"Men, at some time, are masters of their fates;"
The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars --
but in ourselves, that we are underlings"
- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Introduction to civics in the 21st century

You are a young adult. You are upset about things going on in America. Maybe you are angry, scared, confused, depressed -- or maybe you feel a strange joy about everything burning down (I've certainly felt that). Maybe you're just so burned out from the insanity that is American politics that you just feel nothing at all anymore.

Maybe you have some ideas on how to fix things; maybe if everyone adopted the tenets of Marxist socialism, everything would be solved. Maybe big government is the problem; if everyone with power and wealth just left us alone, we could fend for ourselves in peace. Maybe you're already doing good work at a business, philanthropy, or in the government, but you're troubled at how out-of-touch the rest of America seems. Maybe you've been radicalized into a weird internet philosophy, like neoreaction, or you listen to popular cathartic podcasts like Chapo Trap House (I love those guys).

Maybe you don't have any ideas. You keep your head down, try to avoid the news and politics, and just focus on your work, your friends, and your health (good response, IMO!). Maybe you're so utterly depressed about everything that you've become a doomer; you just want to see everything crumble, and the only activity you have energy for is laying down and rotting (trust me, been there too).

I'm here to tell you that I……...have absolutely no idea how to fix anything. Honestly, we're probably boned.

The events of 2020 -- covid, BLM, whatever the hell is going on in Washington DC -- have just been mind-boggling, depressing, and terrifying beyond comprehension. Even worse, 2020 has arrived after decades of deterioration of American ideas and institutions; on the global stage, we are now a complete joke. Especially in the eyes of China; a rising great power that challenges us in ways we've never had to contend with before.

I don't know how to fix America. But I do know one thing -- the boomers probably won't pull us out of this one. I have no problem with boomers; they're just old people, and eventually, boomerdom will come for us all. They've spent all their lives fighting the battles of the 20th century, and their efforts have kept us safe* and (relatively***) prosperous, while we watch Twitch streams, struggle to find a rewarding career, try to find love, and argue with each other about how best we should treat everybody.

And honestly? None of this was our fault. We were just kids, teengaers, and fresh college graduates, as the grownups -- likely through benign negligence -- careened American society into the ground. But every year that passes, and the gerontocracy continues to prove its inability to deal with the 21st century (especially with the rise of digital technology),
it increasingly becomes our responsibility to fix it.

Young people are way smarter, more empathetic, and more capable than the old guard imagine. I have some measure of faith that we'll eventually figure it out. But the boomers have one big advantage over us; they are, for the very large part, masters of practicing civility.

This webpage is a short series of essays on the concept of civics, specifically targeted to the young adults of America. Briefly put, civics is the art of getting along in a democracy. It's quite possible that democracy itself is over (we discuss this in length in the last piece). But for now, if young people want to make effective change, and to make our slice of the world a better place, we need to practice being good citizens. These essays contain some ideas on how we might start doing that.


This series contains five main parts. It starts with a meditation on black lives matter. The brutal murder of George Floyd kicked off an incredible display of patriotic energy, setting off a series of dizzying events in June. It was this event that inspired me to begin writing; I wanted to do something, but couldn't clarify exactly what I could positively contribute. By the way; black lives matter. It's okay to say it.

The second essay is a whirlwind tour of the critical -- and potentially lethal -- multitude of crises we face as a society. Many of these issues are purposefully downplayed in popular media, with the (admirable) intent of protecting people from mass panic. I actually agree with the principle of preventing mass panic, but at some point, we will have to learn about and face these problems head on. (If you're not used to ruminating on the collapse of civilization, this essay has the potential to cause anxiety). The second part addresses what we can do about it; the short answer is, mostly nothing.

The third essay is actually a bit of a detour (this was originally supposed to be three parts), on recent developments in a niche internet community I've been a part of for years. If you want a window into the digital culture that raised me personally, this essay could be illustrative. It also contains some general considerations on the trials and tribulations of being an influential public figure. (In short, it's bad; if you can at all help it, don't become a public figure).

The fourth essay ends with a grand discussion of different types of political systems. American-style democracy, for all the good it has done, is still just an experiment. It might not actually be around forever. We consider the alternative of totalitarianism, which is the logical step backwards if democratic-style governance proves itself to be ultimately infeasible. The meat of my argument is here; what it means to be a good citizen, and how we might get there.

Finally, I say a few words on something very important to me.


Here are the essays. You can read them in any order; it might actually be best to start with part 4, since it contains the most actually new ideas -- if you're already familiar with how screwed we are, part 2 is mostly just a recap. I would love to hear any feedback, thoughts, or ideas you have when reading this; my contact information is at the bottom.

Part 1: Black lives matter

Part 2: The state of America in 2020

Part 2.5: Movements vs communities

Part 3: The trials of public influence; the case of Scott Alexander

Part 4: The threat of totalitarianism; on being a good citizen

Part 5: A brief note on spiritual soundness

[Postlude]: On writing


General disclaimer on writing: I write in a very dense, long-winded style. I use some internet slang, some cuss words, and lots of ideas and concepts that are defined elsewhere. If you don't know what something means, try Googling it.

Overall, I recommend going slow; this will probably take at least an hour to read, and many of the things I talk about are just poorly-defined shorthands for much larger discussions that have happened in the past, or in other forums. Feel free to skip over any section that seems confusing or weird. Finally, my advice for dense writing in general; it is best consumed sober.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy. If you want to connect, you can find me on Twitter at @spiderfoods, or you can send an email to inbox@cjohnson.io.