"The bigger you build the bonfire, the more darkness is revealed."
- Terence McKenna
Apocalypsopolis, book one
Civilization Will Eat Itself, Superweed 1-4, best of
search this site
June 6. Paean to SMAC is a massive project by one guy, Nick Stipanovich, writing in depth about the game Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. It's a great game, easily the best in the Civilization series, but the most interesting thing about his blog is how obsessed he is.
In this kind of obsession, I see the massive untapped potential of humanity -- not for objective progress, but for subjective quality of life. I think everyone in the world could find something they love doing as much as Stipanovich loves writing about SMAC -- and if they get bored with that they can find something else, and this is possible even if we exclude passive entertainment and crime, because the range of benign creative activities is basically limitless.
Right now the limits are imagination and economics, which are linked, because our imagination must first figure out how to escape the economic emergency of ordinary modern life, before it looks to the vast ocean of activities that are not worth money.
Voters in Switzerland just gave a big no to an unconditional basic income, so it seems to be decades away, even in Europe. But I think it's inevitable if we continue to see improvements in 1) automation, and 2) general support for the poor. The main thing holding back a basic income is the moral belief that money should be connected to work -- a strange idea that's only a few hundred years old. The cultural link between money and work will eventually give way to efficiency, when enough jobs are done better by machines than humans, and when simply giving everyone money becomes clearly cheaper than paying a giant bureaucracy to enforce conditions on money.
By the way, my own obsessions do not include this blog. I keep posting on this page because I keep thinking of stuff to write about and it keeps me connected to other people.
June 3. Stray links, mostly from readers. On the subreddit, zenfulmind is very optimistic about virtual reality, and doubts the claims made in Monday's link.
Dutch Firm Trains Eagles to Take Down Drones. This is cool but I don't see a future. It takes a lot of money and human attention to train eagles to attack drones, and these costs will not get any lower, while the cost of drones that attack drones will drop a lot.
Magic mushrooms lift severe depression in clinical trial. I imagine this works by reconnecting the brain, taking apart a network of connections that isn't working, and allowing new connections to form that are better adapted. And I wonder if there's a political equivalent, a way of suddenly rewiring society. My guess is that a psilocybin-like transformation is relatively easy in a group of a hundred people who all know each other, but in a large complex society, it's so difficult that the drug equivalent of historical revolutions is drinking random stuff under the sink.
And a fun reddit thread for the weekend, What are some weird, real life X-files type mysteries? For much more on this subject, check out the books of Charles Fort or John Keel.
June 1. From a month ago on reddit, an epic four part comment on environmental history. The author, agentdcf, begins with ideas from new book, Capitalism in the Web of Life by Jason Moore. The basic idea is that before around 1500, value was seen to reside in land, and the peasants who worked the land were seen as part of that value. Then this changed:
The new way of seeing humans and nature divided the universe into the "human" realm and the realm of "nature," with a firm separation between the two, so that all things must fall on either side of that boundary. The human half contains all of the things that register in our metrics of value, order, and control; the nature half contains the world that is unknown, chaotic, and illegible to humans. Humans became the subject, the thing that acts; nature the object, the thing acted upon.
And the boundary, then, is in human labor, which acts upon nature to bring order, to impose control, and to create value by extracting things from nature and bringing them into the human realm. Nature itself has no value in this scheme; only by acting upon it and bundling our labor with it to create commodities do we assign value to it, but in doing so we bring it into the realm of humans, and thus out of nature. Labor productivity became, at this point, the best way to accumulate greater amounts of value... What is labor productivity, then? It is the appropriation of greater and greater streams of unpaid work-energy from the nature side of the binary, so that they may be made into commodities on the human side.
Then agentdcf goes beyond Moore's book into a critique of science...
in which a relatively small group of wealthy European males began to assume both that nature had universal laws that operated the same everywhere and all the time, and that they could apprehend these laws through empirical observation and experiment... It was now up to this group of people to say what was True -- to define nature, in other words. This all fed into the Cartesian binary because it understood nature to be static, defined by its laws, while humans -- at least some of them -- could effect change.
And here is where we begin to use the concept of nature in really contradictory ways. On the one hand, "nature" is a model; it's the way that things are supposed to be... At the same, though, we also think of nature as a thing to be conquered, controlled, improved, bent to our will. Our ability to apprehend universal laws brings the ability and the confidence to manipulate those laws, and to manipulate nature itself.
