End Games

Some time late on the 21st of December last year [2012], Terrestrial Omega Event 2012 streaked past relatively quietly, on a trajectory from the dread realm of ominous premonitions into the cobwebbed vault of defunct absurdities. (The fact that its glancing blow reduced Urban Future to a tangled wreck of smoking weakly radioactive debris need be of no concern to anybody except our five regular readers.) Another non-event was thus added to the long chain of ontological omissions that compose the Apocalyptic Tradition. Things continue, on their existing tracks, as common sense had confidently predicted.

For a world saturated in modernist irony, where even the most passionate beliefs are modulated by forms of mass-media entertainment, no ‘Great Disappointment’ is any longer possible, such as that afflicting the Millerites of the mid-1840s. A 2012 Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 10% of the world population (and no less than 20% of Chinese) had ‘sincerely’ expected the End to arrive on December 21st. When it didn’t, so what? There’s always something else on — or rather, the same thing, in different flavors.

Channel hopping is especially easy because it isn’t even necessary to switch genre. The collapse of the Occidental World Order is like Henry Ford’s Model T: “You can have it in any color you like, as long as it’s black.” What you can’t do is get it over with. It’s too big to fail, even after it has manifestly failed.

The December non-event was not the End, or even the end of the End, but rather the end of the end of the End. Dated Doomsday has been de-activated, leaving an indefinitely dilated Ending without conclusion. Now that the prospect of a finish has finished, finishing becomes interminable. Dates march onwards, without destination, into ever extended horizons of collapse. Apocalypse, stripped of Armageddon, is normalized. It can now demand undistracted recognition as ‘the system’, the way of the world, feeding upon the spectacle of permanent crisis through the Media-Apocalypse Complex. As (Fukuyama-final) Liberal Democratic politics adjusts to a chronic state of emergency, it is finally possible to ‘get things done’, in a time when nothing can be done. Disinhibited insanity delights in its ultimate mania.

Because it’s insanity, it can’t really last, but Apocalypse has outlasted Doomsday, and reality has lost its last signs. For purposes of polite conversation, therefore, it is best to grant the Keynesians / Postmodernists absolute triumph, and to concur that the consequences of irrealism can be indefinitely postponed. When in Bedlam, do as the bedlamites do. Anything else would be pointless irascibility, out of keeping with the spirit of the age. After all (except itself) Apocalypse Forever is the final Western religion.

Progressive Apocalypse, Apocalypse Forever, assumes the death of Doomsday, which provides the occasion for an obituary. For reactionaries of the ‘Throne and Altar’ variety, mourning will incline towards eschatology, as the moment of definitive judgment is interred. Here in the eschaton-blitzed wreckage of Urban Future, however, our remembrance is more concisely arithmetical. We recall dates gone forever, and with them the time inversions that are expressed through countdowns, intensive escalations, and compressions. When the end had a date, time could zero upon it, rather than dissipating into endlessly-extended fogbanks of blighted futurity.

December 21st, 2012, was the last Doomsday date, and thus the day Doomsday died. It might even have been the most popular, but it was very far from the greatest. Extracted predominantly from the calendar of the Mayans, it neatly concluded the 13th Baktun, but in doing so broke quite arbitrarily from the (already awkward and compromised) numerical organization of the dating system, with its preference for modulus-20 unit hierarchies. Whatever the attractions of exoticism, turning to pop Mayanology for a planetary Apocalypse schedule was also radically arbitrary, given the Abrahamic Hegemony that had structured the world order over the previous half millennium. Still, the Maya had conducted their own preliminary experiment in collapse, enabling Mel Gibson to excavate a striking movie from the ruins, introduced by a quote from Will Durant: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

When estimated in terms of numerical elegance and metaphysical profundity, the truly great Doomsday was Y2K, the most beautiful weapon in history (despite its failure to detonate). Y2K was automatic and techno-compatible (actually, techno-dependent), chronometrically precise, perfectly counter-Abrahamic, and calendrically creative (re-setting AD 1900 to Year 00). It was staged from the absence of an integrated, malevolent subject, out of simple arithmetic, targeting an exactly scheduled, consummate fulfillment of millennial expectation through sheer coincidence. The world order was to have been softly terminated, by ‘chance’. Nothing that has ever actually happened in history made as much sense as this (which didn’t). The more closely it is examined, the more exquisite it appears. Among other missed Doomsdays, none comes close. But as Y2K said, insidiously: Never Mind.

