“How silent are the footsteps of spring,” wrote Thoreau, and between the slow rolling arrival of the new season and the promise of vaccines, a window of fresh air has opened in the stuffy room of 2021. But Rule 1 (it will get crazier) still holds.
Given the sanity of the Biden Administration you may be inclined to relax your vigilance. But Rule 1 was never about politics. It was about the way technological change and institutional rot (in the form of greed and racism) have distorted the incentives of our culture, our leaders, ourselves.
I invoke Rule 1 not to panic or terrify you. Rule 1’s purpose is a reminder that things are not as they seem and we must act with urgency. The world order we see as stable is in fact fragile and not doing the job it should (even if it is working pretty well for you and I). Let me quote the opening paragraph of Barbara Tuchman’s “Guns of August”, the great history of World War I:
So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens–four dowager and three regnant–and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.
The funeral of King Edward VII in May of 1910 may have been the most opulent event in human history. If you were present at that overwhelming display of wealth and military power, it was unthinkable that those institutions were on the bring of collapse. Thirty six months later, the entire system was in freefall, and a decade later the world was completely different.
That’s the kind of time we’re living in. Rule 1 was never about Donald Trump; he is just a symptom. There are fundamental historical, scientific and cultural forces at work that are re-writing of most (if not all) of the assumptions that undergird…