Rat's Nest
Bloggage, rants, and occasional notes of despair

A reply to John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire has a set of remarkably pessimistic predictions – or so he calls them – for us to despair at. Some are true, some not, and some fall into the "who cares?’ category. Let us look at them.

Most of us will die in poverty

Derbyshire thinks this will be the case because the U.S. will strain itself to the breaking point bailing out obsolescent private defined-contribution pension systems, and then have nothing left to bail out Social Security and Medicare.

Except that accountants and actuaries are continually redefining those private pension systems. Social Security was never intended to be a system whereby people could spend the last quarter of their lives in idle comfort. It was intended to keep retirees from having to mug the neighborhood dogs for the contents of their dishes (a goodly number, it is unfortunately true, have bought into leftist myths that SS was intended to keep them in idle comfort). The point to be guarded against is legislation that forces private pensions plans to become actuarially unsound to fulfil some notion of "social justice". Besides, this prediction conflicts with…

Quality health care for all is not possible

We’d all like to live forever, in perfect health and with the same vitality that we had when we were twenty. If that is the definition of "quality health care", then no, it’s not possible for all. In fact, it’s not possible for anyone; extropian fantasizing aside, we’re all going to get old and die. Deal with that fact. (That people can’t deal with may be related to Derbyshire’s next prediction.)

If, on the other hand, we define "quality health care" as the kind of health care that they got in 1965, with medication as was available in the early 1980’s, then that can be provided for all, and probably will be, by government fiat (the future is not going be the libertarian utopia; deal with that, too).

The less health care people get, the sooner they’ll die, and the less burden there will be on pension and social insurance systems. A balance will be reached at the end of this century. Mass health care will be less than it is now – something along the lines of the U.K.’s NHS, I’m afraid. It will also be cheaper to those who use it – free, in fact (of course, someone else will be paying for it).

Quality health care will still be available, of course – you’ll just have to pay through the nose for it (the future is not going to be the communist utopia, either). Part of that cost may go to defray aspirin and bandages for the inner-city clinics.

Pop culture is filth

Yep. It will all be forgotten, and mostly destroyed, by the end of this century; historians will pretend that the period 1950-2050 was marked by a complete absence of popular culture, to avoid having to admit to the truth.

Those who live "alternative" life-styles love Marxist economics, but try to ignore that people like them got sent to the gulags in countries that tried to apply Marxist economics. It won’t be quite that bad, but that’s because the world will eschew Marxist economics as a bad dream; it will be state socialist at the very top, and fascist the rest of the way down. People who don’t like a pre-French Revolution view of ethics, culture, and customs will simply find themselves unable to get their ration cards, and be frowned out of the cash economy. If they’re willing to combine as much as of their life-styles as is compatible with swidden agriculture in the Pacific Northwest, government and society will be content to let them do so. Probably the absolute numbers who do so will be considerable, although they will be negligible in terms of all who would practice an alternative life-style so long as there are no costs or consequences. We’ll hear from their descendants again the 26th century, as the new barbarians bringing down a senescent Universal Empire.

The environment is collapsing

Not really. The more interesting parts are going away. Part of the problem is that watermelons have greatly overestimated the environment’s complexity and fragility to secure support for their cause. They’ll shortly come into conflict with the people who care about other people – or their own power. And they’ll die.

Science has stopped

Pretty much, yes. Derbyshire confuses science with technology some, but science has stopped…because we in the West have nothing more to say about it. It will receive its final form, where you could in principle teach a "Totality of Science" from a single book, in the next couple of centuries.

Of course, the technical advances have come in the areas that haven’t been predicted since the 1970’s. Think about the way that Derbyshire and I wrote and distributed our articles. Now imagine trying to sell that idea to people thirty years ago.

Not all groups are equally good at all things

It isn’t conservatives who find this an unwelcome truth.

Affirmative action is absolutely essential to social order

No, it’s necessary to pseudo-democratic order.

