Casaubon's Book

The election is over and the results are depressing, much as expected – it was not a good night for anyone who believes that the most important work of government in hard times will be protecting ordinary people. This is a stretch to imagine at the best of times, and this was not them.

There’s a larger question, however, that emerges out of the ashes of our usual political self-incineration – what will ordinary people will do with their fear now that the election is over?

Over the last few weeks, a series of articles have emerged that observe that the language of voter anger, so ubiquitous in the culture, was wrong. They argued that in fact, what the voters were was depressed, frightened, worried, anxious, unhappy – not so much angry, but lost and terrified. Indeed, I think fear is what made the outcome of this election so certain – the right overwhelmingly tried to shift the narrative into anger, and because fear and anger often go together, this wasn’t an entire failure. On some gut level, most people realized that the inchoate sense of fear they feel that their lives are not getting better, but worse is probably not due to gays and Moslems, but with a semi-plausible target provided, at least their feelings of worry and discontent were legitimized in some way. At least they were told they were right to feel something.

The fundamental narrative of the Democrats came down to “it really isn’t as bad as you think it is and we’re trying and just give us more time, and you don’t really need to be this worried, it will all be ok soon.” But the problem with anything that de-legitimizes the real experience and real emotions of ordinary people is that it feels *false* – the Tea Partiers may have been lying about immigration and mosques as central issues, the traditional Republicans trying to blame Obama for a recession that started firmly on their watch, but their lies weren’t as big as the one that said “it is all basically ok, you are over-reacting.” Given a choice between two lies, one immoral but at least marginally plausible (scapegoating has a long history and the dubious charm of familiarity to many), the other viscerally, obviously false, it isn’t too surprising what the outcome was.

Now comes one of two things – the first possibility is the race for the bottom – in which both left (which is really a shorthand in the US for “moderate right-center – we don’t actually have a left) and right try desperately to place responsibility for the continued failures, the continued falling apart of people’s lives on other causes – the Democrats will blame the Republicans, insufficient borrowing and mean people, the Republicans will blame the Democrats, taxes and the stimulus package, and we’ll all go down to hell together, with no one ever getting close. The already frustrated, frightened, angry and depressed populace will become more frustrated, frightened and depressed, and probably more angry. They are already disgusted with both parties, and are likely to create a superb opportunity for something worse than we presently have to emerge, along, possibly with a great deal of civil unrest.

The second possibility is that we give fear a real target – because it isn’t going away anytime soon. This isn’t easy, but there’s an opportunity here – most of the government is about to be busy with trying poorly to live up to their claims and to make the on-the-ground realities of governing sound nearly as good as campaign promises, even though it isn’t. While there certainly will be some fear whipping and plenty of partisanship, we have a limited space, the better part of a year, in which to do what neither party can do – acknowledge the fear.

Give it a name. Tell the truth about it. And when people notice that “throw da bums out” works about as well as it always does when the alternative is a new set of bums, that gives them something to explain how what they *know* to be true. That things are falling apart around them.

The thing is, most people have better bullshit detectors than we think they do – the problem is that most of the time, they don’t get anything *other* than bullshit, it is tough to sort things out. But honesty, well, that has the virtue of novelty. So you can tell people that it isn’t really going to get better – that the things that would have allowed us to grow our economy in the past are banging against limits, that the reality of the world is that we have to use up more and more of our money and time and energy just keeping pace.

Whenever I say this, people observe that this is politically impossible – which leader would tell people “it isn’t going to magically get better?” And this is true – at this moment – and it is more true because people who really should have known better have kept the lies alive as long as possible. But we are headed inevitably towards a moment in which it is not only politically possible to acknowledge *what is really happening* but politically necessary to do so. Because the people aren’t idiots. I know it feels that way, but people aren’t idiots for the most part – they are vulnerable, easily led and afraid, not stupid.

When we begin to tell the truth we can tell better stories than anyone who has to tell lies. It is a story about heroism, and responding to dreadful odds, about courage and self-sacrifice for the betterment of the future – all the things that everyone actually gives a damn about that are never asked of them. It is so easy to say that other people are fools when those people have never heard anything but lies and they have never been asked to be more than consumers. Time to ask. Time to tell the truth.

