June 26, 2013

The Partitioned National Brain

If you read the kooks that I read on a regular basis, such writers as Dmitry Orlov, James Howard Kunstler, Gail Tverberg, Richard Heinberg, Craig Dilworth, Herman Daly, Glenn Greenwald and the whack-jobs at Zerohedge, you may have noticed an odd convergence.  To wit, the "Libertarian" sites, such as Zerohedge (where the Comment Cowboys [h/t: Dan D]) include a posse of anti-Semitic ravers) are now beginning to quote freely from the liberal "environmentalists" in the list above.

This is very interesting to me, but then it would be, wouldn't it?  This is an indication that we are now moving beyond the old Left-Right dichotomies, where a conservative viewpoint automatically needed to reject any argument from a tree-hugger as wooly-headed nonsense.  I suspect this is because the Doom & Gloom sites, such as the dissidents at Zerohedge and numerous other places, are beginning to see that it isn't just "environmentalism" that is the problem, but the far more serious issue of energy paucity and energy unaffordability which has crushed the American economy and the economies of the Western industrial world.

So now Zerohedge is beginning to publish essays by James Howard Kunstler, the Clusterfuck Man himself, and the coiner of the phrase "the psychology of previous investment," by which Kunstler explains the otherwise inexplicable obsession of the American economy in continuing to invest in the doomed suburban world which cannot be sustained as Peak Oil exacts its terrible price of unrelenting high energy costs.  Pretty soon I expect Zerohedge will discover Dmitry Orlov and Gail Tverberg, who are quantitative in ways that Kunstler is not; Monsieur Clusterfook is a master at the snarky, Mencken-esque turn of phrase he uses to skewer the fat, dumb, video-addicts of the American Booboisie, but he is not a real numbers man.

I can add a new stylist to the committee:  John Michael Greer, with whom I was not previously familiar until I began reading Not the Future We Ordered, which is about the end times for the great "Myth of Progress" made possible by the one-time legacy of abundant fossil fuels on which modern societies engorged themselves for the last three hundred years.  Greer writes from the viewpoint of social psychology.  It is only natural that human beings are having a very hard time coming to terms with the modern maladies of overpopulation, resource scarcity, food insecurity and climate change, all of which are interrelated in diabolical ways.  We all grew up believing that things "would always get better," and now, suddenly so it seems, that fantasy has been destroyed, and there's nothing to put in its place.

That's a very difficult transition for the "Collective Unconscious."  Greer, in very simple terms, asks a question which I've alluded to numerous times in my "Mr. Krugman's Science" posts.  I liked it so much I figured out how to "bookmark" the pixels I want to save on my Kindle.  Here it is:

"The question that has rarely been asked since 2008, and needs to be asked, is why events of a kind that normally produce ordinary recessions [ref: dishonest banking, a housing bubble] have spawned something so much more serious, protracted, and resistant to solutions this time around.  A glance at the business pages of any newspaper of record will show conditions that are nearly unparalleled in living memory.  Several European nations have plunged in a few years from prosperity to a level of economic crisis in which a third or more of the labour force has no jobs and the national government is struggling to avoid defaulting on its debt.  In the United States, cities are declaring bankruptcy and laying off their firefighters and police forces, while state governments are tearing up thousands of miles of paved roads and replacing the paving with gravel, because they can no longer afford the cost of annual maintenance.  These are not the signs of an ordinary downturn in the business cycle. Bring peak oil into the picture and the severity of the crisis is easily explained."

Greer goes on to point out that oil production plateaued in 2004, and prices of petroleum began their inexorable rise.  I used Mr. Krugman's Science as simply a counterpoint to this much deeper insight into the nature of our malaise.  Paul Krugman himself is a boring and very conventional thinker with nothing to offer in terms of the relevant discourse, but he stands in for the Establishment viewpoint: it's a "bump in the road" which is amenable to Keynesian tinkering; we could be living the life of Riley again if we would just get off this "savage austerity" jag.

Probably not.  So the Great Partition in the National Brain: our alienation from nature, brought about by our habit of mediating our existences through electronic imagery, has made us, as a society, incapable of seeing that we remain dependent on the physical world for our survival and prosperity. We overworked Mother Nature; she's plumb wore out, and we don't want to face that, so we engage in delusions of money-printing and "policy arguments," and distract ourselves with temporary crises like NSA spying or gay marriage or "immigration reform."  President Obama now wants to make climate change the "signature issue" of his second term.  No, he doesn't.  He doesn't really want to get into what that would really mean for the way we actually live, but it will make for some nice "legacy" sound bites.

All of these issues have a sell-by date stamped prominently on their covers.  The real issue is the Economy and its plight in an age of resource scarcity.  That problem is not going away.  It's going to change everything.  Thoreau made Economy chapter one in his book, and he meant it in the broadest possible sense: the means by which humans engage with the world in order to survive.

No comments:

Post a Comment