Tag: The Systems Scientist

Data Dump Saturday: United States Earnings by Education and Sex, 2015

In today’s data dump, there are three observations to keep in mind while sifting through the data. First, Graph 1 through Graph 4 illustrate that as education increases, earnings increase. This is the case for both men and women. Mathematically these observations are confirmed by a positive slope.

Graph 1

Second, there is an obvious earnings discrepancy between men and women at each level of the education ladder. As an example, the earnings of “Some College or associate’s degree” for men, $41,407, is slightly lower than the earnings of a “Bachelor’s degree” for women, $41,763. This is a fascinating statistic.

It should be noted that the purpose of this data dump is to provide information; the purpose of this data dump is not to take a side on earnings differences between men and women, nor is it to examine why it is so.

With that said, it should be noted that these discrepancies will change, increase or decrease, at different levels of the Super-system, which is the United States. For example, earnings differences between men and women will vary at the regional, the state level, the county, level, the city level, the zip code level, and so and so forth. And these earnings differences will change depending on geography, education (obviously), and industry and type of job, just to name a few parameters.

Lastly, Graph 2, Graph 3, and Graph 4 are simply partitions of Graph 1. That is, the three following graphs have been created to help the reader parse out the data a bit more clearly, i.e., make the data less busy. And it provides the reader with the opportunity to see the earnings behavior of the United States from different perspectives, while also providing the capability of comparing data in Graph 1.

Here’s Saturday’s data dump on 2015 earnings by education and sex in the United States.

Total Earnings by Education and Sex


Graph 2

Male Earnings by Education and Sex


Graph 3

Female Earnings by Education and Sex


Graph 4


Matt Johnson is a blogger/writer for The Systems Scientist and the Urban Dynamics blog. He has also contributed to the Iowa State Daily and Our Black News.

Matt has a Bachelor of Science in Systems Science, with focuses in applied mathematics and economic systems, from Iowa State University. He is also a professional member of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics and the International Society for the Systems Sciences and a scholarly member of Omicron Delta Epsilon, which is an International Honors Society for Economics. 

You can connect with him directly in the comments section, and follow him on Facebook

You can also follow The Systems Scientist on Twitter or Facebook.


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Copyright ©2017 – The Systems Scientist

Minneapolis: Education pays, according to the data

Odds are if you lived in Minneapolis in 2015 and didn’t have a high school diploma, then you probably made less than $19,200.00 in that year. If you’re keeping track, that’s $10.00 per hour. Matter of fact, if you were the average person with no high school diploma, then the odds were good you made $18,165.00. In contrast, if you were the average person with a graduate or professional degree, then the odds were good you made $62,757.00 in 2015.

It is clear from the data, at least this data, that education pays for those who work and reside in Minneapolis. That is, earnings increase at each level of the educational ladder. Those residents with a high school diploma earn more than those residents with less than a high school education on average; those residents with some college or an associate degree earn more than those residents with a high school diploma on average; those residents with a bachelor’s degree earn more than those residents with some college or an associate degree on average; and those residents with a graduate or professional degree earn more than those residents with a bachelor’s degree on average.

In fact, it is striking how each level earns significantly more than the next educational level down. For example, there is a $7,092.00 difference annually between a high school diploma and no high school diploma; and there is a $21,812.00 difference annually between a college degree and a high school diploma. Of course, is this the case no matter what city data is observed? Does this educational advantage remain if one were to compare the north side of Minneapolis to the south side of Minneapolis? Does this educational advantage remain if one were to compare different parts of North Minneapolis itself?

But what if it were the case that education remained financially advantageous no matter the geographical local, i.e., any part of the United States (take your pick)?

What would this mean for economic policy? Do examples exist of local policy makers constructing such economic policy based off of educational data? Indeed, one data set is not enough. Are there counter examples? In order to satisfy the rigors of science, data sets showing such an advantage need to be illustrated to exhaustion or boredom, whichever comes first.


