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Societal Apoptosis

by on January 4, 2022

Societal Apoptosis

by Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

A society [such] as ours eventually ties itself up into knots by its inability to put first things first.” Lewis Mumford.

A society can be no better than the men and women who compose it.” Adlai Stevenson.


The United States is becoming increasingly ungovernable,” Thomas Homer-Dixon writes. “The structural integrity of the country’s once-esteemed institutions is profoundly compromised. What comes next might be worse.”

The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition)January 1, 2022 LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS

Thomas Homer-Dixon is executive director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University. His latest book is Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril.

By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship. We mustn’t dismiss these possibilities just because they seem ludicrous or too horrible to imagine. In 2014, the suggestion that Donald Trump would become president would also have struck nearly everyone as absurd. But today we live in a world where the absurd regularly becomes real and the horrible commonplace.

Leading American academics are now actively addressing the prospect of a fatal weakening of U.S. democracy.”

Authoritarian forces have seized control of the GOP and are committed to ending democracy in this country, replacing it with an Orbán-like Hungary-style merger of corporate and state leadership.” Thom Hartmann

Readers with a bio-medical background will recognize apoptosis, (Archaic Greek ἀπόπτωσις). Occurring in multi-cellular organisms, it is a form of cell death that occurs as biochemical events resulting in cell changes accumulate, rendering the cell irreparably damaged. While “bad” from the assumed perspective of the cell, it would definitely be viewed as “good” from the overall perspective of the body as a whole. The cell simply becomes one of the many thousands we shed each day and the body goes on without it.

In my persona as a professional Anthropologist – aka Stranger, I find the relationship of individual cells to whole organisms compelling as a guide to the relationship of individual societies to Humankind as a whole. It may be said that at very few times in our recorded history have the events within an individual society, “America”, been as potentially destructive to the whole, the congress of nations, as they are now. This said, we should examine the events not simply in isolation but in the context of human society.

Over the past four plus years we have seen an increasing number of police involved killings, especially of minority group members, in highly questionable circumstances many of which sparked rallies at which “No Justice, No Peace” signs proliferated and the words were chanted. Yet, we rarely heard anyone specify and define justice; it was an assumed value. Among other such assumed values this moved me to peruse my library in search of examples of how the nature of justice is debated. I settled upon my worn copy of Allan Bloom’s tome, The Republic of Plato. (Bloom, Professor: Cornell University, 1968) Considered the most accurate translation from the Greek, and containing his notes and analytical essay, it states, “The relation between justice conceived as one’s own good and justice conceived as the common good is the abiding concern of The Republic; Cephalus and Polemarchus represent the two poles.” (Interpretive Essay, pg. 317)

At this point it is well to remember that, as Bloom points out, the rulers of Athens were not simply against Socrates; they were against philosophers, of which Socrates was a leading light. Philosophers, what we now call “scientists”, questioned the foundational myths which justified the form of government. Thus, Socrates was viewed as a threat to the state. He was charged with disbelief in the myths and subversion of the youth (who attended his schools). In fact, he was a leader in what became the study of the natural sciences. Given the choice of death or exile, he chose death.

Our modern corollary is found in the rejection of science when issues of vaccines, public health measures, abortion, definitions of life and climate change are in play. Where we differ from the Athenians rulers of those days is that one major political party has learned that top-down autocratic measures are difficult to put in place. They therefore are concentrating their efforts at infiltrating local school boards, library boards, county commissions, county election boards, and State legislatures. The goal being to ensure greater numbers of the poorly educated, desperate for any kind of work people upon whom this political party has built its base. Regarding climate change the ongoing effort to curtail or cancel regulations on industries and activities that hasten these changes is putting more money into the pockets of investors and more people into “sacrifice zones” – swaths of the country in which cancer clusters and other health consequences and environmental disasters are to be accepted as “the cost of doing business”. To ensure these and other measures, such as the array of State laws banning or severely limiting abortion even in cases of rape or incest the “Red States” – reliable voters for the party of dictatorship, are enacting rules and laws severely limiting the ability of minorities to vote.

Though science in general is under attack (as of this writing some 850 books and videos have been identified to be banned), individuals are being singled out: our modern version of Socrates is Dr. Anthony Fauci who, along with his family, has been placed under 24/7 guard due to viable death threats emanating from the general public but inspired by this political party and the fundamentalist churches in its thrall.

Within the chaos ushered in by the last Presidential administration we have seen a dramatic increase in homicides, notably in police interactions with the public. In those instances when family members of people killed by police were asked what they thought justice should be their answers commonly wandered but eventually settled on some version of “the fullest extent of what the law allows”. This implies criminal charges but civil suit is not ruled out. But who made those laws, and whom do they serve?

