It was very popular in midwit circles, for a while, to talk about “the end of history”. A remarkably stupid man wrote a remarkably stupid book about it. There was an even more stupid song on the topic. “Right here, right now… watching the world wake up from history.” Perhaps you’ve heard the song used to sell you Pepsi or Truvada or Dogecoin.
The idea behind “the end of history” was based on some remarkable naivete regarding human nature. It stated, more or less, that the arc of history bent inevitably toward liberal democracy, and that therefore all societies would move inexorably in that direction until they reached the blessed state of liberal democracy, at which point there would be no more broad change in that area, and therefore no more “history”. Like “climate science”, this was ex post facto theorizing based on the relative stability of the United States and the Western democracies between 1960 and 1990, coupled with the seemingly-inevitable-in-retrospect collapse of the Warsaw Pact.
Let’s consider 2021 to be a massive comeback for the idea of plain old history, and I’m talking George Foreman, or possibly Michael Jordan, levels of comeback here. It is happening on the periphery of the civilized world, where a puppet Afghani “democracy” simply vanished like fog in the face of a few thousand men with worn-out AK-74s and the will to use them. It is happening in the very center of today’s civilized world, as China uses technological methods to tighten the grasp of its Uniparty on internal dissent even as it prepares to do whatever it wants internationally.
As for America, the place where history was the first to end? Why, it’s simply… unraveling. This past week, I’ve had a front row seat from which to watch the process.
It was an eight-day plan, relatively simple:
* Fly to San Francisco and drive to Monterey for the “Monterey Car Week” of Quail, Concours d’Lemons, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and so on.
* Drive down to Los Angeles.
* Pick up some press motorcycles.
* Ride them around the state a bit.
* Fly home.
Ah, but nothing is all that simple nowadays. Thousands of flights are getting canceled on a weekly basis. Southwest’s pilots and staff, normally the happiest and highest-compensated apples in the bunch, are preparing to picket their employer. I was rapid-fire rebooked three times in a row on my Delta itinerary from CMH to SFO before settling on the last CMH -> ATL -> SFO run of the day. I arrived to find that my rental car was gone. “The situation is kind of bad.. we’re just having people go out in the lot and take something,” a Hertz woman told me, after I waited half an hour to get her attention. “If there’s a car out there, take it.” There were three cars left in the lot. My luggage, the motorcycle helmet and Kevlar pants, was scheduled to arrive six hours after my actual arrival, twelve hours after my scheduled arrival. I ended up going back for it the next day.
Monterey was jam-packed with rich people in six-and-seven-figure cars… all of whom were looking for a meal. Nobody wants to work in California. Can you blame them? The rent has been waived and Uncle Joe’s COVID Bucks are rolling in. Going to work for Monterey Car Week would mean: paying five dollars or more a gallon to drive your irreplaceable car somewhere, then paying to park it, then dealing with the insane demands of people who have become massively wealthier over the past eighteen months as the always-expanding lower class has been redeployed into service as their Uber Eats drivers, Doordash people, Amazon delivery crew, and so on. Every restaurant on the peninsula had empty tables, which further enraged the McLaren owners standing outside and looking in. but it wasn’t because of COVID. It was because nobody wanted to work.
A rare Mercedes 540K won Best Of Show at Pebble Beach — it was called the Autobahn Kurier. There was a brief attempt by the automotive press to raise outrage about this. Jalopnik, The Drive, and other usual social-media suspects vigorously stirred away at the OMG NAZI CAR angle but in the end they were defeated by a curious side effect of the American bifurcation, namely: most people are so poor or culture-disconnected now that they don’t care who won Pebble, and the people who are in a position to care are also utterly immune to manufactured outrage.
For the record, it’s a gorgeous car, very similar to the hundred other gorgeous cars there. The Pebble Beach crowd has a very strong attachment to 540Ks, but I don’t think it’s because they are all secret Nazis. I think it’s because the 540K is probably the alpha pre-war car, or close to it, and this is a pre-war crowd.
The new Countach was revealed at “The Quail”. Tickets for “The Quail” were something like $1100 each. Somehow I got in. I talked to the product director. He mentioned that all 112 examples (of the car, not the tickets) have been sold at the asking price of $2.6 million. Why even show the car at all? Why give interviews? We all know why: to affirm the folks who have already signed up. This is journalism-as-PR at its logical end state. We’re not even tools to sell a car. We’re tools to reinforce an existing purchase decision.
For the record, the Countach is lovely and I think the people who criticize it are missing the point. Lamborghini didn’t build the original Countach for the purpose of eventually gratifying the sensibilities of the weeaboos who own and/or like the cars now. They built the Countach for high-testosterone rich dudes to misbehave in. The new Countach will be delightful for this purpose. Even better than an Aventador, largely because it costs more and is rarer. After a week in Monterey, I had the distorted idea that Aventadors were America’s best-selling car. You’d see them lined up at a gas pump or valet line, over and over again.
Down the coast I went, past the five-dollar gas and the empty restaurants. The roads were still crowded. Picked up the motorcycles and hit the back roads. Los Angeles may still have dead-stopped freeways at the current employment level, but inland California has become a wasteland. We’d stop at diners with three people working and four people eating during the “lunch rush”, ride through towns with no discernible human activity going on and recently-applied boards on every window. On 58 between San Luis Obispo and Taft, there’s a section where you can’t get any food or fuel for 72 miles. There’s a warning sign. It was time to take photos, so we put the bikes in the middle of the road. For more than 45 minutes, we didn’t have to move the bikes. Finally, a new-ish Forester rolled through, faces pressed to the glass to observe our odd behavior. Then nothing, until it was time to leave.
