Zeitgeist Failure

 

James Howard Kunstler

 

In an age of gross zeitgeist dysfunction -- when untruth, delusion, and deception rule - politics is mere advertising, which is to say surface shimmer playing on the public's wish-fulfillment fantasies. The trouble at this moment in history is that the American public's wishful fantasies are inconsistent with the circumstances that reality offers to us and the choices for action that they present.

 

President Obama's historical role will be seen as a wish-fulfillment totem for late 20th century progressive liberalism - the first black president. The Democratic Party apotheosized the genial young lawyer with his appealing family in order to demonstrate the triumph of social justice, which was their great struggle of the era. Evidence of that is the striking divergence from the get-go between Mr. Obama's Hope and Change advertising and his sedulous defense of pervasive racketeering at the highest levels of polity once in office. Otherwise, you must decide whether he was a tool of the giant banks, or a dupe-made-hostage to them, or simply too clueless to understand what was required in 2009 - namely the break-up and reorganization of the banks plus hearty prosecution of their executives for massive swindling (along with reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act). I voted for him in 2008, by the way, since the wish-fulfillment motif moved me, and also because of the horrifying McCain-Palin opposition.

 

In office, then, Mr. Obama quickly proved to be a different breed of porpoise than the voters bargained for. He let the Wall Street privateers run amuck another four years, aided with colossal infusions of conjured-out-of-nothing "money" from the Federal Reserve. He let loose the demons of a high-tech totalitarian "security" state with every sort of electronic surveillance, citizen data-mining, and drone spying that innovation allowed. He stood silent like a Banana Republic store mannequin after the supreme court decided that corporations could buy elections (he could have pushed loudly for legislation or even a constitutional amendment to redefine corporate "personhood"). And of course, he continued to prosecute the absurd war in Afghanistan where, after nine years, US forces are unable to accomplish the only aims of being there: to control the terrain and to moderate the behavior of the people who live there.

 

Hence, the appalling spectacle of the Democratic convention last week, with its odor of ideological bankruptcy, stale rhetoric, and empty promises. The party seeks only validation of its cherished fantasy: the social justice of reelecting the first black president. And all it really has to offer is cheerleading to that end - with some social justice table-scraps tossed to the lesser totems of social justice politics: women, assorted ethnic minorities, and gays.

 

Meanwhile, the "advanced nations" of industrial civilization all spiral into coordinated disintegration, especially in the realm where economy meets finance. Economy is about what we actually do to stay alive: make things, trade things, grow things, run things. Finance is supposed to be about maintaining the flows of accumulated wealth to support these things we do - with a modest service charge for the financiers who do the work. But in the great divorce of truth from reality in our time, finance is only about pretending to maintain these "capital" flows. In fact, it has degenerated into a set of looting operations, swindles, frauds, and political dodges, and it is on the verge of blowing up.

 

There's a fair chance that global finance (and trade) will blow up this season leading to the US elections. The nations of Europe are stuck in an intractable predicament. The European Union can't control the fiscal operations (taxing and spending) of its sovereign members, and it only pretends to be able to lend them the money to cover the interest payments on their previous loans. That shuck-and-jive is now headed for a climax. But the situation is not materially different in the USA and Japan. In one way or another, they are bankrupt, too, as are probably most of their commercial banks. China's banks are certainly a fiasco, since they are government-run, with no independent accounting oversight whatsoever. China does have a big cushion of US Treasury holdings, huge stockpiles of industrial metals and cement, and many new tons of recently-acquired gold. But they are also hostage to the bankrupt West's lost appetite for "consumer" goods, and tens of millions of laid-off Chinese factory workers could foment political upheaval in a delicate time of regime transition coming later this year.

 

The antics of the ECB, the US Federal Reserve, and all the other central banks in conjuring ever more money-out-of-nothing draws us toward that event horizon where faith is lost in a faith-based money system. The only question really is whether wealth destruction (deleveraging, debt default) out-paces currency destruction (inflation). My own guess continues to be that wealth destruction wins that contest, with massive unpayable debt sucked into a black hole, and then all the advanced industrial nations waking up one oddly warm morning to find their standards of living destroyed.

 

As a political matter in the face of all this, the big question is how we will reorganize daily life - the activities of a whole culture - to comport with the reality of a compressive contraction in economic reality. It also includes the shape and content of the consensus we construct to explain to ourselves what is happening. The obvious epic failure of the two major parties in the USA to even begin this necessary work may propel this country into an historic political convulsion to attend the financial implosion. Imagine, for instance, if the failure of international banks leads to the rapid paralysis of trade supply lines and then to empty shelves in American supermarkets.

 

People complain about "the size and burden of government," but our problems extend to the size and burden of everything, beginning with the number of human beings now vying to occupy the planet and moving to the size and scale of every activity supporting them. Truthful political leadership would engage in preparing the public for a long "to do" list of necessary tasks - from the return to Main Street economies that will follow the inevitable collapse of WalMart to the reorganization of food production when agri-biz style farming fails from scarcities of cheap oil, phosphates, and capital for revolving loans. Include also the rebuilding of transportation networks not based on cars and airplanes and the painful reconstruction of a monetary and banking system based on the rule of law.

 

This is the true work of the future: the rebuilding of these systems. All the blather about "jobs" from the presidential convoys is based on looking backward to a way of life that is ending: the age of giant everything, especially corporations. The days of cubicle serfdom are numbered. Useful, gainful work in the decades ahead will be much more about how you fit into your local community. The word "job" may even become obsolete - a curious artifact of the industrial past. Which party is preparing young people for local agriculture and all the value-added activities around it? Which party understands that the national chain-store model of trade is doomed and Main Streets all over America will have to be re-activated? Which party understands that we're in the twilight of mass motoring and commercial aviation? And what are they doing to prepare for the implications of that?

 

The two doddering parties want to promise more of what we've already got in a world that doesn't have anymore of that to give. The result is likely to be that we will go through all the noisy motions of the 2012 elections only to find ourselves plunged into a political crisis possibly worse than the Civil War.


 

 

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