June 14, 2011

Who was that Mass Man, anyway?

The text for today's sermon comes from David Brooks, esteemed columnist and fence-straddler extraordinaire of the august (actually June in this case) New York Times, the Old Gray Lady of American journalism. Enough snarky intro:

"The election is happening during a downturn in the economic cycle, but the core issue is the accumulation of deeper structural problems that this recession has exposed — unsustainable levels of debt, an inability to generate middle-class incomes, a dysfunctional political system, the steady growth of special-interest sinecures and the gradual loss of national vitality.

"The number of business start-ups per capita has been falling steadily for the past three decades. Workers’ share of national income has been declining since 1983. Male wages have been stagnant for about 40 years. The American working class — those without a college degree — is being decimated, economically and socially."
I would first note the slight internal inconsistency in this jeremiad: Brooks relates that the election is happening "during a downturn in the economic cycle," but then describes national problems which have existed for 40 years, at least, suggesting that the last 20 elections have occurred "during a downturn in the economic cycle." Okay, I guess that's not exactly an inconsistency, but you can see how it might throw someone a little off the scent. Not to make too big a deal about this point, but that's highly symptomatic of a Mass Media Man writing for Mass Men & Women out there in MassMediaLand. If Brooks is going to write a credible column about a reasonable basis for interest in this upcoming election (which, God help us, is still a year and a half away), then he needs to place his analysis within a context of business-as-usual. If he drew the actual reasonable inference from his premise, that these two parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are the very same political institutions which have presided over this steady decline for 40 years, then there would be no intellectually honest way to write his column at all. And then this particular Mass Media Man would be out of a job, which, of course, would be a very good thing for society in general, because detaining ourselves endlessly with on-one-hand-on-the-other-hand vamping, ad infinitum, does not actually get us anywhere.

You can also note certain significant lacunae in the list of Our Mr. Brooks's "structural problems:" He never mentions climate change, resource constriction, coming oil shortages, or the need to transform the country's energy paradigm from big, centralized power grids to localized energy such as solar and wind power (other than to mock, elsewhere in the column, suggestions by the Democratic Party to invest in solar panels). The entire Earth is currently in a situation of 40% overshoot of available resources, and the United States continues to lead the way in waste-per-capita of available nonrenewable energy and other finite resources.

The simple truth is that the USA has devolved to a nation where only institutions organized at the Mass Level can prosper. Multi-national corporations which can engage in labor and environmental arbitrage by moving their operations overseas, while evading taxes here at "home" and destroying the Earth abroad, can do well. To the extent that big business does any hiring here, it can continue to constrict such employment through advanced technology which, while it depersonalizes the hell out of everything we encounter, eliminates humans and all their clamoring needs. Mergers and acquisitions; chain hotels, restaurants, retail Big Box and everything else; concentration of power and money (and thus political influence); agribusiness; skewing of wealth concentration to an absurd level -- there is nothing in any of this for the American Commoner, who is left to his own increasingly desperate devices.

Mr. Brooks, as a representative and spokesguy for one of the few remaining Big Media Newspaper outlets, is not going to draw any logical inferences. He is going to suggest working within the same system which has disenfranchised and alienated the vast majority of the American people. If he does otherwise, he is striking at his own power base. He ridicules the pathetic policy ideas of both parties, but if pressed, I am sure he would say that the existing Two Party System and the American Way of Life, for all its flaws, is just the best darned way to do anything.

It does at times seem to me that there are social or historical analogues to Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, which state:

The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an "effective procedure" is capable of proving all facts about the natural numbers. For any such system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem shows that if such a system is also capable of proving certain basic facts about the natural numbers, then one particular arithmetic truth the system cannot prove is the consistency of the system itself.
The political "system itself" cannot solve the problems which lie ahead because the axioms which govern that system are premised on limitless growth, the flow of money in exchange for policy, and crony capitalism in favor of concentration of power. Thus, the future will be decided by "extra-systemic" axioms or factors, which, in fact, are beginning to appear.

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