From here, agentdcf talks about biopolitics, the attempt to transform human nature to better fit the control systems, and also critiques free trade as the dismantling of local economies that still care about ecology and social justice, to fit big money economies that only care about growth.
I want take the critique of science in a different direction, but that's a topic for another post.
May 30. How big an issue is the nausea problem for Virtual Reality products? It's a huge issue, even in $80,000 military VR goggles, and the author explains how it's caused by depth perception, momentum, and other differences between what your eyes see and what your body feels, so that most people can't stand to wear the goggles for more than a few minutes at a time.
This leads to one of my favorite subjects, because some people are thinking, "Ha, I knew it, technology will never cheat reality." But this is a religious position, because what unseen law or authority defines "cheating"? If you believe in a fundamentally physical reality in which life is intrinsically meaningless, then you're a transhumanist, because it has to be possible to rearrange matter and energy so we all feel perpetual bliss, and there's no reason not to.
I think life does have a meaning, defined and enforced by something beyond materialist science -- but I'm not totally sure, and in any case we have to test it. Let's try holodecks, happy pills, whatever, and either we'll succeed, or we'll learn something about what's stopping us and what it wants.
This is also how I try to live my life. I feel like a rat in an incomprehensible experiment, and I don't know if the experimenter is the Tao or the human collective unconscious or the alien simulation overlords, but I sense a pattern of punishment and reward that's not completely random, and I'm trying to figure it out so I can get rewarded all the time.
In a related personal story, last week I tried getting high five nights in a row. I still wasn't using a lot -- a nug the size of a black bean in the vaporizer will give me four good lungfuls if I do it right, which will get me to a  and linger all through the next day so I never really come down. On the good side, I can't remember ever feeling so happy for so long, and I was able to keep up on dishes and groceries, and maybe write more creatively -- see the degamification post below. I gained intuitive understanding of the creative process through Picbreeder, and recognized a new favorite album.
On the bad side, my body felt constantly washed out, my brain was never over 90%, my sleep was pleasant but unsatisfying, and the days seemed to go too fast. Coming down last night, 48 hours after my last dose, I felt more bored than I ever have in my life. Even fun activities were tedious chores, which must be how depression feels all the time. So I went to sleep at 10 and got up at first light when I couldn't sleep any more, thus today's early post. Now I feel almost normal again, and on balance it was worth it, so I'll do more experiments to seek the optimal balance of nights on and nights off.
Also, thanks to another reader for another generous donation! My financial future is looking safe enough that I now feel awkward taking donations and I don't expect to link to my donation page again.
May 27. For the weekend I want to write about TV shows. Like everyone we're following Game of Thrones, and I appreciate how it has made fantasy morally complex, but I'm sick of all the boring pompous verbal arguments. Also, if there are multiple plotlines, a good storyteller will link them so that events in one plotline affect events in others, and GOT does that clumsily and not enough. And why hasn't winter come yet? At the beginning I was expecting White Walkers at the gates of King's Landing by season four at the latest. My new favorite character is the girl who stick-fights with Arya. Faye Marsay is great in everything I've seen her in, and they should have made her the next Doctor Who companion.
Doctor Who: We've almost finished watching the whole new series from 2005, and anyone who likes sci-fi will find it worth watching, but not every episode. These are my subjective opinions: Peter Capaldi might be even better than David Tennant. Eccleston failed because he was never convincingly cheerful. Matt Smith is the opposite, so fluffy that none of his episodes had any depth except The Angels Take Manhattan. River Song is easily the best side character. Companions should never have boyfriends -- I thought Mickey was annoying but he's great compared to the others. Donna Noble was the best companion and the next best was Martha Jones. They should have had seven year old Amelia Pond be Matt Smith's companion the whole time. 2005-2007 had the best opening theme and the newest seasons have the best opening visuals. Top five episodes: The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, Listen, The Family of Blood, Heaven Sent.
Leigh Ann is watching Hemlock Grove, an attempt at high quality horror, but for me it's too slow and broody and it's hard to tell what the characters want. And we continue to follow Grimm because the ideas have potential, but it's written like the audience are morons. If it were up to me, the villains would win and everyone would die except Trubel and Wu, who would roam the postapocalypse wasteland in a spinoff series.
Right now my favorite show is Orphan Black. Season three was a bit weak because they got too epic and lost storytelling discipline, but season four is back to the incredible quality of the first two years. It's smart, funny, surprising, the plot moves fast, the different stories are well-connected, and there's never a scene that just gets the story from one place to another -- it always earns your attention.
