of resistance that the essay develops. I would, however, argue that a poor person is more likely to share what they have than a rich person.

The people best prepared for the falling apart times ahead are the poor and those with experience in criminality and black markets. Neither group (which have a lot of overlap) will be offended or embarrassed by what life requires. It’s always been that way. It’s the elder PMC, those offended by the vitality of life Miller found, that will rage loudest and most helplessly.

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As someone who lived across the way from Miller in Clichy, I do understand nostalgia for that heyday

I find your description of the ills and your suggested cure dispiritingly personal/individual, and resolutely comfortable middle class, in line with the bohemia which survived by facile rejection of the very structures of society and industry which made non conformism so acceptably comforting and comfortable when compared to the condition of the working class, let alone the bidonvilles

The solution, as always, is the collective: consciousness and action

You may despair that there is no longer, in an age of advanced atomism, any hope of the collective, that the notion no longer serves any purpose

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You write such thought provoking, essays; intellectually resonating. I enjoy reading them all.

The proposition that there’s no hope seems to me only conditionally true. It might be so assuming a certain set of metrics, such as you describe applies to (I suppose you mean) most of Europe, and the Anglosphere? I suppose different attitudes about the self, and the suffering we must endure prevail in different cultures. I remember a Buddhist teacher I met would say that sometimes “you have to give your “self” a break”.

Certainly, the sort of (I think mostly western) fear, insecurity amidst epochal change, and consequent anger morphing to emotional exhaustion, then existential ennui doesn’t apply everywhere. There are places where life is much more difficult by comparison, especially so if using the sorts of things by which westerners measure “the good life”. Nevertheless, life goes on, and simpler things provide texture, and comforts.

So, I think your remarks, while not untrue, seem directed to the western episteme. Perhaps you recognize it (the west) as the zone of hopelessness, and potential despair because that’s where difficult changes are being felt so strongly. Or, it’s your readership base. You’re hoping to comfort. I note you give pep talks. This is compassion and care.

There are places that the feeling of hopelessness you described simply doesn’t register much because the most important thing in the world is not the emotional well-being of the “suffering” populations of places that seem to be a dream of ease and delight by comparison. Populations in even moderately developed Asian countries would be confused…if western emotional “dis-ease” was something that registered seriously in their daily lives.

Hope is another word for desire, and frustrated desire is anger, but these don’t necessarily occur together. No one feels good to have their sense of security undercut. This is normal. Humans are emotional beings, but much of what we be emotional about are things we’ve conditioned ourselves, or have been conditioned to desire. What is “the good life” is therefore a conditioned idea.

You noted a prescription for what can be done other than descent into depression and despair. 1) To discover what you can do, and then 2) to do it. This is a good suggestion. There are endless things to do, and go well beyond the realm of political/social activity. Anarchy, resistance, rebellion, resignation, or random shooting sprees don’t exhaust the practical pantry. I don’t mean that was all you were speaking about, but the premise of this essay’s assessment of frustrated desire is essentially about political and social anger; blunted wishes.

Along the same lines of determining what can be done and doing so, here’s some simple suggestions I’ve offered depressed friends. I also follow my own advice.

-Read about something you know nothing about, and learn. It’s surprising what there is in the world. If it’s something theoretical such as understanding how the solar path changes during the course of the year, you can rise before the sun every day, and watch it (if possible), or just learn why it does. If it’s a practical study such as how to make real bread, then be a student of bread science, and a bread maker. Bread making is a fundamentally hopeful thing, and it takes practice. You’ll stay busy. Your neighbors will be happy. People will love you more if you share. Try gifting those you disagree with, and feel good. I am The Unabaker, sending unsolicited packages to unsuspecting recipients. They do not surprisingly explode, they simply surprise. A boule is better than a spat. Substitute bread making for thinking about your personal condition.

-Music is a magical, and an endlessly varied balm. It’s good to remember that humans are extraordinary in many ways. Music is method for mood shifting. It can be administered inexpensively, easily, and daily. It should be done as a prophylactic measure, even if not presently depressed; you never know about tomorrow.

-As mentioned, there are places where this gripping feeling of angst and dashed desire simply isn’t shared. Asia is a wonderful antidote to where you are, Africa too, but these are just examples. What can you do? I met a woman from Mongolia. It sounds like adventure, and it’s a less expensive place to be. What can you do? Get out! It’s a big wide world out there.

As I routinely tell my kids, come here! I hope it doesn’t take them as long as it took me.

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The capitalist model relies on a disadvantaged lower strata of society to put pressure on workers to accept poor wages and conditions. There is a social price to be paid in the forms of petty crime, vandalism: a low level noise floor of discontent. Any cost/benefit analysis is weighted in favour of the benefits (trickle down theory anyone?), so the system persists. If anything, conditions are deliberately worsened.

I first became aware of this trend in my own country when, some years ago, the unemployment benefit was reduced to "lower it to subsistence level". The dole bludgers were having it too good. Life needed to be harder.

This heralded the beginning of a trend of hard-heartedness which persists to this day, and has spread to include minimum wage workers.

During my travels around the world, I have noticed that people in difficult or impoverished living conditions have an underlying belief that life will be better for their children. A conversation would go along the lines..." yes life is hard, but there's a school in the village now".

In my own country, after a few decades of the type of thinking that lead to the subsistence level support mentioned above, that hope has gone. There is a new generation arriving who have been taught that there is no point in trying for a better life. Born into the scrap heap, with no chance of leaving it.

Doesn't bode well.

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As I read this, I thought of Adam Curtis' BBC series Century of the Self - Aurelien - if you think it worthwhile, could you review Century of the Self in light of your writings?

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Interesting reading people speaking about my country, South Africa, which, in 3 months, heads into its biggest election since Mandela. You may be intrigued to note that the newest political party is uMkhonto we Sizwe, named after the ANC's armed wing during Apartheid. The face of the party is ex-President Jacob Zuma who says, "We are currently being tried and convicted using the Roman-Dutch Law yet we have never been Dutch or Roman. We must be governed by the African law." - https://youtu.be/AYJbLPgRXa0?t=29

You've persuaded me to add Miller's book to my seemingly too-long to-do list. Thanks.

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I was just sent this article this morning and must say this was an incredible post. My name is Michael Farris and I have a podcast called "Coffee and a Mike." I was wondering if you would be open to coming on my show to discuss? If interested my email is info@coffeeandamike.com and any time you would allow would be greatly appreciated.

Have a great weekend

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