Even the shoddiest of the Old Doomsdays satisfied intellectual appetites that will now hunger forever. First of all, and most basically, they catered to the transcendental impulse, understood as a search for ultimate or enveloping structures and principles of organization. As a metaphysical event, conclusive Apocalypse promises an escape from distracting detail and an apprehension of the frame. Biblical bases for such apprehension are found in Isaiah 34:4 — “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll.” This image is repeated in Revelation 6:14 — “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together.” Apocalyptic time does not add a new sentence, or even a new chapter, to the chronicle of events. It uncovers the limit of the scroll, by exceeding it. For that, however, it has to complete itself.

Secondly, a punctual Apocalypse fulfills a semiotic (and in particular numerical) realism, as expressed — most lucidly — in occultism and schizophrenia. The apocalyptic exposes a primal encryption of culture, coding the operations of super-human intelligence (God or gods, transcended masters, aliens, time-travelers, spontaneous social order, or bacteria … any will do). A true calendar is revealed, in which semiotic exhaustion, or roll-over, precisely coincides with the end of a real epoch. Hyper-traditionalism thus exoticizes itself in the formulation: travel inwards far enough and you arrive at the outside. It thus provides the most radical challenge to the fundamental mantra of the contemporary human sciences – the (Saussurean) arbitrary nature of the sign.

An additional and essentially modern contribution to the apocalyptic is made by the arithmetic of the intrinsically unsustainable, as defined by Thomas Malthus (1768-1834) in his An Essay on the Principle of Population. The empirical foundations for an inevitable crisis are found in trends to exponential growth and their projected collision with a limit. Variants of such apocalyptic projection are found in Marxism, environmentalism, and Technological Singularity (Karl Marx, M. King Hubbert, and Ray Kurzweil).

Even from this brief survey, it becomes possible to outline certain core features of a model apocalypse: comprehensive, punctual, and climactic. In other words, a transition that cannot be contained by the pre-existing nature of time, occurring at an exact, cryptically anticipated moment, bringing the central historical process to its culmination. All of that is gathered together in Doomsday, and Doomsday is dead.
Note: Thanks to Mathieu Borysevicz and Sophie Huang of the MAB Society, whose December 10th, 2012, Minsheng Museum event, Just What is it about the end of the world that makes it so appealing? provided the opportunity to discuss the schematics of apocalypse.


New Year Cheer

There’s a lot of ruin in a global madhouse

2012 is a year that arrives pre-branded. It’s the last opportunity to end the world on schedule. By the end of December the window for apocalyptic profundity will have closed, and it’s back to the hazards of random, meaningless catastrophe.

Perhaps a prophetic consensus will have emerged by the fall, but right now the outlook is foggy at best. Trawling through the Web’s most excitable 2012 sites doesn’t bring anything very definite into focus. Once discussion advances beyond the fairly solid foundation of the Mayan long count, and the Fourth Age of Creation (lasting from August 11, 3114 BC, to December 21, AD 2012), things spin off into chaos with disconcerting rapidity.

Whether the earth is destined to plunge into a black hole is a matter of (at least limited) controversy, but the fact that just about every imaginable species of prospective calamity or transformation is being sucked into the 2012 prophetic vortex is easily confirmed by anybody with a web browser. Even the basic genre remains unsettled, with expectations veering wildly from celestial collisions, solar flares, and super-volcanoes, to spiritual awakenings, cosmic harmonizations, and countless varieties of Messianic fulfillment. According to the sober forecasters at 2012apocalypse.net: “The Mayans, Hopis, Egyptians, Kabbalists, Essenes, Qero elders of Peru, Navajo, Cherokee, Apache, Iroquois confederacy, Dogon Tribe, and Aborigines all believe in an ending to this Great 2012 Apocalyptic Cycle.” They missed out Mother Shipton, Nostradamus, Terence McKenna, Kalki Bagavan, and Web Bot, yet somehow the Cracked crew remain unconvinced.

As an aside, the best line UF has yet seen among the deniers (sorry, couldn’t resist that), is this deliciously self-undermining specimen from Ian O’Neill: “No one has ever predicted the future, and that isn’t about to change.”