Finally, thanks DN for a $50 donation!
May 25. This 1916 Guide Shows What the First Road Trips Were Like. The article looks at "Blue Books" that were densely packed with maps and instructions to navigate the extreme complexity of local roads before state and federal highways. What jumps out at me is how much fun this would have been! Every minute you're being challenged, feeling a sense of reward for staying on the route, and being right in the middle of new places. I can't think of any kind of travel that I would enjoy more (except see below).
As more people got cars, governments made driving easier with highways and signs, and driving gradually changed from something fun you do for its own sake, to some shit you have to do to get from one place to another. In a few years someone will ride a self-driving car across America, while giving all their attention to a video game that simulates the kind of exciting exploration that they would get to in the real world if it hadn't been improved so much.
I call this technological degamification. Gamification is when a boring activity is tweaked to make it more fun, and it's often done for marketing and other sinister purposes. Technologial degamification is when technology is applied to an activity with the goal of making it easier, but the result is to make it less rewarding by removing too much fun stuff from human awareness, and not enough tedious stuff.
Now that I have this idea I'll probably start seeing examples everywhere, but I want to continue on the subject of driving, by imagining Road Trip Utopia:
It's the year 2116, and the world is finally recovering from the deep economic and infrastructure collapse of the 21st century. High tech never went away, but the old highways are weedy rubble, and nobody drives fast except on race tracks. Long-distance travel is done on trains or hybrid airships, and short distance travel is done by foot, bicycle, mule, or sun buggy (a small electric vehicle with giant wheels for bad roads and a maximum speed of 20mph, powered by hyper-efficient solar panels, or maybe liquid fuel from artificial photosynthesis).
All of these transports are used by adventurers who spend their unconditional basic income on high-grade water condensers and concentrated food, and travel the old roads through the wilderness and the ghost suburbs, alone or in small groups. They navigate with computer maps that are constantly updated by microdrones, but sometimes they turn off the map for fun, and they don't ask the computer which way to go, because the point is to discover it themselves.
May 24, 1am. Been obsessed with Picbreeder. Here's my panel of images, with the most recent at the top, and you can see that it only took a few hours to learn to use the interface and develop a personal style. (Weed helped.)
May 23. I've linked to this before and I'll probably link to it again, because it's really good: Stop Trying To Be Creative. It's about Picbreeder, a website where you can gradually evolve images until they look like something interesting, and how all creativity works this way. You don't create something good by planning to create that exact thing -- paradoxically, focusing on a specific objective blocks you from getting there. Instead you have to go through a process of following unexpected new ideas, and letting go of old ones. This reminds me of a quote from my favorite songwriter about avoiding comprehensible lyrics, because "a word pins you down."
On basically the same subject, Upside of Distraction. It's about writers who cut everything out of their life except their writing project, and they become so narrowly focused that they lose touch with reality and write badly. Obviously too much distraction will also prevent good writing, and what you need is balance between your creative work and other stuff that might seem to be useless or even unpleasant.
May 20. Today's subject is techno-dystopia creep. Hyper-Reality is a brilliant new six minute film about a potential future where physical and virtual reality are merged into a bizarre nightmare world. A great novel about the same kind of thing is Feed by M.T. Anderson.
This long article, How Technology Hijacks People's Minds, explains in detail how we accidentally lose our agency to technology, and suggests some reforms, like smartphones that estimate the time cost of a click, or an "FDA for tech" that enforces standards for stuff like how easy it is to cancel a digital subscription.
Comment thread from Hacker News, What's the best tool you used to use that doesn't exist anymore? These are people who love technology and have influence in the tech world, and they're still powerless to stop good things from changing into bad things. This happens in a thousand ways, but what they mostly have in common is that short-sighted decisions take less effort than far-sighted decisions, and this effect is multiplied as systems get bigger.
Quick note on another subject. The other day I posted a reader email about mold toxicity and motivation to the subreddit and there are some good comments.
And some music for the weekend. A reader sent me some links to Moondog videos. He was a weird street musician who dressed like a viking, and is one of those artists like Captain Beefheart that I eventually want to listen to deeply but haven't got around to it yet. But after listening to one album, Invocation is incredible, ten minutes of primal space rock with a barrage of low horns playing the same two notes over and over. And I might like Torisa even better. Like Invocation it's hypnotic and emphasizes the one-beat, and it also has epic high notes and gets gradually louder. Now that I think about it, these remind me of two Hawkwind songs -- Invocation is like Space Is Deep and Torisa is like Wind of Change.