Matt Johnson is a blogger/writer for The Systems Scientist and the Urban Dynamics blog. He has also contributed to the Iowa State Daily and Our Black News.

Matt has a Bachelor of Science in Systems Science, with focuses in applied mathematics and economic systems, from Iowa State University. He is also a professional member of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics and the International Society for the Systems Sciences and a scholarly member of Omicron Delta Epsilon, which is an International Honors Society for Economics. 

You can connect with him directly in the comments section, and follow him on Facebook

You can also follow The Systems Scientist on Twitter or Facebook.


Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education






Copyright ©2017 – The Systems Scientist

We’ve been wrong about the origins of life for 90 years

By Arunas L Radzvilavicius

For nearly nine decades, science’s favorite explanation for the origin of life has been the “primordial soup”. This is the idea that life began from a series of chemical reactions in a warm pond on Earth’s surface, triggered by an external energy source such as lightning strike or ultraviolet (UV) light. But recent research adds weight to an alternative idea, that life arose deep in the ocean within warm, rocky structures called hydrothermal vents.

A study published last month in Nature Microbiology suggests the last common ancestor of all living cells fed on hydrogen gas in a hot iron-rich environment, much like that within the vents. Advocates of the conventional theory have been sceptical that these findings should change our view of the origins of life. But the hydrothermal vent hypothesis, which is often described as exotic and controversial, explains how living cells evolved the ability to obtain energy, in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible in a primordial soup.

Under the conventional theory, life supposedly began when lightning or UV rays caused simple molecules to join together into more complex compounds. This culminated in the creation of information-storing molecules similar to our own DNA, housed within the protective bubbles of primitive cells. Laboratory experiments confirm that trace amounts of molecular building blocks that make up proteins and information-storing molecules can indeed be created under these conditions. For many, the primordial soup has become the most plausible environment for the origin of first living cells.

But life isn’t just about replicating information stored within DNA. All living things have to reproduce in order to survive, but replicating the DNA, assembling new proteins and building cells from scratch require tremendous amounts of energy. At the core of life are the mechanisms of obtaining energy from the environment, storing and continuously channelling it into cells’ key metabolic reactions.

Did life evolve around deep-sea hydrothermal vents? U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Where this energy comes from and how it gets there can tell us a whole lot about the universal principles governing life’s evolution and origin. Recent studies increasingly suggest that the primordial soup was not the right kind of environment to drive the energetics of the first living cells.

It’s classic textbook knowledge that all life on Earth is powered by energy supplied by the sun and captured by plants, or extracted from simple compounds such as hydrogen or methane. Far less known is the fact that all life harnesses this energy in the same and quite peculiar way.

This process works a bit like a hydroelectric dam. Instead of directly powering their core metabolic reactions, cells use energy from food to pump protons (positively charged hydrogen atoms) into a reservoir behind a biological membrane. This creates what is known as a “concentration gradient” with a higher concentration of protons on one side of the membrane than other. The protons then flow back through molecular turbines embedded within the membrane, like water flowing through a dam. This generates high-energy compounds that are then used to power the rest of cell’s activities.

Life could have evolved to exploit any of the countless energy sources available on Earth, from heat or electrical discharges to naturally radioactive ores. Instead, all life forms are driven by proton concentration differences across cells’ membranes. This suggests that the earliest living cells harvested energy in a similar way and that life itself arose in an environment in which proton gradients were the most accessible power source.

Vent hypothesis

Recent studies based on sets of genes that were likely to have been present within the first living cells trace the origin of life back to deep-sea hydrothermal vents. These are porous geological structures produced by chemical reactions between solid rock and water. Alkaline fluids from the Earth’s crust flow up the vent towards the more acidic ocean water, creating natural proton concentration differences remarkably similar to those powering all living cells.

The studies suggest that in the earliest stages of life’s evolution, chemical reactions in primitive cells were likely driven by these non-biological proton gradients. Cells then later learned how to produce their own gradients and escaped the vents to colonise the rest of the ocean and eventually the planet.

