Monday, March 21, 2005

Mostly Terrifying

Where do we go from here?

If we assume that James Wolcott has called it aright (and in truth I think there are many of us who have had similar feelings), what can we expect? What choices will we face?

This has always been a hypothetical question. “What if the fall of empire were to happen today?” A science fiction question. So let’s look to the sci-fi authors for some input.

David Brin wrote a wonderful little book called The Postman, (which should not be judged for having been dragged through the muck by Kevin Costner at his worst) in which the biggest concern are neo-feudalist survivalists. This book is both quaintly dated and eerily prescient in many ways. For our circumstances, though, I don’t expect a Fall would be so complete or explicit today, for reasons I will discuss shortly.

Margaret Atwood’s latest, Oryx and Crake, is much more important for today’s concerned reader. While making liberal use of novelistic conventions to foreshorten time’s passage, she still manages to convey an all-too-plausible misc en scene for the decline and fall of Western Civilization. Not that she has advice for us, mind you. It’s doomsday out there, and damn the torpedoes.

Another recommendation, a bit more off the beaten track, is Outlaw School, by Rebecca Ore, who manages to give a searing warning of the potentials of modern social extremism without actually ever mentioning religion. This is a truly relevant book for 2005 (it was written a few years ago). Keep working, whatever happens, she shows us, and things will come of it, even if only indirectly.

But what if we take some time to imagine a future for ourselves? Preliminary observations about our current and future circumstances are mostly terrifying, but let’s get to details.

We can, for instance, safely conclude that the credit and banking industries will squeeze the middle class ruthlessly, given the new bankruptcy laws. Yet there will yet be those who manage to hold on. Importantly, there is no small incentive for the insurance and mortgage sectors of the financial industries to maintain at least some vestigial middle class.

As many have noted, the crisis of the middle class is now one of emergency cash expenditures, mostly health are related. In this way the radical right’s emphasis on religion becomes self-fulfilling: those who have a social support network to turn to will avoid poverty. Those who do not, or whose extended family groupings have to face multiple crises, will become service-industry statistics.

(There is some question in my mind about private banks appearing on the scene who give preferential treatment to Christians, especially in the mortgage sector, but I have not seen this yet. What I have seen are indications that a separate micro-economic community based on evangelical membership is emerging. This would be something to pay some attention to with regards to other potential forms of social exclusion.)

In any case, those who maintain their place in the bourgois classes will be much more fully beset by difficulties (indeed, peril), and thoroughly saturated by messages tying financial solvency to relative moral worth and codes of political conduct.

It is a given that the only segment of the middle class that matters in today’s political calculations are those who consent to the ruling agenda. As well, we can easily see and foresee how the dying demographic of the middle class liberal will be made less and less a factor in over-all political calculations. In the intermediate term, though, there are many middle class liberals waiting to be bled dry.

Damn it sucks to be a boomer.

(I maintain several iotas of optimism regarding the Dean insurgency, of course, but that gets us to the media wars, which I will write on soon.)

Better minds than mine have noted that the value/stability of mortgages and property values constitute economic indices that are both very important and very threatened.

What I expect is the development of a new class of financial instruments that allow people to continue living in houses that are somehow more fully not theirs.

Furthermore, I have faith that in the self-preservation instinct of the elite and their managerial class, it will be widely acknowledged that change which is penetrating and internal is far more stable than change which is dramatic and external. The question now is how much pressure will be brought from outside actors.

Given the suicide commando combination of our current foreign policy theory and fiscal policy, it is easy to wonder if our financial institutions will get the chance to play out their hand.

The alternative would have to be quite dire, and yet a full scale collapse does not yet seem plausible all the same.

Go read Margaret Atwood and Rebecca Ore. You tell me how plausible their scenarios sound.


At 6:08 AM, March 22, 2005, Blogger panoptican said...

Welcome to the blogosphere Sam. I'm certain I'll enjoy.


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