shiftlessness

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation July 6, 2015
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While the folks clogging the US tattoo parlors may not have noticed, things are beginning to look a little World War one-ish out there. Except the current blossoming world conflict is being fought not with massed troops and tanks but with interest rates and repayment schedules. Germany now dawdles in reply to the gauntlet slammed down Sunday in the Greek referendum (hell) “no” vote. Germany’s immediate strategy, it appears, is to apply some good old fashioned Teutonic todesfurcht — let the Greeks simmer in their own juices for a few days while depositors suck the dwindling cash reserves from the banks and the grocery store shelves empty out. Then what?

Nobody knows. And anything can happen.

One thing we ought to know: both sides in the current skirmish are fighting reality. The Germans foolishly insist that the Greek’s meet their debt obligations. The German’s are just pissing into the wind on that one, a hazardous business for a nation of beer drinkers. The Greeks insist on living the 20th century deluxe industrial age lifestyle, complete with 24/7 electricity, cheap groceries, cushy office jobs, early retirement, and plenty of walking-around money. They’ll be lucky if they land back in the 1800s, comfort-wise.

The Greeks may not recognize this, but they are in the vanguard of a movement that is wrenching the techno-industrial nations back to much older, more local, and simpler living arrangements. The Euro, by contrast, represents the trend that is over: centralization and bigness. The big questions are whether the latter still has enough mojo left to drag out the transition process, and for how long, and how painfully.

World affairs suffer from the disease of terminal excessive complexity. To make matters worse, much of the late-phase complexity operates in the service of accounting fraud of one kind or another. The world’s banking system is mired in the unreality of so many unmeetable obligations, cooked books, three-card-monte swap gimmicks, interest rate euchres, secret arbitrages, market manipulation monkeyshines, and countless other cons, swindles, and hornswoggles that all the auditors ever born could not produce a coherent record of what has been wreaked in the life of this universe (or several parallel universes). Remember Long Term Capital Management? That’s what the world has become.

What happens in the case of untenable complexity is that it tends to unravel fast and furiously. That’s exactly why avalanches and earthquakes happen all at once, not stretched out over a six week period. The global financial scene not so different. It’s just another matrix of linked mutually-supporting relationships that can implode if a few members weaken.

One question worth reflecting on is whether the implosion is actually well underway on-the-ground in real economies, with just the scrim of illusion to make the surface appear intact. That surely seems to be the case in the USA, where the so-called economy has already avalanched into a rubble heap of part-time scut jobs, defaulted college loans, underwater mortgages, and groaning pension funds — with an overlay of pointless and endless motoring.

Over in Euroland, the Greek “no” also implies that every other sovereign nation wallowing in deep financial shit will demand a haircut (and a disinfectant shower). Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and even France cannot possibly meet their debt obligations. Their citizens are being taunted with currency controls, too, and they have every bit as much potential to go ape-y as the Greeks. Notice you haven’t heard much from their leaders and financial ministers in recent weeks. They are all standing on the sidelines watching the Greeks go through the wringer — but you can be sure they are all making plans of their own.

The failure of the European experiment will be extremely demoralizing to the hopeful citizens of that continent, who emerged from the bloodbath of the early 20th century to become the world’s premier peaceful tourist theme park. I don’t know that they necessarily have to go back to fighting each other on battlefields with things that blow up and destroy human flesh, but they surely have to decentralize and re-fashion some kind of simpler, local way-of-life if they expect to remain civilized.

It’ll happen everywhere. The Japanese are next, of course, and they may be the most fortunate, since they retain more than a few shreds of memory for exactly that mode of life: the Tokugawa shogunate (the Edo period, 1600 – 1853), a manner of high pre-industrial economy and culture that might have persisted indefinitely had not Commodore Perry come knocking on their door, so to speak, in his “black ships.”

Ukraine is about halfway back to being medieval with excellent potential to overshoot even that. The Euroland PIIG(F) nations don’t have the energy resources to extend Modernity, even if the banking system wasn’t terminally ill, and then on top of that they have the ethno-demographic quandary of creeping Muslimization — plus the additional flotillas of desperate boat people arriving daily.

America, count your blessings. Tattoos, obesity, drug use, and shiftlessness are all basically behavioral choices. You don’t need a finance minister or a central banker to overcome those problems.

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

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