Volatility

June 12, 2010

Walls (European Union, Kleptocracy, Relocalization)

 

According to Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario Eurozone commentators in their hysteria have been calling Spain their “Maginot Line”, meaning that although they could possibly let Greece and Ireland go, the EU has to either prop up Spain’s tottering debt or be destroyed itself. They don’t seem to understand the “Maginot” reference very well, if they think that’s a ringing call and an auspicious portent.
 
Historically the Maginot Line was the physically and financially massive, ponderous, immovable, inflexible wall the French built along their border with Germany. Their logic was that the Germans could never penetrate it; that in the event of another war the Germans would have no choice but to replicate the 1914 pseudo-Schlieffen Plan and invade through central Belgium (which the French assumed the Germans would be prone to do anyway; the Maginot Line was supposed to cinch this); and that therefore, having dictated the whole German attack plan ahead of time, the French and British would be well-placed to meet and repulse the German offensive.
 
Complacent in this assurance, which calcified into dogma, the French vegetated behind the wall. They came to embody a brew of psychological softness and mental stagnation.  
 
When the war came things didn’t happen the way the French guaranteed it would. (I stress the lack of agency in that sentence; of course Hitler really started the war, predictably so, but from the point of view of the passive French mindset it simply “came”, which is part of the rot I’m writing about here.) Instead of repeating the 1914 offensive, the Germans attacked through the thick Ardennes forest, which conventional wisdom declared was impassible for armor. The Panzer columns broke through onto the French northern plain and debauched at will all over the countryside. Caught in Belgium completely by surprise and cut off from the real action (they had taken the bait of a German feint at the 1914 route and launched their full counteroffensive into Belgium), the Allies fell apart.
 
While most of the BEF just barely managed to escape at Dunkirk, the French had to retreat south in growing disorder. They never mounted any coherent counterattack. The vaunted, majestic, impregnable Maginot Line sat there like a character in a satire, quiet and pointless until the Germans deigned to roll it up from behind, almost as an afterthought.
 
So what can we learn from this? What does it mean to cite the “Maginot mentality”? To me it means that in the face of a threat you take a passive, defensive stance based on the premise of “walling off” one set of possibilities in order to force the danger onto a predestined path, where you expect to be able to counteract it.
 
This depends upon:
 
1. That your perception of reality (the array of possibilities) is accurate in the first place.
 
2. That reality remains static in the interim, so your premises remain valid.
 
In the case of the Maginot Line, the 1940 events demonstrated that these assumptions were both invalid. First, the French were wrong in discounting the Ardennes route as impossible, and second they were wrong about being able to maintain their own will to fight as they softened behind the physical wall and the wall of their assumptions. As we saw at Munich as well as in other cases like their rejection of Pilsudski’s pre-emptive war proposition, the French, while maintaining their hostile attitude toward Germany, had lost the will to fight. The wall was supposed to artificially enable the continuance of a mindset/policy mismatch which lacked all integrity.
 
Meanwhile this passive-aggressive mindset is chosen instead of a more aggressive course of action (as was available and would have worked in 1938 or 1939, among other times), or instead of changing one’s own behavior to defuse the danger in the first place.
 
So Eurozone cadres themselves think the Maginot example is a good portent for them? Let’s apply the real lesson to today’s situation. The Hun horde this time around is reality wanting to deflate the insane debt bubble. The columns of reality are trying to penetrate the defenses of pretense and propaganda to smash the ponzi scheme once and for all. Reality wants to deflate and it will, one way or another. Since there’s no real economic basis for this tower of debt, and since even if there were kleptocratic arrangements make it impossible for the real economy to function at anywhere near its potential, the tower must fall. One way or another.
 
To the extent that government and globalization cadres aren’t simply conscious kleptocrats (but the vast majority are), they’ve hunkered down behind the wall of belief in infinite growth, infinite energy, the social and economic sustainability of the exponential debt “civilization” in general.
 
[Just to be clear, lest there seem to be an inconsistency between my point of view here and in my prior post, in that post I was discussing the criminal actions of kleptocracy and the lies which would try to distract from the criminal character of the actions and actors.
 