In an increasingly desegregated cultural landscape, it’s not easy to separate out secular history and sensible opinion from the orgiastically gathering End Times festival, and – strangely enough – the world process isn’t doing much to oblige. Ritualistic predictions-for-the-year-ahead posts on politics and economics sites are practically indistinguishable from the 2012 Armageddon-is-here prophecies, although the sane side of prognostication is characterized by a greater uniformity of unrelenting bleakness: Comprehensive economic collapse, aggravated by administrative sclerosis, and accompanied by escalating international conflict / social disintegration, amidst the enraged screams of splintering civilizations (and a ‘Happy New Year’ to you, too.)

Goldbug Darryl Robert Schoon demonstrates some professional hedging, but he doesn’t even try to keep impending financial crisis from spilling out into cosmic immensities:

The ending of the Mayan calendar in 2012 is as misunderstood as the interplay between credit and debt and supply and demand; but the coincident collapse of the current economic paradigm and an arcane indicator of change should not be dismissed. … The current great wave [of rising prices] began in 1896. That it could crest and break in 2012 could be a coincidence. Or, it may not.

Science, technology, creative culture, and enterprise are likely to spring some upside surprises, but the degenerative horror of the world’s hegemonic Keynesian political economy – combined with increasingly irresponsible neoconservative democracy-mongering — has ominously synchronized itself with the darkest visions of the 2012 cults. A patently dysfunctional mode of socio-economic organization, based upon fake money, belligerent idiocracy, and electorally-enabled looting scams, is aggressively imposing itself – with an almost incomprehensible absence of self-reflection — upon a world that already has plenty of indigenous pathologies to contend with. The resulting New World Order, entirely predictably, is a lunatic asylum, and even its most functional components (such as Singapore and the Chinese SARs of Hong Kong and Macao) are networked into the collective delirium. When the Euro, Japanese Yen, and US Dollar collapse (probably in that order) the financial and geopolitical tsunami will wash over everybody. If that doesn’t happen in 2012, history has no sense of narrative climax at all.

On the ‘bright’ side – for all the can-kickers out there – the words of Adam Smith that have defined 2011 continue to resonate. “Young man, there’s a lot of ruin in a nation,” and even more in a global system. Perhaps the slow-motion disintegration of hegemonic neo-fascism Keynesian social democracy will spin itself out beyond the horizon of the Mayan calendar, which would really give us something to look forward to …


Calendric Dominion (Part 5)

From Crimson Paradise to Soft Apocalypse

Despite its modernity and decimalism, the French calendrier républicain or révolutionnaire had no Year Zero, but it re-set the terms of understanding. A topic that had been conceived as an intersection of religious commemoration with astronomical fact became overtly ideological, and dominated by considerations of secular politics. The new calendar, which replaced AD 1792 with the first year of the new ‘Era of Liberty’, lasted for less than 14 years. It was formally abolished by Napoléon, effective from 1 January 1806 (the day after 10 Nivôse an XIV), although it was briefly revived during the Paris Commune (in AD 1871, or Année 79 de la République), when the country’s revolutionary enthusiasm was momentarily re-ignited.

For the left, the calendric re-set meant radical re-foundation, and symbolic extirpation of the Ancien Régime. For the right, it meant immanentization of the eschaton, and the origination of totalitarian terror. Both definitions were confirmed in 1975, when Year Zero was finally reached in the killing fields of the Kampuchean Khmer Rouge, where over quarter of the country’s population perished during efforts to blank-out the social slate and start over. Khmer Rouge leader Saloth Sar (better known by his nom de guerre Pol Pot) had made ‘Year Zero’ his own forever, re-branded as a South-east Asian final solution.

Year Zero was henceforth far too corpse-flavored to retain propaganda value, but that does not render the calendric equation 1975 = 0 insignificant (rather the opposite). Irrespective of its parochialism in time and space, corresponding quite strictly to a re-incarnation of (xenophobic-suicidal) ‘national socialism’, it defines a meaningful epoch, as the high-water mark of utopian overreach, and the complementary re-valorization of conservative pragmatism. Appropriately enough, Year Zero describes an instant without duration, in which the age of utopian time is terminated in exact coincidence with its inauguration. The era it opens is characterized, almost perfectly, by its renunciation, as fantasy social programming extinguishes itself in blood and collapse. The immanent eschaton immediately damns itself.