The moment will come when someone has to play Churchill in a collapsing society to repeat and repeat the hard truth. Consider Churchill’s duty to speak after the evacuation of Dunkirk, at which point it seemed not unlikely that the Germans would invade Britain, when the military’s equipment was destroyed and uncountable wounded and killed:

It is hard, in retrospect, knowing how history unfolded, to understand how clearly this was an articulation of limits, an acknowledgement of possible failure, and also, an acknowledgement of what was possible with courage and commitment. You can tell those stories, you can tell the truth – it isn’t easy, but it can be done.

Our own “fight them on the beaches” speech will be different – as Pogo said, we have met the enemy, and he is us. But the merits of truth, the value of acknowledgement of what everyone knows and feels in their guts, the telling of a true story, those things don’t change. The election is over, but the fear is here to stay. Tell the truth and shame the devil.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Nick
    November 3, 2010

    And government protects people by getting them into debt.

    In the UK, the government has put every person 300,000 pounds in debt. 480,000 USD with interest. Median wage is 25,000 pounds a year. That’s ignoring bailing out people when they get to retirement age and haven’t saved anything.

    So people are in debt from the age they are born. They have no control over it, and the government tries to keep it secret.

    So let me ask you a question.

    Is it bad for the third world to be born into debt?

    Why isn’t it bad for those in the first world?

    After all, in the first world vast amounts of development has been done. There isn’t a huge need for vast infrastructure, and yet the debts are massive.

    For example, what’s your share of the US debt? How are you going to pay it off? You personally. Not, I’ll force someone else to pay it.

  2. #2 Andy Brown
    November 3, 2010

    People are not stupid as individuals, but collectively the species has the IQ of a toxic lichen. To transcend that at all takes a lot of careful effort,- building discourses, policies, institutions – and it’s hard to see last night as anything but a big step backward. A step we probably can’t really afford.

  3. #3 Lorax
    November 3, 2010

    So what’s your point Nick? You have evidence that only one side contributes to the debt? If not, how is your comment relevant? In the US, our debt went through the roof via Reagan. Bush put through the first round of bail outs here, although the Obama admin gets all the blame for it. The Reps are huge cut taxes fans, but don’t make real cuts where they matter (defense), they simply cut those programs aimed at the weakest members of our society.

  4. #4 R. S. Buchanan
    November 3, 2010

    Having just spent an hour talking my dad in off the ledge (“Congressman Blake Farenthold”? Seriously?), the first thing he and I are doing is throwing $65 each at the Union of Concerned Scientists (because that’s who we could agree upon) to try to do a little to counter the effect of 60+ new science deniers to Congress.

    We’ll deal with the rest after the hangovers go away.

  5. #5 Pierce R. Butler
    November 3, 2010

    Nick – I hate to be the one who tells ya, but the warranty on your bullshit detector has expired.

    Sharon – Even if we could find a modern eco-Churchill, (s)he would never get any coverage beyond the blogosphere. Here’s a deal: if you can implement a way to axe all the cable-tv lines without interfering with the Net, I’ll go blow up all the transmission towers.

  6. #6 darwinsdog
    November 3, 2010

    What do people do with fear? Many turn it inward in the form of anxiety & depression. Others turn it outward as anger. A few go postal. And “The mass of men,” as Thoreau said, “lead lives of quiet desperation.” Just going through the motions day after day, year after year, emotionally numb, eyes averted from reality. No one wants to see the devil shamed, not even on these comment boards. I’ve caught hell for trying. A Churchill would do no good. Courage & commitment didn’t defeat the Nazi evil, cheap & abundant Texas crude did and it’s long gone. In the face of such a population overburden, with resource depletion, climatic warming, the collapse of biodiversity.. fear is rational. People naturally shy away from aversive stimuli. It isn’t unexpected that denial should be pervasive. Perhaps it’s adaptive & shouldn’t be challenged.

  7. #7 DennisP
    November 3, 2010

    @DD – I agree with many (maybe most) of your criticisms of society. BUT do you have anything positive, anything constructive to offer? Any way that we might work our way out of these multiple crises? I don’t recall seeing you offer any constructive ideas in any of your posts (OK – I might have missed some).