May 18. Two tangents from Monday's subject. From the final paragraph, here's my point reframed without having to know anything about Gattaca or genetic engineering: 1) Our culture loves activity and accomplishment so much that if some technology promised to double our productivity, it wouldn't even occur to most people to wonder if that was a good thing -- doing twice as much stuff means the world is twice as good. 2) All kinds of technology are giving us ever greater powers of self-transformation and self-enhancement. 3) Put this together and there is a danger that, with good intentions, we'll make ourselves extremely harmful.
Of course this has already happened. Ten thousand years ago the whole rim of the Mediterranean was covered with forests. We have extracted rare elements from deep underground and refined them into bombs that have burned whole cities. We've burned so much oil to push air out of the way of our cars, that it's causing a global climate catastrophe. The age of insane overactivity is probably not about to begin, but about to end. Still, it might get worse before it gets better, and not everyone will survive the shift to doing less.
From the second paragraph, where I bashed the idea of "magical virtue", what if I was wrong? I mean obviously, in this economy, being successful is largely a matter of luck, and even when it seems to come from hard work, there is still deeper luck in genetics or culture, or being in the right place where something you already love doing happens to be worth money. But if you keep thinking in that direction you end up with determinism, which is boring and empty. Strong-definition free will is much more interesting: that sometimes, when you make a choice, it comes from a place that is deeper than biology or physics or causality, but is still you.
Now we're getting into religion. I identify as a taoist/pantheist, but in practice it's not that different from monotheism. When football players score touchdowns and point to God, they're saying, "This is not about me, it's about my part in something so vast and incomprehensible that we can only come close to understanding it through a life-long practice of being humble and receptive." I think identity is an illusion, but one we have to work with, by viewing the self as the interface between different aspects of the Divine. And choices that involve true free will have something to do with that.
May 16. I want to go back to the subject of motivation. Yesterday I finally finished my kitchen work table project. Here's a side view and front view of the table. The top is IKEA butcher block, trimmed down to five feet long, the other wood is all scraps or cheap lumber, and Leigh Ann made some important design suggestions and chose the color. I'm very happy with it, but it took me a really long time -- I think that butcher block has been in my basement for more than three years. Last fall I got serious about it, but I could never get in a groove where doing the work made me want to do more work -- it wasn't like going over the top of a hill and coasting, but like pushing constantly uphill. So every few days when I felt a bit of energy I would go out to the garage and work for a bit until I got burned out.
Meanwhile, some people love building furniture and could never keep a blog going for twelve years. What is it that makes a person want to do a thing? The popular belief is that highly successful people have some kind of magical virtue -- it's virtue because (in western culture) doing is more valued than not-doing, and it's magical because nobody looks for a deeper cause. I can't prove it, but I suspect that all virtue is luck.
For someone my age who doesn't go to a gym, my legs are really strong, and it's because of a medical condition that makes me feel terrible if I don't do vigorous leg exercise. Our sedentary culture calls it a disorder, but if my prehistoric ancestors had it, they probably called it being a good hunter -- look how aggressively that guy chases down antelope! So I'm wondering, what if high-achieving modern people have a similar condition that forces them to do stuff that we happen to find valuable?
There's evidence that depression is an infectious disease, and here's an article about the cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii and how it affects human psychology. So if one medical condition can energize me physically, and another one can dampen someone psychologically, there might be one that energizes people psychologically, and we haven't identified it as a disease because we like what it does.
I've mentioned the film Gattaca before because I hate its message: that Ethan Hawke's drive to succeed makes him a better person that Jude Law with his genetically engineered physical perfection. The movie does not acknowledge that drive to succeed also has a deeper cause, maybe not even that deep. And when we figure it out, given our cultural bias toward highly driven people, I fear that we'll engineer ourselves into all being insanely motivated, which is much scarier than making ourselves healthy and lazy.
May 13. Taking a break from politics, two links about DIY traffic engineering. Can we banish the phantom traffic jam? It's about how self-driving cars can stop traffic waves on freeways, but it's also about how we could do it without "intelligent" cars if we were more intelligent ourselves. This reddit comment goes into more detail on driving technique. The idea is to change start-and-stop traffic in front of you to smooth traffic behind you by watching carefully in both directions. There's also good stuff about the psychology of driving:
If a car merges into your gap, will you be late to work? What if ten cars jump in ahead of you, O the Humanity! Nope, even if 60 cars get ahead, that only delays you by a minute or two. Such a small a delay is insignificant for most commutes. It's down in the noise, a tiny fluctuation. Compared to a line at the grocery checkout, one shopping cart equals 50 to 200 cars ahead of you on the highway. But it doesn't feel that way!