Historical irony makes this excursion purely (sub-) academic, because the new era is essentially disinclined to conceive itself as such. What begins from this Year Zero is a global culture of ideological exhaustion, or of ‘common sense’, acutely sensitive to the grinning death’s head hidden in beautiful dreams, and reconciled to compromise with the non-ideal. From the perspective of fantastic revolutionary expectation, the high-tide of perfectionist vision ebbs into disillusionment and tolerable dissatisfaction – but at least it doesn’t eat our children. The new era’s structural modesty of ambition has no time for a radical re-beginning or crimson paradise, even when it is historically defined by one.

Pol Pot’s Year Zero is sandwiched between the publication of Eric Voegelin’s The Ecumenic Age (1974), and the first spontaneous Chinese mass protests against the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (over the months following the death of Zhou Enlai, in January 1976). It is noteworthy in this regard that Deng Xiaoping eulogized Zhou at his memorial ceremony for being “modest and prudent” (thus the New Aeon speaks).

In the Anglo-American world, the politics of ideological exhaustion were about to take an explicitly conservative form, positively expressed as ‘market realism’ (and in this sense deeply resonant with, as well as synchronized to, Chinese developments). Margaret Thatcher assumed leadership of the British Conservative Party in February 1975, and Ronald Reagan declared his presidential candidacy in November of the same year. The English-speaking left would soon be traumatized by a paradoxical ‘conservative revolution’ that extracted relentless energy from the very constriction of political possibility. What could not happen quickly became the primary social dynamo, as articulated by the Thatcherite maxim: “There is no alternative” (= option zero). The auto-immolation of utopia had transmuted into a new beginning.

Whilst the era of not restarting from zero can be dated to approximate accuracy (from AD n – 1975), and had thus in fact restarted from zero, in profoundly surreptitious fashion, its broad consequence was to spread and entrench (Gregorian) Calendric Dominion ever more widely and deeply. The prevailing combination of radically innovative globalization (both economic and technological) with prudential social conservatism made such an outcome inevitable. Symbolic re-commencement wasn’t on anybody’s agenda, and even as the postmodernists declared the end of ‘grand narratives’, the first planetary-hegemonic narrative structure in history was consolidating its position of uncontested monopoly. Globalization was the story of the world, with Gregorian dating as its grammar.

Orphaned by ideological exhaustion, stigmatized beyond recovery by its association with the Khmer Rouge, and radically maladapted to the reigning spirit of incremental pragmatism, by the late 20th century Year Zero was seemingly off the agenda, unscheduled, and on its own. Time, then, for something truly insidious.

On January 18, 1985, Usenet poster Spencer L. Bolles called attention to a disturbing prospect that had driven a friend into insomnia:

I have a friend that raised an interesting question that I immediately tried to prove wrong. He is a programmer and has this notion that when we reach the year 2000, computers will not accept the new date. Will the computers assume that it is 1900, or will it even cause a problem? I violently opposed this because it seemed so meaningless. Computers have entered into existence during this century, and has software, specifically accounting software, been prepared for this turnover? If this really comes to pass and my friend is correct, what will happen? Is it anything to be concerned about?

Bolles’ anonymous friend was losing sleep over what would come to be known as the ‘Y2K problem’. In order to economize on memory in primitive early-generation computers, a widely-adopted convention recorded dates by two digits. The millennium and century were ignored, since it was assumed that software upgrades would have made the problem moot by the time it became imminent, close to the ‘rollover’ (of century and millennium) in the year AD 2000. Few had anticipated that the comparative conservatism of software legacies (relative to hardware development) would leave the problem entirely unaddressed even as the crisis date approached.

In the end, Y2K was a non-event that counted for nothing, although its preparation costs, stimulus effects (especially on outsourcing to the emerging Indian software industry), and panic potential were all considerable. Its importance to the history of the calendar – whilst still almost entirely virtual – is extremely far-reaching.

Y2K resulted from the accidental — or ‘spontaneous’ — emergence of a new calendrical order within the globalized technosphere. Its Year Zero, 0K (= 1900), was devoid of all parochial commemoration or ideological intention, even as it was propagated through increasingly computerized communication channels to a point of ubiquity that converged, asymptotically, with that attained by Western Calendric Dominion over the complete sweep of world history. The 20th century had been recoded, automatically, as the 1st century of the Cybernetic Continuum. If Y2K had completed its reformatting of the planetary sphere-drive in the way some (few deluded hysterics) had expected, the world would now be approaching the end of the year 0K+111, settled securely in its first arithmetically-competent universal calendar, and historically oriented by the same system of electronic computation that had unconsciously decided upon the origin of positive time. Instead, the ‘millennium bug’ was fixed, and theological date-counting prolonged its dominance, uninterrupted (after much ado about nothing). Most probably, the hegemonic cultural complex encrusted in Calendric Dominion never even noticed the cybernetic insurrection it had crushed.