    Or should we just accept the fact that Homo sapiens (civilizatio) is on its way to extinction, that we can’t really do anything about it? In which case I’m freed to live as irresponsibly as I wish, since living responsibly won’t do any good. And after yesterday, I think I’m almost ready to take that stance.

  8. #8 darwinsdog
    November 3, 2010

    @DD – ..do you have anything positive, anything constructive to offer? Any way that we might work our way out of these multiple crises?

    No, I don’t. Everything I know, have observed, read, been taught, etc., leads me to the conclusion that human population is going to collapse, and collapse hard, perhaps all the way to extinction, perhaps within the lifetimes of those already born and certainly within a century or two. Even if draconian measures to limit the birth rate so as to achieve negative population growth were implemented immediately worldwide, population reduction by attrition would not operate rapidly enough to avert collapse. Because positive feedbacks have been initiated, even if the internal combustion engine & coal fired power plants were banned today, the climate would still warm and surface ocean pH drop to the point where ecosystem collapse undermines the resource base upon which human civilization depends. Major disruption of processes by which the biosphere regulates itself and maintains a homeorrhetic equilibrium are at hand, and a major mass extinction episode is ongoing. All of this is inexorable and at this point nothing can be done to prevent or mitigate the collapse of ecosystems, biodiversity & human population. Expecting people, who are the cause of all this disruption, to turn things around and ameliorate the situation, is ridiculous. Even if we, as a species, seriously attempted to do so, it is too late.

    In which case I’m freed to live as irresponsibly as I wish, since living responsibly won’t do any good.

    You are free to live however you wish in any case. I would say that even though living responsibly will do no good, it is still the most satisfying & rewarding way to live. Live the good life not because by so doing you will “save the world,” but because you will go to your grave having ate well, enjoyed good health, good friends & good music, and will have lead an honest & fulfilling life, which is the best any of us can ask for. On the other hand, if you are drawn towards irresponsibility, by all means, knock yerself out! :)

  9. #9 Michael Dawson
    November 3, 2010

    Balderdash. The Democratic Party does not protect ordinary people. That’s why they lost. Their constituents stayed home.

    And we have not met the enemy, and it is not “us.”

    Our enemy is the corporate capitalist overclass, the ones who bankroll both “parties.” They are, consequently, invisible and undiscussed.

    They are also the ones who will NEVER allow any serious public discussion of peak everything.

    P.S. Winston Churchill was a complete scumbag, despite his wartime speeches.

  10. #10 Sharon Astyk
    November 3, 2010

    Michael, where do the corporations get their money? Us, mostly. They get it from us – we buy their goods, use “their” oil, eat their food…. That’s the leftist version of “it ain’t my fault” – the evil corporations did it, and while there’s some truth to it, it is, in its own way, just more posturing. Their power comes from us – and a whole lot of other things, but root power, from us.

    Sharon

  11. #11 Sharon Astyk
    November 3, 2010

    DD, except, of course, all the times in human history when people didn’t shy away from aversive stimulus and did the hard thing. Of course, there are plenty of times when we did, but human history isn’t a one-off narrative. Even if we are all doomed, so what – doesn’t the quality of life lived daily by people before they die matter? It does to me. Making things not hurt as badly for others is worthwhile work. I don’t think the human race is as doomed as you do – I don’t think we’re in good shape, but I don’t think weedy species are quite as easily killed off, but I expect a lot of people to suffer, and probably a lot to die, given what we’ve done to ourselves. But in the end, we all die – what matters is not, as Roland Barthes put it, a lyrical rhapsody of universal death, but the real and concrete realities of how those deaths occur – and what is done to relieve suffering and bring comfort.

    The problem I have with your arguments, DD, is not that they are necessarily wrong, but that you choose a big picture narrative so big that you erase all possible human action. And one of the interesting things about humans is that we’ve done just about every weird thing you can imagine in our history – good, bad, ugly, you name it. We’ve faced up to disaster and gone on, we’ve killed ourselves off, we’ve shown courage and cowardice. You’ve decided it is all written, in big sweeping brush strokes – and that’s one version of the story, perhaps. But it isn’t all there is to say, and the big sweeping narrative simply erases big chunks of the real and the ordinary. Your narrative seems to come down to “we can’t fix it all so nothing else matters.” And the reality is that it does matter – a lot. Even if I die, if my kids die, how we live and how we die and how we live with others *MATTER.* And the stories aren’t all done yet, despite your insistence that they are and there’s no more to tell.

