Marcy Wheeler on the US’ waning power, climate change, and the coming neofeudalism

This is the fifth of seven Five Questions interviews from this year’s Netroots Nation. This time I found Marcy Wheeler, of, with a few minutes to spare, and was able to capture her thoughts on the waning power of the U.S., an emerging new political order (which she calls “neofeudalism”), as well as my ever-present climate question.

This year we talked about how climate crisis plays out in the intermediate term, the next 10 years or so. I also asked her about her own future as a blogger.

Five Questions with Marcy Wheeler

We thought we had a quiet hallway for our chat, and settled down. Soon after we started, others discovered our quiet hallway as well. First the cell phones started, then the conversations started. By then it was too late for us to move. Oh well.

On the other hand, the interview is both clear (you can hear Marcy’s voice easily in the foreground) and excellent. Marcy is not only thoughtful, she’s tight in her wording and concise. This is one of the shorter interviews, as well as one of the most informative.

Please listen:

Some notes:

▪ Answering question 1, about America’s approaching “deadlines,” Marcy sees a decline of U.S. power as a big shaper of the future. At 3:14, for example, she says:

“The increasing chaos and decline of power of the Unites States is pretty much baked in at this point.”

This leads to a discussion of what might replace it, which was a natural segue to the next question.

Writer Marcy Wheeler

▪ Answering Question 2, which deadline she sees approaching first, she elaborates on her use of the term “neofeudalism” (at 3:48), a term she used in last year’s interview as well. She looks at the sources of U.S. hegemony, both pre-1975 and after, then talks about corporate rule superseding rule by nation-states. She also thinks that our national security state will be our “Chinese Wall,” serving to keep good ideas outside and thus hastening the downfall.

You’ll note her reference to Obama’s Orwellian “Insider Threat” program at 5:04. For more on that, see this piece, one of several. (And please do click; it shows Big Brother Barack in full flower. Amazing.)

▪ Like most respondents, she brings up climate early. At 6:05 she talks about the effect of climate on hunger and how destabilizing that will be.

Her broad answer to the climate question and how it plays out starts at 7:27. Interesting take, and entirely in keeping with her earlier comments. Note that she refers to people ultimately losing access to the consumer-driven lifestyle. In my opinion as well, that’s going to be a major early shock, followed down the road by loss of electricity in some regions and areas of the country.

My comment (at about 10:08) that people will realize that the government is going to take care of “people better than them” is a reference to Our Betters, who are always first in line. When people realize that Our Betters are shoving us completely out of the receiving line when disaster strikes — that won’t be a pretty day.

▪ Question 4 (11:04) was, How can the national security state be short-circuited? Her answer is very timely and also promising. She says she doesn’t have an answer, after she provided one — the inherent instability of the surveillance State itself (something I’ll have much more to say about).

▪ My fifth question was about her future as a blogger. She answers at 15:51 and talks about her own unique niche in the blogging–data analysis world. Check it out.

All Five Questions interviews

Here’s the complete list of this year’s Five Questions interviews. These will be published over the next few weeks in this order:

■ Sam Seder of
■ Dave Johnson of Campaign for America’s Future and
■ Richard (RJ) Eskow of Campaign for America’s Future and Huffington Post
■ digby of Hullabaloo
■ Marcy Wheeler of (this interview)
■ Joel Silbermanactor and media trainer — almost every good congressperson on our side, Joel has worked with them
■ GottaLaff, actress, writer, director and co-proprietress of

I’ll update this list with links as the interviews are published. Thanks for listening.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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  • evan_la

    Great. Thank you Gaius.

  • mary782

    my mum recently got an awesome metallic BMW 5 Series Sedan just by working from a home pc. why not try here w­w­w.J­A­M­20.c­o­m

  • Ynes Rojo

    Yeah, she did not define what neo-feudalism is in the context of her discussion.

  • DrDignity

    Salve Gaius! Please consider writing about the WikiLeaks Party of Australia as we need to start finding viable solutions to the mess & violence of the American R & D duopoly. Noam Chomsky’s work on polycracy & what the R & D’s have morphed into contains a universe of answers to where we are presently & how it came to be. Julian Assange’s third party, WikiLeaks, contains elements of a mission we can use here. The power of the internet is free, no dirty money a la Citizen’s United. The message of WikiLeaks resonates very much with the younger generations who are turned of by violence, lies & war crimes. The R & D’s are nearly finished with any new ideas & have become parties of tired, greedy corporate hacks who misconstrue & lie. It’s our time now. Please fill the pages with new ideas, Gaius. You have done so much with your influential articles on climate. Bravo! DrDignity

  • lilyannerose

    Yeah I can see this. I read today that the Patent and Trademark Office turned Verizon down on a patent to place a camera within their DVR’s without reason why the patent was rejected which could mean they might need a simple fix or a complete do over and all the grey in between. (Never fear Microsoft is now at the forefront on this one). Why should one worry about the NSA when the corporations will have cameras within your home? Verizon explains that it’s a way to target which commercials to air. Really? You don’t think that the local Police Department and other agencies won’t try to get their hands on these tapes not to mention potential employers and that creepy stalker dude who is hired as a watcher and that creep who uploads an embarrassing moment in someone’s life. Don’t forget to just smile for the camera! (When I first read about this a few months ago I didn’t take it seriously, sounded like a conspiracy theory!)