While proponents of the primordial soup theory argue that electrostatic discharges or the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation drove life’s first chemical reactions, modern life is not powered by any of these volatile energy sources. Instead, at the core of life’s energy production are ion gradients across biological membranes. Nothing even remotely similar could have emerged within the warm ponds of primeval broth on Earth’s surface. In these environments, chemical compounds and charged particles tend to get evenly diluted instead of forming gradients or non-equilibrium states that are so central to life.

Deep-sea hydrothermal vents represent the only known environment that could have created complex organic molecules with the same kind of energy-harnessing machinery as modern cells. Seeking the origins of life in the primordial soup made sense when little was known about the universal principles of life’s energetics. But as our knowledge expands, it is time to embrace alternative hypotheses that recognise the importance of the energy flux driving the first biochemical reactions. These theories seamlessly bridge the gap between the energetics of living cells and non-living molecules.

The Conversation

Arunas L Radzvilavicius is a theoretical biologist at University College London, UCL


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Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Does the Trump train have any tracks on the ground?

By Robert J. Garrison

Donald Trump’s focus on the size of his rallies and on poll numbers is misguided. All throughout the primaries Trump would pull out polls showing how well he was doing against the GOP field. People chalked this up to his ego and narcissism but in reality it was a manifestation of something much worse, his lack of focus on building a ground game.

A ground game is a local organized team whose job it is to target voters through mailings, calling, voter drives and other GOTV (Get Out the Vote) efforts for a candidate running for office. Donald Trump has been fortunate to be able to run a primary race without much of a ground game. However, a nationwide campaign is very different from a party’s nomination campaign. A candidate must have boots on the ground in order to get as many people to the polls to vote for them. A successful national ground game is a necessity if Trump wishes to reach people outside the GOP sphere, like Independent voters.

Donald Trump is relying on the Republican National Committe, the RNC, to build the ground game for him. Back in May, former RNC National Chairman Michael Steele laughed when asked if the RNC could be a candidate’s entire ground game.

That is part of what they do…I’m sure Paul Manafort and others know they’ve got to put a lot of that ground game in.

In fact, the reason why Donald Trump hired Manafort was to build a ground game and to make sure the campaign headed into the convention with all the delegates that had been won. If Paul Manafort did his job correctly, it would’ve been very easy to change Trump’s campaign infrustructure into a ground game. However reports are not only coming out from the media but also from the campaign, that Paul Manafort did a very poor job.

In an interview in June on Meet the Press, Trumps Campaign Chair Paul Manafort said

Our campaign, frankly, is getting organized. It’s all in words I guess. But we are fully now integrated with the Republican National Committee.

Once again we see that the Trump campaign is relying on the RNC to do the ground game for them.This lack of organization this late in the process is just inexcusable and reckless. More proof of Trump’s lack of organization and focus would be his choice of campaign stops in Maine, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.

Donald Trump campaigning in states like Maine, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and even Minnesota, makes no sense at all. These states are democratic strongholds. Maine and Connecticut haven’t voted for a Republican for president since 1988. New Hampshire last voted for a Republican back in 2000. Minnesota hasn’t gone to a Republican since 1972! Which brings me to my next point. Donald Trump’s lack of focus on the most important thing, the electoral college.

Donald Trump’s focus on the size of rallies and polls numbers is misplaced. Having a large crowd at rallies does not always equate to votes, just ask Mitt Romney. Romney had large crowds at many rallies throughout the Presidential campaign but came up way short of winning the election. The United States is not a democracy but a Republic, which means that we do not elect a president by popular vote. We elect a president through the Electoral College. Donald Trump needs to forget about the polls and keep his focus where it matters, on the Electoral College.

As of right now Hillary Clinton is around 253 and Donald Trump is at around 206 in the Electoral College. That means Donald Trump would need to win all the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Nevada and Pennsylvania to reach 272. This seems highly unlikely since Pennsylvania has always turned out to be fools gold for Republicans since 1988. Not winning Pennsylvania would give Hillary 273 and the win.

