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Quick Links & Fresh Thinking
1. The UK is at risk of running low on water. Why? (FT)
2. See a star being born and more — August’s best images. (Nature)
3. Across America, climate change is hurting housing affordability. (CNN)
4. These women tried to warn us about AI. (Rolling Stone)
5. Climate change poses 'acute uncertainty' for economy (Central Banking)
Today's Issue. Democracy. Institutions. Authoritarianism. Collapse.
Perhaps you haven't heard about the latest development in American authoritarianism—which is a danger signal for the world, too, as we'll discuss shortly. In Texas, women aren't to be able to use...highways. Yes, you read that right.
Frustration is driving a new strategy in heavily conservative cities and counties across Texas. Designed by the architects of the state’s “heartbeat” ban that took effect months before Roe fell, ordinances like the one proposed in Llano — where some 80 percent of voters in the county backed President Donald Trump in 2020 — make it illegal to transport anyone to get an abortion on roads within the city or county limits. The laws allow any private citizen to sue a person or organization they suspect of violating the ordinance.
"They suspect." It's even worse than you might think at first glance. It cuts to the heart of one the great megatrends we often discuss: democracy in steep, sharp decline.
At first glance, you might think that saying women aren't to be able to use highways is overstating it. So think about it. How are we to tell precisely what a woman's using a road for? I suppose that we'd have to stop them and check. Or maybe pre-emptively check. After all, there's no way to know, without serious intrusion into someone's life, what reason they're on the road for. So immediately, the right of privacy's eviscerated. After all, any paranoid lunatic can "suspect" anyone of anything, and increasingly, they do. Think about the explicit goal here: to reframe, recast, and criminalize everyday actions as a new form of human trafficking. The point of attacks like these is to profoundly alter the balance of power in society, so as to circumscribe behavior, in radical, authoritarian ways. No matter the cost.
What's happening here is a full-blown attack on basic rights themselves—and we're going to discuss just how, in a fairly deep way in a moment. First, just consider how many rights are being attacked at once in one giant leap for authoritarianism. Privacy. Movement. Expression, because of course how else would we know why a woman's doing what she is. Association. Those are the most fundamental rights there are in a democracy. This attacks not just one, but all of them. That is why it's so sinister and dangerous. (Sure, cry out that it's laughably unconstitutional. With a Supreme Court like America has now, that's hardly a guarantee of much.)
But it's also alarming for another reason. The way that it attacks all these rights, at once. It doesn't just make it "illegal" to do or say certain things. In fact, the situation's worse than that. This strategy does something to the law itself, at least the notion of the rule of law in a democracy, perverting and upending it. It lets private citizens sue others for....what, precisely? For exercising their basic rights in ways that they don't like, consider moral, appropriate, or righteous.
As we're going to discuss, this is how you destroy a democracy—by destructuring it. We're going to dive into classical organizational theory and sociology, to understand one of the most elegant set of insights about behaviour and institutions: Anthony Giddens idea that structure bounds agency, but agency shapes structure, too. In this case? What's happening is the structural removal of agency, at a social scale, and that's how you take a blowtorch a democracy.
What is that, when you think about it? What does it remind you of? What it should remind you is some of the darker chapters in human. history. How do authoritarian states and regimes operate? Of course, they exert iron-clad coercive control over daily life, right down to what you can say and whom you can meet. But how do they do it?