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The State of Disunion
February 14, 2006 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Zeitgeistfilter: Lumpen Leisure and Welcome to Middle-Class Lockdown... Now Shut Up and Buy Something -- two fine rants about our current state of disunion by James Howard Kuntsler, author of The Long Emergency (excerpt), and writer and Vietnam vet Joe Bageant. "All over but the keening for our soon-to-be-lost machine world," Kunstler predicts in The American Conservative, while Bageant taps the inner stream-of-unconsciousness for Dissident Voice: "Things cannot be as bad as the alarmists say. They cannot be as bad as I often suspect they are. If there really were such a thing as global warming they would be starting to do something about it. And besides, even if it were true, science will find a way to fix it. If there really were genocide going on in so many places far more people would be concerned... If the earth were heating up we would surely notice it. If our soldiers and government agencies were torturing people around the world it would make the news. If millions were being exterminated, it would be more obvious, would it not?" (Kunstler's book previously discussed here, Bageant here.)
posted by digaman (52 comments total)

 
See JHK's intriguing (albeit somewhat alarmist) weekly column Clusterfuck Nation lately largely on the subject of peak oil.
posted by telstar at 8:19 AM on February 14, 2006


More from the Bageant piece: Meanwhile, you become a Kafkaesque character wondering if you’ve gone nuts, as you simmer in the ambient wrongness pervading American society and watch the futility of our vast life-consuming program of intense management and control of everything, the money, the bombs, the roads, the retirement fund, the communications, the propaganda, the entire buzzing tower of bullshit so massive as to make Babel look like a chicken coop.

I feel like this all the time. Like I'm going insane. :(
posted by exlotuseater at 8:33 AM on February 14, 2006


Just on small example: Genocide has been openly going on in Darfur for five years. But we don't do anything about it because 1/ Kofi's on it, and he's said there's no genocide happening, so there's no genocide happening 2/ It's genocide being perpetrated by Muslims, and Muslims are the underdog, you Islamophobic bigot and 3/ The solution would be to send in Western armies to restore order and police the region for years, possibly decades. Imagine how that'd go over on KOS and Huffpost.

So it's not like we're a civilzation of sheep, blind to the problems of the world. And there are plenty of humanitarian organizations working in places like Darfur that people can and do contribute generously to. If global warming bothers you, buy a hybrid, and don't have babies.

The real problem is that people look at the issues facing the world and expect them to be resolved by governments whose job it is in many cases, is to stay as far away from those problems as possible. I don't really think that even Bush wants to get into a war that would be percieved as a western recolonization of Africa.

The only solution to the worlds problems is individuals deciding to make a contribution to solving them. If it's not enough, it's not enough. But waiting for the UN or some such body to "do something" about genocide, or global warming is pointless. Solving problems is not what governments do.
posted by slatternus at 8:35 AM on February 14, 2006


Cue the distracting adhominem attacks...

The solution; is there a solution? As I see it, the social ills are perpetrated by concentration of wealth. But I can't speak for the pragmatism of small community-based tribal living - take away the central overseer (the king, social security, corporations) and you take away the benefits as well as the power. The gods we create through wealth inequalities are both vengeful in their consumption and benevelont in the fruits they bestow for our allegiance.

The idealized would be a creation of something of both. Could a system exist that wasn't a system, the could be powerful when needed to be powerful, but disband when not needed (As an example, was this not the original intention of the U.S. military of "no standing army?")?