I've been awake since 4am because I had terrible restless legs, not coincidentally because I haven't used marijuana for 13 days. I got up and did a bunch of squats, and then heel lifts while pushing hard at the top of a doorway, and then I went for a predawn run. Normally my legs get tired before my heart and lungs, but this morning my heart and lungs were totally drained and my legs were nowhere near satisfied. So I'll try to do this more often.
And some music for the weekend. I was just reminded of a great obscure song by a question on the Record Store subreddit. There are a lot of bands who I don't particularly like, except for one song that's at the fringe of their usual style. This is a minimalist outtake from American Music Club's weirdest and darkest album, Mercury: Love Connection NYC.
A newer, better band with a similar low-pitched slow style is Timber Timbre, and my favorite by them is Grand Canyon.
May 11. Major new post from Anne, Unnecessariat. It's about the death epidemic among poor rural white Americans, mostly from suicide and opiates. Anne compares it to the AIDS epidemic of the 80's and 90's, which also affected a low-status population that the authorities didn't care about, and had similar death numbers. But AIDS victims were much better at organizing to help each other. Why?
Anne writes, "If there's no economic plan for the Unnecessariat, there's certainly an abundance for plans to extract value from them." Later she links to this article, Death predicts whether people vote for Donald Trump. Now that poor rural whites have been drained economically, Trump is extracting their political value, and if he becomes president I don't expect him to do anything for them -- although maybe he's already done something by overthrowing the Republican establishment.
Of course my solution would be an unconditional basic income, which would free all poor people from a constant state of financial emergency -- but it still wouldn't solve their boredom, their lack of meaningful participation in something larger. I can't even imagine a full solution for this, but I see a partial solution that's maybe good enough for now, and it comes back to why AIDS victims were better organized.
I think it's because they lived in cities. The population density of cities enables networks of high-quality face-to-face connections that are almost impossible in rural and small town living. Maybe it was better in the 19th century, or the 13th century, but 20th century technology has separated rural Americans from their landbase and from each other. Unless you live like the Amish, or live in a city, you probably do not have the technological and economic foundation for a healthy culture.
A hard crash would make this much worse. Even in the Great Depression urban people did better than rural people, and imagine how many practical skills have been lost since then. But it might not be too late for better government. Here's a larger version of an image from Anne's post, Overdose deaths in 2014 per 100,000. What jumps out at me is New York state, like a blue lake in the orange desert of the northeast. There can't be much cultural difference between the New York's rural counties and the neighboring counties in other states, but the drug deaths are much lower, which suggests a connection to state-level policy.
Also, backing up my guess about the Amish, they live in that tiny blue island in Ohio. And I wouldn't have guessed that South Dakota and Nebraska would be so much better than Washington and Oregon.
May 9. Two links about different kinds of bloat:
Are Your Taxes Paying for the Cost of Your Street? The author does some math to make a boring subject interesting: most residential property taxpayers are not covering the costs of maintaining the section of street right in front of them. He explains this with two stories that seem to contradict each other. 1) Urban sprawl is a Ponzi scheme, where growth is subsidized by the next round of growth. 2) Urban sprawl is a parasite, where growth is subsidized by dense urban cores. Anyway, in either case, the suburban infrastructure is doomed.
The crazy thing is that sprawl is not caused by the free market, but required by law: "Zoning, setbacks, minimum parking requirements, minimum lot sizes, maximum units per lot, minimum road widths." Now, maybe with no laws we'd still get sprawl, but certainly, with different laws we could have dense, walkable cities with sustainable infrastructure. I expect this to happen in about two hundred years, and meanwhile the suburbs are going to turn into crime-ridden wastelands, and then really cool ruins.
The Website Obesity Crisis is a speech transcript loaded with outrageous examples of how big web pages are now. On top of the tiny footprint of actual text, there's usually bunch of badly designed graphics, and on top of that, a massive network of ad-serving surveillance scripts. The author's solution is to ban third party ads, so "Ads would become dumb again, and be served from the website they appear on." This is politically impossible, but I'm curious to see what will happen when the bubble bursts and everyone admits that the cost of ads exceeds the value of ads to increase consumer spending.
