Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn

David Seaton's News Links
Between the civil war in Syria, for that is what it is, and the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran, which would set the region -- at the very least -- ablaze, and probably start off a chain of events that could tip the whole world into full-scale depression, we have plenty to worry about... things that could pull our attention decisively away from the saga of Jeremy Lin.
At the bottom of what most of us worriers worry about is the economic crisis. In a nutshell we are looking at the result of an increasingly "friction-less" world market.
Perhaps the core problem is that we are a consumer economy and our consumption, from designer tee-shirts  to the iPad and the iPhone, depends almost entirely on the slave wages and slave working conditions of millions upon millions of Chinese workers, who, without old age pensions and healthcare, save all their money and so do not consume what we produce. Our money goes there and it doesn't come back and our own workers are impoverished by this phenomenon and thus also consume less and less.
And if we managed to solve this problem and the Chinese workers earned enough to consume like we do, we the "breathing class" would suffocate in the ensuing pollution and if the enriched Chinese chose to eat cereal-fed, animal protein on the scale we do, mass starvation in the third (or not so third) world would result... without entering into the feedlot methane gas and water pollution issues that enough steers, swine and chickens to supply a billion Chinese with a diet like ours would produce.
The sheer contradiction and intractability enclosed in the scenario described means that inevitably our entire system is in question and our priorities must adjust to this new reality and adjust they will, even if it takes great wars and massive civil disturbance to bring the adjustments about.
In every established hierarchy, those who most benefit from the statu quo naturally write the rules and laws that best suit their interests and also do their best to create an intellectual and political climate that makes any real questioning of that situation "unthinkable".
Nobody describes this paradox better than the Slovenian philosophe à tout faire, Slavoj Zizek does:
In such a constellation, the very idea of a radical social transformation may appear as an impossible dream—yet the term ‘impossible’ should make us stop and think. Today, possible and impossible are distributed in a strange way, both simultaneously exploding into excess. On the one hand, in the domains of personal freedoms and scientific technology, we are told that ‘nothing is impossible’: we can enjoy sex in all its perverse versions, entire archives of music, films and tv series are available to download, space travel is available to everyone (at a price). There is the prospect of enhancing our physical and psychic abilities, of manipulating our basic properties through interventions into the genome; even the tech-gnostic dream of achieving immortality by transforming our identity into software that can be downloaded into one or another set of hardware.  On the other hand, in the domain of socio-economic relations, our era perceives itself as the age of maturity in which humanity has abandoned the old millenarian utopian dreams and accepted the constraints of reality—read: capitalist socio-economic reality—with all its impossibilities. The commandment you cannot is its mot d’ordre: you cannot engage in large collective acts, which necessarily end in totalitarian terror; you cannot cling to the old welfare state, it makes you non-competitive and leads to economic crisis; you cannot isolate yourself from the global market, without falling prey to the spectre of North Korean juche.
Zizek concludes: "Today we do not know what we have to do, but we have to act now, because the consequence of non-action could be disastrous."
The disruption of existing relationships of power and authority, that the inevitable changes the situation will increasingly demand, goes a long way to explaining the polarization of much of politics today; especially where the world's power is still predominately brokered, the USA. And it is no surprise that the sound and the fury is mostly coming from the right, those who represent those who have much to lose if today's existing relationships of power and authority should ever change.
So that is the real bottom line: we have the privilege of living in a time of profound changes... a time of fear and a time of hope. As to hope, hopefully the metaphor that titles this post is apt, and the darkest hour does come just before dawn. DS

1 comment:

Publius said...

Maybe it's darkest before it goes pitch black?

William Catton's latest book, "Mankind's Impending Bottleneck" says it best: the population that makes it through the bottleneck imposed by reality, aka environmental and resource constraints, will be quite a bit smaller than the current population.
How that downsizing occurs is the question. A voluntary, peaceful downsizing would have had to be implemented a generation more more ago. Too late for that.