My first entry into this journal was on January 12, 1998, 24 years ago. It was called “What I Believe,” and looking back at it, I still believe those things today. Since those days, Unknowncountry has grown both in terms of content and users, into the largest website of its kind in the world. I had just become the host of Dreamland, which was then a radio show on the Clear Channel stations. A couple of years later, Clear Channel canceled it, and it became one of the first podcasts. It is now among the most listened-to podcasts in its subject area.
For all of this, I am very grateful. What I would like to do now, is to talk in general terms about the website, the world, our country and my personal goals as they were met or were not in 2021, and what I hope for and fear for 2022.
1. Our Website, Past and Future
Unknowncountry had a good year in many ways. It continues to attract an articulate group of participants, and has successfully avoided being caught up in the swirling political madhouse that the United States and a number of other countries have become. The site is not about politics. It is about understanding mysteries and coping with the challenge of contact. The site lives by the wise words of Anne Strieber: “The human species is too young to have beliefs. What we need are good questions.” We will continue to explore questions without settling on beliefs, and try to keep politics out of the dialogue as much as possible. We are interested in exploring deeper meanings here, not transitory issues.
2. People’s Mental Health and the Internet
I think that the internet is driving us crazy. On too many social media sites, when you hit on content, they push more like it your way, and the more clicks some given content has, the more likely you are to see it. The next thing you know, you’re not seeing anything but more versions of the craziest stuff you have ever clicked on, and you are lost in a maze of insanity, much of it driven into your life by state players like Russian troll farms, whose job it is to use social media to disrupt and distort the thinking of those of us in the free world. Unfortunately, they have played expertly on our fears, our suspicions and our fundamental confusion about our world to cause millions and millions of us to basically lose touch with reality. The social media platforms don’t really care. They want as many clicks as they can get and they don’t care how they get them.
This has profoundly corrupted peoples’ thinking and driven them away from rationality. I noticed an article in the New York Times today about the founder of CrowdTangle, which was bought by FaceBook a few years back. What CrowdTangle does is reveal the way the platform drives content to users based on what they have clicked on. He has left FaceBook and is now working with Congress to force FaceBook and the others to reveal this information publicly. That’s a big step in the right direction, and I hope it happens.
Unknowncountry is extremely privacy-conscious. We don’t sell user data, nor do we utilize algorithms that drive content in any way. This means that we stay small, but also remain outside the increasing hysteria of the mainstream.
3. World Affairs
A while back, I published a journal entry in this space offering a “war warning,” and saying that Russia is likely to invade Ukraine and China to invade Taiwan. It now looks as if Russia could make its move at any time, but China is waiting until they imagine that they cannot lose. Throughout the latter half of 2021, China stockpiled foods it buys from the US, things such as soybeans, pork, corn and wheat. The Chinese know that they cannot survive long without these imports, and they will need to have a stockpile ready to take them through a period when the US might withhold food shipments.
Both Russia and China have developed weapons systems that can destroy American carrier groups. The Chinese believe that, if they do this, they will be able to overwhelm Taiwan’s defenses. But like all aggressive dictators before him, Mr. Xi, the current Chinese leader, discounts the most important of all factors in warfare, which is the law of unintended consequences. It has a definite tendency to defeat aggressors, who must necessarily be surprised by what they didn’t expect, but works in favor of defenders, who have a chance to react to surprises. History is filled with examples, from the Romans in the Teutoberger Wald in 9 AD to the Japanese at Pearl Harbor in 1941. It’s not always true, of course. The French defenders were the ones who were victims of it in 1940 when the Germans unexpectedly defeated them. But still, it generally favors the defender.
If Xi attacks Taiwan, he is likely to give the United States a spectacular bloody nose by destroying at least one carrier group, but then he will have to hold on to Taiwan over the long term, which will be costly and exhausting, just as holding on to France was for Germany.
Contextually, China is in a truly desperate environmental crisis and should be spending all of its energy trying to correct that situation instead of playing power politics with its neighbors. Years of abusive and indifferent water and agricultural management have left it in a really desperate situation. It is making no real effort to correct its water problems, any more than it is making a serious effort to fix the expanding desertification of its arable land. But the Chinese government does know that it faces the possibility of famine, especially if there should be bad harvests in the US and South America.
To guard against this, it is developing and deploying hypersonic missiles that can reach their targets before their victims have a chance to react. This is intended to disrupt the balance of mutually assured destruction that has kept the world in a state of nuclear stalemate since the 1960s. It plans to use these missiles something like a gun to the head of the United States, should we decide, in a period of poor harvests, to feed our own people rather than export food. It’s a foolish and dangerous plan, and could easily lead to nuclear conflict if an attempt is ever made to actually execute it.
