Monday, July 07, 2008

What Do Unicorns, the Tooth Fairy, and a Good Start To the Week Have in Common?

I'm not Catholic, so why do I insist on beginning every day with merciless psychic self-flagellation like this? Nothing prepares you to finish that first cuppa coffee and face the world like:
Global mitigation [of climate change, fossil-fuel consumption, and imbalanced, unsustainable development] ...would be tacitly abandoned (as, to some extent, it already has been) in favor of accelerated investment in selective adaptation for Earth's first-class passengers. ... If this seems unduly apocalyptic, consider that most climate models project impacts that will uncannily reinforce the present geography of inequality. ...The current ruthless competition between energy and food markets, amplified by international speculation in commodities and agricultural land, is only a modest portent of the chaos that could soon grow exponentially from the convergence of resource depletion, intractable inequality, and climate change. The real danger is that human solidarity itself, like a West Antarctic ice shelf, will suddenly fracture and shatter into a thousand shards.
"If this seems unduly apocalyptic," he says. The true horror is that it never does. These kinds of articles evoke a soulquake the magnitude of which I never feel when reading about good ol' fashioned murder, war, crimes against humanity, or even a single natural disaster. Because these kinds of articles are a meticulous mesh of every apocalyptic fear, self-identified moral shortcoming, and paralysing neurosis a human can have: class guilt; the hollowness of good intentions; the futility of good deeds; binarily symbiotic twin lifestyles of (1) victimhood & (2) exploitation or an accessory thereof; every filmic nightmare from 28 Days Later to Mad Max becoming a reality (coupled with the sneaking suspicion that you wouldn't cut it as either Cilian Murphey or Mel Gibson); and all Four Horsemen riding through for good measure.

And of those offering solutions (and not merely pointing to the myriad portents of DOOM), it's hard to delineate between bold, outside-the-box thinking and batshit lunacy. Seriously, how dire a sign is it that a proposal initially submitted as satire a mere three years ago is now being peddled as po-faced pragmatism? Our species is careening towards one of the two fundamental options posted by that extraterrestrial trio.

Anyway... a couple of days ago, a friend forwarded me this speech by Herbert Meyer, out of the sneaking suspicion that it was, in common parlance, bullshit. Indeed it was, as I outlined in an e-mail that bears re-printing here. It's hardly my most eloquent & exhaustively researched rebuttal, but that's hardly ever the case with e-mails hammered out after midnight. Begin transmission:

[Meyer's speech is] interesting & provocative, for sure, but it's mostly bullshit. The only thing the guy gets indisputably right is the grim prognosis for the Japanese economy based on its aging demographics & resistance to increased immigration. To take a closer look at the issues...

1. The War in Iraq

No, the war is not fucking going well. By any standard. From the $3 trillion price tag, to a minimum of 100,000 dead Iraqis; from the neglect of the Afghan war (which just passed the Iraq war in monthly casualties for the first time in May), to the skyrocketing rate of terrorist activity with the war as an excuse; from the total depletion of America's global political capital, to the increased prestige Iran has enjoyed strictly out of saying, "I told you so..."

Obama as president is possibly the best thing that could happen for US-Iranian relations: if Obama follows through on his promise of an open dialogue with Iran, then Ahmadinejad is robbed of his "Great Satan" boogieman. (Never mind that Ahmadinejad has no say in Iran's foreign policy and thus isn't the threat he's made out to be - America needs its own boogieman, after all, and bin Laden's no good, because to invoke his name would only remind the public that he's not been captured.)

As for the threat posed by radical Islam... I quote Carlin: "Certain groups of people - Muslim fundamentalists, Christian fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, and just plain guys from Montana - are going to continue to make life in this country very interesting for a long time." The fact is that Christian fundies pose a more direct threat to the civil liberties of any American citizen than some Koran-thumping fist-shaker. But then, I believe to be religious at all is to be radical in a dangerous way.

