September 17, 2010

The Question’s Being Asked

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism has an interesting post up this morning, Truth Or Consequences: When the Music’s Over.

Instead of racking my brain for appropriate Doors quotes (I’m sure they’re in there, but these days I can’t recall which was which between “When the Music’s Over” and “The End”), I focused on Yves’ concluding question:

I wonder what answers readers can provide to AK’s question: “Should we continue in the attempt to bring the truth of transgressions to the public, or would our efforts be better spent preparing ourselves for the forthcoming panic?” Or are there other options you regard as more fruitful?

Since my reply was on the same subject we’re discussing here, I thought I’d post it here: 

Our predicament is terminal. Its causes are the end of cheap, easy fossil fuels, and the neo-feudalist strategy the elites have deployed to meet that challenge (going off the gold standard [discussed in the OP] was an effect of this, not a cause of anything; they had to financialize and shift to an exponential debt economy according to the neoliberal battle plan). But even among those who are aware that there’s any problem at all, the two most common kinds of response are dysfunctional.

At one extreme we have those who think the problems of the system are just normal political problems which can be solved by “reform”, and besides, “technology will save us”.

The opposite are those who recognize the truth but disdain any cooperative response or despair over the possibility of one, but who instead think they’re going to be able to ride it all out hiding in a hole somewhere. That’s the survivalist mentality in its purest form.

There are gradations of both of these, and plenty of Peak Oilers and other radicals who run toward one extreme or the other.

But the truth is that this system, a terminal kleptocracy and entrenched, congealed oligopoly, cannot be reformed. And no technology is going to replace cheap oil. Energy consumption must resume its normal historical level.

And while we don’t yet know how capable the elites will be of imposing fascism and feudalism during the energy descent, we do know their malevolent intent. So to plan to hide and hope they’ll just collapse on their own is folly.

The only viable course of action is to reclaim the real economy while purging the false, and build a new polity, doing both of these from the soil up. We have to recognize that the only viable human system left would repose all power at the council level, where all the decisions would be made.

History has proven that the people can manage their own economies and politically rule themselves, and that the elites are without exception both malign and incompetent and have no legitimacy (that includes the elitism of “representative” pseudo-democracy).

This is the only option which can redeem and maximize our freedom, justice, morality, and dignity.

Direct democracy, full participatory democracy, is the only option left which can work (all others are now proven failures), and the only option which retains any moral credibility.

Relocalization is also the only viable practical response to the practical constraints the end of easy oil will impose on our societies.

Finally, organizing toward this goal is also the only way to defend ourselves against the depredations of the barbarians who afflict us. We need to break free of their top-down constraints, and find bottom up solidarity to fight back at whatever level of resistance is necessary. Hopefully passive resistance and non-violent civil disobedience will be enough.

So this is what we need to do. To finish by returning to the original question, we must prepare, and part of the preparation is the ongoing public education campaign. But this campaign needs to become better coordinated.


  1. Interesting.
    I very often get accused of being a megalomaniac person these days because my responses do not fall within the extremes you are talking about.
    The second extreme that you are talking about : holing up in the wilderness (WHAT WILDNERNESS ??) I recognize as being the logical conclusion of the NEOLIBERAL IDEA/IDEAL. An isolated, polarized, INDIVIDUAL, who is TOTALLY (the word is important, that’s why I stuck it in caps…) under the illusion that the INDIVIDUAL can achieve autonomy, a heavy duty “liberal” ideal. (By the way, I do not think that it is correct to talk about NEOliberal thought, because what we are seeing is the playing out of LIBERAL thought, as it evolves and changes meaning in a historical context. )
    That is not ILLusion, that is.. DELUSION. And that should alert us…
    I tend to think that to the extent that when a human being comes into this world within two years, one of his FIRST WORDS will be… “Daddy” or “Mommy”, while holding out his arms to be protected and picked up, well, we are not going to get rid of the overwhelming human need ? desire ? to be protected at certain points in our lives, and that is why the delusion of autonomy is so destructive to our thought.
    So… how do we navigate between the desire to be free and the desire to HAVE SOMEONE PROTECT US (and that is what government, to a very great extent, is all about, no ?)?
    I don’t know whether this system can be reformed. BUT.. I HAVE noticed that we have been increasingly defining “civilization” IN OPPOSITION to “nature”, and that is.. SUICIDAL in my book.
    I agree about building from the bottom up, too. There is a lot of power there.
    BUT.. people do NOT WANT to get lots of anonymous E-Mail messages to ask them to sign petitions, either.
    People do not want.. ANONYMOUS, mass produced junk any more. Do they ?
    Maybe they do..
    But.. if they do.. pretty soon they get some kind of.. sick, nauseous feeling inside like.. something’s missing to their lives.
    I hope…

    Comment by Debra — September 17, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

    • Yes, that sense of emptiness, which everyone must be feeling by now, must surely impel some to question and reject the status quo.