    Sharon

  12. #12 Bob
    November 3, 2010

    @Michael Dawson, Right on!

    @DD,
    Much of what you say may be true, but you put things into global terms, which I think oversimplifies things. If you believe what Greer says about collapse (and I do, at this time), then our species’ descent into post-industrialism will be slow. Horribly painful, messy, devastating, and worse, but slow. We don’t have time to “preserve our way of life,” whatever that means, and billions will die poor and hungry. However: who remains, and where, and how, and what happens next, have not been predetermined. If we learn to live well, with less, in the present, then our children can do the same, and so on, until at least the POSSIBILITY of people choosing meaningful, connected, creative lives exists in the future. If we abandon that hope, then our descendants will either die out or be mindless consumers in the American Church of CapitalEmpire (or whatever dystopia you choose to imagine). Creating and sending the message of authentic hope now serves as a counterpoint: generations from now, when people look to history (us) to consider if and how to rebuild, the more sane voices they encounter, the better.

  13. #13 darwinsdog
    November 3, 2010

    Even if we are all doomed, so what – doesn’t the quality of life lived daily by people before they die matter? It does to me.

    It does to me too, Sharon. In fact, my entire emphasis is on “the quality of life lived daily,” as opposed to righteous living as a means towards averting environmental catastrophe & population collapse. If right livelihood is indulged in as an attempt to circumvent the inevitable, then it’s a fool’s errand. But if one lives the good life simply for the satisfaction thus obtained, then doing so becomes it’s own reward.

    The problem I have with your arguments, DD, is not that they are necessarily wrong, but that you choose a big picture narrative…

    And:

    @DD, Much of what you say may be true, but you put things into global terms..

    I don’t understand why the “big picture narrative” and putting “things into global terms” is objectionable. I consider this my contribution. I consider it a perspective that is otherwise lacking. People need to have their provincial concerns framed in the perspective of geological time & planetary processes, “in big sweeping brush strokes.” No one besides a handful of historical geologists, paleontologists & macroevolutionary theorists seem capable of doing this. I’ve had to consciously temper my use of terms such as “imminent” collapse because although from my perspective time frames of 10 to 10^2 – and even of 10^3 – 10^4 years – is imminent, others, grounded in time frames more directly pertinent to the events of human lifetimes, seem to regard “imminent” in terms of seconds to weeks or years. I invite others to broaden their temporal & areal perspectives. Doing so in no sense precludes doing things “to relieve suffering and bring comfort” in the short term. On the contrary, it seems to me that consideration of the “big picture narrative” enlightens any effort to better the circumstances of oneself & others.

  14. #14 Charles Hixson
    November 3, 2010

    Can you solve “The Tragedy of the Commons”? It comes in many different forms, but a solution for any of them is not obvious.

    A part of the problem is that human organizations require control by a single unit that is ethical, honest, and far-sighted. This means that no human qualifies. But so far only humans can understand the problems.

    If this is a correct statement of the problem, then the solution will only come with the development and entrusting of an AI that is capable of understanding the problem and making decisions. (It doesn’t necessarily need to be able to implement the decisions. It requires a stronger AI, but with a sufficiently strong AI it should be able to give advice that, if followed, with both benefit the advised party and lead to a better outcome.)

    My estimate for the appearance of such an AI is around 2030. With quite a bit of uncertainty. (Note, however, that during the lead up to this computers will be entrusted increasingly with more and more decisions.)

    OTOH, as AI becomes stronger, it will displace more and more humans from jobs, exacerbating the current tensions. So in the short term this has made matters worse, and will continue to do so.

    I don’t see any other solution, however, to this “tragedy of the commons” kind of problem. Whether we’ll last that long is an unfortunately interesting question. Current tensions seem similar to those of the 1930’s, and those lead to the rise of fascism. With current weapons…

    Well, it’s looking tight.