If Donald Trump wants to win this race, then he should focus every effort in building a strong ground game in every one of those swing states and a few others like Virginia, Wisconsin and North Carolina to reach the 272 threshold.

Finally with 70 some days left in the campaign, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, says the campaign is going to work on beefing up its ground game in the coming weeks.

So what we’re trying to do this week is get an assessment of where we really are state by state…We’re going to start deploying people who are very talented in different states and bring them to these seven or eight swing states that then we plan on expanding to 10 or 11.

However, Donald Trump has proven he doesn’t listen to his advisors but instead to his instincts. Sometimes those instincts have gotten Donald Trump off track and down the rabbit hole. It is because of this that makes it so hard to predict what will happen. With all that said, during this election cycle we have learned one thing, that all the political pundits and political elites have been wrong on what Donald Trump should be doing. Maybe they are wrong about this as well, or maybe this is  the one time where Donald Trump’s instincts are wrong…we shall see.


Robert J. Garrison is a political and religious writer for The Systems Scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook, or catch up on his articles in the Archives

You can also follow The Systems Scientist on Twitter or Facebook as well. 


Donald Trump | by Gage Skidmore


Copyright ©2016 – The Systems Scientist



Obama’s legacy, and the prospect of a Trump or Clinton presidency

By Joseph Camilleri

As the first African-American US president, Barack Obama assumed office in January 2009 amid public euphoria and high expectations of greater racial harmony and reduced gun violence at home and a more stable and peaceful international order. The mood was best encapsulated by his electrifying slogan:

Yes, we can.

But nearly eight years later a more apt description might be:

No, we can’t.

Police shootings

Recent police use of deadly force in Louisiana and Minnesota was broadcast widely. Law enforcement officers were subsequently executed in Dallas.

Police fatally shot nearly 1,000 people in 2015 and have killed just under 500 in the first six months of 2016. This is more than twice the average rate of police killings reported by the FBI in previous years.

Gun violence more broadly points to the same dismal picture. Between 2010 and 2014, firearms used on US soil accounted for 164,821 deaths. The total number of gun deaths and violent injuries in 2015 was estimated to be close to 100,000.

Violence abroad

The international landscape is no more reassuring.

Obama, who opposed the Iraq invasion, promised among other things to bring the troops home, drastically reduce US involvement in international armed conflicts, close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, develop a more co-operative relationship with Russia and China, bring about a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and significantly advance the prospects of nuclear disarmament.

Very little of this has come to pass.

By 2011, the US had withdrawn ground combat forces from Iraq, but it continued to train, advise and equip Iraqi security forces. However, the subsequent advances of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria led the Obama administration to embark upon a second military intervention.

Over the last two years US forces in Iraq have steadily increased. It presently exceeds 5,000 service members.

To rescue the faltering war effort in Afghanistan Obama approved in the course of 2009 an additional 17,000 troops, on top of the 36,000 US troops and 32,000 NATO military personnel already there.

However, the much-heralded surge failed to prevent the Taliban’s resurgence. More than 5,000 Afghan troops died in 2015; the Taliban is in a stronger position than at any time since 2001.

In 2011, the Obama administration led yet another military intervention, this time in Libya. And it has since become embroiled in the Syrian civil war, which has left more than 300,000 dead and 11 million people displaced.

The US has also assisted or at least turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s 2011 intervention in Bahrain and is presently complicit in the ruinous war in Yemen. In the meantime, any thought of bringing Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table appears to have been mothballed.

US relations with Russia have spiralled downward. NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe has brought it right to Russia’s doorstep. Its decision to deploy ground-based missile defence systems in Romania and Poland has provoked Russian fury.