Shortly after the attacks of 9/11 the Pentagon enacted a policy enabling them to shift unwanted military equipment, from fully automatic firearms to armored personnel carriers, to civilian police forces. The materials were provided free of charge, the police departments paid only for transfer costs. Thus, in a not so subtle way the community based police took on the persona of a federal strike force, further alienating them from the population they were sworn to “serve and protect”. Correspondingly, the internal ethics among the rank and file of police forces have shifted toward a view of non-police as “others”. A growing percentage of police officers are former military. As former military myself, I can say the attitude toward “civilians” is markedly different in the military and must be altered before a person makes the transition from military to civilian police. Unfortunately, the public response to the militarization of police was a demand which would fit on a placard: Defund the Police. Of course defunding the police is a foolish measure. But re-allocating police funds away from military equipment and toward more community outreach and mental health resources is a productive measure; it just won’t fit on a placard.

The military, long staunchly apolitical, is increasingly peopled with persons willing to apply “enemy” status to civilians within their own population. A few days ago a CNN broadcast featured one of three retired military Generals who jointly published an article expressing deep concern over the growing number and intensity of extremists in all ranks of the military. And just today CNN released the findings of a significant nationwide poll: fully 62% of Americans expect violence in coming Presidential elections. This can, and likely would include armed insurrection involving members of the military and the weapons to which they have access. Another nationwide poll today indicates fully 1 in 3 Americans feel violence against the government is justified in some cases, though those cases were not specified. Of course, once that particular political party succeeds in severely curtailing or even eliminating voting rights major blocs of the population might feel they have no alternative to violence.

Analysts working with the bipartisan January 6th committee are agreed, and evidence is mounting, that in the insurrection of one year ago the Capitol buildings were not the targets; members of Congress were the targets. When asked why such a large percentage of Americans seem not to understand the threat the common answer is: People still consider such a development as impossible, despite January 6th, what has been called a “practice run” already perpetrated with fatal consequences. We look at films of Mussolini’s Blackshirts and Hitler’s Brownshirts and fail to see hours of live television of Trump’s mob, or even the Proud Boys parading their admittedly neo-Nazi agenda, what Trump himself called “decent people”. And the reality is that there are far more people of this kind than what appeared on television.

Some people fear a civil war. I agree there is very good reason for this fear but I would add that it would not be as clear cut as the North versus South Civil War we learned of in school; although there are “red states” and “blue states” the people who may violently disagree with you could be living next door.

If the analogy of cellular apoptosis to our society holds true, what then are the consequences to the body of Human societies worldwide? Since its inception, the American “experiment” in democratic self rule has been viewed by many throughout the world as a goal to be sought. Yet, as the events of recent years have simply overwhelmed all efforts to suppress or hide them we see many societies that were formerly aspiring to democratic self rule or even achieving it backing away from what they rightly see as ungovernable chaos. As our continued encouragement of them increasingly meets with “Look to your own problems” rebuttals we see increasing doubt even within our own ranks. We are entering crisis fatigue, and the all too common next step is the self generated imposition of and acquiescence to someone who promises “to make the trains run on time.” And as we saw with the Trump administration there is a multitude of handlers, henchmen, and grifters willingly waiting in the wings to support such a dictator.

I was born into a Fascist dictatorship and now, at my age, I wonder if I’ll “book-end” my life by dying in one. But that is only a minor and personal concern; I dread what could easily await my descendants – and yours.

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  1. Julie permalink

    Hi Marco, a good critical overview of the US and beyond, definitely a realistic view whether people want to see it or not. If I let myself ‘go there’ it’s not looking great, however I live in my world the best way I can, but in recent times I must admit have been especially affected by covid protocol. In that I mean all the rules and the constant bombardment from media have really struck fear into many family and friends. On another note the freedom in the US to have guns, I feel compounds the problems there.
    Thanks for your continuing blog, always gets me thinking.


  2. Thank you, Julie. I read about the distressing Covid trends in Australia and hope each time you and your marvelous family are safe and well. On top of our own encounters with the pandemic in the U.S. we are learning more daily about how close we are to a violent upheaval. And, you are quite correct in pointing to the guns for all attitude held by so many.

    As you know, I’ve written about gun control before. But, no one seems to have picked up on my suggestions. I hesitate to post it in a wider venue because I suspect there could be backlash against my family.


