Volatility

May 23, 2009

Charade

There’s been loads of debate on what’s happening in America. Anywhere you can find expositions on capitalism and the end of capitalism or the death of capitalism or the reform of capitalism or how to save capitalism or the triumph of capitalism (this last one usually phrased in a different way). Also whether the putative reform of capitalism is actually socialism, and whether Americans are willing to entertain the term “socialism”, and from there of course to what terms like capitalism and socialism even mean anymore.
 
As to what terms we should use, it’s obvious that America has long been basically a corporatist system, meaning that here neither capitalism nor socialism are ideals, but are just tactics which are applied wherever appropriate to maximize the power and wealth of the nexus of big corporations and big government.
 
(The dream government for business would be something like the Franco regime. It was corporatist, economically “fascist”, with a state-supported religion (opium for the masses). But unlike Hitler or Mussolini Franco had a rational rather than a deranged foreign policy. (That’s why he resisted Hitler’s inducements to enter the war – Franco figured Hitler was cruising for a fall and would drag down everyone with him.)
 
So why has American business supported Bush-style hallucinatory imperialism and K-street thuggery? This shows the fundamental disconnect of all American life from reason and reality. In the twilight of cheap oil and exponential debt we have a void and a shoddy facade where an economy and a safety net should be, so that textbook “business” can no longer function, but only an ever more volatile disaster capitalism.)  
 
Capitalism, democracy, civics, citizenship, rule of law – all these mean nothing. They are nonexistent outside of propaganda pens (“schools”).
 
[I’d like to add here that if we want these things back, we can restore them, but not within the framework of big government, big corporations, the present system which is so terminally rotted, “bigness” itself, and not within the framework of the doomed fossil fuel civilization. We can only build new communities from the ground up. There can be a diversity of these, anything from smallholder capitalism to kibbutz communism, with the uniting principle being human community, as long as the other uniting principle is self-reliance and sustainability. If even the small relocalized communities get back into large-scale trade, specialization, “comparative advantage”, and the inevitable expansion and conflict which must follow from these, then the whole nightmare begins again, only at a smaller level.]
 
Rather, the terms that capture reality are feudalism, corporatism, plutocracy, kleptocracy, lemon socialism, welfare fascism. What these capture is the utter irresponsibility, the sociopathy of American economic life.
 
No one is any longer trying to create, to invent, improve, add value, to make better their own or anybody else’s lives, to shine light on truth. Innovation and talent – using these in their English rather than their nowadays more common Orwellian sense – mean nothing.
 
Rather, everyone at every economic level is trying to get over, to run a scam, to “get rich” (how tawdry and meanly nihilistic the “American dream” is at its core), to pose and not be, to say and not do. If they have the power they steal, spin, obscure, lobby, capture, bribe, obstruct, extort, and sue, to plunder, entrench, monopolize, rig the playing field in their favor, pull up the ladder behind them.
 
If they don’t have the power, they dream of these things.
 
How the banks and the FIRE sector have come to completely dominate the American system is a well-told story by now. I think anyone who is capable of understanding it must understand it by now. And now as Too Big To Fail zombies the big banks have only tightened their stranglehold over the economy and government, and over all measures of what constitutes economic good, bad, recovery, recession.
 
The other pivot of American life, economic, political, and psychological, is the “Global War on Terror”, which is the term encompassing the intensified imperial aggression America requires to secure the resources to prop up its fuel infrastructure, the corporatism which is directly enabled through the expanding military-industrial complex and is also the overarching system being propped up by this empire, and the increasingly constrictive “homeland” police state to repress the dissent all this must provoke.
 
My personal term for the GWOT and the neocon ideology it springs from is resource fascism. It centers on oil, but will soon center on “alternatives”: unconventional oil and agrofuels (we already have the ethanol pseudo-industry as a pure textbook example of a parasite). Here big corporations and mainstream environmentalists, conservatives and liberals, can join hands in trying to prop up cars and sprawl (the core material form of American life).
 
The unreality and the con extend everywhere. If the point of saving GM was to preserve good American jobs (or even just to maintain American military vehicle production, as some have argued), how is this served by letting them completely offshore to China? It’s not. Rather, “saving GM” is a particularly sloppy con job.
 
