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Gratitude is important. It is the way of the world that the grateful and contented thrive while the ungrateful and disgruntled languish and perish. No matter how bad things are, you can still be grateful for something. Each person’s situation is different with respect to gratitude, but zooming out a bit and looking around the world around this year’s end we can easily spot a number of things for which we can all be grateful.
First and foremost, we should be grateful for being able to witness the final death throes of the evilest evil imperialism ever: Western imperialism. Its final reincarnation—the United States—is pulling out of Syria and is attempting to make peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It will probably pull out of Afghanistan too after failing to defeat the Taliban for the past 17 years. Iraq—as undemocratic as ever but now aligned with Iran—is next. After that comes the useless NATO, whose schizophrenic leadership simultaneously thinks that Russia is so weak that it is about to collapse, yet so strong and “aggressive” that it could invade Europe any moment, and are in fact ineffectually preparing to attack Russia in some sort of ridiculous suicide mission.
Also, it is very important that the Pentagon dismantles all of its overseas military bases and repatriates all of the troops before the money runs out—which it will. The troops will be needed to defend US borders and to keep separatist movements in check. At its height empires are able to control other countries, and other countries’ borders, but once they are brought low by failure and defeat they lose the ability to control even their own borders. Currently the imperial government in Washington is in partial shutdown over its inability to allocate funds toward building a Great Wall of America along the southern border. (By the way, how did that Great Wall work out for the Chinese? Answer: they ended up being ruled by the Mongols for 89 years. ¿Hablan mongol, gringos?) Meanwhile, the empire’s overseas possession known as the European Union is facing internal rebellion over its own inability to control its borders. Perhaps Brussels needs a shutdown too… before the money runs out.
Because the next thing we can be grateful for is that the ridiculous pyramid scheme which the empire erected after the financial collapse of 2008, and which destroyed many people’s livelihoods and retirements while further enriching a small group of ultra-rich psychopaths, is pancaking before our eyes. The US Federal Reserve, which, if you know your financial history, was a very bad idea from its inception, is now cornered. It is left with three bad options: raise interest rates, lower them, or keep them the same. This must be a frustrating choice, and Donald Trump, who frustrates easily, might fire the Federal Reserve chairman and start setting the rates himself, using Twitter. That would be a fourth bad option—significantly worse than the other three, but more fun to watch. Remember to be grateful for the free entertainment!
Next on the list of things to be grateful for is Peak Oil: it’s back on the menu and will prevent us from burning the entire planet to a crisp. Peak conventional oil happened way back in 2005, but then unconventional oil, in the form of US shale oil and some other dirty muck, took over and gave the world a reprieve. But shale oil is now failing. Three-quarters of the energy companies that produce shale oil are losing money, some of them never made any money at all, and all of them are heavily in debt and would need to take on ever more debt in order to continue drilling. And unless they continue drilling their production will every month decline by well over half a million barrels per day out of total production somewhere around five million barrels per day. If the currently increasing financial turmoil makes taking on more debt problematic, then we are looking at less than a year left for US shale oil. After that the US will either have to go back to importing much of its oil—which is bound to get expensive—or shut down much of its industry. The plan to Make America Great Again by repatriating industrial production from China and beyond will need to be put on hold—forever.
The other two major oil producers (and, unlike the US, net oil exporters) are Russia and Saudi Arabia. Their situations couldn’t be more different. Saudi Arabia needs oil export revenues in order to exist. It also needs the oil price to be high—over $87/barrel—in order to balance its budget, but Brent today is trading at $50.49/bbl. Saudi Arabia exports 7 million barrels per day, and the price difference results in a budget shortfall of over $250 million per day or close to $100 billion a year. Its total budget for 2019 is $266.5 billion, and a 40% budget deficit can’t be sustained for long. In fact, according to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Saudi Arabia is pretty much bankrupt already. Of course, if they manage to hold out until US shale oil production crashes—which could happen as soon as this coming year—then they may be able to hold out for a while longer.
Russia’s situation is dramatically different yet. Russia is a major oil and gas producer and exporter, but what it prefers is to use the energy itself for production and to export value-added products rather than energy. Thus, the Russians drive Mercedes and BMWs, but they are all made right there in Russia. Russia also exports lots of stuff other than oil and gas: grain, weapons systems and high-tech products such as rocket engines, nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel, cars and trucks, etc. In fact, if Russia were to completely stop exporting oil and gas, it would still run a trade surplus of around $20 billion a year. Thus, for Russia, energy exports are a loss leader: they keep Russia’s trading partners from collapsing economically due to a lack of affordable energy, making it possible to continue exporting other stuff that Russia actually wants to sell while importing stuff that the Russians like to consume—French perfumes, say, or Italian wines; lacy panties; IKEA furniture… If you are thinking that this situation must give Russia incredible international leverage, you are absolutely right. And this fills certain within-the-Beltway types with a certain feeling of dread called “Russophobia”.
Russophobia is another thing that we should be grateful for. Now, people often write to me to tell me how sick and tired they are of all the ridiculous and unfair accusations being lobbed at Russia, all of the ridiculous and counterproductive sanctions, the efforts to goad the Ukrainians into a suicidal military confrontation with Russia, the idiotic NATO preening and posturing on Russia’s borders and so on. And I tell them not to worry about Russophobia, because it is basically a tax on stupidity. It is a tax on the Russophobes that causes them to pay more for energy: the Russophobic Ukrainians now buy their Russian natural gas from the Europeans at marked-up prices; the Russophobic Poles, in an attempt to avoid having to buy Russian gas, just signed a disastrous contract to buy expensive and soon-to-be-nonexistent liquified shale gas from the US (and, unbelievably, to take delivery of it in the US and to ship it all the way to Poland at their own expense!). Russophobia also causes the Russophobes to pay more for their defense: instead of buying cheap and effective Russian-made weapons systems they end up paying much more for expensive and flawed US hardware. But this is only fair; call it the wages of stupidity. We don’t have to fix Russophobia—Darwin will.
