May 21, 2009


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.  


  1. I’ve just come across your blog (via ‘Naked Capitalism’) and find nothing in this essay that I would disagree with. Comforting (?) to know that there others out there that share my view of the world.

    “We’re now in a brief, becalmed interlude between the onset of turbulence and the full rage of the storm” about sums it up. And when the edifice built on a couple of hundred years of fossil fuel use sooner or later comes crashing down I can’t the outcome being anything other than cataclysmic.(I’m not too good at optimism.)

    Comment by doggett — May 22, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

  2. Comment above should read “I can’t see the outcome” etc. Careless.

    Comment by doggett — May 22, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

  3. Hi Doggett, I’m hoping as well to meet others who are doubtful about the persistence of this system.

    I guess at the moment I’m not very good at optimism either, and I’m mostly thinking about what’s wrong with things.

    But in all this I intend to move toward the goal of taking the things we’ve learned and trying to construct something new (meaning, older but tempered with hard-won experience and wisdom).

    So I guess under it all I’m still an optimist, even if I seldom sound like it right now. 🙂

    Comment by Russ — May 23, 2009 @ 6:13 am

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