The most interesting bit is the conclusion, where he uses a video game metaphor for two visions of how the web could be. The first example is Minecraft, where simple rules create wide-open gameplay and "you are meant to be an active participant." The second example is Call of Duty...
...an exquisitely produced, kind-of-but-not-really-participatory guided experience with breathtaking effects and lots of opportunities to make in-game purchases.
The user experience... is that of being carried along, with the illusion of agency, within fairly strict limits. There's an obvious path you're supposed to follow, and disincentives to keep you straying from it. As a bonus, the game encodes a whole problematic political agenda.
Never mind web design and video games -- that sounds like a description of ordinary life in the developed world in the early 21st century. We can't even imagine a society where life is like Minecraft, let alone agree on how to get there. That's why politics are getting so crazy, because the only clear path is to push the Call of Duty world so far that it breaks.
May 6. Sometimes I think all arguments are semantic, and after some reader comments, I want to use different words to explain what troubles me about Trump supporters. I called it "tribalism" and defined it as "the habit of generating meaning by dividing the world into the in-group and the out-group." But those words cast too wide a net that pulls in stuff that's harmless or even beneficial.
I'm thinking about friendly sports rivalries. From the NFL subreddit, here's yesterday's post-draft trash talk thread. The comments are in all caps because they're pretending to be shouting but it's all in fun. This is us-vs-them thinking in a healthy larger context that brings people together, and generally /r/NFL is a civil community that has a good sense of the line you don't cross and if you do cross it you get downvoted.
Compare this to the poisionous atmosphere of another subreddit, Hillary for Prison -- and I'm sure that's not even the worst political community. I know some Trump supporters are sane people who don't think like that, but my point is, that's why sane people should fear Trump, because he is serving as a focus for the kind of energy that makes sports fans assault fans of rival teams and political enemies kill each other. Even if we fantasize about the system falling into chaos, I don't think we want that kind of chaos.
So, if we can generate meaning by dividing insiders from outsiders in a healthy way, how does it become unhealthy? I think it has something to do with compulsive narrow focus. There's always a larger context in which apparent insiders and outsiders are really both insiders, and shifting your mind to that context is a valuable skill. If you have it, then you can gain the benefits of competition without any nastiness. When people lack that skill, when they know how to focus down into "us-vs-them" but not focus back out, then there's a ratcheting effect where former allies fight each other about ever smaller disagreements. This is socially unstable, like a black hole collapsing in on itself, or maybe like a forest fire. If you see this happening, the first move is to put the fire out, to make peace; if that fails, the second move is to isolate it and let it burn itself out, to let the enemies fight in a way that doesn't harm the world around them; and the emergency third move is to run away.
May 4. So Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee, and everyone is trying to tell a story about it. I don't think it has anything to do with bringing back shitty factory jobs that were only good because of unions, which Trump presumably opposes. And this economic analysis debunks The Mythology Of Trump's Working Class Support.
My explanation goes to the deepest problem of being human: the need for life to feel meaningful. This is a book-length subject, so I'll skip ahead to the modern age and say that, in humanity's search for meaning, economic growth was a temporary hack: for a brief time, ordinary people could be part of a great story in which almost everyone was getting more prosperous.
If you've played video games, you know that almost all of them are built around some kind of improvement, and it would be hard to make a compelling game in which nothing is getting better. But that's where we are now as a society. Trump supporters don't have to be poor to feel like they're missing out -- they just have to not be getting richer. But almost nobody is getting richer, so how does this translate into different political factions?
Sanders supporters want to make the poor richer by making the rich poorer. The establishments of both parties refuse to accept that the age of economic growth is over. And the Republican fringe, which is now taking over the party, has given up on economics and gone back to tribalism. Nate Silver agrees: in his analysis of Why Republican Voters Decided On Trump, his number one reason for why he was wrong about Trump is "Voters are more tribal than I thought."
He never explains this, but I'll try. My off-the-cuff definition of "tribalism" is the habit of generating meaning by dividing the world into the in-group and the out-group. Liberals do this too, we all do it a little, and I'm not going to excuse it. It's a mistake and something that humanity has to overcome. But in the short term it's going to get worse as it expands to fill the void left by the end of economic growth.
Other things are also expanding to fill this void, like prescription opioid addiction and the desire to colonize Mars. I have at least two horses in this race. One is conscientious hedonism, letting go of achievement and having a good time in ways that don't lead to having a bad time later. The other is to find meaning in downsizing.