The story behind the “fiscal cliff” melodrama and the much-memed handwringing about the “good-for-nothing congress” is probably not quite what it appears — a set of problems that will eventually be overcome by “better leadership” armed with “solutions.” The story is really about the permanent disabling of government at this scale and at this level of complexity. In other words, the federal government will never solve its obvious problems of mismanagement and bankruptcy and is now only in business to pretend that it can discharge its obligations (while employees enjoy the perqs). It’s just another form of show business.
The same can be said of most of the state governments, too, of course, except that they have a lower capacity to pretend they can take care of anything. They can and will go bankrupt, and then they’ll go begging to the federal government to bail them out, which the federal government will pretend to do with pretend money. By then, though, the practical arrangements of daily life would probably be so askew that politics would take a new, darker, and more extreme turn –among other things, in the direction of secession and breakup.
The wonder of it all is that there hasn’t been civil disorder yet. When I go into the supermarket, I marvel at the price of things: a single onion for a dollar, four bucks for a jar of jam, five bucks for a box of Cheerios, four bucks for a wedge of cheese. Is everybody except Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and Mark Zuckerberg living on store-brand macaroni and ketchup? It’s hard to measure the desperation of households in this culture of rugged individualism. At social gatherings friends rarely tell you that they are two months behind in their mortgage payment and maxed out on their credit cards. And that’s the supposed middle class, at least the remnants of it. I can’t tell you what the tattoo-and-falling-down-pants crowd talks about in the parking lot outside the 7-Eleven store. Perhaps they swap meth recipes.
Civil disorder would at least mean something, a consensus of dissatisfaction about how life is lived. Instead, we only get mad outbursts of tragic meaninglessness: the slaughter of innocent children in school, or movie theater patrons mowed down by a lone maniac during the coming attractions. Life imitates art, as Oscar Wilde said, and these days television is our art. Hence the United States is now equal parts Jersey Shore, Buck Wild, the Kardashians, and Honey Boo Boo. That’s not really a lot to work with in terms of social capital, especially where radical politics might be called for.
Does anybody now breathing even remember radical politics? Whether you liked them or not — and I was not crazy about the whole “revolution” of the late 1960s, which I lived through — it at least represented a level of seriousness that is now absolutely and starkly absent today, especially in young people. Who, in the West, besides Julian Assange, has stuck his neck out in the past ten years? And please don’t tell me Ron Paul, who had ample opportunity in congressional hearings over the years to really call out the banksters and their government wankster errand boys, and all he ever did was nip around their trouser legs.
So I stick to the point I made in The Long Emergency and again in Too Much Magic: expect America’s national and state governments to only become more ineffectual and impotent. They will never recover from the insults inflicted on themselves. Events are in the drivers seat, including things unseen, and the people pretending to be in charge have arranged things into such a state of fragility that accidents are sure to happen, especially involving the basic structures of money. In case you don’t know it yet, you’re on your own now. Put whatever energy you can muster into finding a community to be a part of.
Meanwhile, reality stands by with mandates of its own. Do people like Barack Obama and John Boehner think we’re going to re-start another round of suburban expansion (a.k.a. the housing market)? That’s largely what the old economy was based on, and what Wall Street fed off of parasitically the past twenty years. That is so over. Do they believe that when absolutely every task in America is computerized there will be any gainful work outside of a sort of janitorial IT to tend all the computers. We’ve already seen what happens with the telephone system: after 30 years of techno-innovation in “communications,” it’s now impossible to get a live human being on the phone and robots call you incessantly during the dinner hour. Anyway, we don’t really have the energy resources to supply the electricity for all this crap indefinitely, or probably even another twenty years.
All the tendencies and trends in contemporary life are reaching their limits at the same time, and as they do things will crack up and fall apart, whether it involves the despotic reach of a government, or a tyrannical corporation, or a hedge fund server farm stuffed with algo-crunching computers sucking the life out of every honest market transaction until the markets are zombies. The euphoria that greeted the end of the fiscal cliff ritual has settled back into the feckless collective state-of-mind that we call “bullish.” It’s all noise and the madness of crowds now. And black swans shitting on your head some sunny day.
For a complete list of books by James Howard Kunstler and purchase links, CLICK HERE.