Anciety comes in two basic forms.
Mild anxiety warns us of danger; when it is appropriate, we refer to it as "Signal Anxiety."
Higher levels of anxiety can overwhelm our coping mechanisms; when this happens we refer to it as "Traumatic Anxiety."
Traumatic Anxiety also comes in two primary forms.
In an Anxiety Attack, an unrecognized trigger sets off the primitive "fight or flight" reaction. Catecholamines flood the system, preparing the body for an emergency response. When there is an identifiable threat, the person is primed for an appropriate reaction; when the threat is so poorly perceived as to be unconscious, the biochemical stress hormones have no way to be discharged and the anxiety builds until it is traumatic, overwhelming the mind's ability to cope. Feelings of helplessness and impending doom often accompany such traumatic anxiety. Usually Anxiety or Panic Attacks have a sudden onset as the unrecognized trigger evokes the Panic cascade: the release of stress hormones causes physical reactions that are then perceived as anxiety, which sets off a positive reinforcement loop where the awareness of anxiety creates yet more anxiety that an Anxiety Attack is occurring. The Attacks are generally fleeting and resolve within minutes.
The second type of Traumatic Anxiety, often referred to as Strain Trauma, might better be thought of as a slow motion chronic Anxiety Attack. In this case, the person is always feeling in danger from unknown and known sources. The anxiety is relatively steady for a very long time until it starts to slowly escalate; it is often barely perceptible at first and it never dissipates. In such situations the person tends to slowly regress to more primitive, ie immature, levels of coping. Life itself becomes an arena for chronic feelings of helplessness and impending doom. The disaster is always just around the corner.
What happens when a Society is under chronic duress of a kind that is poorly recognized by the majority? As I have noted on many occasions, a stressed Society is likely to become a Regressed Society. Feelings of impending doom and stories of our impending collapse are becoming more common. Today, Mark Safranski discusses one such scenario and offers an partial explanation for how such a collapse could proceed:
Free markets are generally efficient, so long as you do not expect them to automatically create public goods of a certain scale or be perfectly self-regulating. They require a scrupulously impartial rule of law in order to not become corrupted by abusive players seeking rents. Unfortunately, a scrupulously impartial rule of law is incompatible with technocracy, where expert administrators are granted arbitrary discretion without democratic accountability, the prevailing ethos in the EU supranational bureaucracy, to cite a real world example. The late, unlamented, Soviet nomenklatura would be another, more sinsiter, historical one.
The primary problem with the American political economy is that in the last 10-15 years, elite, moderately liberal technocrats have made common cause with the elite, moderately conservative rentiers of the financial and corporate world to form an incipient oligarchy. One sees their fellow Americans paternalistically as children. The other sees us as sheep to be sheared. It’s a common enough ground on which to unite and it is the reason you see a very liberal Democratic Obama administration and a Pelosi-Reid Congressional leadership counterintuitively putting corporate regulation in impenetrable shadows not seen since before the Stock Market Crash of 1929 as if they were the minions of Jay Gould and J.P. Morgan.
Don’t expect mainstream Republicans in Congress to die on any hills fighting for the free market either - they aspire to be the party of no-bid contracts to the Democratic party of government by clout.
The article to which Mark links, by Paul Craig Roberts, is interesting and entertaining in a Dystopian way:
It was 2017. Clans were governing America.
The dollar had collapsed as world reserve currency in 2012 when the worsening economic depression made it clear to Washington’s creditors that the federal budget deficit was too large to be financed except by the printing of money.
With the dollar’s demise, import prices skyrocketed. As Americans were unable to afford foreign-made goods, the transnational corporations that were producing offshore for US markets were bankrupted, further eroding the government’s revenue base.
The government was forced to print money in order to pay its bills, causing domestic prices to rise rapidly. Faced with hyperinflation, Washington took recourse in terminating Social Security and Medicare and followed up by confiscating the remnants of private pensions. This provided a one-year respite, but with no more resources to confiscate, money creation and hyperinflation resumed.
Organized food deliveries broke down when the government fought hyperinflation with fixed prices and the mandate that all purchases and sales had to be in US paper currency. Unwilling to trade appreciating goods for depreciating paper, goods disappeared from stores.
As has been noted by many people, paradigms collapse slowly at first, and then suddenly. What is interesting is that there were two other articles yesterday which dealt with the same anxiety. Niall Ferguson addresses the concerns directly:
Great powers and empires are complex systems, which means their construction more resembles a termite hill than an Egyptian pyramid. They operate somewhere between order and disorder, on "the edge of chaos", in the phrase of the computer scientist Christopher Langton.
Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting.
But there comes a moment when complex systems "go critical". A very small trigger can set off a phase transition from a benign equilibrium to a crisis.
Complex systems share certain characteristics. A small input to such a system can produce huge, often unanticipated changes, what scientists call the amplifier effect.
What are the implications for the US today? The most obvious point is that imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises: sharp imbalances between revenues and expenditures, and the mounting cost of servicing a mountain of public debt.
Maxed_Out_Mama addresses the anxiety from a different point, the sense that the groundwork has been/is being laid for a more authoritarian government developing as the stresses upon the system increase:
Ah, yes. The fatal quarter twist. It is a sad societal truth that utopias with grandiose plans often quickly take that last twist.
Consider, for example, the sad tale of Geneva under Calvinwith its rapid evolution of a religious police, an inquisition, and a truly repressive society, exemplified perhaps by the deliberately slow burning of Servetus(Calvin would have let Servetus be beheaded, but Calvin also didn't exert his power to stop it, and Calvin had predetermined that if he ever got his hands on Servetus death would be the penalty) and Calvin's subsequent defense of the idea that the church was right to execute heretics. From there it was a hop, skip and jump to the issuance of quite strict regulations over clothing and food, and eventually Calvin required every Geneva citizen to address him in terms of the utmost respect. Criticism or disrespect was not tolerated. Calvin's startling theory that tyrants should be obeyed by individual citizens as should a good government, regardless of the abuses of such a ruler, might have something to do with this. (Such a ruler was still an instrument of God, perhaps serving as an instrument of God's wrath.)
This keeps happening over and over again in societies with utopian goals. One moment you are really concentrating on establishing an efficient train system for passengers and freight and making the trains run on time, and in just a couple of social breaths you are loading undesirables on the trains for an efficient and timely extermination - all in the service of the same goals. When individuals matter less than grand social goals, moderation goes to the wall.
Read M_O_M's post, if for nothing else than the Chesterton quotes; he was prescient.
As Mark noted, our elites, our ruling class, has become increasingly disconnected from the people over whom they exert power. They believe they are smarter and wiser than the people, who need their wisdom and guidance, even if we don't appreciate their beneficence. Since their prescriptions are not working (and this includes the Republicans in DC as well as the current Democratic leadership) this leads to anxiety in Washington. Out in the boondocks, where we can still add and recognize that borrowing trillions to get our economy growing after it stalled because we already have too much debt, is madness, the anxiety grows as well.
The ruling class feels threatened, which evokes their nascent authoritarian instincts and the still free people in America sense that a collision is coming. Whether or not the denouement will end in a slow, painful course correction rather than a collapse remains unknowable. What is clear is that Anxiety is growing, there is a danger of significant regression in response, and forces are at play that are now being reflected in more vivid Dystopian imaginings. We will not know for quite some time if what is occurring is Signal Anxiety, correctable by our current institutions in November, or a state of slowly growing Traumatic Anxiety.