Friday links! Clash of civilization edition

Not the good kind of Clash.

We think of the clash of civilizations being waged in epic, epochal struggles among disparate cultures, but what if the clash is more like the rattling of the knife drawer? What if the primary clashing of a civilization—a modern, pluralistic civilization with really good phones, say—were with itself? Probably, the participants in that civilization would feel all kooked out, torn between their particular values and the universal desire to help one another. To resolve the dissonance, they’d likely have to declare parts of their own culture foreign, just to achieve the dissociation necessary to struggle against themselves. Such a civilization could only self-destruct—how else could it win the clash? Fortunately, we modern people don’t have that problem. We’re the foremost civilization in history, and we’ll be fine just as soon as we wreck China, European socialism, evangelical Christianity and the Dallas Cowboys. I’ll just grab one of the carving knives and we’ll—hang on. Sorry, this drawer sticks. Won’t you listen to the clanging with me?

First, news you have undoubtedly heard already: thanks to the 2007 collapse and Laffer-knows-what other broad socioeconomic trends, the median net worth of an American family in 2012 is about what it was in the early nineties. Remember when the first Bush album came out? Yeah, everything Ted and Judy Median have done since then essentially didn’t pay off. Because the net worth of the middle class typically comes from home ownership, the middle 60% of the population has lost the largest proportion of their wealth in the last five years. Wealthy families also saw their incomes drop significantly, but the average net worth of the top 10% in 2010 was $2.9 million. The Medians’ assets minus debts came out to $77,300.

When the wealthiest 10% of the population pretty much causes an economic crisis that reduces the median person to 1/40th of their holdings, you think there would be some blowback. That is because you are from Iceland. In 2009, Bjork and her boyfriend were throwing rocks at Icelandic parliament—called the Hoöjkstøab, as any schoolchild will tell you—demanding that bankers and politicians go to jail for the country’s economic collapse. Since then, Icelandic banks have forgiven debts equal to 13% of GDP, including all mortgage debts over 110% of home value. By all indications, this plan has been a success: the Icelandic economy grew 2.9% last year and is expected to grow 2.4% for the next two. Also, their total economy is $13 billion, which is just over 10% of Apple’s cash reserves.

Meanwhile, in the Iceland of America—nope, sorry, North Dakota is actually America’s Greenland. I always get that mixed up. Anywhom, NoDak voters rejected the state’s proposed “religious liberty” amendment by nearly a two to one margin on Tuesday. It would have changed the state constitution to forbid government from “burdening” an individual or person’s religious liberty— by making them provide health insurance that covers contraception, say, or by pulling them over on the way to church. Nobody was sure what it could be used to do, exactly which was a major reason for its defeat. Or, depending on which news source you read, it also may have been washed away by fetal collagen money.

But the fact remains: America was founded on religious liberty, so it stands to reason that members of the largest religion get the most liberty. That’s why the earth is 10,000 years old, 40,000 year-old cave paintings be damned. In addition to suggesting that homo sapiens and neanderthals interbred and that the latter may have been capable of symbolic thought, that Times article encourages you to think of a dude in a Spanish cave blowing red pigment around his hand and then looking at it for the rest of his life. Then he dies. Then nothing happens for 36,000 years. Then people start building permanent settlements in China.

Nope—I can’t do it. I cannot think about people who are biologically the same as us living and dying and tracing their hands for ten times longer than the sum of recorded history with no result. I’m going to operate on the assumption that human civilization always worked like this:


Props to Ben Gabriel for the link. I have been watching Triumph the Insult Comic Dog for 15 years, and he is still funny to me. And surely American culture will never tire of Jack McBrayer and his inexhaustible library of character.

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