Here I’m discussing the kleptocracy’s belief in its own sustainability, in the possibility of its being able to continue committing its crimes indefinitely. Of course any such delusional mindset doesn’t for a moment absolve them of full guilt for all their crimes.]
 
So with the permanent Bailout they expect to keep the whole Ponzi scheme going. They think German and French banks, themselves insolvent, can keep lending to the Greeks, Spanish, and so on ad infinitum enough money that they can indefinitely service their existing debt to those same banks. (And they assume that in principle there will be more bailouts, meta-bailouts, to enable them to service what they owe on these bailouts.)
 
That sounds like satire, but they sound serious. To say the least, they’re hunkered down behind the wall of their assumptions and expect reality to behave in a way very precisely laid out in their ideology and textbooks. Maginot mentality.
 
Meanwhile they had the option of trying to save some aspect of the system by purging it of the gangster rackets and restoring debt-based fiat economies but on a conventional, “narrow” banking basis only. I don’t think this could work on account of Peak Oil, but they could have tried it.
 
Or, what I would have done, is recognize the unsustainability of the exponential debt/”growth” system, the futility of trying to zombify it forever, and the immense extra pain such attempts will inflict over the long run. Instead of bailing out Wall Street and global finance, we could have let it perish while using what real wealth remained to bolster Main Street and carry it through the growing pains of transformation to the relocalized, steady-state, post-oil economies which are in store for us anyway.
 
This would have been hard, but far less painful and far more healthy for freedom, justice, and humanity, than the malevolent path taken by kleptocracy, the path of cannibalizing all economies and the earth itself to temporarily prop up their wealth and power.
 
(When I refer to the passive-aggressive Maginot mentality, I refer only to the mindset in the face of deflationary reality. But in terms of politics and humanity their policy is extremely aggressive, larcenous, and destructive. In that sense I’d compare them not to the French in 1940 but to their opponents.)
 
So the power structure’s self-described “Maginot Line” cannot and will not protect them against physical and economic reality. But they also hunker behind this line in expectation of indefinite political control. Can their wall hold up against resurgent forces of freedom? Do such forces exist?
 
We who are officers of the freedom force may be able to get some help from the far vaster structural forces of history, but in the end our own ability to breach the line depends upon our own ingenuity and resolve. I hope it’s not too grotesque if carrying the metaphor forward (or perhaps laboring it further; but I’m not the one who first cited it 🙂 ) requires me to compare our position to that of the Wehrmacht in 1939-40.
 
We can’t directly attack the wall (for as long as the police defend the system), while trying to surge through central Belgium is exactly what they want us to do. (Perhaps that can figuratively stand in for seeking “reform through the system”.) So what’s our equivalent of the Manstein Plan? Where’s the Ardennes we supposedly can’t breach? It has to be something which is considered “impossible”.
 
The answer lies with things like the integrated financial system, the way all our expectations have been bound up in it, the sunk costs of suburbia and cars in America and of stock-marketized pension systems everywhere, the industrialized and centralized food production and distribution systems, the systematic disparagement and suppression of all self-reliance skills and points of view and the consequent infantilization of the people, and the whole brainwashing of consumerism itself.
 
These and others combine to try to forcibly build a wall within our own minds against ourselves. But if we can breach the barriers of indoctrination, inertia, and fear of the unknown; if we can recognize how we can only improve our futures if we reject the criminal present and the feudal future being planned for us; how the monstrous ways of the world are doomed in any event, and we can only help ourselves if we prepare for the storm; if we recognize the necessity and the benevolence of restoring our economies, our societies, our polities, on the regional and local basis; if we can first accomplish this revolution in our minds, we’re already breaching the impassible, impossible barrier.
 