2. China

Don't believe the hype about China being the next global hegemon. It's a country that was overpopulated to begin with (fuckin' Mao) and has since lost a half-billion of its agricultural workforce to cities with incomplete infrastructures and no effective environmental controls. Then factor in a burgeoning middle-class that's driving the prices of life's essentials out of the reach of the massive working & poor classes in both China and its neighbouring new kid on the G8(+), India. The countries won't be able to support their own bulk.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing: do we want the next superpower to be a country that has managed to combine the worst elements of capitalism and totalitarianism? People who believe the "free market" will literally bring freedom with it obviously don't understand that the market needn't be free if one entity owns the whole fuckin' market.

3. Demographics & Birth Rates

This is where I start to see "culture," "Juedo-Christianity," "birthrates," etc. as coded language for outright racism. Meyer is half-right when he says a spike in anti-Semitism indicates a perfect storm of political instability & economic struggle; the other half of the truth is that general xenophobia - not just anti-Semitism - rise rapidly during troubled times.

Hence, the recent anti-Roma riots in Italy and refugee camp slaughters in South Africa. Meanwhile, hate crimes against Latino-Americans have increased over the past year as Neocons use the illegal immigration issue to galvanize their (bigoted) voting block. They pulled this same stunt in '04 screaming bloody hell over gay marriage.

In fact, far from diluting or swallowing their "host" culture, there's much evidence to indicate that immigrants assimilate faster & more completely today than ever before. This precisely why, when Lou Dobbs or Glenn Beck talk about undocumented workers or how Germany will be "a Muslim nation" in fifteen years, all I hear is thinly-veiled WASP-supremacy.

Another question is whether the goal of culture is to preserve & maintain certain linguistic/behavioral/religious/culinary dogma; or if it's to be a fluid, organic, evolving fusion of diverse influences. I'd argue ardently for the latter, but that's a whole doctoral thesis, so I'll save it for later.

Meanwhile - what the fuck was that about euthanasia becoming "popular" throughout Europe? On what fucking evidence can he make that claim? And high birth rates in the developing world are nothing to laud. In India, for example, of the 26 million children born annually, 2.1 million will die before they reach the age of five. Of the surivors, over 26% will live in poverty, which is set at a standard of living under $0.40/day. Boy, I bet they're thrilled to know they're out-breeding those smug Occidental motherfuckers!

4. American Business

For starters, I hardly see how the cost of benefits, healthcare, insurance, etc. becoming the individual responsibility of every worker will benefit the economy. It's one thing if white collar middle managers, lawyers, and investment bankers can afford to opt out of & in to whatever coverage & benefits they like, but how will service industry staff & blue collar workers (nevermind the invisible keystone of undocumented workers) possibly afford it?

Secondly, Meyer is correct that statistics (and especially how the media report them) regarding the economy can be misleading. True, if the GM cafeteria staff switched affiliations to Marriott, the headlines would probably cry over lost manufacturing jobs and not new service industry jobs. What Meyer conspicuously avoids mentioning is how the White House has tampered with definitions, demographics, and criteria over the past 40 years to create a wholly misleading portrait of the US economy. For example, if inflation were measured using criteria in place prior to the Reagan administration, it would sit not at the "official" estimate of 4%, but at a whopping 12%. Similarly, the Bureau of Labour Statistics estimated January 2008 unemployment at 5.2% - but once you expand the definition of "unemployed" to what it meant before Clinton tampered with it, the actual rate is closer to 9%. And that still doesn't include anyone on disability.

Kevin Phillips wrote a brilliant piece summarizing the spin-doctoring of the American economy in last month's Harper's, but he discusses it at some length in this video.

...So there you have it. Not that I particularly expected some rational truth out of a professional spook. Those guys have a nationalist fervor that rivals the Pope's religious rigor - and since the Devil can quote scripture, they've no qualms mobilizing the profane in the defense of the sacred.

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