      Comment by Russ — September 17, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

    • Debra,

      In one sense, I view the neoliberal strategy as one intended to kill the superego in order to turn us all into sociopaths. “There is no society, so you have no social responsibility. Ignore your super ego.”

      From my perspective, I don’t think of the super ego as something that serves the function of seeking a protector but as an inhibitor of our baser instincts. If we all have the same set of societal rules, the super ego is also something that we rely upon to regulate others’ behavior. The innate sense of fairness that we are born with, the superego, is not a source of helplessness that causes us to yearn for protection, but a source of empowerment that makes us feel that we can hold others accountable for not playing by the rules.

      Civilization does not have to be in opposition to nature, but a civilization that destroys nature to make a short term gain that will ultimately kill civilization is both anti-nature and uncivilized.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — September 18, 2010 @ 2:33 am

      • Tao, I think that the logical conclusion of the “liberal” ideology is an atomized, particularized society where the individual is KING, and social solidarity which reposes on the possibility of maintaining empathy and identifications with others, is destroyed.
        For me, as a former shrink, the superego constitutes an essentially SOCIAL READY MADE discourse, that the subject appropriates UNCONSCIOUSLY as truth, and does not question UNLESS he directs his consciousness ON IT to perceive that it IS social discourse, and that the majority of such social discourse is intended to.. KEEP HIM IN LINE and UNDER SOCIAL CONTROL AT ALL TIMES. I stand firmly in my conviction that the structure of the superego is REPRESSIVE, and social control by means of repression is much less EFFECTIVE than social control obtained through the cooperation of all parties involved.
        I also tend to think that man is a contradictory animal who thinks in terms of paradoxes.
        The direct “opposite” of “individual” is.. “the mass(es)”. The definition of the word “individual” necessarily bounces off the word.. “masses”. Think about it..
        But… it would be necessary to take a little etymological trip into the realm of the word “individual” (which comes from not divided, UNIFIED) in order to really look at this. (What am I saying ?? A BIG TRIP !!!)
        Both Freud (in a certain, more limited way..) AND Jesus did not promote.. “the individual”, they promoted what in French, we call, not the ego, but.. the “I”, or “the subject”, who we should not equate or reduce to.. the “individual”.
        Jesus’s thought is highly empathetic, and he manages to create a system ? (!!) of ethics where both the “I” and the “other” can mutually grow in relation to each other, without resorting to repressive social control. (Does all social control have to be repressive ? Perhaps “control” is automatically repressive ?)
        While saying that we are mutually dependant on each other, NOT atomized individuals.
        I agree that civilization does not have to be opposed to nature…
        BUT.. when we stopped indexing WEALTH, and VALUE on land, (ahem, the much decried feudal system, Russ…) we opened up a BIG DOOR there. And lots of consequences came rushing in..

        Comment by Debra — September 18, 2010 @ 6:38 am

      • Suite to the following comment.
        I do not think that the liberal ideology ALONE is responsible for destroying empathy and identifications with others, but that it created a context in which.. the pseudo scientific, ideological tenets of a misunderstood Darwinism intervened to postulate societey as an arena where EXCLUSIVE COMPETITION between “individuals” for a fixed piece of pie took place. To the exclusion of all other forms of social interaction.
        These melancolic prejudices about human nature are now viewed among the greater public as “scientific truth”, and I contest the validity of this “truth” as reductionist and simplistic.
        When you talk about sociopathy.. I think that you are talking about ONE of the manifestations that THIS IDEOLOGY assumes in our current society, for it is a premise that destroys empathy, and social responsibility.
        Remember.. one of our greatest ILLUSIONS is that man is… an “individual”. He is NOT.

        Comment by Debra — September 18, 2010 @ 6:52 am

  2. You’re much more of an optimist than I am. However, I do believe the probability of organized resistance to our oligarchic kleptocracy will increase as conditions worsen.