[I try not to bother tallying examples among small entities and non-rich, non-powerful individuals, since although there’s plenty of corruption there as well, keeping our eyes on the prize means maintaining focus on the crimes of the powerful. It’s these which construct and define the system. (The attempt among republicans to deflect this responsibility by blaming the small fry, so that the mortgage bubble and collapse were the fault of reckless borrowers exploiting the poor good-natured banks, and torture was the work of “bad apples”, is an absurd fraud.) So if we wish to be educated and aware, defend ourselves and fight back, the first rule is to counter-attack something big and bloated.]
 
I wish I had a more rigorously optimistic way to wrap this up this morning. I wrote the first part of it, then did some work in the garden, and now I come back and think about how beautiful out it is. I believe the earth will still be able to heal once the oil wave recedes. As horrible as man’s vandalism has been, it’s still a surface wound.
 
What’s more questionable is whether the human soul can heal. When we look at the systematic ravages in ideology and religion, the perversion of education and despoliation of culture, the psychopathy of science and the apparently universal hatred for the mind, and when we ponder what horrors are likely to convulse the dying decades of the oil age, as the mad genius of oil tries to leave behind it an absolute scorched earth of the spirit once and for all, we must wonder what part of what’s human can be carried through the flames.
 
I don’t know yet what can be done and how to do it, but that’s what I see more and more people trying to figure out. At least this is the most promising sign.  
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May 21, 2009

Interlude

Lately it seems there’s a sense of unreality floating about. At least in the media mirror the crisis is being managed. The people have calmed down. This climate change, at any rate – spasmodic fear and anger, against a backdrop of growing anxiety and tension – seems to have been a false start. Now we hear of how we’ve turned the corner, indicators are up, and that although things will still get worse before they get better, they’re going to get better and soon. “2010” is the talisman. (Of course, in 2008 they said that about 2009, but this time they have real reasons and not just hype and dogma.)
 
This morning the NYT chirped about how the oil price heading back up means the economy is recovering, and how even with recovering oil prices America this summer is going to be recovering its gasoline consumption and miles driven. Everywhere we see attempts to find that housing starts are resuming. Prognosticators also look to the geographic markets which collapsed ahead of the curve, to try to locate the nascent curve of the next housing bubble. These are the good things, the “green shoots”. They don’t indicate that man is fey, insane, and utterly unable to learn lessons and solve problems short of permanent collapse. They signify the underlying permanency of the fossil fuel, exponential debt civilization.
 
Of course, the real economic indicators are horrible. After the brief respite of dampened food and fuel prices, these are now resuming their systematic upward march. Meanwhile the recession deepens, and every monthly labor report catalogues the accelerating jobs hemorrhage. “Green shoots”? Only in the pantomime stats. Only in the hall of mirrors. Bank profits were only the shadow cast by asset selloffs, accounting tricks and bailout money laundering. The market rally is built on sand. The stress tests are a charade, and their media reflection a lie.
 
What is really happening? After the convulsions of the first wave of economic destruction, we are entering the gruel and grind of stagflation. That’s what these food and fuel prices portend.
 
So far the disaster is not being confronted, and the practices which generated it are not being changed. Not only have the finance criminals not been brought to justice, but they have been rewarded and allowed to continue and intensify their crimes. They even feel emboldened to comport themselves with renewed aggression, arrogance, and contempt. They were allowed to negotiated the stress test results. They still ideologically own the administration. They still rule on Capitol hill. Calls for restored law and regulation have bogged down. The bailouts continue. The financial elite continue to prosper and prey, while their prey, the people and the earth, continue to suffer.
 
Fire, famine, pestilence, war….We have a world circumscribed by these, and they hem us in ever more tightly. America is now the de facto dictatorship of war. There is no aspect of large-scale policy (which is almost all policy nowadays) which is not conceived and executed so as to further the Bailout War and the Global War on Terror. Both of these in turn are simply wealth redistribution machines. Fire: as in burning the rain forests and peatlands to make way for agrofuel factories. Disease: the swine flu and its successor pandemics arising out of the germ war factories and launchpads known as “factory farms”. Famine: although most famines are man-made, none compare with the one we now face as agrofuels and industrial agriculture monopolize the land, while the biotech corporations achieve seed domination. We face the prospect of a cartel dictating ever higher food prices, while we (the people of the earth) become ever less capable of providing for our own food needs. This will happen even as fossil fuel agriculture becomes intrinsically more expensive. More pressure on food prices. Famine again. And the deforestation and burning of food for fuel shall drive the same climate change whose drought effects are also constraining global agriculture. Fire again. Famine again.
 