Between 0K and Y2K, the alpha and omega of soft apocalypse, there is not only a century of historical time, but also an inversion of attitude. Time departs 0K, as from any point of origin, accumulating elapsed duration through its count. Y2K, in contrast, was a destination, which time approached, as if to an apocalyptic horizon. Whilst not registered as a countdown, it might easily have been. The terminus was precisely determined (no less than the origin), and the strictest formulation of the millennium bug construed the rollover point as an absolute limit to recordable time, beyond which no future was even imaginable. For any hypothetical Y2K-constrained computer intelligence, denied access to dating procedures that over-spilled its two-digit year registry, residual time shrank towards zero as the millennium event loomed. Once all the nines are reached, time is finished, at the threshold of eternity, where beginning and end are indistinguishable (in 0).

“0K, it’s time to wrap this puppy up.” – Revelation 6:14

(next, and last, the end (at last))



Betting everything that the casino will burn down

Harold Camping’s Family Radio warned its listeners to expect some unusually dramatic spring events:

By God’s grace and tremendous mercy, He is giving us advanced warning as to what He is about to do. On Judgment Day, May 21st, 2011, this 5-month period of horrible torment will begin for all the inhabitants of the earth. It will be on May 21st that God will raise up all the dead that have ever died from their graves. Earthquakes will ravage the whole world as the earth will no longer conceal its dead (Isaiah 26:21). People who died as saved individuals will experience the resurrection of their bodies and immediately leave this world to forever be with the Lord. Those who died unsaved will be raised up as well, but only to have their lifeless bodies scattered about the face of all the earth. Death will be everywhere.

Clearly, prediction can be a perilous business.

Yet, as Karl Popper noted with respect to scientific theories, falsifiable predictions also serve a valuable – even indispensable – purpose. Any model of reality that is able to make specific forecasts earns a credibility that vaguer ‘world-views’ are not entitled to, although at the price of radical vulnerability to devaluation, should its anticipations prove unfounded.

Much like Marxism, the Libertarianism of Austrian School economic theory combines historical expectations (of greater or lesser exactitude) with a core of philosophical, political, and even emotional commitment that is comparatively immunized against empirical refutation. Both Marxism and Austrolibertarianism are large, highly variegated ideologies, with complicated histories, expressing profound discontent with the dominant order of the modern world, and prone to utopian temptations. Both are (often indignant) moral-political doctrines extrapolated in very different ways from Lockean natural-law property rights (to one’s own body and its productive activity). Both attract a wide spectrum of followers, from sober scholars to wild-eyed revolutionary advocates, who see in the unfolding drama of history the possibility of definitive vindication (much as the faithful of millenarian theologies have always done, and – as the Camping case demonstrates – continue to do).

The Western roots of both Marxism and Austrolibertarianism reach down into Jewish redemptive eschatology and Greek tragedy (it is perhaps noteworthy that Karl Marx and Ludwig von Mises shared intriguing biographical features, including highly-assimilated German-Jewish backgrounds, steeped in European high-culture). Statist-Capitalism is portrayed as the Satanic-Promethean antihero of an epic narrative, describing a sustained violation of justice that finds itself held accountable in a final apocalyptic moment giving meaning to history, and a seemingly unconstrained hubris that meets its eventual nemesis. The high is brought low, through a crisis whose mere prospect offers overwhelming psychological satisfaction, and thus extraordinary emotional attachment.

Since the 1980s, Marxism has tended to retreat from the predictive mode. Its enthusiasts no doubt remain committed to the prospect of a terminal crisis of capitalism, perhaps even an imminent one, but Marxist prophecy seems timorous and uncertain today, even under conditions of unusual global economic dislocation. The Austrolibertarians, on the other hand, are being drawn out onto a prophetic branch – possibly despite themselves – with incalculable consequences for their future credibility. Their fundamental assumption, that governments are by essence incompetent and unqualified to run the monetary systems required by advanced economies, leads them to an almost inescapable conclusion: hyperinflation.