People were talking about Afghanistan, when we saw people. How the United States had left hundreds of aircraft, trucks, brand-new MRAPs. Blackhawk helicopters. A few Embraer ground-attack planes. Well, they say, the Taliban is too stupid and unsophisticated to make ’em run. Yes, these stupid and unsophisticated Taliban, who didn’t bother to read The End Of History and therefore just kept making history. But even if the average fedayeen can’t maintain an A-29 Super Tucano, I’m pretty sure he’ll know what to do with the tens of thousands of M4 assault rifles left brand-new in crates for him. If you’re an American citizen, possession of a so-called “Class III machinegun” built after 1986, like a current M4, will land you in pound-you-in-the-you-know-what federal prison. If you’re a member of the Taliban, the US Government just bought you a nearly unlimited supply of them, with taxpayer money. Location, location, location.
I had dinner and spent the evening with a car-racing friend. He has a penthouse condo facing the Capitol Record building. A $77,000 Ducati Desmodici RR as an ornament for his living room. A 300-pound, six-foot-four black man who was the embodiment of pure silver-tooth-capped menace stood between me and the front door. I established bona fides and he relaxed at not having to spend somewhere between six and ten seconds of his valuable beating my ass into the quartz-flaked sidewalk. “Oh, you a rider,” he said, admiring my Kawasaki Z900RS. “Let me show you mine.” He dug out his phone to show me that he owned a purple Electra Glide converted to “bagger” style. “You see how I ride. I’m out on these streets all the time. We should meet up. Hey man,” he growled at a shambling, crooked fellow literally sans culottes of any kind, “get the f*** away from that trash can, that ain’t your trash.”
In my friend’s condo, I leafed through medical journals and admired a six-figure stereo system as his utterly perfect, two-decade-younger girlfriend poured me a Ketel One. “We only have Diet Coke for a mixer,” she apologized. The windows were open; the air up here was clear and cool. On the street eleven floors down, dollops of discolored human waste graced the stars of Hollywood and Vine. A long extension cord took an electricity from somewhere to a pop-up tent city filled with people who were screaming at passing traffic.
Of course there were delayed flights on the way back. I was lucky and would only have to walk between adjacent gates for a connecting flight that was in the final stages of loading. Other people were pleading or crying into their phones even before the jetway connected to the door. It was a relief to be back in Ohio. It feels significantly more normal here. The future always starts in California; in the past that’s felt like a curse but now it’s a temporal generosity.
What’s in that future? Why, just the resumption of history. If the 2016 election showed the ability of minor fame to overcome peerless political acumen, the 2020 election showed… what, exactly? That future contests would be bare-knuckle showdowns between “voter suppression” on the red side and Al Franken-style “found ballots” at national scale on the blue? If that is truly the case, then our liberal democracy is irretrievably broken. What’s next? Curtis Yarvin and others are openly discussing a return to monarchy. The Chinese have a Party that chooses its leaders in secret and elevates them without opposition. That’s essentially a monarchy, at least it looks like one from down here on the ground.
Our current leader, elected of course in the safest and most secure election of all time, does not appear to have tremendous interest in solving these problems. You can’t blame him for the fact that the United States was involved in “the graveyard of empires”, but you can certainly lay the Saigon-style disarray of the retreat at his doorstep. The press isn’t all that interested in pressing him on the subject; why, he’s #ourguy! Most of President Biden’s attention appears to be focused on getting people to wear masks again, but how critical is that in a country with runaway commodities costs and a workforce that doesn’t seem all that interested in showing up for work?
We are starting to see the arrival of Soviet-style shortages. A major automaker just told its dealers that there would be no more allocation until October. Prior to this, there had been no cars on the lots, but the dealers were still making a buck taking orders for next month’s cars. Now you can’t even do that. Pretty soon, getting a new car will be a matter of whom you know. If you have a friend somewhere, you’ll be able to get an allocation.
There’s a chicken shortage. A meat shortage. Fuel is more than half again as expensive as it was in January. I saw a lot of half-empty shelves in California. Sooner or later they will be all the way empty. In any inflation economy there’s a point where you are better off not shipping goods because your account will go negative while they are in transit. You sell bread at the wholesale level for ten dollars but by the time it lands in a shop it costs you twelve dollars to produce a loaf of bread, so what do you do with the next batch?
The answer to all these problems is semi-obvious: the government cancels all spending programs, removes all incentive for able-bodied people to stay at home, and then waits six months for the ship to right itself. We are not Weimar Germany and we are not Venezuela. We have the world’s reserve currency, no pressing external obligations, and a young workforce. The problem is that there is a religious obstacle in the way: the religion of COVID-19, whose adherents practice the sacraments of the vax and the mask, and the dogma of which prevents everything from factory work to rent collection. Our fear of a disease that kills one in five thousand non-Boomers is singlehandedly accelerating the reappearance of history.
We will reach a point where the tattered fabric falls apart. It may tear at the California power grid, or in the fast-rushing but fragile current of food and supplies that keeps the island of Manhattan viable for its inhabitants. Standing here at the self-proclaimed end of history, we are accustomed to seeing these failures with the lens of 2008: that is to say, a pseudo-catastrophe that mostly serves to knock a few dozen million people out of the annoying middle class and into the pool of available Uber Eats drivers. But that’s an ahistorical viewpoint. No doubt many in Rome felt the same way, seventeen hundred years ago.
To quote noted bandleader (and ripoff artist, apparently) George Clinton, we are standing on the verge of getting it on. We are preparing to resume history. With a vengeance.
Last week, for Hagerty, I wrote about another trip. This week… well, I didn’t write anything! AND IT FELT GREAT!