Sunday, June 19, 2011

Larger Issues Than Underwear

While the churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples pre-occupy themselves with crotch issues, sniffing out everyone's sheets for gayness and uppity femaleness, far bigger and more consequential matters stir the world right now that may well drive us all to kiss our crotches good bye.

In the crisis gripping Greece, and threatening to spread into Portugal, Spain, Italy, and beyond, I smell a whiff of the late 1920s and early 1930s when broad economic hardship exacerbated by government austerity measures to balance budgets radicalized the politics of Europe and Asia. I remain surprised and puzzled that this aspect of the crisis remains undiscussed in much of the commentariat. There is every reason to believe that a radical government may emerge in Greece that might tell the IMF and the EU to go to hell, and send the Euro into an even bigger crisis.
The politics of the United States are undergoing a similar transformation that may have far graver consequences. As class divisions widen and harden, and as class mobility turns primarily in the downward direction for many people, as unemployment and under-employment show no signs of diminishing, and the governing classes show no sign of interest, our politics too are beginning to radicalize. They are radicalizing most visibly on the right with positions that even 15 years ago seemed extreme now become conventional and are being turned into law and policy. The notion that there will be no similar radicalization in the other direction is foolish. The right may have all the money and corporate support, but it doesn't take a lot of money to throw monkey wrenches into the whole works and bring everything to a halt. In reaction against the long cultural and political hegemony of evangelical Christianity in the USA, we are already seeing a ferocious and even militant secular reaction whose attitude toward the very idea of religious pluralism is every bit as absolutist and scorched earth as their fundamentalist antagonists'. Those divisions are only part of the widening class and cultural divisions that could well break apart the United States, not in two as in 1861, but into 5 or 6 or more separate countries. And when it is gone, it is gone forever.

No one will do anything serious about climate change until Florida is underwater. The money is very much against it, and so are people convinced that their livelihoods would be threatened by any serious effort to reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. We are indeed invested deeply into petroleum, and the internal combustion technology it sustains despite our silicon chips. With the burgeoning economies of China and India and other parts of the emerging world, the demand for oil may have met the peak in supply. Oil is a finite resource, and its end is not out of the question.
Coastal cities around the world are already dealing with rising sea levels, including New York with all of its tunnels and underground apparatus. Extremes in seasonal weather and in the strength and ferocity of storms may well become more and more frequent until they become a new normal. Devastating droughts in one region and floods in another are already affecting food supply and prices. Last year's drought and heat wave in Russia have already affected grain markets and supplies around the world. There have already been food riots in various parts of the world. Just because our teevee networks ignore it and don't send some news babe with his/her entourage in to cover it doesn't mean that it's not happening.
It would be foolish to assume that these issues will not have any effect on politics, both internal politics within countries and international politics between countries. Expect competition for dwindling resources, especially drinking water, to become front and center in matters of war and peace.

I'm a cranky middle aged codger who thinks that in the end, Aristotle was right. We are political animals. The older I get, the more I think that the idea that we are economic animals, as declared by both Marx and the Classical Economists of capitalism, is bollocks. The current Arab Spring is impossible to explain in purely economic terms, as was the break-up of Yugoslavia, and as are the various fundamentalist revivals around the world, as are the international women's movements in all their variety from Japan to Saudi Arabia. The Achilles Heel of economic thought is the assumption that people always act rationally in their own self interest. Anyone who has read 2 pages of history or sat through 2 minutes of a psychology course knows that isn't true. And yet, so much economic thought from right to left is predicated on that idea. We are in thrall to an actuarial way of looking at life that may not describe reality truthfully. I remain amazed at the dearth of conversation among the official commentariat about the political consequences of imposing austerity measures and of demanding that populations settle for progressively less and less in terms of security and material well-being. Economics certainly does matter. It is vitally important. But money, production, and trade are a means, not an end.

In light of all of this, the spectacle of priests sniffing underwear is sad and ridiculous.


Tristan Alexander said...

While I have no idea what the underwear sniffing comment aludes to, I agree with you on all your other points! I have been predicting the break up of the US for the past 20 years. Clinton forstaled it a bit but Bush made it worse...I just hope I don;t live to see it but I fear I might!

Murdoch Matthew said...

1. The powers-that-be (the top .1%) are doing very well, and it's in their interest to keep the people, and the moral guardians, distracted with gossip and titillation.

2. The media have lost coverage and ad income and no longer have resources to send reporters out to cover important developments (or even to pay local stringers to file stories). Gossip and commentary can be written in the office by personnel on salary and regular hours. The media are a shell of their former selves.

The financial system is broke and the game is to avoid facing all the uncollectable debt as long as possible. The political system, and commentariat, are in the pay of a handful of billionaires of inherited wealth -- they're mean AND ignorant. The era of cheap energy, and thus of motoring, industrial agriculture, and global outsourcing, is over, but the PTB scheme to hang on to riches and power right up to the crash (and they probably suppose, beyond).

You didn't miss much, Doug, and more of us are seeing past the distractions and misinformation thrown up to keep people confused and apathetic. If Iceland can rebel against paying bankers' losses, why not here?

Unknown said...

In som many ways you are right - you see the austerity comes from the governments wanting survive intact not necessarily their people...