Hyperinflation might be the sole economic example of a true singularity: a hyperbolic approach to infinity (in finite time), producing a punctual discontinuity. When hyperinflation strikes, it escalates rapidly towards a hard limit, where money dies. In the economic sphere, it is the unsurpassable example of regime incompetence. How could Austrolibertarians – whose apocalyptic inclinations are matched only by their disdain for political authority – not be irresistibly attracted to it?

John Williams’ Shadow Government Statistics blog is not easily characterized as hardcore Austrolibertarian site (Williams describes himself as a “conservative Republican with a libertarian bent”), but the prognosis outlined carefully in its Hyperinflation Special Report (2011) exemplifies the tendency to predict imminent nemesis for command-control monetary policy. Williams subscribes wholeheartedly to the Austrian certitude that ‘kicking the can’ (up the road) – the central feature of Keynesian macroeconomic policy – guarantees eventual catastrophe, and ‘eventual’ just got a whole lot closer. Nemesis is coming due.

Both the federal government and the Federal Reserve have demonstrated that they will not tolerate a systemic collapse and a great deflation, as seen during the Great Depression. … those risks are being fought, and will be fought, at any cost that can be covered by the unlimited creation of new money. It was a devil’s choice, but the choice has been made. Extreme systemic interventions, and formal measures to debase the U.S. dollar through the effective unlimited creation of money to cover systemic needs and the government’s obligations, pushed the timing of a systemic collapse — threatened in September 2008 — several years into the future. The cost of instant salvation, though, was inflation. Eventual systemic collapse is unavoidable at this point, but it will be in a hyperinflationary great depression, instead of a deflationary one.

Williams isn’t afraid to lock down some dates, with 2014 proposed as the outer limit of possibility – and sooner is likelier:

At present, it is the Obama Administration that has to look at abandoning the debt standard (hyperinflation) and starting fresh. Yet, the Administration and many in Congress have taken recent actions suggestive of hoping only to push off the day of reckoning for the economic and systemic solvency crises until after the 2012 presidential election. They do not have that time.

As he elaborates:

Actions already taken to contain the systemic solvency crisis and to stimulate the economy (which have not worked), plus what should be renewed devastating impact of unexpected ongoing economic contraction on tax revenues, have set the stage for a much earlier crisis. Risks are high for the hyperinflation beginning to break in the months ahead; it likely cannot be avoided beyond 2014; it already may be beginning to unfold.

It is in this environment of rapid fiscal deterioration and related massive funding needs that the U.S. dollar remains open to a rapid and massive decline, along with a dumping of domestic- and foreign-held U.S. Treasuries. The Federal Reserve would be forced to monetize further significant sums of Treasury debt, triggering the early phases of a monetary inflation.

Under such circumstances, current multi-trillion dollar deficits would feed rapidly into a vicious, self-feeding cycle of currency debasement and hyperinflation. With the economy already in depression, hyperinflation kicking in quickly would push the economy into a great depression, since disruptions from uncontained inflation are likely to bring normal commercial activity to a halt.

What happens next is anyone’s speculation.

The hyperinflationary destruction of the world’s reserve currency would be a decisive event. The mere possibility of such an occurrence divides the set of potential futures between two tracks. On one, in which the US Dollar (FRN) survives, Austrolibertarian alarmism is humiliated, the economic competence of the US government is – broadly speaking – confirmed, and the principles of fiat currency production and central banking are reinforced, along with their natural supporters among neo-Keynesian anti-deflationary macroeconomists. On the other, the Austrolibertarians dance in the ashes of the dollar, precious metals replace fiat paper, central banks come under withering political attack, and the economic role of government in general is subjected to a major onslaught by energized free-marketeers. At least, that’s what a just universe, or a fair bet, would look like.

Betting on a just universe could be the big mistake, however – and that’s a temptation the morally-charged Austrolibertarian grand narrative finds hard to avoid. In a morally indifferent universe, Nemesis is non-redemptive, and the entire bet is an inverse Pascal’s wager, with downside on every side. Make a brave prediction of hyperinflation, and you either lose, or you lose – gloating neo-Keynesians, greater indebtedness, and fatter government on the one hand, or some yet unconsolidated species of neo-totalitarian horror on the other. (It’s noteworthy that a tour through the history of post-hyperinflationary regimes doesn’t pass through many examples of laissez-faire commercial republics.)

So is the dollar going to die? — Quite possibly. Then things could really turn nasty – more Harold Camping than Ludwig von Mises: “lifeless bodies scattered about the face of all the earth. Death will be everywhere.”