  15. #15 Sylvia
    November 3, 2010

    I’m going to liberally quote ranprieur.com here, bc it’s brilliant and I can’t do better. (ie all current political options are dysfunctional, deny the reality of our condition and don’t/can’t offer solutions, but there’s bad and there’s BAD. I would temper it to say that I believe there may be individuals of worth on either side of the aisle.)
    from ranprieur.com:
    You are in a giant building that’s on fire. The Democratic party is saying, “Yes, there was a small fire, but it’s mostly under control now. We spent eleven cents on squirt guns and a trillion dollars building some higher floors. Remain calm and go about your business.”

    The Republican party is saying, “You are in a giant building that’s on FIRE!… Those people are to blame, and those people, and those people! KILL them! Kill them ALL!! And to put out the fire, we will use gasoline, and white phosphorus! YEEEEEE-HAAAAAAA!!!!”

    Now, if you are trying to get safely out of the building, who would you rather have in charge?

  16. #16 Tim
    November 3, 2010

    As the population goes up and the available free energy goes down we will all have to economize. Politicians that continue to promise an alternative solution to this fact should be flogged.
    Common sense, as Thomas Paine has said, is the best way forward.

  17. #17 Sara
    November 3, 2010

    yikes
    this is like listening to the news
    i’m turning it OFF

  18. #18 Laurie Meunier Graves
    November 3, 2010

    I’ve been reading this blog for quite a while, but I haven’t ever left a comment. This time, I thought I should. Sharon, I think you are absolutely right, and you put it so well.

    In Maine, where I live, we got hit with a triple whammy—a tea party governer as well as the House and the Senate controlled by Republicans, who in a recent platform stated, “Health care is not a right.”

    What is that supposed to mean? That poor people should just give up and die when they get sick? This really hit home as I have just had surgery for breast cancer and am undergoing treatment. The surgery alone, for a lumpectomy, cost $15,000. I am lucky. I have good insurance. But what about those who are not so lucky?

    Anyway, keep spreading the word. We need to open our hands, not clench them into fists.

  19. #19 Greg Pinelli
    November 3, 2010

    I love Sharon’s psychoanalysis..people only voted this way because os “fear..depression..” They voted this way because they are disgusted..and it took them 2 years to recognize that they re-elected George Bush..and the same Statist solution to every problem he stood for.

    The issue isn’t “doing more for people..” It’s about getting out of productive people’s way and stopping the non-stop slobbering over those that do nothing. Stop subsidizing the welfare corporatist State..and the bottom feeders that live perpetually off Welfare..food stamps..and perpetual unemployment.

    Anyone who buys into politics as a solution to our problems is delusional. The answer is ethical…stop living off others..stop giving what doesn’t belong to you away to those it only debilitates….

  20. #20 darwinsdog
    November 3, 2010

    Can you solve “The Tragedy of the Commons”?

    Yeah. The solution is called “private property.” When the solution is worse than the problem, isn’t the issue framed backwards?

    ..the solution will only come with the development and entrusting of an AI that is capable of understanding the problem and making decisions..

    ..My estimate for the appearance of such an AI is around 2030.

    2030: when Skynet becomes self-aware, when the machines take over, mecho ousts orgo, & Gaia goes solid state, spinning off Her corrosive atmosphere & hydrosphere, along with the organic redox scum that infests it. Sounds familiar.

    And to put out the fire, we will use gasoline, and white phosphorus! YEEEEEE-HAAAAAAA!!!!”

    I was in the army. White phosphorus is cool stuff. It lights up the night like the Phial of Eraendil. Hope this don’t make me a Republican.

    As the population goes up.. ..we will all have to economize.

    Naw, don’t economize. Go for the gusto. Bite as big a chunk outta life as you can, while you’re still able, while there’s any left.. Why not? Yours may be one of the final opportunities. Okay, maybe it’s a better idea to share. Not too many other people will see it that way, tho. What’s the right thing to do when doing the right thing puts you at a disadvantage relative to those who could give a rat’s ass about doing the right thing? The human question.

  21. #21 darwinsdog
    November 3, 2010

    #18:

    We need to open our hands, not clench them into fists.

    #19:

    Stop subsidizing the welfare corporatist State..and the bottom feeders that live perpetually off Welfare..food stamps..and perpetual unemployment.