And to the extent we can then transform our lives in reality in accord with our vision, we’ll be accomplishing the great end run around the criminals’ line of defense against us. Beyond lies the vast plain of our renewed democracy and prosperity. 
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10 Comments

  1. Your penultimate paragraph contains some sensible suggestions for individual iniatives which might prove useful for those strong enough and resourceful enough to pursue them. Indeed, iniatives of this kind have been the only kind which made any sense for at least the past forty-five years, inasmuch as Johnson’s Vietnam War marked the end of what remained of American sanity.

    Chances are we are in for several decades of increasing idiocy, debt peonage, looting, degredation, but of course climate change could offer real problems impossible to paper over with worthless money and political chicanery. As the French say, sauve qui peut!

    Comment by jake chase — June 12, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  2. You’re right about that. Hopefully new sanity can be found at the bottom as it’s no longer possible to zombify insanity with debt.

    Comment by Russ — June 12, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

  3. “Giving up” shall be our Ardennes!

    And it isn’t actually giving up, but from their perspective it would be. I talk about simplifying our lives; about bartering instead of buying; about supporting the local economy instead of Wal-Mart/China. If we willingly lived “poorly” for a while and hopped off the debt treadmill the whole stupid thing would collapse in on itself.

    Comment by jimmy james — June 12, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

    • You got it!

      Comment by Russ — June 13, 2010 @ 5:01 am

  4. Call me a pedant, but I wonder whether the word intended in your fourth paragraph where the Germans ‘debauched at will’ might be debouched. So far as I know the conduct of the German troops at that stage of the war was not notably licentious 🙂

    Aside from that minor point, thanks as always for your voice in the wilderness. Every time I hear the word recovery these days I feel the urge to reach for my revolver, as the infamous Goering is reputed to have said of culture. Purely a metaphor of course as I have no firearm. Where I live the pundits are congratulating themselves on having avoided the worst effects of the Great Financial Contraction, though every now and then their voices quaver a little on catching a glimpse of the bright eyes of the wolves lurking just outside the circle of firelight.

    Comment by gnomic — June 12, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

    • Thanks gnomic. It’s a wilderness alright.

      You may be technically right about the word choice (which would render my whole sentence nonsensical, since you only debouch once; one can’t “keep debouching”). Although if debauchery includes shooting prisoners and civilians, they were already doing plenty of that in 1940, although not on the same scale they later would in the East.

      So I guess in spirit, and especially in hindsight given what came later, debauch is also right.

      BTW, to reciprocate pedantry with pedantry, that’s not actually Goering’s line. He ripped it off from a lower-level nazi. 🙂

      You’re right about these lunatics and liars with their “recovery”. It’s empirical proof of the class war mentality and policy, that they can broach oxymoronic terms and concepts like “jobless recovery” and base policy on them. They’re implicitly conceding that they’re nothing but looters, and that they view the people as nothing but an almost-spent resource mine.

      People scoff, but can anyone seriously think that once vast masses are completely looted out and can no longer serve any purpose whatsoever in the neoliberal scheme of things, that the logic of corporatism won’t dictate physical extermination as the next step?

      Comment by Russ — June 13, 2010 @ 5:15 am

  5. Thinking about what is most likely: so long as our Go’mint enjoys the power of the printing press, expect an ever increasing cadre of spies and snoops employed to stifle civilian protest. We now have 30% of our work force employed by go’mint. Why not 60%? Industry no longer needs Americans employed in making things; it only needs their buying/borrowing power.

    Comment by jake chase — June 13, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

    • Did you read the “guard labor” article?

      http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2010/02/inequality-and-guard-labor.html

      “It only needs their buying/borrowing power.”

      Well, there’s not going to be much left of that. And Chinese consumerism is a pipe dream.

      Comment by Russ — June 13, 2010 @ 4:35 pm

      • You see? It’s only one in four. No reason it cannot be one in two. Industry no longer needs people (at least not Americans) to produce things. Our economy is really all about distributing the financial results of making things in the third world.

        Comment by jake chase — June 14, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

      • Yup. And it’s time for the third world to come home, except that they won’t need as much slave wage labor as will soon be available, so they’ll be able to imprison and starve and kill large numbers without affecting “production”.

        Comment by Russ — June 14, 2010 @ 4:41 pm


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