“When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle”
Things are looking pretty dismal at the moment. The economic situation is the worst in my lifetime, and I was born at the end of WWII. The bad news comes fast and furious.
When I am subjected to an information overload, I occasionally experience some sort of intuitive flash connected to images, a sudden understanding/epiphany/gestalt.
The other day the Tea Party movement revealed itself to me in a poetic metaphor that put them into a different perspective. Something that although just as grotesque, is at the same time touchingly human in its vulnerability.
It came to me that the Tea Party movement with their confused and confusing agenda, the open carrying of fire arms in Starbucks, the birthers, the militias, the “Last Days” crowd, the Limbaughs, the Becks, and all the assorted, foxy, incoherent mishegoss that goes with them is one and the same thing as collagen lip injections, faces paralyzed with botox or toupees and comb overs: a self-deceiving escape from the inevitable. Fooling the mirror perhaps, but nobody else, certainly not Father Time or the Grim Reaper or the great undercurrents of events. This escapism from the simplest of realities is one of the hallmarks of our era.
The Tea Baggers, like the botox zombies, are just whistling past the graveyard.
Everything we are living right now, from global warming to the juking and jiving of the financial system, from exploding population in poor countries, to aging populations in the rich ones, is crying out for more regulation, more control, more transparency and more taxes to pay for it. This is either going to happen or our world is going to disintegrate into a devil’s stew of famine, pollution, explosively intolerable inequality and endless war… not necessarily in that order.
The world of the future will be a world of control or it wont be.
The world of the future will be a world of iron rules and regulations and with all the privacy of a nudist camp, or it will be a nightmare beyond our powers to imagine.
This process is as inevitable as aging leading to dying.
People do some some weird stuff when staring down the one that the Spanish call “the bald lady”… death.
Just as an aging woman who has had her lips blown up like Donald Duck fools herself into thinking she is still desirable, someone who walks into Starbucks with a pitiful little pistol on his hip fools himself into thinking he has power over his life and future. He sips his latte made from coffee grown in an impoverished third-world narco-state and sits there worrying about a dark skinned “socialist” coming and taking his little gun away.
The word “socialism” is thrown about with so much abandon. The word is used as an automatic disqualification, something both strange and sinister, touched with the “Mark of the Beast”.
However, the world we are fast approaching would be fortunate if it were somehow connected to Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, somehow an expression of international solidarity. Because the alternative, at best, would be a global version of a huge Indian slum, a human ant’s nest crossed by open sewers, filled with hunger, anger and disease or living skeletons listlessly wasting away in starved apathy: the world’s misery huddled at the feet of a few gated communities, heavily guarded by… Predator drones.
Even before our Friedmanite economy showed us its athlete’s feet of clay, we could see that fossil fuels were a finite source and that their continued use might make it difficult for our species to survive.
And if the economy does pick up again, the Chinese and the Indians imitating the American Way of Life with its phenomenal waste of fossil fuel energy could lead to God knows what kind of terminal ecological collapse.
Of course the problem is that to sustain itself our economy must grow constantly, like a bicycle that will fall over if it ever stops. The fact is that we may “running out of road”, reaching some sort of limit, a sort of musical chairs, where the few chairs left have already been taken by the rich while the great mass of the world’s population mills around with nowhere to sit and little to eat after the music stops.
It would seem obvious to me that if we are not going to see the world entirely degenerated into some Hobbesian dystopia, we are going to have to create and run a very tightly organized, strictly regulated and equitable order of society. If the trends we see today continue, I believe that will be inevitable, so fast becoming inevitable, that even a person like me, in their mid 60s, might live to see it.
The question, will be how to preserve the republican trinity, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” in such a tightly ordered society.
These three things often don’t go together or are mixed in very weighted proportions.
Lets look at Germany before the collapse of Communism:
In East Germany, for example, you had a very sinister secret police and steady repression of all dissent. You had very few consumer goods and no freedom to travel. However, you also had total job security, a good free school system (Angela Merkel is a product of that system) and subsidized housing and free health care.
That system was defeated because Western Germany had strong labor unions, good free schools and health and subsidies… and also freedom of speech, assembly, travel and abundant consumer goods… No contest. Obviously West Germany’s “Social Market Society” came closer to “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” than “Real Existing Socialism” did.
However in the future, because of the need to husband fossil fuels and other natural resources, we will probably find ourselves stripping out the abundant consumer goods from the mix and certainly mass tourism to the four corners of the earth, with its frivolous burning of ever scarcer oil, will be a fairy tale that today’s children will tell their grandchildren about.
If we are going to be moving toward a world of limited energy use, zero growth sustainability, less possibility to travel and fewer consumer goods and so forth, about the best we could hope for would be East Germany without the Stasi and with free speech, assembly and habeas corpus.
Right now the dynamic of our system seems to be to “Friedmanize” the world and break down social democracy wherever it is found, impoverish people and make their lives precarious.
This sort of society where the majority is impoverished, while a minority becomes amazingly rich, has been proven to only work with a military dictatorship and police state repression… and even then hunger and precariousness cannot go on beyond a certain point without engendering revolutionary movements.
Admittedly the human animal can continue to flourish in conditions where any other self-respecting mammal would stop breeding and go extinct, but even so, if you oppress them enough, they turn and bite.
Certainly if you increase the percentage of the poor and precarious beyond a certain level the word “freedom” begins to take on different nuances: freedom from what? freedom to do what? That is when some version of Equality, Fraternity, without Liberty, a version of East Germany “uncut” might seem very attractive to many desperately poor and insecure people.
If any young person is looking for something useful to do with their lives, helping to organize and build a world where free people live in brotherhood, sharing out the world’s limited resources equitably, would certainly fill the bill.