More reasons to be pessimistic

August 14, 2009 | By | 8 Replies More

I wish I could be more upbeat today, but I feel great danger all around us and what makes this danger real and pressing is our complacency. We Americans could meaningfully address many of our biggest issues, if only we took the time to inform ourselves and then focused our energy. But too many Americans don’t take the time to inform themselves and can’t bear the thought of prying themselves from their HD TVs. The result is that the social and corporate forces that are smart and organized will continue to quietly slink around picking our pockets on a massive scale; in the process, they will continue to insidiously demoralize us.

Image by myki roventine at Flickr (creative commons)

Image by myki roventine at Flickr (creative commons)

Consider this: We have never before seen such income inequity in the United States.   It is now even greater than it was during the Great Depression.  Paul Krugman indicates that as of 2007, the top decile of American earners . . . pulled in 49.7 percent of total wages.   He further indicates that “as a result, in the economic expansion of 2002-2007, the top 1 percent captured two thirds of income growth.”

These aren’t just numbers.  This disparity means real-life lost opportunities for real people, and I’m not just referring to the opportunity to buy an even bigger TV set.   It means that month by month, this country belongs less and less to you and more and more to someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you.   I’m sorry to be so blunt, but there is no evidence for thinking otherwise.

Which leads me to a stunning article written by Chris Hedges: “It’s Not Going to Be OK.”   He starts by characterizing Barack Obama as “a mortal waving a sword at a tidal wave.”  What is the concern?

At no period in American history has our democracy been in such peril or has the possibility of totalitarianism been as real. Our way of life is over. Our profligate consumption is finished. Our children will never have the standard of living we had. And poverty and despair will sweep across the landscape like a plague. This is the bleak future. There is nothing President Obama can do to stop it. It has been decades in the making. It cannot be undone with a trillion or two trillion dollars in bailout money. Our empire is dying. Our economy has collapsed.

How will we cope with our decline? Will we cling to the absurd dreams of a superpower and a glorious tomorrow or will we responsibly face our stark new limitations? Will we heed those who are sober and rational, those who speak of a new simplicity and humility, or will we follow the demagogues and charlatans who rise up out of the slime in moments of crisis to offer fantastic visions? Will we radically transform our system to one that protects the ordinary citizen and fosters the common good, that defies the corporate state, or will we employ the brutality and technology of our internal security and surveillance apparatus to crush all dissent? We won’t have to wait long to find out.

The great danger is our massively widespread passivity at a time when we desperately need informed and focused action.

Our passivity and our ubiquitous proud ignorance make us susceptible to the next demagogue to come around.   And we’ll probably be sitting around watching it happen on TV and convincing ourselves that it’s not so bad and that it was all inevitable and who cares about those olden days when the rest of the world actually looked up to the United States?

[Thanks to BJ for his link to the Hedges article.]

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Category: American Culture, Corruption, Good and Evil, ignorance, Meaning of Life, Politics, Psychology Cognition, Science, snake oil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. I can't say that I agree with Hedges. The scenario he paints is certainly a possibility, but the downfall is hardly as imminent or inevitable as Hedges seems to suggest. Ultimately, the US will be a minor player compared to China, but as long as we can partially reverse the income inequity and health care problems, the decline will be slow and only look like a decline when compared to China and India.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    We are obviously in a state of political decay and rapidly moving toward a corporate fascist state. When that us achieved we will find our selves fighting on the side of wrong in a world war which we will lose, simply because we are already losing economic control of the infrastructure needed for victory.

    When that day arrives, I doubt we will be able to expect any mercy from the victors.

    There is another possibility, however: As the financial disparity increases, the economy weakens further and and tax revenues fall along with the economy, the power will shift from the legitimate government to the black market as it has done throughout history. The government will collapse and we will most likely see a second civil war that will probably decimate the population.

    Of course either scenario could be averted if the anger of the populace could be focused on holding the robber barons of the new millennia responsible to the letter and intent of the law.

    Just to play it safe, my son and I are learning Mandarin and Russian.

  3. Ebonmuse says:

    Just for purposes of calibration, it's important to know where the author is coming from: Chris Hedges is a nihilist who doesn't believe there's any such thing as moral progress. Small wonder he takes such a pessimistic viewpoint. That's not to say his factual points are necessarily incorrect, only that his bleak view may be leading him to put a worse spin on them than is justified.

  4. BJ says:

    Ebonmuse-

    Thanks for the link, I hadn't heard about that side of Hedges before. I certainly will re-evaluate his rhetoric in light of the straw-man argumentation he so obviously engaged in vis-à-vis the atheist position on militarism.

    I couldn't help but be reminded of this post as I read this exchange from the Guardian (UK).

    If you can't be bothered to read the whole thing, here's the money quote as it relates to the above post:

    Yet very few of us are prepared to look honestly at the message this reality is screaming at us: that the civilisation we are a part of is hitting the buffers at full speed, and it is too late to stop it. Instead, most of us – and I include in this generalisation much of the mainstream environmental movement – are still wedded to a vision of the future as an upgraded version of the present. We still believe in "progress", as lazily defined by western liberalism. We still believe that we will be able to continue living more or less the same comfortable lives (albeit with more windfarms and better lightbulbs) if we can only embrace "sustainable development" rapidly enough; and that we can then extend it to the extra 3 billion people who will shortly join us on this already gasping planet.I think this is simply denial. The writing is on the wall for industrial society, and no amount of ethical shopping or determined protesting is going to change that now. Take a civilisation built on the myth of human exceptionalism and a deeply embedded cultural attitude to "nature"; add a blind belief in technological and material progress; then fuel the whole thing with a power source that is discovered to be disastrously destructive only after we have used it to inflate our numbers and appetites beyond the point of no return. What do you get? We are starting to find out.We need to get real. Climate change is teetering on the point of no return while our leaders bang the drum for more growth. The economic system we rely upon cannot be tamed without collapsing, for it relies upon that growth to function. And who wants it tamed anyway? Most people in the rich world won't be giving up their cars or holidays without a fight.

