Thursday, July 8, 2010

And You May FInd Yourself...

posted by Armadillo Joe
*What follows is a rather lengthy post. It began as a rant about our fawning, house-broken media personalities (taking Taibbi on the Lara Logan/Rolling Stone flap as a jumping-off point), which quickly evolved into a long-form elucidation on the wide-spread break down of civilization we currently find ourselves living in. I will be returning to the many points of this post in the coming days, stretching them and expanding on various ideas I glossed over to get to my main point, which is, I think, to fasten your seatbelts and be ready for what's next. Thank you for reading and comments are always welcome.

Been thinking about the future a lot of late. A whole lot. So much to consider, it seems, in the face of catastrophic climate change, the never-ending gusher in The Gulf, the systematic dismantling of the very structures of governance by corporate and Old Money elites and the continued complicity of those we elected if not to thwart altogether at least to stymie them somewhat...
At times it seems like too much.
And I ask myself "How did we get here? How can we fix it? Is it even fixable?"
And time and again when confronted with these questions, I conclude that we can't fix things and likely won't. Some would accuse me of being pessimistic for saying something like that, of giving up the fight and letting the bad guys win, but I think sometimes letting the patient die is the only option, so that others may live. It's what makes any discussion of left/right or Democrat/Republican or liberal/conservative so bloody difficult: the old consensus definitions are breaking down and new ones are yet to emerge. I'd argue some (if not most) of that confusion is by design, though I don't think this is anything new to human history. The only part that makes it seem new is technology and the speed enabled by that technology. Sixty+ years ago, Orwell's vision of an eagerly violent ADD citizenry was scary pseudo science fiction. Today, the tea-bagging flash mobs of hate (h/t John Cole) that have emerged since the inauguration are proof that what he saw in the cynical manipulation of the German public was no mere aberration, an abomination brought about by the singular genius of a small group of evil men, but was a latent tendency in all of us, teased out by an unfortunate convergence of historical circumstances, some very bad luck and what Hanna Arendt called the "banality of evil."
Do I overstate my case? Not really. America's been torturing people openly, disappearing whomever "the government" labels an enemy combatant, sentencing people to indefinite detention without a trial, 'no-fly' lists restricting freedom of movement with no recourse to a fair hearing and 'free-speech zones' efficiently keeping those in power from ever having to hear dissatisfaction with the results of their policies, broadly spying and warrentlessly wire-tapping domestic targets, searching and seizing the property of anyone virtually guilty of pre-crime, brutally suppressing public dissent and equipping law enforcement with tortuous compliance weapons, all of this for almost a decade (longer, actually, since the War on Drugs laid the groundwork for the overt militarization of law enforcement we have suffered since the Cheney Regime) and all this criminality abetted by a pliant, cowed corporate media helping to pile onto anyone who raised a peep about any of it, dismissing them as unserious, dirty fucking hippies who hate America.
How else to evaluate what is happening right now in Arizona, and will soon happen in the various other copycat states in the coming months and years? How will that situation ever get any better, especially as America's bottomless appetite for illicit drugs finances the drug cartel's destabilization of the entire government of Mexico, and refugees flow across the border? To say nothing of the effects of climate change and overdevelopment on the American side of the border depleting the remaining water resources in the SouthWest and an open shooting war over water rights becoming ever more likely.
The early days of the next era of human civilization are upon us, folks, and the transition, like most transitions, will be violent and the causes misdiagnosed by very many different people until the overall shape and texture of the whole event becomes too obvious to deny or ignore. Even then, some will deny plain facts (we're still arguing about FDR and the Civil War, fercrissake). That it will take decades means many of our contemporaries will never understand the early stages of that to which they bore witness.
That sentence will require some explanation.
All of these various seemingly disconnected news stories are in fact one Very Big Story, which is that another widespread social, political and economic upheaval is upon us. And the ruling orders are well and truly scared of how all that will turn out for them, since the last three or four haven't ended very well for them. The last upheaval gave us two consecutive world wars and ended four centuries of Western European dominance of global affairs. What will this one bring about? Who can say, really? But an examination of what caused the last two or three dislocations and how they shaped subsequent events, how they indeed became the subsequent events themselves, is informative.
Measured across different time scales, ever since Western Civilization emerged from the chaos of the post-Roman Dark Ages, the different factors under-girding the stability of the international order (a stability created by a host of factors ranging from political alliances to shared ideology to trade policy to climate to technology to the underlying energy regimen to the various agreements among the myriad factions of the ruling classes) in any given era have all upended periodically. Often the wave periods of these oscillations (or factors or forces or movements) across time, as well as the geographic dispersion of them, are spread out enough that the whole system doesn't crash all at once. Sometimes, though, they are not spread out enough in time or space and the results are like a chain reaction, a contagion culminating in global catastrophe, and a new order emerges from the ashes of the old. Throughout the last 700 or 900 years, the stability of the existing order in any given locale has rarely lasted more than 50 or 75 years without some major disruption (sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, but never eternal -- even in China), so in very many ways we are overdue for an upheaval here in the West. World War 2 was a long time ago.