  • arcadesproject

    Well, yeah, cuz here we are in this nihilistic environment where nobody believes in anything except for those who are passionately attached to the idea that they should have all the fucking money. It’s like ‘childish’ and ‘irrational’ and ‘utopian’ and, god help us, populist, to suppose that there should be any other organizing principle behind policy making.

  • emjayay

    Maybe this is too obvious to mention, but to close the loop, like manor owners being an integral part of the system of unquestioned governance connected eventually to the king, whose authority was from God, corporations have bought off governance to the point where the entire supposedly democratic government works as one with the wishes of the corporations. But I guess it’s like the aristocracy is so powerful that the king, who has the absolute power, works almost completely at their behest rather than the opposite.

  • emjayay

    That’s what I was going to say. Or, Y’all ah sew smahht!

  • excellent

  • I tend to see neo-feudalism implemented in modern times (and more accurately described) as “plutocratic feudalism.”

    Unlike in the past when the right to rule was deemed to come from divine right, now it comes through wealth.

  • cole3244

    the future is bleak unless you believe a higher force will rescue you from reality, then your reality is a mirage and the blame game will begin.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Ah! Very interesting. I can see value in the comparison. You could say that the user of Google, Windows Live (or whatever the hell they’re calling it these days), and similar services is granted the virtual equivalent of a serf’s patch of land in the form of an e-mail address, a small volume of “cloud” storage space, and so forth. He can use this plot as he likes–to an extent; but in the end it’s the corporate lord who gets the ultimate control over it.

  • goulo

    FWIW I’ve often seen Bruce Schneier talk about how our computer security is a feudal system as well, referring to our dependence on large corporations (e.g. Google etc) and that if we use them, we have no choice but to trust them since they are not at all transparent.

    E.g. see

  • Monoceros Forth

    I was interested in what Ms. Wheeler had to say about “neo-feudalism” but to my disappointment she really didn’t define what she meant by the term, not that I could tell, aside from saying something about the decline in the power of the civil government and the strengthening of corporate power. I suppose that can be seen as analogous to the fragmentation of civil authority among numerous lords each controlling their own fiefdom and not bound (or only weakly bound) to a central governing authority of any sort.

    The term “feudalism” gets tossed around a lot here but I don’t think it’s used too accurately or consistently. It doesn’t help that the definition of feudalism is not a settled thing. Does it refer only to the relation between a lord and his vassals to whom he grants land? Or does it refer also the relation between a manorial lord and the serfs bound to his manor? I’m not au fait on these matters unfortunately–it’s been fifteen years since I studied any history closely and even then it was just classical history.

    I suspect that when people talk about a “new feudalism” they mostly mean that we citizens are becoming like serfs. I’m not sure that’s true. The serf was tied to his manorial lord’s land; his position was fixed and to a degree secure. The American citizen is tied to nothing, not even to any particular corporate “lord”; his position is uncertain, up in the air, with no security to be found anywhere. G. K. Chesterton put it best. A hundred years ago he wrote this passage in A Miscellany of Men.

    …it is really time that the comfortable classes made a short summary and confession
    of what they have really done with the very poor Englishman. The dawn of the mediaeval civilisation found him a serf; which is a different thing from a slave. He had security; although the man belonged to the land rather than the land to the man. He could not be evicted; his rent could not be raised. In practice, it came to something like this: that if the lord rode down his cabbages he had not much chance of redress; but he had the chance of growing more cabbages. He had direct access to the means of production.

    Since then the centuries in England have achieved something different; and something which, fortunately, is perfectly easy to state. There is no doubt about what we have done. We have kept the inequality, but we have destroyed the security. The man is not tied to the land, as in serfdom; nor is the land tied to the man, as in a peasantry. The rich man has entered into an absolute ownership of farms and fields; and (in the modern industrial phrase) he has locked out the English people. They can only find an acre to dig or a house to sleep in by accepting such competitive and cruel terms as he chooses to impose.

  • GaiusPublius

    Thanks, DrDignity. I enjoy this one very much (well, I enjoyed them all; a great set of interviewees). This one was fun to edit (removing long pauses). I got to listen and think again about her insights.


  • DrDignity

    The learned helplessness to authority seems pervasive, even when good information is available outside the main stream media stenography machine. The response is overwhelmingly that there is little to be done individually as the power machine is so punitive, wealthy & controlling. Most believe they are only able to control what they can in their own small sphere. For those reasons of learned helplessness, I am not likely to believe that a grass roots movement to install a third party like the WikiLeaks or Green party will take hold. Most are enthralled still to the R & D machines & politics as usual. I liked this discussion very much with very good analyses of the situations of global climate change, militarisation globally & neofeudalism. Good job, Gaius!

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