You would think we’d want to change this system; that at the very least we’d act in self-defense vs. this prospect of enslavement. Yet according to the mainstream media the flurry of populist outrage is spent, and serious reform is a dead duck. No one even talks about bank nationalization anymore, to give an example of something intrinsically stupid (the goal must be to permanently downsize and decentralize banks, not restore megabanks to “health”) but which nevertheless sounds like a plausible and constructive policy given the premises of the big structure/”growth” model.
 
According to the media, after a brief fling with the attitudinizing of revolt, the people have settled back down into their normal sheeple posture, passively waiting to be given the all clear. And the MSM is trying to comply, collaborating with the government’s green shoots PR campaign. That’s the image the media holds up to America as its mirror. 
 
But perhaps this mirror doesn’t faithfully reflect but actively distorts, trying to force reality into the unreal preferred form. Those who are educating themselves know that these are all lies. Growth is not coming back. Sure, we may have a few spikes of zombie growth in the form of new bubbles. But bubbles are all we’ve had for a long time now, and that’s all we can ever have again, so long as we keep trying to prop up a centralized, cartelized system predicated on infinite oil and infinite debt. We know that this is a lie.
 
The question is, has this sunk in at all among the populace as a whole? Were the flurries of populism just a frustrated lashing out, or did they indicate an intuition about the fundamental rot?
 
We’re now in a brief, becalmed interlude between the onset of turbulence and the full rage of the storm. The people will certainly have no choice but to become activized. The only question is whether their energies will be enlisted by increasingly authoritarian processes or even overt fascism, or whether they will become conscious of their real predicament and act to improve their situation rather than tear down the house on top of themselves.
 
There’s where I hope Peak Oil education can do some good. It’s true that cadres can only accomplish so much. Everything depends upon people’s capacity to become educated, which in the end always means educating yourself.
 
But where we don’t know what these capacities are, how these historical forces will play out, what is truly possible, the only way to learn anything is to attempt it. I can’t imagine a more fruitful, creative, and yes hopeful way of living in this pivotal and fraught moment of world history than to be aware of it and try in whatever modest way to spread this awareness.  

May 13, 2009

Know Your Enemy

Filed under: Freedom, Health Racket Bailout — Russ @ 5:47 pm
Everywhere we look in America today we see systemic problems. In finance, health care, agriculture, education, energy, the environment everywhere it’s the same. It seems that everything is crammed together ever more tightly, with ever greater suffocation. Meaningful, coordinated motion becomes impossible. All that’s left is to thrash around in desperation, vainly seeking a little space and air. Even this grows impossible. This is the way things seem, perhaps the way they will truly become.
 
But if we think about it, is it really true that no workable solutions exist? Or are the many problems really different versions of one, simpler problem? We have an example today with health care. [In what follows I’ll talk about health care within the context of the fossil fuel economy, pretending Peak Oil doesn’t exist. In the future I plan to write about health care under Peak Oil.] America’s health care system is a notorious disgrace to an allegedly advanced, wealthy country. The problem boils down to cost and the uninsured. As a technical matter, both can easily be solved through a single-payer system. So both problems are really the result of social parasites – in particular the private health insurance “industry”, which contributes nothing to the economy but cost and complexity, while not even doing the job it’s supposed to do, cover all Americans who are not in Medicare.
 
This is what you get when, for purely ideological reasons, the government abdicates on its core responsibilities in favor of a rent-seeking pseudo-private racket. So the solution to the health care problem is obvious. The American government must resume its responsibility and institute a single-payer system with a rational cost-effectiveness regime. There is no objection to this other than feudal ideology.
 