    I am disheartened by the sheep-like conformity amongst most people I talk to. Whenever I complain about the increasingly obvious corruption and kleptocracy, or the increasing Orwellian use of full-body scanners and the upcoming retinal scanning, I am at best confronted with apathy or at worst something like “Well we need it to protect ourselves against the terrorists!”

    Comment by poopyjim — September 17, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

    • Two amazing testimonials to brain-dead conformism:

      1. How a level of assault on privacy, civil liberties, freedom, and simple human dignity, which just a few years ago would’ve provoked massive resistance, is now accepted (grudgingly or even cheerfully) or not even noticed by the zombie consciousness.

      2. People are so cowardly and ignorant that they don’t even realize that any actual war on terror was won long ago. Al Qaida’s a weak shadow of its former self (even the quality of its videotapes has greatly deteriorated), the administration itself admits there are almost no jihadists in Afghanistan, only a few Keystone Kops-type conspiracies have been “discovered” in the US (mostly entrapped by informers manipulating pathetic moronic jihadist-wannabes) since 9/11….um, somebody tell the American sheep, if they’re still scared of terrorists they can stop worrying. The terrorists are on the run and have been for years now. Even the more honest neocons like Zakaria are admitting that it’s over.

      So the “war on terror” today certainly has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with power and looting.

      And yet, as you say, for some crazy reason I usually feel optimistic.

      Comment by Russ — September 17, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  3. Russ,

    I agree with your final conclusion. I could debate some of the intermediate points, though.

    From my vantage point, it is not how government representatives are elected or legislation is passed, but how regulations and laws are applied by the executive and judiciary. New forms of legal/regulatory approaches could be used to distribute federal mandates at the local level to the individual in a manner that removes discretion where it is not needed.

    Comment by Tao Jonesing — September 18, 2010 @ 2:23 am

    • Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but you seem to have reversed my core principle and my strategic prescription. My demand for positive democracy isn’t merely some empirically derived induction. The first principle I deduce from morality. On the other hand what you’re saying sounds sort of like just another version of the failed trickle-down elitism I want to purge from the earth, as a core moral impulse. I demand that ALL power repose where it’s created in the first place, at the level of the soil. There must only be purely contingent and recallable executive (not legislative) delegation upward. (And I explicitly said I reject representative democracy as such, not any particular mode of “election” and “representation”.)

      Although it is proven that all elitism is less productive toward any of the goals it claims to seek than true workers’ democracy, that’s still just my secondary argument.

      My primary mindset is direct democracy as a spiritual and moral imperative. Elitism by definition is an affront to freedom, justice, and human dignity. It’s impossible to have the essence of any of these wherever elites monopolize (that is, steal) power and wealth.

      This would remain true even if significant levels of it did trickle back down.

      I’m fighting to destroy all elitism and to establish real democracy. Those are pure values to me. That’s why I’m doing this. That doesn’t mean I can’t work on a tactical level with those who want other things but share some interest. But I don’t want anyone to misunderstand the goal.

      Comment by Russ — September 18, 2010 @ 2:46 am

      • LOL.. I’m NOT condemning you..
        BUT I think that indexing power and wealth on the land is INDEED the FOREMOST premise and postulat of. FEUDALISM.
        I think that “we” need to crack the history books more and go beyond our prejudices, and the epidermic reactions that “we” have when we hear certain words that our fathers and grandfathers.. had epidermic reactions to before us.

        Comment by Debra — September 18, 2010 @ 6:42 am

      • I don’t know what books you read, but you better try them again using some reading comprehension this time. Your understanding is foolishly literalistic.

        Wealth and power are created by those who work on the land. Wealth and power should and must remain in the hands of those workers.

        Feudalism, both historically and today, steals that wealth and power. It alienates the power generated by the land from the land. Then today’s elites claim some of that stolen wealth will trickle back down. For some reason that’s supposed to be an acceptable deal to the producers.

        Comment by Russ — September 18, 2010 @ 7:03 am

      • Um.. while you are busy WORKING the land, according to the extreme physical constraints that the land imposes in order for it to produce for you, I suppose that you have the… LEISURE to… pick up arms and defend yourself at all times, and be running the country too ?
        Working the land always has been a FULL TIME JOB with little opportunity for any kind of leisure…ask the people who do it.
        Don’t confuse.. the ideal of feudalism with the way it played out.
        Don’t confuse. the ideal of democracy with the way IT is is playing out either..
        Here you go again. Just when I think that there may be some room for a little cooperation between us, you come out punching, and we get nowhere TOGETHER.
        I’m reading.. Regine Pernoud in French.

