Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Feeling bearish?

You'd certainly have good reason. Really. (h/t The Newshoggers). At some point the "support the troops" crowd (in its various right-wing, centrist, and "progressive" guises) will be compelled to face the reality that the multiple wars and 700+ military bases across the planet cannot be maintained indefinitely, and that the end is probably coming sooner rather than later. On that note, here's something of a re-run from a couple years ago:
Those of us who are on the bottom rung of the so-called "middle class" and points lower on the economic food chain have been feeling the pain for a while now. Consumer culture as we know it now is functioning by smoke and mirrors, folks. In the long run that won't be a bad thing, as what we as a society have done is to live way beyond nature's means. The birds are gonna come home to roost, if they haven't started already. Those who are relatively well off, including those who hold elected offices, seem perfectly content to remain in a delusional state. That delusion may or may not get shaken if the threatened war against Iran transpires, and the oil tap gets cut off; or if our government's creditors (China & Japan) decide they've had enough, and expect ol' Uncle Sam to settle those outstanding debts (given ol' Uncle Sam's gambling and spending addictions, the scene will get ugly fast).

Something I read a couple months ago seems quite pertinent, to the extent that I accept the premise that the US in its present form is doomed to crumble like all past empires: Closing the 'Collapse Gap': the USSR was better prepared for peak oil than the US. Now let's be optimistic for just a second and pretend that what passes for our government for once tries to be useful. The author Dmitry Orlov has some advice:
There are some things that I would like the government to take care of in preparation for collapse. I am particularly concerned about all the radioactive and toxic installations, stockpiles, and dumps. Future generations are unlikely to able to control them, especially if global warming puts them underwater. There is enough of this muck sitting around to kill off most of us. I am also worried about soldiers getting stranded overseas – abandoning one's soldiers is among the most shameful things a country can do. Overseas military bases should be dismantled, and the troops repatriated. I'd like to see the huge prison population whittled away in a controlled manner, ahead of time, instead of in a chaotic general amnesty. Lastly, I think that this farce with debts that will never be repaid, has gone on long enough. Wiping the slate clean will give society time to readjust. So, you see, I am not asking for any miracles. Although, if any of these things do get done, I would consider it a miracle.
In short, face up to the impending collapse and plan ahead. Will our Congress critters in DC be up to the task? Ho ho. I'm not betting my life savings on it (and I don't bet that nickel lightly, folks). The folks occupying the White House are so clueless as to preclude them from any useful activity. Whatever regime replaces Bu$hCo in the aftermath of the 2008 "elections" will not be much better (I'm sure that some of my partisan Dem friends would beg to differ, and that I'll continue to find their protestations and candidate cheerleading to be a source of amusement). More Orlov:
It's important to understand that the Soviet Union achieved collapse-preparedness inadvertently, and not because of the success of some crash program. Economic collapse has a way of turning economic negatives into positives. The last thing we want is a perfectly functioning, growing, prosperous economy that suddenly collapses one day, and leaves everybody in the lurch. It is not necessary for us to embrace the tenets of command economy and central planning to match the Soviet lackluster performance in this area. We have our own methods, that are working almost as well. I call them "boondoggles." They are solutions to problems that cause more problems than they solve.

Just look around you, and you will see boondoggles sprouting up everywhere, in every field of endeavor: we have military boondoggles like Iraq, financial boondoggles like the doomed retirement system, medical boondoggles like private health insurance, legal boondoggles like the intellectual property system. The combined weight of all these boondoggles is slowly but surely pushing us all down. If it pushes us down far enough, then economic collapse, when it arrives, will be like falling out of a ground floor window. We just have to help this process along, or at least not interfere with it. So if somebody comes to you and says "I want to make a boondoggle that runs on hydrogen" – by all means encourage him! It's not as good as a boondoggle that burns money directly, but it's a step in the right direction.
There may be some wisdom to that - today's incompetence may well be our friend when we look back at this bleak decade. Further:
Certain types of mainstream economic behavior are not prudent on a personal level, and are also counterproductive to bridging the Collapse Gap. Any behavior that might result in continued economic growth and prosperity is counterproductive: the higher you jump, the harder you land. It is traumatic to go from having a big retirement fund to having no retirement fund because of a market crash. It is also traumatic to go from a high income to little or no income. If, on top of that, you have kept yourself incredibly busy, and suddenly have nothing to do, then you will really be in rough shape.

Economic collapse is about the worst possible time for someone to suffer a nervous breakdown, yet this is what often happens. The people who are most at risk psychologically are successful middle-aged men. When their career is suddenly over, their savings are gone, and their property worthless, much of their sense of self-worth is gone as well. They tend to drink themselves to death and commit suicide in disproportionate numbers. Since they tend to be the most experienced and capable people, this is a staggering loss to society.

If the economy, and your place within it, is really important to you, you will be really hurt when it goes away. You can cultivate an attitude of studied indifference, but it has to be more than just a conceit. You have to develop the lifestyle and the habits and the physical stamina to back it up. It takes a lot of creativity and effort to put together a fulfilling existence on the margins of society. After the collapse, these margins may turn out to be some of the best places to live.
Increasingly, over the last few years, our family has been doing just that: finding a niche in the margins. The old habits have been hard to break, to be sure. But aside from the habit of buying an inordinate amount of reading material, it's all necessities (food, rent, clothes, etc.) and maintaining ties with friends and loved ones.
It's a little early yet for postmortems, but something tells me that cats like Orlov will be called visionaries a decade hence. In the meantime, my best advice is to keep your head, steer clear of the usual fearmongers and hatemongers who tend to capitalize on economic collapses (remember that the scapegoat du jour is not actually to blame for the monster that the ruling classes created), and remember that the end of empire (or hyperpower, or whatever the hell you wish to call it) will not be the end of the world. Rather, at worst (and it's hardly much of a loss for most of us), we're witnessing the end of a particularly predatory form of capitalism. What replaces it remains to be seen of course.

No comments:

Post a Comment