Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Measures of Central Tendency

I’m always trying to boil down my perception of things into as simple a form as possible. A dull game, I guess, but a necessary one for anybody who reads too much. Herewith my version of the four great facts of our situation:

1. A large proportion of humanity is anguished by the advent of secular civilization, the decline of religious values, and the corresponding overturn of traditional hierarchies of race and gender. Ergo the many versions of reactionary modernism afoot in the world, the Talibans, Tea Parties, fundamentalists of all faiths. In the U.S. and perhaps Europe, the political significance of this protest is mostly that the aging old guard remains capable of blocking efforts to deal with other problems. In other places, especially North Africa and the Middle East where the demography is different, enormous populations of young men are susceptible to cultural reaction; and they aren’t wheezing around on bad knees.

2. The absence of a credible left since the fall of the U.S.S.R. resulted in an dangerously unbalanced situation. Disparities of wealth and income are bound to increase when those who have have no reason to fear those who don't have. Ergo lower wages for the many, the profitable destruction of the environment, and the purchase of governments.

3. Outside of the developing world, the expansion of the economy drastically slowed thirty or forty years ago, in part because it had been driven by a one-time transition from an agricultural to industrial basis, in part because in this period there just haven't been any technological innovations with the same economic importance as the advent of electric power or cars or even refrigerators. In lieu of the growth of tangible productive capacity, global finance has swelled uselessly like the enlarged heart of a sick old man. Meanwhile, the neoliberal dogma of the free market is hobbling what has been the real engine of technological growth over the last century, government-led innovation. This time around, King Ludd is the monarch of business interests rather than workers.

4. The fourth horse, rapidly galloping up from the pack to challenge the leaders, is climate change. Global warming is already putting pressure on social and economic systems, though it will be even harder to convince the public of its indirect effects than of its mere reality. The denialists wouldn’t stop denying what’s going on if Lake Erie were at a rolling boil. They certainly aren’t going to accept that a climate-related Malthusian crisis, especially in the overpopulated global South, is the underlying cause of extreme political turmoil.

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