Friedrich Hegel had a name for these oscillating periods of stability and chaos throughout history, his "Hegelian Dialectic", and the components were thus: a thesis creates its own antithesis, they struggle and a new synthesis emerges which becomes the new thesis and hence another antithesis and so the cycle repeats.
And thus, in that new synthesis the seeds of its eventual collapse are sown. In America, our country was born of such a synthesis as the political cultures of the North and South compromised on slavery in order to forge a new nation, and an uneasy new thesis moved us forward. Four score and seven years later, the American Civil War was fought to again settle on another idealistic synthesis that died with the end of Reconstruction and was followed by the bloated, cynical consensus of Gilded Age capitalism, which was itself first exploded by the First World War, then sunk utterly by its own failures with the Great Depression.
Meanwhile in Europe, the American Revolution had touched off wave after destructive wave of revolutionary fervor (1789, the entirety of the Napoleonic Wars, 1848, 1870, 1914), the power of the old ruling order of inherited title (which had held Europe together for 800 years) continually eroded and cracked and never remade fully whole again throughout the 19th Century, until the tottering framework of aristocratic Europe was smashed and scorched away fully and forever in the cauldron of the First World War, an upheaval so vast and so violent that it eventually pulled in this country from across the Atlantic Ocean. The inter-war period was largely a global power vacuum filled by rising fascism, communism and the inertia of a disintegrating Pax Britannia, the lone Great Power to keep its crown and even then only as a figurehead, while the global economic order eventually imploded under its own ponderous weight, resulting in the Great Depression.
World War 2 represented a failure to forge a lasting synthesis in the wake of the previous disruption (WW1), resulting in even greater death and destruction. In the wake of that conflict, during the resulting Cold War, America and a constellation of "free" states appeared to stand off against the USSR and the client states in its gravitational field, purportedly in a global contest of ideologies, but really in a vast, world-wide resource war for petroleum, centering on two opposing theories of political organization. On this side of the Iron Curtain, the elites of Europe and America had two different approaches to the massive social and political dislocations of the previous two centuries. In Europe, the elites placated the masses with a generous welfare state and useful infrastructure, but bamboozled them with myriad political parties to dilute their voting power while giving the illusion of inclusion. In America, the elites dispersed the masses into suburbs and bought them off with material prosperity, then corralled the rest into decaying inner cities. When the resulting social friction could no longer be contained by the received two-party system, they co-opted whatever social unrest they could into their own pet political party (the GOP) by deflecting blame onto the victims of their policies (a process that continues to this day) and squeezed the jumbled remnants of the opposing party into resigned compliance, all the while spending the enormous economic dividends generated by petroleum technology to erect a sprawling national security state, a vast military-industrial complex and an almost monolithic corporate political ecology. Both parties were willing and eager participants in that program, from LBJ's "Guns and Butter" through to the Clinton-era military that W used to blow up the world, all the while cheered by a pliant corporate media.
It was during this time that our current understanding of left versus right was formed. And, as I said at the top of this post, it is precisely why we as a voting public can't have an intelligent discussion about the issues that now face us. The system is blowing itself apart at the seams now, right now, before our very eyes, and though we had an opportunity to head-off catastrophe a generation ago, the inertia of history too great, it seems, to steer ourselves a better course out of the long, dark shadows of our previous imperfect attempts at synthesis.
And so, once again, the signs that another such upheaval is upon us are all around, as the existing ruling classes tighten their grip on power: the extortion money paid by our government to stabilize the banking system, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to stabilize the petroleum supply (and provide the only remaining domestic economic stimulus), even the clamp-down on journalists on our own supposedly free soil in The Gulf region to prevent some de-stabilizing bad news from becoming more widely known about exactly how bad the calamity in The Gulf actually is -- all of them signs that those in power are desperate to maintain it.
Because money, which always functioned as an agreement to facilitate trade (and hence was always mostly imaginary) in service of the needs of actual human beings, has become so much more important in the form of the personal wealth of a privileged few than actual human beings who are suffering and dying for want of the things money can easily provide, that international monetary policy is built around enforcing wealth-protection, not facilitating resource distribution. This has been the case for decades.
Because the earth's resources -- most crucially petroleum -- are all running out while our global economy remains engineered around an antiquated model of an ever-increasing prosperity those resources will soon no longer be able to support.
Because climate change is real and accelerating and irreversible and hundreds of millions of people will be directly affected, soon and forever.
Because wide-spread political destabilization always results from income disparity and ecological destruction this great (they are related), it is contagious and our ruling elites are too myopically focused on their own arcane struggles to notice or care.
Because, well...
Oh fuck it. Let's listen to some rock-n-roll music:

yeah, some people had all this shit figured out a long time ago.

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