The reason it is doing this is that it saw what happened after the absurdly named “Arab Spring” that started in 2010. Poor harvests in Southern Russia and the Ukraine drove up bread prices and caused shortages in the Middle East, which depends almost entirely on that region for its wheat. The result was that, one after another, the dictatorships collapsed. If the Chinese people find themselves going hungry, as happened in the Middle East and as has happened again and again throughout history, they will rise up against their government.
3. The United States
I think that the United States may well lose its republic over the next few years. There are simply too many people who distrust it and no longer understand it for it to survive for much longer. For a republic to succeed, there must be a basic willingness to compromise, and that has gone from our political life. Both the left and the right are responsible for this. Both are strident and fanatical. Only one party, the Democrats, still has a really viable center. Since the days of Barry Goldwater, the Republican party has steadily eroded its center, until it is entirely gone. Without a “region of compromise” that both parties can enter, this republic has little chance of long-term survival.
I am not so sure that the republic will end violently, but I do think that’s possible. The last time it was this brittle was in 1860. The old men in Washington gave up on compromise, with the result that 600,000 young men lost their lives in a civil war that need not have been fought. We can hardly imagine what sort of compromise was possible, but, had the republic survived, slavery could and would have been phased out over time.
This time, if the republic comes to a violent end, it will be because military units back an illegitimate usurper and the broader armed forces cannot be mustered to act against them. I certainly hope that this doesn’t happen. I want my children and grandchildren to enjoy the same freedom that I have enjoyed, and enjoy to this day, but some of us have become so confused about what the republic even is, and despise it so profoundly, that I think that it is a possibility. (I don’t have any specific evidence that this is going to happen, but I don’t think it’s impossible by any means.)
4. Personal Life
A person like me, with a lot of public exposure, always runs risks. I have accepted that. I am as careful as I can be. In 2021, someone who had been working as a volunteer on the website for many years quit after he received a death threat for enforcing our posting restrictions. Fortunately, the people who are public-facing on the site use pseudonyms, so he was never in any actual danger. He just didn’t want to deal with the ugliness, and I don’t blame him.
I have also found, more and more, that people will attack me personally if they are dissatisfied with my interactions with them. In the past, it was understood that somebody like me cannot answer every email I get, or read unsolicited manuscripts, or attend private meetings, take phone calls from one person but not all, and so forth. Not because I don’t want to, but because it’s not logistically possible.
I cannot read unsolicited manuscripts for legal reasons. Many an author has been sued by somebody who sent them a manuscript, then later claimed that the author stole their ideas. In fact, I don’t know of any major author who will read unsolicited manuscripts. Recently, when I politely declined, I got back an email filled with all-caps F**K YOU again and again all the way down the page. That has never happened to me before, and it shocked me deeply. I also get often strident letters of complaint if I don’t answer an email.
In the past, people understood that there were limits on the time of somebody like me. Now, more and more, they become outraged if their manuscript is not read or their email not answered, and they race onto social media to say what an awful person I am. I know from talking to other people in my position that it’s not just me. This is becoming more and more common. I fear that it is only a question of time before one of these people shows up at some celebrity’s or writer’s home with a gun.
Most people, though, still do understand, and the vast majority of the people on Unknowncountry are good, decent people. Just read the message boards and the subscriber comments. You will find that the wisdom and decency there far outweighs the other stuff.
My relationship with the visitors (whatever they are) has deepened immeasurably over the past year. What started out in 1985 as a fraught, nightmarish and desperate situation for me has evolved into a sweet, humorous and immeasurably fruitful relationship. I don’t see them, except in glimpses, but they are right with me. They will still wake me up for the early-hours communications session, but nowadays there is almost always a gentleness or some humor involved. For example, yesterday morning I did not wake up until an invisible presence squeezed my right hand. And the participation in my writing has become very deep and extremely clever.
As to “who is it,” I’ve quit worrying about that. It’s a waste of time and energy. In my present state of being, I cannot answer that question. But I do have the lovely, blessed and deeply sacred knowledge that there is indeed somebody there.
5. Concluding Thoughts
As I look to the future, I am hopeful that UC will continue to thrive, and provide those who come here a rich and fruitful experience of social interaction with their peers, and that the news and information we offer on the site and on the podcasts will continue to entertain and inform.
I hope and pray that the dictators of the world will experience reversals, and that more instead of fewer people will get to enjoy the experience of freedom.
I pray for the United States, our wonderful republic, that it may recover its balance by regaining a healthy center, and that those who want to destroy it will see the gravity of their mistake, and seek instead to enrich it.
I hope that people will remember that, as has always been true, I have a lot of love in me and a lot of determination that we continue to bring the strangeness we all live with into focus, and learn to use it to enrich our personal lives, and the life of humankind.
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