The word "cost-actualization" keeps bumping around in my head as the flaw in free market politics.
posted by iamck at 8:38 AM on February 14, 2006


Solving problems is not what goverments do? What precisely do they do, then? Aren't laws, Supreme Court decisions, fund allocations, research grants, etc etc part of solving problems?
posted by spicynuts at 8:38 AM on February 14, 2006


Arguably, solving problems that communities of individuals cannot solve together is the only legitimate role of government. But I agree that each individual has to solve their own corner of global problems as best they can.
posted by digaman at 8:42 AM on February 14, 2006


Spicynuts: the primary function of governments is to get re-elected. The primary function of bureaucracies is to continue to exist, and to grow. Creating world peace, liberating the opressed and saving the planet aren't part of the manifesto. It sounds nice when politicians say it, of course, and everything sounds better if you can get a baby in the picture. But who wants to pay the UN's proposed "global tax"? I sure don't. Who wants to pay a Kyoto tax that triples or quadruples the price of gas at the pumps?

Implementing practical large scale remedies for most of the world's most serious problems would be instant suicide for any sitting government. So don't look to them for help. Creating world peace and all the rest of it is up to you and me, and the red cross, and Doctors without Borders, and so on.
posted by slatternus at 8:45 AM on February 14, 2006


I'd much rather pay some global tax to the UN to promote peace, the end of hunger, and universal medical care than send the amount that I'm currently sending to the US government to blow up Iraqi farmers, advocate abstinence as the solution to AIDS, and pay for Bush's glitzy TV backdrops. Where do I sign?
posted by digaman at 8:50 AM on February 14, 2006


The only thing governments know how to do is tax and then throw money at things. Half a trillion dollars in foriegn aid has gone into oblivion in Africa in the last 50 years. Now, that doesn't mean there's something inherently wrong with Africa, because Doctors without Borders (and countless other groups) make excellent use of the money THEY put into Africa. What we need are many small efficient mission-specific groups like Doctors w/ Borders, and less of the grand government visions.
posted by slatternus at 8:59 AM on February 14, 2006


The perennial question is not "who would pay such a tax", but "would a tax that ostensibly does this or that actually ever wind up solving the problem."

For instance, all taxes allocated to the war on drugs mainly serve to restrict supply, drive up drug prices, and make drug dealers rich, rather than decreasing demand.

If, today, taxes paid to the US would be better sent to the UN, I imagine that the corruption will follow the money should we send the tax money elsewhere.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:01 AM on February 14, 2006


Thanks, digaman.
posted by shoepal at 9:09 AM on February 14, 2006


But who wants to pay the UN's proposed "global tax"? I sure don't. Who wants to pay a Kyoto tax that triples or quadruples the price of gas at the pumps?

That does not sound like a problem related to government's primary function but a problem related to the whims or priorities of the citizenry it represents. The fact that you (or me, for that matter) do not want to pay an exorbitant tax to solve a problem is not a reflection of the government's mission but a reflection of the fact that you don't feel sufficiently concerned with a problem to want to be inconvenienced in order to fix it.
posted by spicynuts at 9:13 AM on February 14, 2006


But who wants to pay the UN's proposed "global tax"? I sure don't.

It's a mandatory tax, you don't have a choice.
posted by iamck at 9:17 AM on February 14, 2006


No, I just don't think that Big Government and Big Taxes are the answer to anything. In the olden days, that would have pegged me as a conservative, I guess. Now I don't know what that makes me. Giving any organization vast sums of money will just nurture corruption and arrogance and a culture of entitlement. As Gerald Ford said, "Any Government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have". Whenever I think of the United Nations having it's hand on a global purse, my skin crawls.
posted by slatternus at 9:19 AM on February 14, 2006


Thanks for the links. Kunstler's hatred of / blanket generalizations about working people have stuck in craw for a while now (no surprise to find him in American Conservative) - it's great to see Bageant writing more humanely (and with a sense of humor) about the same issues.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:25 AM on February 14, 2006


As long as the Bronx is still a hell hole of poverty, sufferring, and crime I have difficulty reaching out to countries in Africa.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 9:36 AM on February 14, 2006


But The Jesse Helms, Bono says you HAVE to! Who the hell do you think you are, deciding what the focus of your charity and concern is?
posted by slatternus at 9:42 AM on February 14, 2006


Joe Bageant is great. That is all.
posted by billysumday at 9:46 AM on February 14, 2006


Yea, sorry, the Bronx just aint Sudan.
posted by iamck at 9:46 AM on February 14, 2006


No, I just don't think that Big Government and Big Taxes are the answer to anything.

