Things are falling apart

The nauseating sensation of being in a surreal, waking dream is becoming the daily reality of the Obama Administration. Unlike the crude affront to sanity that was the Bush nightmare, the dominant feeling of the Obama era is the insidious feeling that things are not right, but that everyone is pretending that they are.

Consider the GM bankruptcy. This historic event has been ignored by the stock market, which actually staged a rally. The arithmetic of massive auto industry job losses and wiped out government investments is obvious, but nobody wants to run the numbers. Instead, all we hear from the press is numbing, repetitive assurances that everything is going to be fine. Obama sends in a handful of inexperienced functionaries to apply crude measures to hold the remnants of GM together for another year or two, and we are supposed to believe that we are going to get an automotive technology renaissance.

This is government by bull$hit, not a new era of competence. When FDR took things in hand, he gave the people straight talk and new structures staffed by competent people. Obama is blowing smoke and dodging accountability. We have seen this pattern in the financial “rescue,” as Geither and Summers ducked, weaved, and dodged around every issue. Now we are seeing it in industrial policy.

If the Bush administration did not give us an adequate lesson in the pernicious consequences of wishful thinking and ideological fantasies, we will certainly learn this lesson under Obama. Liberal fantasies are no less pernicious than those of conservatives. Reality will not be denied for much longer.

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    • Edger on June 2, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    It’s later than most of us realize; though from some perspectives, collapse can be a long process, it’s equally true that much of that process can only be appreciated in hindsight. When we look at the history of the twentieth century, we can see a pattern emerging, indicating that we may be up to a century into collapse already.

    1. The Slow Crash
    2. Coal, World War & the Collapse of European Imperialism
    3. The Collapse of the Soviet Union
    4. Neocolonialism & the New Map
    5. Living in Collapse

      Rather than the century of civilization’s triumph, then, it becomes clear that the 20th century was the first 100 years of global collapse.  At the end of the 20th century, most of the world was in some state of collapse.  As Joseph Tainter argued in Collapse of Complex Societies, the competition between states in a peer polity system keeps any of them from truly collapsing on their own; today, the IMF, the World Bank, and various other forces (well-portrayed in the pharmaceutical and illegal arms trades by the 2005 movies The Constant Gardener and Lord of War, respectively) “prop up” collapsed states from the remaining pillars of complexity.  This state of pseudo-collapse brings with it the worst of both worlds: the strife, poverty and violence of collapse, without the opening spaces and opportunities that a full collapse brings with it.  By the end of the twentieth century, most of the world existed in such a state, with the United States and Western Europe essentially propping up complexity across the rest of the world.  For most of the world, collapse is not a future possibility, but a very present reality.

      The soil and mineral wealth a future civilization would need, we have already consumed.
      This was something past civilizations did not do-could not do, because they had not yet reached the level of complexity necessary to do so. This is why every historical collapse has allowed for later resurgence; collapses constituted temporary setbacks in overall social complexity, as no collapse ever eliminated quite all the complexity the civilization had already built up.

      Why does this trend end with us? Because we have finally achieved a global civilization; we have finally eliminated the frontiers that allowed further complexity possible. We have farmed and depleted all of the arable land, we have mined all of the economic, near-surface ores, and we have brought together the entire world into a global system of complexity that must stand or fall as a single system. As Fred Hoyle wrote in Of Men and Galaxy, with the unfortunate cultural chauvinism of his time:

      It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing high intelligence [sic] this is not correct. We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.

      If, however, we take our own perspective as people living through collapse, we can see the inflection point quickly approaching, an event that we will no doubt experience as something very close to the apocalypse. For us, the most pertinent question is less when the last city will fall, but when the first spaces beyond civilization will begin to open up again.

  1. Obama sends in a handful of inexperienced functionaries to apply crude measures to hold the remnants of GM together for another year or two

    Some 31 year old will be running GM for all intents and purposes?  Quite unbidden I couldn’t help but think of how Bushco turned the postwar “reconstruction” of Iraq over to a squadron of 20-something Liberty U. grads.

  2. thank you, and thanks to the commentors – provocative, much to ponder.

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