  3. Ray Rivers permalink

    Marco – this is an excellent anthology of facts, most of them troubling. The truth is the great American experiment in democracy is in need of reinvention. How can we call this representative democracy when the most powerful legislative body (the Senate) is the least representative body in all the democratic world. Three mid western states with a population of roughly 4 million have three times as much voting power in that body as California with 10 times their combined population. The unelected Supreme Court (and I’m not suggesting it need be elected) carries as much or more weight on ultimate legislative governance that the rest of the US government combined, in the end. The media is polarized and polarizes Americans along partisan lines just to sell media and advertising. And the constitution is way out of date by anyone’s definition which is part of the problem with the courts.

    Unfortunately it may take a coup or conflict of some sort to rectify all of this and return America to its place as a beacon for freedom and democracy.


  4. Thank you, Ray. And an immense THANK YOU for your very insightful and informative contribution. Your extensive background and experience as a Graduate School Professor of Economics, an author, a columnist, and a person deeply involved in national politics enriches all of us who learn from your thoughts.

    I think your suspicion that more conflict may be necessary is well founded, and likely to prove prescient.


  5. Dana permalink

    Marco, another timely and essential post. You probably know about the cancelled vigil the Cobb County Republican Party was going to hold today. Very little surprises me anymore but that seemed a new surprising low. The upcoming Georgia election in November already has my stomach in knots, and most days I just want to bury my head. Yet I do know how dangerous and unwise apathy is.


    • Thank you, Dana. Yes, I’ve been watching local developments in several areas. The Fascist Party is deeply involved in infiltrating schools, libraries, and every other community based group it can gain entry to. And, you are correct. Apathy is exactly what they depend on.


  6. Looking at life as it stands today, I don’t know whether to blame it on Covid or politics; either way, it is a mad, mad world in which we live. I have long expressed the opinion that civilians are brain dead. To make things clear, civilians are those who have had no experience whatsoever in military life, or perhaps some sort of civil service position. It’s not that they are stupid in the classic sense, but rather lacking in logic and plain old good sense.

    I can’t believe how many people still support 45; how can they not see what he and his minions have done, and are still doing, to this country? I live in terror that they will regain genuine power. If this happens, there will be no hope for the survival of any sort of democratic government. So long as these people remain in power, their evil will continue. The current administration stands little to no chance of making a difference, and that lack is all but sure to be the demise of us all. The next Civil War will not be between the states, or even between political parties as such, but between the new Fascist party and anyone who dares to get in their way.


    • Thank you, Rose. Although it has been over used in the past, the parallels to the rise of those who chose, tutored, and groomed Hitler to be their front-man are undeniable. And, as with Hitler, Trump soon hired the most rabid supporters he could find and broke the leash to those who put him in power. While it could be hoped the Fascist Party learned its lesson, the indicators are clear that the Party has, instead, caved to the “the base” – the masses of utterly ignorant who will again use violence to achieve their nebulous goals.

      Another over used concept is that of “the perfect storm”. Yet, as we see the convergence of climate change, pandemic waves, international movements toward autocracy and other gathering clouds we can no longer simply hope.


      • Marco, I need to clarify my statement that civilians are brain dead, and to apologize for it. Certainly, there is no dearth of logic and intelligence among those who have never served; nor is there any shortage of ignorance among those who wear or have worn the uniform.

        My comment comes from seventeen years as a military spouse, and thirty more of trying to make sense of the way some people think, or don’t think. The people who express themselves here are counted among those intelligent individuals who actually understand the danger our nation now faces, and who do their best to mitigate the damage done where they are able. Never would I imagine any of them to be among “the base” which threatens our government, and our preferred way of life. Again, my sincerest apologies. Rose


        • Thank you, Rose. I do think your statements were understood in their context, but I understand and appreciate your clarification.

          The larger issue of who knows what about what too often goes unexamined. I remember my early days of college teaching, not many years out of the uniform, in which I heard some students claim, “I was in NAAAM!” Since during the height of the conflict as many as half a million personnel were in theater at once, and only a very small percentage were combat troops, I asked, “As what? Cook, supply clerk, mechanic…?” And so on. There followed a lot of mumbling. One, not knowing of my background, showed an abdominal scar running from sternum to pubis and claimed it as a wound. It was typical of exploratory surgery to find and repair an intestinal blockage. In fact, my tax accountant has the very same scar and was never in the military. The student never did show me the Purple Heart he would have received for a wound.

          So, yes, it’s too easy to accept surface appearances and the people who engage and comment on this site are, to my knowledge, above reproach. Over the years you have clearly established yourself as a stellar thinker, basing your statements on facts.


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