Well, be as it may, but you still have to pay for stuff. If you want it, that is.
posted by c13 at 9:47 AM on February 14, 2006


As long as the Bronx is still a hell hole of poverty, sufferring, and crime I have difficulty reaching out to countries in Africa.

Are you reaching out to the Bronx?
posted by billysumday at 9:50 AM on February 14, 2006


c13, I'm not a libertarian. I don't mind paying taxes. But I like accountability with my taxation, and I don't see that coming from the UN anytime soon. And its not like you're going to get a tax break from Uncle Sam for paying your global tax to Kofi's gang. So the whole "I'd rather see my tax dollar go to feeding babies than killing them" argument is moot.
posted by slatternus at 9:57 AM on February 14, 2006


But I like accountability with my taxation, and I don't see that coming from the UN anytime soon.

Yes, unlike in the US. I know I feel that sending something like a third of my paycheck to Halliburton, when I have trouble paying my gas bills, feels like democracy.
posted by digaman at 10:06 AM on February 14, 2006


digaman: It could be that slatternus is unhappy with the misappropriation of United States taxes, as well.
posted by billysumday at 10:09 AM on February 14, 2006


As long as the Bronx is still a hell hole of poverty, sufferring, and crime

You must be thinking of North Philly.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:17 AM on February 14, 2006


It's gonna get a lot more ugly before it gets any better.
posted by furtive at 10:24 AM on February 14, 2006


This, in, the American Conservative piece, I found very interesting: "the American managing classes had returned from their stints as officers in the armed forces with equally modest expectations for the rewards of being in charge of things in civilian life. The Army had conditioned them into a subculture assembled by rank but careful in the allocation of privilege, so as to keep up morale through the ranks for the greater good of winning the war. The officers-turned-executives brought these values into postwar corporate life for the greater good of winning a durable prosperity. By the same token, the lower ranks came out of the war with a fund of respect for the authority that had engineered their victory."

And, really, the Bronx isn't that bad. It has an honest-to-God rich district (Riverdale), a few old white-ethnic working class neighborhoods, and large swaths of quite safe striving-immigrant neighborhoods. The relatively small number of neighborhoods you could class as "bad" are gentifying fast, and even in their ungentrified blocks are pretty darn safe if you're not involved in crime or partnered with (or have a mom who is partnered with) an abusive man.
posted by MattD at 10:30 AM on February 14, 2006


taxes allocated to the war on drugs mainly serve to restrict supply, drive up drug prices, and make drug dealers rich, rather than decreasing demand.

You forgot the part where it creates a class of people who get locked up at taxpayer expense, then when they leave prison, have a hard time getting a job with an income which can support a home/car/education/kids.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:37 AM on February 14, 2006


And, really, the Bronx isn't that bad.

c'mon, man, his point remains valid. see Armitage Shanks' comment above.

also, the lower ranks learned respect for authority in the Army!?
posted by Miles Long at 10:38 AM on February 14, 2006


I live within walking distance of one of the richest neighborhoods in the country and one of the poorest, where every other house is caving in or has dirt floors.

When rich folks move in, poor folks don't benefit. Poor folks only do better when they can start their own businesses, not just clerk for the 6-figure yuppies.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:39 AM on February 14, 2006


The solution would be to send in Western armies to restore order and police the region for years, possibly decades. Imagine how that'd go over on KOS and Huffpost.