Socialism is popular

Well, no, fascism is popular; an economic regime in which ownership (and responsibility) nominally remains in private hands, but government regulation robs it of all meaning.

Conservatism is dead

As a distinct political philosophy. The future is with the populist dictator: a fascist economy, a conformist society, and a contempt for participatory democracy whilst preserving as much of the corpse as is needed to prevent riots.

Nothing will be done about immigration

Nothing will need to be done. Derbyshire is, understandably enough, looking at it from the viewpoint of an American, for whom the U.S. has an inside and an outside, and who thinks that Americans should some control over what comes in from outside.

Before the 22nd century dawns, borders will have been swept away (in fact if not in theory). There will be no outside. Before the sun sets on the 23rd century, Americanized Mexicans, Arabs, Zulus, and Han will be staffing the bureaucracies of the Universal State.

Only Anglo-Saxon countries can do democracy

Absolutely false. Derbyshire rather grudgingly concedes Greek democracy. He also omits the Chinese mandarinate; not an electoral democracy, to be sure, but a system in which quite small men could rise the second-highest office of state (and even to the highest, if the current huang ti lost the Mandate of Heaven).

When money becomes more important than birth or prowess in politics, we get some form of democracy. Sometimes it is actual electoral democracy; other times, it is a (more-or-less) genuinely meritocratic civil service. Money is now being overtaken by prowess in the West; it will be a New Class of militarized populist politicians who kill democracy for good in the West. There’s no democracy in the foreseeable future, but that’s only because not of the future is foreseeable; where is the next great culture, that will challenge and overcome the West?

China will get stronger and richer, without moving one inch closer to constitutional government

"Constitutional government" is not the same as "Western pseudo-democracy". In connection with which…

Taiwan will be re-united with the Motherland....by some combination of economic carrot and military stick

Unlikely. What is far more likely is that China will destroy its own economy in attempting a military conquest of Taiwan, destroying its economy in the process (this whether U.S. protection and assistance are nominally available to Taiwan or not). Depending on circumstances, we’ll either ignore China and leave it to lick its wounds in the hope that they will not prove fatal, or try to pick the pieces in association with…who knows?

Something inconceivably horrible will happen in the Middle East

This is a prediction? Like a "prediction" that an egg will break when it’s already on the way to the floor.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are saddled up and ready to ride

As they always have been, folks. They’ll be bound in the pit, though – by human agency, not divine. Probably not for a thousand years, but a couple of centuries, at least.

We’ve been yearning for the future for more than two hundred years now. Quite unexpectedly, we’ll catch up to in a few generations. Not this one, I’ll admit.

The next version of MicroSoft Windows will be even buggier and more counterintuitive than the last

::sigh:: Nolo contendere.

Poverty and hardship build character; prosperity and security destroy it

This requires more than can be done to it at the moment. For now, just say that Dertbyshire is wrong; reasons on request.

The U.S. constitution is incompatible with a war on terrorism

Yes. The U.S. constitution will nominally remain in effect, but will be ignored by before the 300th anniversary of its signing. Even more so than at present.

Justice is dead

No, it will just mutate into a very different form. The impeachment, conviction, and removal of judges in the U.S. is a long, laborious, and narrowly-available remedy. It’s so much easier just to take them out and shoot them – which the Imperial Inquisitors will be doing eagerly in a hundred years.

The law won’t be enacted by any process that’s remotely democratic. It may not look anything like it does now – especially if future bureaucrats want to spare themselves the embarrassment of being confused with contemporary (to us) politicians. There will even be corruption and nepotism.

But cultural and political leftism won’t be regarded. They never have been, of course; only the here and now is silly enough to take them seriously, and wealthy enough to endure their follies. Imagine the Center for Science in the "Public" Interest making its pitch to Augustus. Ah, Sidney, we hardly knew ye.

We are living in a golden age

No. In fact, two hundred years from now, people will be saying, "Thank God humanity survived the twenty-first century. This is the Golden Age."

John "Akatsukami" Braue Sunday, August 04, 2002