Russia has sought to reassert its great power status by applying military pressure on Ukraine, annexing Crimea and projecting its air power on the Syrian conflict. Russia and the US are now intent on retaining and modernising their nuclear arsenals, and thwarting international efforts to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

With tensions rising in the South China Sea, the US, though not a party to the sovereignty dispute, is providing increased military support to several of the Southeast Asian claimants. It is strengthening its alliance arrangements with South Korea, Japan and Australia, and dramatically expanding its naval presence. The number of ship patrol days is expected to rise from more than 700 in 2015 to well over 1,000 days in 2016.

What for the future?

The Obama administration is not single-handedly responsible for the explosion of violence at home and abroad. Congressional obstruction and powerful lobbies have restricted Obama’s capacity to act.

Similarly, the role of other powerful countries, regional players and parties in various conflicts has exacerbated tensions and limited possibilities for negotiation, mediation, peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

But sustained intellectual and political leadership and an informed and engaged citizenry are singularly lacking in the US. This dual failure is not peculiar to the US, but is especially troubling given American influence in the world.

Ominous clouds are gathering as the threadbare presidential campaign stutters its way to the finishing line. Neither Republican Donald Trump nor Democrat Hillary Clinton can be accused of presenting a coherent picture of the culture of violence that grips the US and much of the world.

On the home front, Trump proposes the erection of a wall to prevent Mexican immigration, proffers justification for police use of lethal violence, and upholds the gun culture that holds sway in his country.

Clinton has confined herself to cautious criticism of police actions and proposals for more careful scrutiny of gun ownership.

On the critical question of the “war on terror”, both candidates have said little of substance. In seeking to cultivate anti-Muslim sentiment, Trump has advocated a ban on Muslims entering the country – subsequently rebadged as “extreme vetting” – and a dose of torture.

Clinton’s line is generally more of the same approach that has yielded pitiful results and helped create mayhem in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Somalia – to name only the most obvious sites of civilian slaughter, destruction of cultural heritage and economic ruin.

On the Middle East’s gaping wound, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Clinton offers no more than a firm guarantee of Israel’s security.

And on NATO’s global expansion, the US “pivot to Asia” and its implicit containment of China, the prospect of a renewed nuclear arms race, soaring global military expenditures (almost US$1.7 trillion in 2015), unprecedented levels of global forced displacement (65.3 million people displaced by war and persecution in 2015), and the fastest-growing global crime, human trafficking, there is a deafening silence from both pretenders to the throne.

The American political class is on the cusp of dangerous irrelevance. Those searching for creative solutions to endemic violence, for ways of revitalising civil society and reforming the UN, for new forms of governance that enhance mutual trust and habits of collaboration, would do well to look elsewhere.

Joseph Camilleri will deliver in September four evening public lectures on the issues raised in this article at St Michael’s, Collins Street, Melbourne.

The Conversation

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University


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Photo credit: U.S. Department of State


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The market segregation of black entrepreneurship

By Matt Johnson

In my previous economics article Can city councils do better than the $15 minimum wage policy?, I referenced black entrepreneurship and business as an alternative policy solution to the $15 minimum wage. Considering the current state of black entrepreneurship and business, I thought it would be a solution all political flags could get behind, especially since not one person was able to provide me with an example of where an increase in the minimum-wage improved the lot of black Americans.

My alternative solution seemed to go unnoticed to many of the readers of the article. Moreover, many of the readers and commentors couldn’t seem to get away from the notion of the minimum-wage, nor did they seem to understand that the minimum-wage doesn’t address black unemployment or black entrepreneurship.


I put forth what I thought was a reasonable solution to improving the lot of those who have been disenfranchised for far too long. In that argument, I listed a few of the past policies that had contributed to the current discrepancies in the economic system. I also stated that less than 1 percent of the founders of venture capitalists are black entrepreneurs. And I noted that black business owners are more likely to hire black employees, which makes sense considering cities are still fairly segregated even in the 21st century. But none of this seemed to resonate with some of the readers. So perhaps this data will resonate.