Now of course the Obama administration proposes no such thing. (In line with its usual appeasement procedure, the administration gratuitously declared that single payer was “off the table”, again showing its utter incompetence where it comes to negotiation. Any child knows that going into a negotiation you start out with demands in excess of what you really want, and give away nothing without getting something in return. Unfortunately, just as with the stimulus and tax cuts, Obama shows that this is beyond his comprehension. This also begs the question of why you would negotiate with the Republicans at all, since they are 1. purely obstructionist, clearly not real negotiating partners, only rank vandals; and 2. weak. We see again that Obama like Clinton is right of center, feels he has more in common with republicans than with true progressives, and sees the former as potential allies vs. the latter, who are the real enemy.)
It proposes meek reform to expand coverage and cut costs within the status quo framework.
 
The trouble is that there is no basis for such reforms to be enacted at all. Obama’s tedious, deluded premise (and that of liberals, the MSM, and other fugitive “good civics” types) remains that America’s political actors are good faith participants in a give-and-take political process. But this is not in fact what we have. What we have is rather a zero-sum pantomime civil war, and so far only one side is fighting to win. That’s why, even though both demographics and policy fundamentals favor the Democrats, the Republicans still manage to win elections and propaganda wars. It’s because of the basic confusion, indiscipline, spinelessness, and lack of ideological consciousness on the part of any putative opposition. (It’s a truism that in the last two elections the voters went against the Reps, not for the Dems. The Dems simply won by default, and as things are that’s the only kind of victory they’re capable of winning.)
 
The fact is that to entrenched interests there is no difference between a single payer system and Obama’s anodyne idea of removing the regressive tax deduction for employer-based health insurance (which idea is an absurdly paltry tinkering relative to the obscene regressivity of the tax system in general). Obama thinks the latter is a reasonable compromise upon which everyone should be able to agree. The stupidity here is in believing the enemy is “reasonable” by good civics standards.
 
Know your enemy. The notion of “America” no longer functions. Existing special interests, however pointlessly wealthy, are no longer willing to compromise or sacrifice even a little bit, even for the sake of their own longer term survival. The watchword everywhere is dig in, hold the line, scorched earth. Those who are still accumulating wealth aren’t going to be willing to forego even a few pennies of today’s wealth to try to reinforce their own system for tomorrow. They’re trying to hoard every last cent while standing guard with a shotgun. To give an example in pseudo-political terms, this manifests as the private insurance racket saying in theory it supports reform (as it said the other day in non-committal and therefore empty words) while lobbying furiously vs. cost-effectiveness intelligence and implementation. Meanwhile Obama is running up against resistance even among Dems on the employer insurance deduction.
 
This is why Obama, if he were to take off the ideological blinders and pay attention, would find that his idea of reform within the system, so reasonable and feasible in his eyes, is actually less politically practicable than aggressively seeking the single payer system. This is the logic of political revolutionary change, while picayune reform has no logic. As I said, both face the same obstruction. The former could muster passion and will to destroy this obstruction. The latter can muster nothing but the feeble petty-reasonableness which everyone damns with faint praise as he secretly despises it.
 
Single payer would be easier to achieve, since the act of seeking it would require and enforce political clarity. The public interest is trying to save itself in the face of a murderous attack by the forces of sociopathic entrenchment. The fight can be fought only through real, assertive action which starts from the premise that status quo politics are terminally bottlenecked. To maintain faith in the existing framework is a craven, passive approach. It is intellectually stunted and morally moribund. It’s the mindset of appeasement and defeat.
 
But if we dared to dare, if we broke free of these ropes which are by now so frayed they could never restrain anyone who willed himself to be free and kicked away the debris of the dead system; if we woke up new, free, and innocent, and turned this innocent eye on health care reform, land reform, education reform, energy reform, legal reform, transportation reform, environmental reform, we’d see how all these problems have clear and attainable solutions.
 
I said earlier the many problems comprising the bottleneck can be distilled to one problem. Indeed, as the health care nightmare vividly displays, this is the bottleneck itself: we are ridden with dug-in parasites. They produce no social value and no economic value, yet they consume immense resources and as a disease act to hinder all vital social and economic functions. From a true capitalist, free market perspective they are an odious drag on all vitality.
 
There is no problem in America which is not at its core this same problem. In every case the solution is clear, easy, and felicitous. Keynes made the call: “Euthanasia of the rentier”. Blast the entrenched interests out of the entrenchments. Be clear that you cannot negotiate with them and you cannot compromise with them, because they are not willing to compromise the slightest bit. They are utterly unwilling to do productive work, nor are they even willing to accept any limitation on their bloodsucking. The problem is existential.
 