And yet here in Canada, our primary reason for a military is to engage in peace-keeping roles throughout the world. We send troops into all sorts of volatile places, and our troops have the support of Canadians in those peace-keeping roles. (Moral support, at any rate; financial support is still an issue due to a crap federal government.)
posted by five fresh fish at 10:46 AM on February 14, 2006


Sending troops to a place like Darfur would require our troops to be armed with something a little more substantial than polite manners and the good wishes of the people of Canada. It's all to easy for us to boast about how benign our military is in concept, when we've been eviscerating them for the last 30 years.
posted by slatternus at 11:01 AM on February 14, 2006


Indeedy. This is why I support radically increasing the funding for our military. I am absolutely opposed to Canada ever entering an offensive war, but I'm all for working as global peacekeepers.

(And I think we can be effective in the latter only if we avoid the former.)
posted by five fresh fish at 11:08 AM on February 14, 2006


Agreed. And going back to my favorite whipping boy of the morning, it'd be nice to not have to wait for the permission of the glacial and corrupt U.N. for Canada's beefed up military to respond to humanitarian catastrophes like Darfur. If the U.N. can't effectively lead, they should get the hell out of the way - and the last thing they should be asking for after Rwanda and Darfur is MORE money for crying out loud!
posted by slatternus at 11:29 AM on February 14, 2006


1) I am a libertarian and I don't mind paying taxes. It's what those taxes are used for that really pisses me off. Halaburten, I'm looking at you.

2) Increasing the power of the military (or any other part of the government) leads to abuse and corruption. Always.
posted by Richard Daly at 11:49 AM on February 14, 2006


Ever that the same factions that argue that the UN is an impotent, "toothless tiger" are the same ones that undermine it -- "defang" it -- at every opportunity?

I'd love to see this: "Hey, the UN sucks at A, B, and C; let's work to fix that."

But then the Communists win. Or something.
posted by LordSludge at 11:49 AM on February 14, 2006


Sorry, LordSludge, I'm not the one who made the U.N. corrupt and impotent. I'm not sure how to fix it, or whether we should even bother, but giving unelected bureaucrats with a track record of incompetence and cronyism access to a global compulsory tax fund isn't the first thing that springs to mind. That's the fastest way I can think of to make the world a worse place.
posted by slatternus at 11:57 AM on February 14, 2006


"The only thing governments know how to do is tax and then throw money at things. Half a trillion dollars in foriegn aid has gone into oblivion in Africa in the last 50 years. Now, that doesn't mean there's something inherently wrong with Africa, because Doctors without Borders (and countless other groups) make excellent use of the money THEY put into Africa. What we need are many small efficient mission-specific groups like Doctors w/ Borders, and less of the grand government visions."




Yadda yadda yadda... Government can't accomplish anything, the market will fix itself, and we should rely on churches and private charitable organizations to solve society's problems.


HAY GUYS, LOOK, A WELFARE QUEEN IN HER CADDILAC!!!1
posted by stenseng at 12:40 PM on February 14, 2006


"Sorry, LordSludge, I'm not the one who made the U.N. corrupt and impotent. I'm not sure how to fix it, or whether we should even bother, but giving unelected bureaucrats with a track record of incompetence and cronyism access to a global compulsory tax fund isn't the first thing that springs to mind. That's the fastest way I can think of to make the world a worse place."


Sup Bush Administration...
posted by stenseng at 12:41 PM on February 14, 2006


Stenseng, there are a million things that you can do to make the world a better place today. Unfortunately for you, sitting on your ass whining that the government isn't doing it for you isn't one of them.
posted by slatternus at 12:41 PM on February 14, 2006


Slatternus, I'm a precinct committee person, and a former state legislative candidate.

I'm also a former delegate to my state party convention, a volunteer with my local food bank, my local animal shelter, and my local branch of Planned Parenthood.

I also currently donate or have donated pro-bono work and volunteer hours to my county party, several state and national legislative candidates, my state's publicly funded elections campaign, our state's effort to repeal union-busting "Right to Work" laws.

I help lobby our state legislature against passing anti-gay marriage legislation. I also blog about local, regional, and national politics daily.

