An Academic’s Grand Unified Theory on Why Things Are Getting Worse

Ali Breland MotherJones April 1, 2024 Link


After studying how societies crumble, Peter Turchin has a warning for America’s elite.

Pessimism is in. Swaths of the global elite are uncertain enough about the future to be fortifying their doomsday bunkers designed to evade both popular uprisings and climate catastrophe. “Billions must die,” a meme that germinated in alt-right, blackpilled internet communities that see mass death and depopulation as inevitable, is shared with only a note of semi-irony. Whether it’s making art about mass extinction events or taking part in ambiently self-destructive behaviors like smoking cigarettes, other expressions of pessimism’s cousin, Nihilism, are in vogue among segments of the cultural vanguard. 

The Russian-American academic Peter Turchin doesn’t think this outlook is just a vibe. Turchin, who helped develop an area of study known as “cliodynamics,” which attempts to scientifically quantify how history moves forward, predicted in 2010 the US would see a significant uptick in political violence by 2020. Today Turchin’s cliodynamic models remain pessimistic. In his 2023 book End Times, Turchin says political violence and societal instability have already increased, a condition that is here to stay for another five to 10 years, even if we started trying to fix things.

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