    #17:

    yikes

    this is like listening to the news
    i’m turning it OFF

  22. #22 Stephen B.
    November 3, 2010

    Lol! Every one of you should move to Massachusetts where we just enjoyed a total Democratic sweep. From governor to treasurer, auditor, my district attorney, my Congressman, along with 9 other Congresspeople, not one was won by a Republican. I guess that means that MA is ALL SET for the future, huh?!

    Except, that MA is spending like there’s no tomorrow. One congress critter that just got re-elected (Barney Frank) partook in a junket on a private, corporate jet to the Caribbean, the plane being owned by a hedge fund/bank that got about $200 million in TARP/bailout money….There’s lots of other horrid stories too, but I’ll spare you all.

    The thing is, if the Repubs had won it all here in MA too, I’d be just as depressed as I am today by the Democratic sweep for exactly the anti-xenophobic reasons articulated by Sharon and her readers.

    Face it. Neither party understands the peak resource, globalization, and climate mess we are in. Neither will publicly articulate a plan to help people and civilization deal with serious resource and climate decline. No, not even the Democrats can do that. We’ll just borrow and spend and spend and spend on roads and buildings and sweetheart deals for a couple of hundred wind turbines off of Cape Cod and charge electric rates 4X what the project originally proposed along with continuing outrageous UMASS presidential pensions and the like, then the economy will improve and we’ll all be fine here in MA.

    Sure.

    I guess it’s good that at least we’re not blaming the Muslims here in MA. On the other hand, over the past 15 years, I’ve seen the poor communities of Boston, Fall River, Lowell, Lawrence, Roxbury, expand like I never thought possible, all while we’ve had Democratic leadership here.

    How has that party’s leadership helped?

    We so badly need a third party it’s not funny.

    But I also know that the moment Sharon is hoping for *will* come, that time when somebody can finally speak the truth. Judging from the response I get when I try to link resource/energy decline with the current economic mess, that is, when I talk in political terms, it seems that that time isn’t at hand yet. On the other hand, from the extra interest I get when I talk about my experiences living a more sustainable, less corporate life, and how it’s helped my family’s situation, the hopeful moment of truth *does* seem to be drawing closer.

    Keep up the advocacy and keep living your life as you know it has to be lived.

  23. #23 Stephen B.
    November 3, 2010

    One last thing I’d add is that when the truth is finally spoken, it’s going to include telling people that they have to take some responsibility for their own lives too. After all, that’s really what most of us here who advocate living more sustainable, more local, less corporate, $-materialistic lives are doing ourselves. In a way, this heightened sense of personal responsibility, I think, is what Greg Pinelli is talking about in post #19.

    No politician can go there yet. But that’s going to have to happen too.

  24. #24 darwinsdog
    November 3, 2010

    One last thing I’d add is that when the truth is finally spoken…

    “It’s a great country: you can say whatever you like so long as it is strictly true – nobody will ever take you seriously.
    –Edward Abbey

  25. #25 Stephen B.
    November 3, 2010

    Ah, Desert Solitaire!

  26. #26 michelle
    November 4, 2010

    Mark Edmundsen in the Chronicle http://chronicle.com/article/William-Blakes-America-2010/125024/
    uses William Blake’s poetry as an analogy for what’s happening:

    London

    I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
    Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
    And mark in every face I meet
    Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

    In every cry of every Man.
    In every Infant’s cry of fear,
    In every voice, in every ban,
    The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.

    How the Chimney-sweepers cry
    Every black’ning Church appalls;
    And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
    Runs in blood down Palace walls.

    But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
    How the youthful Harlot’s curse
    Blasts the new born Infant’s tear
    And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

  27. #27 Brad K.
    November 4, 2010

    Sharon,

    One issue looms greatly for me. At Dunkirk, “the enemy” was visceral to one and all in Britain. Families had already been tasked for young men to build the British Army, the nation was engaged in personal terms with the war efforts. Many business arrangements with The Continent had been disarranged, many had family ties in countries Hitler had attacked or over-run. Dunkirk was a battle that the nation had been engaged in already. Time and personal involvement, and government leadership had already established both the necessity and legitimacy of the war effort. Naysayers were few – and the rank and file British citizen were vigilant, guarding against Nazi sympathizers. There were very, very few neutral citizens. The war, at that point, had been going on since Hitler’s rise to power and Germany had begun breaking international agreements – and the saber-rattling was less than a generation since The Great War, WWI. So people were alert, they had the experience of their elders to guide them.

