Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Leave it to the Oklahoma legislature

or a subset thereof to completely embarrass itself. I can assure anyone living in OK that the current economic crisis has absolutely nothing to do with some arcane culture war that some of its legislators seem bound to keep fighting for reasons that escape most normal people. Hell, the reasons the nation is in its current dire straits can be summed up quite simply: we've been stuck in a bubble economy for several decades, have lived as a society way beyond the means of our natural resources, and have lived with policies that have ultimately required the government to borrow against the future in order to maintain all the trappings of empire (including 700+ military bases around the world, a palatial embassy in the latest quasi-colony, etc.). Every other world power has followed a similar trajectory, leading ultimately to mounting economic crises and an eventual fall (some have had relatively soft landings, like the UK after WWII, whereas others have ended in disaster, such as Rome). Blaming Obama for something that has been decades in the making is irrational, and especially linking the current economic straits to something as inane as not following some set of religious incantations that apparently all Presidents must now follow according to the denizens of Wingnuttia. In reality, it wouldn't matter if a President continued to recognize a "national day of prayer" to God, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or engaged in some other ritual involving magical thinking, or simply refused to engage in any such ritualistic behavior. The fundamentals of the current "great recession" would remain unchanged. The flipside to all this, of course is that lavishing Obama with praise for all his hopiness and changiness won't change the fundamentals of the "great recession" either. Resorting to tribal behavior will not help repair the economy, or soften the landing. And yes, there is going to be a landing.

One thing we can all do that would be semi-constructive is to stop looking for saviors. There are none to be found. Similarly, stop looking for scapegoats. The temporary buzz that some get from blaming others for problems that are not of their making will wear off like so much meth (something Sally Kern's constituents know of quite well, I'm sure), all the while the problems continue to fester. Instead, here's a mashup of suggestions that might be soften the landing as we continue our decline, starting with:
Every once in a while I run into a decent laundry list of things for our society to do as we enter the post-oil era. Jim Kunstler, for example, in his latest post "Disarray" offers a number of things that we could do that would be far more constructive than to live in denial or avoid the inevitable altogether. Although I won't agree with all his suggestions, most are worthy of consideration - in particular it makes sense to stop building highways and freeways, as they'll probably be useless within about a generation (depending on one's level of optimism, maybe considerably sooner or later than that). Kunstler has commented from time to time that the US rail system is worse than Bulgaria's, which is quite a feat given that Bulgaria is a relatively impoverished former Soviet-bloc nation. So it goes. What he suggests is actually overhauling the railways, as that's going to be the future for most of us when it comes to travel - whether via cross-country or within an urban area. My impression is that the Europeans are generally way ahead of us there, and hence will probably feel the withdrawal pains from oil addiction a bit less than us. There's a great deal of psychological preparedness too - if I had a slogan, it would be one I ran into as a teen in the early 1980s, "small is beautiful." Whether it's gargantuan security states, corporate farms, big box stores, large-scale office parks, etc., we need to live with the realization that such creations are not sustainable. It'll also be crucial to keep in mind that there will be a lot of really pissed off individuals who, having lost everything including the very suburban "civilization" that was the center of all things American (as Kunstler mentions early on, suburbia is essentially our way of life that is now in the beginning stages of collapsing), will be looking for scapegoats and false prophets offering a return to the "glory days."

I'd probably add a few things of my own - most crucially as orderly and as soon as possible vacate the overseas military bases and get our troops home. Like Dmitry Orlov, I am concerned about the prospect of large numbers of these folks getting stranded in the event that the current US system collapses more rapidly than any of us could imagine. Turning off the war machine would also serve to preserve what petroleum is still left (the War on Terra has led to a considerable increase in oil consumption over the course of this decade). I'd probably also suggest that the sort of hyper-individualism that our culture promotes is not sustainable, and that the time has come to redevelop ties to family and community, as we're going to need each other much more as we are increasingly forced to face the collapse of one way of life and the beginnings of whatever is to replace it.
Followed by:
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.
Now, like Orlov, I'm pretty skeptical when it comes to the current Prez or Congress actually planning ahead. I see occasional baby steps, but nothing that has caused me to break out the proverbial bubbly. Personally, I'm all in favor of taking all that borrowed money that is currently being poured down the drain to finance the War on Terra (or whatever the hell Obama has chosen to call it these days), and, since we're never going to pay it back any way, revamp the infrastructure in preparation for an age in which getting oil imports will be considerably more difficult (somewhat related to the impending peak in oil extraction at some point in our lifetimes, but more realistically from the consequences of the Dollar eventually losing its reserve currency status - which is also an inevitability, within the space of a few years or a few decades we do not yet know). Think of revamping the railroad system - Europe and Japan have state-of-the-art high-speed rail systems that could be emulated here. Such a system would allow for transport and trade to continue from moderate distances. Get working on it, like yesterday, in earnest, and by the early 2020s we'll still be able to get around. A crash program of alternative energy research might be too little and a few decades too late, but some of what gets developed before the nation loses its means to revamp its infrastructure would in all probability be better than nothing and might actually avert a future of living quite literally in the dark.

Or we can keep collectively looking for the easy way out, pretending that there is no cliff ahead...

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