Perfect Storm

Weather forecasts for winter 2012 are getting wilder all the time

Even before receiving the Hollywood treatment, the year 2012 was shaping up to be a uniquely potent ‘harmonic convergence’ of end times enthusiasm. Initially condensed out of the Mayan calendar, the 2012 countdown was soon fizzed into a heady cocktail by speculative interpretations of the Yijing, Aquarian ‘New Age’ paganism, Ufology, and mushroom mysticism. Once critical mass was achieved, the 2012 became a gathering point for free-floating Jewish, Christian, and Islamic eschatological expectations (coming or return of the Messiah, advent of the Antichrist, Armageddon, Rapture, emergence of the Twelfth Imam from occultation, and others). Just about anything cosmically imaginable is now firmly expected – by somebody – to arrive in late December, 2012.

Secular eschatology also has its dogs in the fight. From reciprocally insulated enclaves of the Internet, apocalyptic strains of Marxism (and libertarianism) joyfully anticipated the imminent collapse of the global economy, fully confident that its downfall would usher in a post-capitalist social order (or untrammeled free-market societies). The boldest proponents of impending Technological Singularity prepared to welcome superhuman artificial intelligence (when Skynet would already be five years overdue). Radical environmentalists, neo-Malthusians, ‘Peak Oil’ resource-crunchers, and Clash of Civilizations theorists also contributed substantially to the atmosphere of impending crisis. Irrespective of Anthropogenic Global Warming, everything was heating up fast.

This climate proved highly receptive to the prophetic ideas of William Strauss and Neil Howe, where it found a fresh and evocative self-description. Beginning with their book Generations (1992), Strauss & Howe sought to explain the rhythm of history through the pattern of generations, as they succeeded each other in four-phase cycles. Their cyclic unit or ‘saeculum’ lasts 80-100 years and consists of generational ‘seasons’ or ‘turnings’, each characterized by a distinctive archetype. The Fourth Turning, starting early in the new millennium, is ‘winter’ and ‘crisis’. They remark: “Today’s older Americans recognize this as the mood of the Great Depression and World War II, but a similar mood has been present in all the other great gates of our history, from the Civil War and Revolution back into colonial and English history.”

Jim Quinn’s discussion of the Fourth Turning at Zero Hedge anticipates the winter storms: “Based upon a review of the foreseeable issues confronting our society it is clear to me that a worse financial implosion will strike before the 2012 presidential election. It may be triggered by a debt ceiling confrontation, the ending of QE2, a panic out of the USD, hyperinflation, a surge in oil prices, or some combination of these possibilities. The ensuing collapse of the stock and bond markets will remove the last vestiges of trust in the existing financial system and the government bureaucrats who have taken taxpayer dollars and funneled them to these Wall Street oligarchs.”

More ominously still, Quinn concludes: “History has taught us that Fourth Turnings end in all out war. The outcome of wars is always in doubt. …It may be 150 years since Walt Whitman foresaw the imminent march of armies, visions of unborn deeds, and a sweeping away of the old order, but history has brought us right back to where we started. Immense challenges and threats await our nation. Will we face them with the courage and fortitude of our forefathers? Or will we shrink from our responsibility to future unborn generations? The drumbeat of history grows louder. Our rendezvous with destiny beckons.”

Stormy enough yet? If not, there’s the harsh weather of Kondratiev winter rolling in too.

Nikolai Kondratiev’s ‘long waves’ fluctuate at roughly twice the frequency of Strauss & Howe saecula (lasting roughly 40-60 years from ‘spring’ to ‘winter’). Originally discovered through empirical investigation of price movements, Kondratiev waves have stimulated a remarkable range of economic-historical theories. Joseph Schumpeter interpreted the cycle as a process of techno-economic innovation, in which capital was creatively revolutionized and destroyed through depreciation, whilst Hyman Minsky attributed it to a rhythm of financial speculation (in which stability fostered over-confidence, excess, and crisis with cyclic regularity).

The discovery of the ‘long wave’ seemed to coincide with its disappearance – at the hands of macroeconomic management (Keynesian counter-cyclical policy). Unsurprisingly, the crisis of Keynesianism under present conditions of ‘debt saturation’ has re-animated long wave discussion. At his Kondratiev-inspired Tipping Points blog, Gordon T. Long forecasts a savage winter, marked by rapid progression from financial through economic to political crisis, culminating in a (US dollar) ‘currency collapse’ in 2012.

Wrap up warmly.