Emotional Truth, Political Lies #4

Pain, Death, and Blood in the Streets: A Book Report

Working the Fracture Lines in US Political Culture

Alan Tabor
11 min readApr 26, 2022


I’m digging into the dynamic underlying our dysfunction. This is story #4 in a series: Emotional Truth, Political Lies.

  • IMHO, income inequality is our single biggest issue simply because it has paralyzed our ability to deal with everything else
  • Worse, it is being systematically exploited for fun, profit, and political gain
Le massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy, Francois Dubois. Public Domain

Cohesion & Decohesion

Every once in a while, a book triggers a sea change in my thinking. If that change persists and deepens, the book makes it into my all-time Top 10.

I want to highlight a book that I consider critical to thinking about where we are economically and politically: Peter Turchin’s War and Peace and War (2006). It is supported by Thomas Pickety’s Captial in the Twenty-First Century (2014).

(I’m now reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell. It seems likely to make the list; I wanted to plug her book before moving on!)

Turchin posits a rhythm of social cohesion & ‘decohesion’ that grounds the formation and collapse of empires. He explores the dynamic in an account written for lay audiences in War and Peace and War. (His other works, e.g. Ages of Discord, are more academic.)

Turchin’s work gains urgency with each passing year.

Dynamics of empire

In War and Peace and War, Turchin focuses on the last 3000 years time-boxed by the appearance of empires on the early end and some recent developments that might have changed the dynamic on the other. More on the latter below.

Here’s the cycle:

  1. Social cohesion forms under pressure — often for self-defense. The group with the tightest cohesion tends to do the best.
  2. This success creates the conditions that allow the group to develop an expanding empire.



Alan Tabor

Berkeley Backpacking Biz Lifer, System Builder, Coder, Community Organizer, Music and Evolutionary Biology Geek. Sign up and my projects at http://altabor.org/