Stupidity, in general, is yet another thing that we should all be grateful for. It has been over 500 years since Desiderius Erasmus published his international bestseller Stultitiæ Laus (In Praise of Folly). It is a brilliant classic that deserves a spot alongside Moore’s Utopia (Erasmus and Moore were great friends) and Macchiavelli’s The Prince. In a sense, all three books are about stupidity, or folly, of one sort or another. To paraphrase Macchiavelli, it is better to fear than to love stupidity—but we should be grateful for it just the same. Stupidity is precious, for without we would be unable to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, and the most precious form of stupidity is the non-self-aware, self-celebratory kind. It is easy for the non-stupid to spot, and they know what to do about it. Russophobes who think that Russia is simultaneously about to collapse and to conquer them are just one example. There are many others as well.
For example, one precious sort of folly is exhibited by free market fundamentalists who think that all would prosper if only the government stopped meddling in free markets. They do not realize that a free market is a regulated market—regulated by a government—and that without government controls free markets automatically degenerate into local monopolies controlled by mafias and warlords. Gold bugs who think that “sound money” should be backed by precious metals are similar; they miss the point that in an industrial economy money derives its value from its ability to command future resources, labor and energy especially. Peak Oil denialists, who miss the point that peak conventional oil was back in 2005 and who start gushing with sarcasm whenever the oil price goes down a bit, are another example.
Climate change denialists exhibit another valuable type of folly that makes them easy to spot: a sort of verbal diarrhea. You can always spot a denialist because they employ a rhetorical device called a Gish Gallop that involves spewing lies and half-truths in a never-ending stream: “Climate has changed before!”; “It's the sunspots, stupid!”; “There is no scientific consensus!”; “Climate models are unreliable!”; “The temperature record is unreliable!”; “It hasn't warmed since 1998!”; “Antarctica is gaining ice!”; “We're heading into an ice age!”; “Al Gore is a fossil-fuel-wasting hypocrite!”; “Baby, it's cold outside!”; “Sea level rise is exaggerated!”; “Arctic ice melt is part of a natural cycle!”; and, finally, “Climate scientists are in it for the fantastic sums of money they earn by hanging around universities as post-graduate fellows!” Russophobes often resort to the Gish Gallop too, but it is the climate change denialists that are the most programmed for it.
Such non-self-aware, self-celebratory kind of stupidity is valuable in that it allows us to effectively triage all of humanity by quickly and easily determining who gets to do what. You see, some people are worth debating while others only need to be told what time it is (time for them to go away). Some people get to plot the course and steer the ship while others get to swab the deck, sanitize and pump out the heads and scrape the seafood off the hull. Stupidity that is shy and retiring is of no use at all because to uncover it you have to interview people and give them tests while stupidity that bursts forth like a naked lady from a cake is indeed laudable because it can be marched out the door forthwith, no questions asked. Let us therefore be grateful for it.
If displays of individual folly are laudable because they save us work, then group displays are even more so. Displays of folly by entire countries and ethnic groups may seem excessive, but then perhaps it is the destiny of certain countries to serve as a warning unto others. The Kurds would make an interesting case study in ethnic folly, but the country that comes to mind first and foremost as a particularly extreme display of folly is the Ukraine. The Ukrainians say that they want to join Europe, where fascism is against the law, but then they march around with torches and Nazi insignia, pass racist laws, shout Nazi slogans and lionize Nazi collaborators who have perpetuated acts of genocide against Ukrainian Jews and Poles, renaming streets and erecting statues to them. The Ukrainians say that they want to join NATO but then provoke open rebellion in some of their regions and lose control of them, thereby disqualifying themselves from being accepted into NATO. They say that they are at war with Russia, but then they quietly sign a five-year deal with TVEL, a division of Russia’s Rosatom, to provide fuel for most of the Ukraine’s remaining nuclear reactors which in turn produce well over half of the Ukraine’s electricity. They say that they want to have their own, independent Orthodox Church and then prepare to hand control of it over to the fake Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul, that is; Constantinople ceased to exist 565 years ago). They blockaded their own coal-producing regions and attempted to import coal from the United States, but couldn’t import enough and are now freezing. Big countries can seat misbehaving little countries on their knees and give them a stern talking to: Don’t be like the Ukraine! See what happens if you do!
We should be particularly grateful to the Ukraine for its willingness to step up and make itself look ridiculous because a lot of misbehaving little countries do need to have it before their eyes as a negative example. Various democratic countries in the European Union are facing a problem: democracy works very well when there is loot to divvy up—spoils, booty, etc.—but when the bonanza runs out bad things tend to happen to democracies. People are no longer willing to vote for the one imperialist party or the other imperialist party, where each maintains a competitive advantage by being somewhat unlike the other one in trivial ways. Instead, people start voting for the New Arsonists, the Eat the Rich Party, Troglodyte Liberation Front or some other group with which the old imperialist parties can’t possibly find common cause and form a governing coalition. The result is an impasse, and as conditions degenerate people start clamoring for order to be restored, using authoritarian, even fascist means if need be. And this is where the Ukraine becomes invaluable as an object lesson in the failures of modern fascism. Let’s be grateful to it, and hope that its negative example does the trick for preventing outbreaks of fascism within the crumbling, disintegrating European Union.
I could continue this list of things to be grateful for virtually ad infinitum, but I will end it here for the sake of brevity. Be grateful for all these things and more, and feel and share joy! And if you want to show me some gratitude for doing everything I can to keep you sane in an insane world, don’t be shy and click this link. Thank you, and Happy New Year!