  5. dave says:

    Remind me to not invite Hedges to my house for dinner; man, what a downer. All I read was some hyperbole wrapped in dismal fatalist declarations– nihilism indeed.

    I actually do think the US govt budget crisis that is coming with the demographic shift is indeed a big fat hairy problem to be solved. I do NOT, however, think it is the end of our civilization. From my reading, our civilization started somewhere in the Code of Hamurabi or Sinai desert with Moses, and then went through the democracies of Greece, the Senate in Rome, Monks in Germany, Philosophers of France, Parliamentarians of England, Taoists of China, Daimyo of Japan, and the Iroqois Confederacy– all wound up to produce the US soup based on an experiment in bi-cameral representative democracy.

    Might the government fall? Sure. If/when it does, I bet we'll all be saying "good riddance" at that point. We'll either make some serious amendments to our existing constitution or we'll start over with a new one. I'm not that worried either way. I do not see the arc of Western Liberal Progressivism going away soon– and I certainly do not see enslavement by the Chinese or any other "civilization" currently running around on our little blue marble.

    Alien overlords, on the other hand, may show up any day now. If they do, then yeah– it's over.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Bill Moyers on the fate of the United States:

    We are a very crippled giant suffering from self-inflicted wounds that if we do not treat and heal, will in fact bring us to our knees and ultimately to our doom. . . .

    We can’t say, though, it’s over – we can’t. What makes us great – we’re not smarter than other people, we’re not more intelligent, we’re not wiser – we have that First Amendment – that self-correcting faculty — that enables people like this to climb up on the ship and say: "that’s an iceberg out there. . ." We wait a long time until almost the ship has sunk . . . We’re close to losing the moral, financial and economic muscle and wisdom that makes a huge nation a great nation, but it’s never too late.

    [As reported by Glenn Greenwald at http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/08/29

  7. Jay Fraz says:

    We are a very big boat, hence we sink slowly.

    Russia, India, Israel, China, EU and the US. One of these collapsing is what I believe will change things, the question is which one.

    India has nukes, has a volatile relationships with Pakistan, a collapse here is possible as they are feeling the economic pinch and their populations are not afraid to fight.

    Israel's collapse could change the middle eastern dynamic but I seriously doubt this will happen. Support from US aside, Israel has been very competent in its economic policies and growth and outside of its PR nightmare of a policy with their neighbors, are quite stable, no one invading, they will invade no one, no overthrow.

    China, well, China is still a communist country contrary to what the Wall Street Journal would have you believe. As Warren Buffet said if you buy into a Chinese company you know that the majority stakeholder will always be the Chinese government. I don't believe that an economic collapse will create an upheaval that will change their position or leadership and at worst things will just take a step back to the more brutal ways they just came out of(I hate ending with prepositions!).

    EU, despite all their quarreling, they seem to be real good at singing Koom ba ya and work stuff out. They will come out just fine as long as eastern Europe doesn't run into…

    It may seem strange but I believe that when Russia falls apart (further) the people might actually have another people's revolution and bring back communism, they did it once so they know how. Then much of the US's (how do you make a possessive out of an abbreviation?)policies that have screwed everything up will rescind in the name of defense.

    Before the fall of the Soviet Union we had plenty of manufacturing as sending jobs to slave camps in Vietnam and Cambodia would be viewed as treasonous and a security risk(Reagan to Toyota, your gonna sell cars here then your gonna build them here, won't here that from the GOP again). Business had to play nice or they would give the whole country a black eye, no 400 times what an average worker makes, thank you, 40 times for you! Massive development of new technologies as the government can't fall behind the Russians. Can't have stories of people dying in the streets cause they can't afford a doctor, America gives everyone a fair chance!

    Irony of all ironies. Communism took the jagged edges out of Capitalism, which is what made it work so well at the time, Diet Capitalism. Communism spread under the caricature of the piggish owners who took all the profits and left everyone to starve, which did not exist. Until the communist were defeated and then the pigs could take off their masks under a new rhetoric of 'freedom' & 'liberty' to ship our jobs and resources out of here.

    As for the US collapsing, fat chance. We are simply too apathetic despite the macho posturing of militia wannabes and gun toting fools trying to convince of the end times. As long as TV is cheap and the Internet is everywhere, the daily lives of our fellow Americans will be fulfilled. An illusion is as real as you believe it to be, and we have one hell of a glossy illusion.

    Or perhaps all industrialized countries become apathetic enough after a certain point, and in the end nothing really happens. Of course that is probably how W got into office the first round, the belief that the President could simply not fuck things up that badly.

    Sorry for the long rant that probably flew too far off topic but it is too long to delete at this point. Post.

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    Paul Krugman:

    Stocks are up. Ben Bernanke says that the recession is over. And I sense a growing willingness among movers and shakers to declare “Mission Accomplished” when it comes to fighting the slump. It’s time, I keep hearing, to shift our focus from economic stimulus to the budget deficit.No, it isn’t. And the complacency now setting in over the state of the economy is both foolish and dangerous.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/02/opinion/02krugm

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