    The enemy this time – peak oil, the coming peak coal, peak potash (an industrial agriculture mainstay fertilizer, for gosh sakes), etc. – hasn’t actually struck the families and communities of America the way that Britain’s enemy, then, made itself known. We haven’t had a draft of young people from half the families in the nation, and many lost or risked in heavy battle. Such an enemy action would strike home that this enemy is endangering us and our lives.

    There have always been the fore-runners, those that see the coming storm, and raise a warning. There have always been those that understand the reasoning, and make the wise choices. At time, whole nations have risen to an esoteric challenge – as when Russia launched an orbiting satellite in the 1950s, and spurred America into creating a generation of engineers that achieved marvels. And even while men walked on the Moon, the next generation was celebrating a sexual revolution, a flirtation with drugs and dropping out. Of characterizing the achievement of space effort as creating Tang, an instant breakfast drink.

    As for our “fighting on the beaches” – I don’t think we are there yet. We haven’t fought our WWI, our elders haven’t held the enemy at bay by force of arms, fought the hard battles, and gained the experience of war and battle to stiffen and support their progeny to even greater valor and service.

    Orlov’s “Peak oil is history” piece is, I think, the first real motivation that contradicts Greer’s expectation of a gradual decline that seriously concerns me.

    For the most part, it is the aggressor that defines the war. The nature of the enemy defines the resistance, whether to create it’s own nemesis or not. And the truth is – this enemy has been quiet, mostly, for this corner of the world. Yes, we could, as many have, interpret the growing instability in energy prices and availability as harbingers of greater problems. Yes, we could interpret, as many do, environmental instability as harbingers of greater challenges. But it hasn’t cost individual families the son or daughter last in resisting that enemy; it hasn’t cost the community the destruction of buildings and resources, at least not detectably.

    Instead our “great enemy” as Nick points out, is political rhetoric that bullshit detectors mostly acknowledge as mere distraction. Nick, the national debt is a matter of nations; you nor I will have anything to do with settling the silly thing; nor will we have anything to do with the long-standing and growing impact it has on the crippling of our economy and degradation of our ability to meet the real challenges. Deal with it, and face the real enemies, the liars in leadership positions, the failure to address local food and craft security, the failure to move, individually and as communities, off the current “GDP” cash-based economy fueled by converting cheap energy to money and onto an informal economy of barter and community resilience.

    My fear, Sharon, is that we are a couple of generations from the efforts and heroism of our own Dunkirk. My prayer, Nick, is that out of today’s chaotic mix of denial and forewarning and preparation, will come the experience and examples of successfully preparing for, and enduring, the storms to come. At this point the only efforts I disparage are those tied to the current round of political rhetoric that distracts attention from the challenges on our doorstep and amongst us.

  28. #28 Lila
    November 4, 2010

    Yesterday I heard several Republican winners compare their victories to a tsunami. Does anybody else see the irony in their using such a destructive, devastating metaphor?

  29. #29 ET
    November 4, 2010

    Here’s where using “we” instead of “they” would be a good idea:

    “people aren’t idiots for the most part – they are vulnerable, easily led and afraid, not stupid.”

    Especially considering your next sentence:

    “When we begin to tell the truth”

    If “they” are so separate from “we” we all have long way to go.

  30. #30 Claire
    November 4, 2010

    I might be missing something because I don’t watch tv, but the election results didn’t strike me as being particularly noteworthy. It seemed like standard-issue midterm election results: the party in power didn’t fix all the problems (can’t, for the reasons that Sharon and others put forth), so some members got tossed out in favor of new folks who don’t know they can’t either and/or have misled the public into thinking they can solve the problems. It’s been going on for as long as I’ve been following elections (mid 1970s). Wash, rinse, repeat.

    Here in St. Louis, the only thing that struck me as real bad – and it is, for St. Louis and Kansas City – is that their city earnings taxes have been struck down. This only happened because the whole state got to vote on it – it was put forth as a state proposition, and there is a long, ugly history of bad blood between the two largest cities and the rest of the state. Otherwise, I didn’t notice anything surprising. Most of the incumbents won, including my (Democratic) U.S. congressman and the St. Louis County Executive. At least half of the local propositions to enact bond issues or new taxes passed. MO elected a Republican senator to take over for a retiring Republican senator. This is news?