        Comment by Debra — September 18, 2010 @ 9:23 am

      • You keep talking about working the land for a criminal boss on land monopolized by a criminal elite.

        I’m proposing that we get rid of all thieves and all bosses and work the land for ourselves. Don’t you understand how different that would be?

        BTW, what’s “the ideal of feudalism” that didn’t play out? It looks to me like feudalism always plays out exactly as it’s supposed to.

        Comment by Russ — September 18, 2010 @ 11:35 am

  4. Russ,

    The NC link on DC election results this morning (Total “creative class” FAIL in DC Fenty debacle -Lambert Strether.) seems to go to your point of direct representation.

    I had only noticed on the one occasion awhile ago on a c-span video of his appearance somewhere, and remember that Fenty was attractive and well spoken.

    That’s all anyone is supposed to notice.

    An example of how corporate owned and controlled MEDIA succeeds so well.

    Comment by LeeAnne — September 18, 2010 @ 9:10 am

    • I don’t know much about it (although I once was masochistic enough to read an article about that hideous school chancellor, Rhee), but it sounds like the people stood up for themselves for once.

      But exceptions like that will always be extremely rare.

      Comment by Russ — September 18, 2010 @ 11:29 am

      • Is it worth looking a little more closely at the benefits to DC citizens of having no representation in congress or the senate?

        Corporations may have no reason to buy their politicians. Possible?

        As I think about it, its a very interesting thing to research in the context of direct representation that you advocate and the end of purchasing politicians; not that politicians in DC can’t be bought; just that there would naturally be limited funds for that purpose if the multinationals have nothing to gain by doing so.

        Comment by LeeAnne — September 18, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

      • I don’t know; I haven’t thought about it that way.

        I guess if there’s only city corruption to be tended, but not as much of a federal gravy train, there might be that much less interest.

        I suppose the first place to look would be finding out how much running for DC mayor etc. costs, who bribes, how much, etc. All that info ought to be public.

        Comment by Russ — September 18, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

      • Will do. Thanks for the suggestions.

        Comment by LeeAnne — September 18, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  5. It seems apparent to me that you know nothing about the feudal system as it existed historically, and that you are basically sounding off about something that you are totally ignorant of.
    Sorry. And I think that all you have to do is hear the word “feudalism” and it gives you an epileptic fit.
    THAT is not thinking in my book.
    That is reacting. They’re different.

    Comment by Debra — September 18, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

    • Yes, I know nothing about feudalism. I’ve never studied it.

      (And yet I seem to have stumped you with my question. Beginner’s luck, I guess.)

      It’s odd that you think you diagnose me, because you’re the one who always seems to be having a conniption on the screen, and you’re the one who keeps coming back to argue after stomping off to call me a Hitler.

      But I am glad that we established that you admire feudalism and are peddling the lie that it would be great if only its “ideal played out”. That’s not surprising given your consistent pro-elite stance.

      Comment by Russ — September 18, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

  6. “History has proven that the people can manage their own economies and politically rule themselves”

    Can you cite some examples to support this assertion?

    Comment by Dilwyn Elliott — September 18, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

    • Throughout history and pre-history many, perhaps most, tribes and peoples lived this way. Heirarchy, although not unique to the West, has nevertheless been the especially aggressive practice of the West.

      For examples of attempts in Western history which worked even under adverse conditions of a hostile outside world, until that world crushed them, several are discussed here:


      The examples include the Paris Commune, Italian syndicalism, the Spanish collectives, and others.

      Then there were promising attempts at council government during the 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolutions, Hungary in 1956, and elsewhere. In every one of these cases they were crushed by external hostility, not internal failure.

      Comment by Russ — September 19, 2010 @ 5:55 am

      • Kids used to regulate themselves quite well in street baseball games until adults came in and decided there needed to be Little League. We have these innate abilities of self-organization that are routinely repressed.

        Comment by purple — September 26, 2010 @ 9:26 am

      • Good example. We did that all the time as kids and seldom had any problem with anyone trying to cheat.

        Comment by Russ — September 26, 2010 @ 11:05 am

  7. Here’s the way feudalism should always play out: Dostoyevski’s dad was pinned down by his serfs and drowned by them pouring his vodka down his throat.

    Comment by tawal — September 19, 2010 @ 3:34 am

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