According to an article written by Kate Davidson in The Wall Street Journal, between the years of 2007 and 2012, black business ownership increased while white business ownership decreased. However, most of the black businesses that opened were sole proprietorships. A sole proprietorship is a business with no employees, i.e., self-employed. And as black firms increased by more than 2 million and white firms decreased by a million over the five-year span,

…the value of the average white-owned business—measured in sales, receipts or revenue—went up much faster, and is now three times the value of the average minority-owned business. Businesses owned by African-Americans were worth an average $224,530 in 2012, compared with $656,364 for the average white-owned business.

So although black businesses were being added to the market place, they were still lagging behind in net-worth. In fact, the difference between worth and what a business provided to the market in revenues and employment really depended on if it was a black business or a white business.

According to Black Demographics, it is estimated that black businesses create 1 million jobs per year, which would account for about “4 percent of the working-age population.” In contrast, it is estimated that white businesses create 55.9 million jobs per year. This would account for about 44 percent of the employed, white working population.

10-0802-race-of-founders-of-VC-backed-companies1That data also illustrates the vast difference in revenues between black and white businesses. For black businesses, it is estimated they generate revenues just short of $188 billion annually. In stark contrast, white businesses are believed to generate almost $13 trillion annually.

To put this into perspective, $188 billion would provide “every working-age” black American with $7,000 annually; whereas, $12.9 trillion would provide “every working-age” white American with $102,000 annually. If these figures are correct, three things should happen next.

First, you should pick your jaw off the ground. Second, ask yourself if the $15 minimum-wage is really the right solution. Seriously, is there any possible way that a minimum-wage policy could rectify this obvious economic disparity? And third, why are black entrepreneurs opening sole proprietorships and not LLC’s, C corporations, or S corporations, while hiring a greater number of people? Does this have something to do with capital?

While you ponder these questions, I will leave you with this Milton Friedman quote,

The only cases in which the masses escaped from…poverty…are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade…The record of history is absolutely crystal clear, there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise…


Matt Johnson is an economics and science writer for The Systems Scientist. You can connect with him directly in the comments section, follow him on Twitter or on Facebook

You can also follow The Systems Scientist on Twitter or Facebook as well. 

Photo credit: John H. White



Copyright ©2016 – The Systems Scientist







How Dostoevsky predicted Trump’s America

By Ani Kokobobo

As a professor of Russian literature, I’ve come to realize that it’s never a good sign when real life resembles a Fyodor Dostoevsky novel.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, with its riotous rhetoric and steady stream of scandals, calls to mind Dostoevsky’s most political novel, “Demons,” written in 1872. In it, the writer wanted to warn readers about the destructive force of demagoguery and unchecked rhetoric, and his cautionary messages – largely influenced by 19th-century Russian political chaos – resonate in our present political climate.

To show his readers just how bad things could get if they didn’t pay attention, Dostoevsky linked his political nightmare to unhinged impulses and the breakdown of civility.

A passion for destruction

Dostoevsky was as addicted to newspapers as some of us are to social media, and he often plucked crises and violence right from the headlines, refashioning them for his fiction.

Russia during the 1860s and 1870s – the heyday of the author’s career – was experiencing massive socioeconomic instability. Tsar Alexander II’s Emancipation of the Serfs freed Russian peasants from a form of class bondage, while the subsequent Great Reforms aimed to restructure the executive and judidical branches, as well as the military, tax code and education system. The reforms were supposed to modernize the country by dragging it out of the caste-like system of estates and legal privilege. But it didn’t do much to improve the economic lot of the peasant.

It was a reversal of America’s present political landscape. While today there’s simmering discontent from the right, in 19th-century Russia it was leftists who were enraged. They were angered by the reforms for not going far enough and had lost hope in the government’s ability to produce meaningful change.

One of the only unifying ideas among the more radical left-wing political factions of the period was the belief that the tsarist regime must be eliminated. Important public figures, like Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, advocated for destruction of the status quo as an end greater than all ideologies. As Bakunin famously exhorted: “The passion for destruction is a creative passion, too.”