Again, I say to you,

"Yadda yadda yadda... Government can't accomplish anything, the market will fix itself, and we should rely on churches and private charitable organizations to solve society's problems."
posted by stenseng at 12:51 PM on February 14, 2006


Stenseng, if you're going to paraphrase, at least make some effort to paraphrase intelligently. Otherwise, do feel free to continue with the straw man attacks.
posted by slatternus at 12:56 PM on February 14, 2006


Slatternus, I'm not paraphrasing, I'm as the Hollywood folks say, "cutting to the chase." You're either wittingly or not spouting rhetorical code for a pro-corporate, anti-government agenda hiding behind the mask of worldly pragmatism.

However one can always smell the horseshit via the baby with the bathwater test. You say "x institution" is fundamentally flawed and must be done away with," instead of, "x institution has problems and must be reformed."

I will paraphrase PJ O'Rourke:

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it.

The truth, is in between. If we followed the pro-corporate rationale of dismantling or ignoring every institution or organization that has problems, we'd be living in a laissez fair corporateocracy, which might be some people's idea of a n Adam Smith wet dream, but it's not my idea of a good time.
posted by stenseng at 1:10 PM on February 14, 2006


First, I apologize for accusing you of sitting on your ass.

All I'm saying otherwise is that people should first look to empowering themselves to either take action, or assist those who are taking action with a committment of financial or moral support - and not rely on the hope that self-interested, election-cycle obsessed administrations are going to take care of things. I hardly think that makes me an advocate of laissez-faire corporatocracy, and you're looking to pick a fight with the wrong partner.
posted by slatternus at 1:40 PM on February 14, 2006


God forbid anyone should find being robbed by the government and being robbed by multinational corporations equally distasteful.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:41 PM on February 14, 2006


I should also point out that when governments ARE finally roused to action, it's often because of the persistent lobbying efforts of private groups like Amnesty, Greenpeace and Doctor w/o Borders. Without those private groups and the individuals who support them, it's unlikely that we'd be seeing even what little progress is now being made.
posted by slatternus at 1:48 PM on February 14, 2006


And I should also point out that while people love to point out the largest and most egregious examples of bureaucratic largess (and often rightly so) they tend to ingnore the multitute of state, county, municipal, and federal government agencies. services, employees, and programs that work, and keep our society running. I understand why. Those who have an anti-government agenda aren't super likely to bring up the majority of these programs that just plain work, and those that don't, don't really notice them. They're so effective, they become transparent, just another part of the societal landscape.
posted by stenseng at 2:30 PM on February 14, 2006


Good reads
posted by Smedleyman at 3:25 PM on February 14, 2006


I feel like this all the time.

Me too. Unless I'm hugging my wife, playing with my kids, or writing songs, or gardening -- the four things I need to do more of.
posted by davejay at 4:29 PM on February 14, 2006


The answer, of course, is contained in one word, which I can't use because the NSA is watching.
posted by davy at 7:12 PM on February 14, 2006


Nonsense. The answer, my friend, is "Blowing in the wind," which is four words.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:31 PM on February 14, 2006


Just on small example: Genocide has been openly going on in Darfur for five years. But we don't do anything about it because 1/ Kofi's on it, and he's said there's no genocide happening, so there's no genocide happening 2/ It's genocide being perpetrated by Muslims, and Muslims are the underdog, you Islamophobic bigot and 3/ The solution would be to send in Western armies to restore order and police the region for years, possibly decades. Imagine how that'd go over on KOS and Huffpost.

Right. We're not involved in Darfur because we have a pro-Islam bias, and the liberals would complain. Oh, and our current administration is just so beholden to the UN that we just do whatever they say. As opposed to ... I don't know ... there being a total lack of reasons other than humanitarian? I mean, it's just a coincidence that we're interested in preventing genocide where there's oil, but not so much otherwise?
posted by Amanojaku at 2:06 PM on February 15, 2006


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