    That doesn’t mean Sharon and others haven’t been talking about real problems. I don’t agree with all of you on possible solutions, but generally speaking I think we all can see something is quite wrong and maybe aren’t real far apart, mostly, on solutions. I just don’t think that putting energy into wringing our hands over the election results will do any good. Better to save that energy for the work that needs to be done.

  31. #31 Travis
    November 4, 2010

    I have t agree with Claire, the results of the election should really be surprising. First, about 40 of the seats that Democrats gave up were one-termers from Republican districts that McCain actually won in 2008. Really 2006 and 2008 were the anomalies. The House of Representatives should be (for the time being) slightly-right in terms of likely voter demographics. 2006 and 2008 stretched the House out of it’s normal shape, and it was bound to snap back. Uncertainty and Democrat voter apathy belched up a few seats, but in 2012 the game will yet again be different. Don’t sweat it. Two years is an eternity in politics. It is Republicans who face a long term existential challenge.

  32. #32 gen
    November 6, 2010

    I am hoping for a leader that is willing to ‘walk the walk’and not just ‘talk the talk’. We have elected leadership from both parties who can talk about the environment, the good of the poor, or going green, but then jet off on vacations, or across the country to make a quick appearance for themselves or their Party pals. Could we have someone who leads by example? Regardless of their political party affiliations, many of those we idolize in this country–politicians, actors, sports people–seem to live without true regard for the planet. Even the worthy cause fund-raisers seem generally too expensive in an environmental or social sense to justify.
    Perhaps if I had their power and money, I would live more governed by my whims, but I hope not.

  33. #33 darwinsdog
    November 6, 2010

    Could we have someone who leads by example? ..many of those we idolize.. ..seem to live without true regard for the planet.

    I don’t think so, gen. We would never hear of such a person. Only those who lead a life of ostentation rise to public recognition, and such ostentation necessarily involves a high impact, carbon intensive lifestyle. Those who practice right livelihood follow their own path and do not seek to lead others.

  34. #34 Kuba
    November 7, 2010

    I agree with you on the fact that ordinary people are not told the truth about politics. We are often told lies, and the false information given to us by politicians weakens our trust of the government. When Republicans say the Democrats started the recession, I will admit that they are not being truthful for it was in fact the very same Republicans who started it. However, what is even more unbearable is the fact that Democrats have told us everything is okay. As far as I know, looking around at my fellow colleagues I can tell nothing is near okay. And when you tell me I am overreacting I am just in dismay. I have every right to be afraid of how my politicians are about to ruin my country, not to mention already have. My fear is that my future will not be better.
    Politicians often lie, and don’t tell us the truth about the future. However, what politician would ever be elected saying the next few years will be dismal. I would like to mention an outlier here. The recently reelected governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, throughout his campaign mentioned the fact that he will need to raise taxes and that the near future for Illinois will be a little rough just so we can improve our greater future. Although I personally may not like Quinn, I must say I admire his attempt to tell the truth. No one knows how true his word are, however a politician that tells us the truth is better than one that lies straight in our faces. What should we believe?

  35. #35 clew
    November 15, 2010

    Can you solve “The Tragedy of the Commons”? It comes in many different forms, but a solution for any of them is not obvious.

    You’re a couple years out of date even by pop culture standards — Elinor Ostrom has won a Nobel prize for her decades spent explaining how actual cultures have managed limited vital resources with no Skynet, for hundreds of years, in a bunch of different ways.

  36. #36 darwinsdog
    November 16, 2010

    Elinor Ostrom has won a Nobel prize for her decades spent explaining how actual cultures have managed limited vital resources.. for hundreds of years, in a bunch of different ways.

    Yeah, and these cultures didn’t have the population pressure we have today, nor did they have huge ocean trawlers, high explosives, drag line earth moving equipment, chainsaws, rifles, organic biocides, coal burning power plants.. Nor were they conditioned to selfishness and greed by a lifetime subjected to capitalism.

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