Bakunin’s conviction that a new world could rise only from the ashes of tsarism was actually put into practice by his one-time disciple, Sergei Nechaev, who was the inspiration for Dostoevsky’s protagonist in “Demons,” Pyotr Verkhovensky.

A slippery slope from incivility to violence

In 1869, Nechaev orchestrated the murder of a young student, an event that so shocked and angered Dostoevsky that it became the basis for “Demons.”

The novel begins in a boring provincial backwater inhabited by middle-aged people and ineffectual young liberals, all engrossed in their romantic lives. Pyotr Verkhovensky arrives and persuades many of these same characters to join his underground revolutionary society. Passions are stirred and the local order destabilized as the town enters a downward spiral that concludes with arson and several murders.

What’s most relevant to our time in “Demons” is not its ideologues but the anti-intellectual and impulse-driven nature of Pyotr’s rebellion. In Pyotr, Dostoevsky created a demagogue and pure nihilist, a political figure who appeals to people’s baser desires. Under his influence, the townspeople lose all impulse control and grow reckless, rebelling against all conventions of decency for a good laugh. At one point they desecrate a sacred icon; at another, they gleefully gather around the body of someone who has committed suicide and eat the food he’s left behind.

If their pranks, insults and disorder seem harmless, the decline in the level of public discourse act as a precursor to the violent and destructive acts at the novel’s conclusion. A skilled psychological writer, Dostoevsky never saw violence as divorced from normal human behavior. What’s most haunting about his works is just how close otherwise ordinary people are from doing extraordinarily awful things.

In “Demons,” narrative tensions escalate in a deliberately gradual way. What begins as minor impoliteness becomes scandal, arson, murder and suicide. Dostoevsky is essentially saying that criminal acts are rooted in social transgression; uncivil behavior facilitates scapegoating, dehumanization and, eventually, violence.

‘Make America Great Again!’

Donald Trump’s unconventional campaign for president powerfully evokes Dostoevsky’s novel. Aside from his pro-gun and anti-immigration positions, Trump doesn’t offer many concrete political plans. As we evaluate what motivated 14 million Americans to vote for him in the primaries, we might consider new research showing that his candidacy has a primarily emotion-based – rather than ideological or economical – appeal. There are notable anti-establishment sentiments among his supporters; many are disaffected, middle-aged white people who believe that American institutions aren’t working on their behalf.

And while his notorious campaign motto “Make America Great Again” is framed in a positive way, it actually advances a version of Bakunin’s creative destruction. It stands for purging the establishment, for recreating a nostalgia-tinged version of some lost, past America. We’ve already seen this destructive drive in its more Nechaevist, low-brow form at Trump rallies, where several people have been attacked.

There’s another aspect of Trump’s popularity that ties him to Dostoevsky’s “Demons.” Trump, in the way he carries himself, embodies the complete disavowal of impulse control we see in the novel. Unlike most political candidates, he speaks off the cuff, simultaneously reflecting and stoking the anger and pessimism of his supporters.

For instance, he said he wanted to “hit” some of the speakers who criticized him at the Democratic National Convention; in his words, there’s anger, a need to provoke and deep-seated irreverence. His supporters feel empowered by this. Without weighing his policies, they’re viscerally drawn to the spectacle of his candidacy, like the townspeople following Pyotr Verkhovensky in “Demons” who delight in the gossip and scandals he creates.

To complete the parallel, we might turn to the novel’s ending, which could have a sobering effect. Basic incivility gives way to an anarchic vision of creative destruction; many die or lose their minds due to Pyotr’s machinations. At one point, seemingly without thinking, crowds crush a female character to death because they falsely believe she’s responsible for the violence in town.

When audiences at Trump rallies verbalize violence by screaming “Lock her up” and “Kill her,” or when Donald Trump – either wittingly or unwittingly – advocates Second Amendment violence, I wonder whether they aren’t coming dangerously close to the primal violence of “Demons.”

The Conversation

Ani Kokobobo, Assistant Professor of Russian Literature, University of Kansas


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Photo credit:Vasily Perov


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.