To solve it requires nothing more than a dual act of freedom. First the exercise of simple, wholesome intellectual freedom, to see the problem as it is. Second, the actions of freedom. The moral and spiritual willpower to act – to reclaim our country, to bring the criminals to justice, to redeem America. 

May 6, 2009

The “Platform”

Filed under: Nietzsche, Peak Oil, Relocalization — Tags: , , , , — Russ @ 8:43 am
Peak Oil means different things to different people. Those who affirm global technological civilization approach it as a mere problem this civilization must and can solve. This dovetails with the green cornucopian approach to carbon emissions. In both cases it’s believed mass conspicuous consumption and intense energy use can and should continue; we’ll just be more “efficient” and eco-friendly about it. Thus they envision some combination of biofuels, PHEVs, CCS, renewable energy, efficiency retrofits, geoengineering, and GMOs which will allow the continuation of the personal car/suburban sprawl/consumerist model for existing. (Though even where they can work out the energy flows and conjure the food production on paper, they have considerable trouble telling us where the oil platform, capital, water, or space will come from for all this.)
 
For them, Peak Oil does not represent any pivotal historical change, but is more of an obstacle to continued progress, perhaps just a speed bump.
 
Then there are those of us who are either skeptical about mass civilization itself or have come to believe it is no longer sustainable. For us, Peak Oil signifies the fact, regarded with hope or fear or both, of revolutionary change. It is the physio-economic guarantor of the end of a stage of history, and it is the classical cycling back of history, restored to a more natural course, where not amplified, accelerated, and distorted by the steroids of fossil fuels.
 
Those of us who experienced this “history on steroids” as having been for the worst, decadent and malign, destructive of earth, mind, and soul, can welcome this break with the near-past and hope for the restoration of a more human path, perhaps more holistic than prior to the fossil fuel blip, if we can bring along the bitter wisdom we should have learned from this crazed detour.
 
So we can say “Peak Oil” can be the term not just for a physical milestone in a discrete historical cycle, but to encompass the high-flying pinnacle of modernity, where it reached its peaks of both dream and nightmare, where its delusion completely outran its material base, as well as whatever rational base it may ever have had; and where its wave peaked, broke, and fell back upon itself; and where it sought to perpetuate itself but could only cannibalize itself, and where it descended, and where a new relocalized, but spiritually far more mature, civilization superseded it. Those last few items represent a possible future. (I would say the first, grimmer part is likely, the latter bright part is to be hoped for and worked toward.)
 
This leads to the question, if in philosophical terms fossil-fueled modern civilization, and the (delusional) dream of this civilization, is the existing thesis, and the dream’s nightmare, its spiritual, material and economic bankruptcy, as summed up in the philosophy of Peak Oil, comprise the antithesis, then what synthesis do we hope to achieve? What do we wish to take up and bring along from the ruins of the fossil fuel platform?
 
The core of Nietzsche’s vision of the modern dilemma and potential is that together religion and science have constructed the intellectual and spiritual platform from which man can achieve true liberation, truly reach “adulthood”, truly become free (including achieving a position above and independent of both religion and the cult of science, technology, “progress”). In that same philosophically fertile 19th century (all the real philosophical advances of modernity came in the 19th century; like in so many other areas, here too the 20th generated mostly gratuitous complexity, picayune specialization, intentional confusion – really the same old rent-seeking over productive activity) Marx and others demonstrated how industrialism and fossil fuels enabled the development of political ideals of liberty and self-actualization (which have unfortunately been degraded into license and entitlement).
 
So now with Peak Oil we may attempt to meld these visions. We must take wing and attempt to depart from the single platform which comprises the spiritual, political, and fossil-fueled material “platforms” of modernity. Some of these represent an accumulated wisdom we may try to take with us, others were ephemeral crutches we must cast away. But put together it is a place where we can no longer continue running in place.
 
We now cycle back to a simpler historical existence. Whether we are at the same time transcendent, whether we bring along something of what we should have learned, whether we above all learn to rise above our delusions and superstitions once and for all; or whether it was all for nothing, and energy descent does end up as a nasty, Hobbesian, “Mad Max” affair; or worst of all if it is just a slow deteriorating grind as several Peak Oilers think, if man is simply crushed in a vice for the rest of history, is the question.