AuthorTopic: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse  (Read 1425 times)

Offline Surly1

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Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« on: January 27, 2018, 07:17:49 AM »
Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
The Strange New Pathologies of the World’s First Rich Failed State


You might say, having read some of my recent essays, “Umair! Don’t worry! Everything will be fine! It’s not that bad!” I would look at you politely, and then say gently, “To tell you the truth, I don’t think we’re taking collapse nearly seriously enough.”

Why? When we take a hard look at US collapse, we see a number of social pathologies on the rise. Not just any kind. Not even troubling, worrying, and dangerous ones. But strange and bizarre ones. Unique ones. Singular and gruesomely weird ones I’ve never really seen before, and outside of a dystopia written by Dickens and Orwell, nor have you, and neither has history. They suggest that whatever “numbers” we use to represent decline — shrinking real incomes, inequality, and so on —we are in fact grossly underestimating what pundits call the “human toll”, but which sensible human beings like you and I should simply think of as the overwhelming despair, rage, and anxiety of living in a collapsing society.

Let me give you just five examples of what I’ll call the social pathologies of collapse — strange, weird, and gruesome new diseases, not just ones we don’t usually see in healthy societies, but ones that we have never really seen before in any modern society.

America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That’s one every other day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough — but it is just a number. Perspective asks us for comparison. So let me put that another way. America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country — and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”: a new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society.

Why are American kids killing each other? Why doesn’t their society care enough to intervene? Well, probably because those kids have given up on life — and their elders have given up on them. Or maybe you’re right — and it’s not that simple. Still, what do the kids who aren’t killing each other do? Well, a lot of them are busy killing themselves.

So there is of course also an “opioid epidemic”. We use that phrase too casually, but it much more troubling than it appears on first glance. Here is what is really curious about it. In many countries in the world — most of Asia and Africa — one can buy all the opioids one wants from any local pharmacy, without a prescription. You might suppose then that opioid abuse as a mass epidemic would be a global phenomenon. Yet we don’t see opioid epidemics anywhere but America — especially not ones so vicious and widespread they shrink life expectancy. So the “opioid epidemic” — mass self-medication with the hardest of hard drugs — is again a social pathology of collapse: unique to American life. It is not quite captured in the numbers, but only through comparison — and when we see it in global perspective, we get a sense of just how singularly troubled American life really is.

Why would people abuse opioids en masse unlike anywhere else in the world? They must be living genuinely traumatic and desperate lives, in which there is little healthcare, so they have to self-medicate the terror away. But what is so desperate about them? Well, consider another example: the “nomadic retirees”. They live in their cars. They go from place to place, season after season, chasing whatever low-wage work they can find — spring, an Amazon warehouse, Christmas, Walmart.

Now, you might say — “well, poor people have always chased seasonal work!” But that is not really the point: absolute powerlessness and complete indignity is. In no other country I can see do retirees who should have been able to save up enough to live on now living in their cars in order to find work just to go on eating before they die — not even in desperately poor ones, where at least families live together, share resources, and care for one another. This is another pathology of collapse that is unique to America — utter powerlessness to live with dignity. Numbers don’t capture it — but comparisons paint a bleak picture.

How did America’s elderly end up cheated of dignity? After all, even desperately poor countries have “informal social support systems” — otherwise known as families and communities. But in America, there is the catastrophic collapse of social bonds. Extreme capitalism has blown apart American society so totally that people cannot even care for one another as much as they do in places like Pakistan and Nigeria. Social bonds, relationships themselves, have become unaffordable luxuries, more so than even in poor countries: this is yet another social pathology unique to American collapse.

Yet those once poor countries are making great strides. Costa Ricans now have higher life expectancy than Americans — because they have public healthcare. American life expectancy is falling, unlike nearly anywhere else in the world, save the UK — because it doesn’t.

And that is my last pathology: it is one of the soul, not one of the limbs, like the others above. American appear to be quite happy simply watching one another die, in all the ways above. They just don’t appear to be too disturbed, moved, or even affected by the four pathologies above: their kids killing each other, their social bonds collapsing, being powerless to live with dignity,or having to numb the pain of it all away.

If these pathologies happened in any other rich country — even in most poor ones — people would be aghast, shocked, and stunned, and certainly moved to make them not happen. But in America, they are, well, not even resigned. They are indifferent, mostly.

So my last pathology is a predatory society. A predatory society doesn’t just mean oligarchs ripping people off financially. In a truer way, it means people nodding and smiling and going about their everyday business as their neighbours, friends, and colleagues die early deaths in shallow graves. The predator in American society isn’t just its super-rich — but an invisible and insatiable force: the normalization of what in the rest of the world would be seen as shameful, historic, generational moral failures, if not crimes, becoming mere mundane everyday affairs not to be too worried by or troubled about.

Perhaps that sounds strong to you. Is it?

Now that I’ve given you a few examples — there are many more — of the social pathologies of collapse, let me share with you the three points that they raise for me.

These social pathologies are something like strange and gruesome new strains of disease infecting the body social. America has always been a pioneer — only today, it is host not just to problems not just rarely seen in healthy societies — it is pioneering novel social pathologies have never been seen in the modern world outside present-day America, period. What does that tell us?

American collapse is much more severe than we suppose it is. We are underestimating its magnitude, not overestimating it. American intellectuals, media, and thought doesn’t put any of its problems in global or historical perspective — but when they are seen that way, America’s problems are revealed to be not just the everyday nuisances of a declining nation, but something more like a body suddenly attacked by unimagined diseases.

Seen accurately. American collapse is a catastrophe of human possibility without modern parallel . And because the mess that America has made of itself, then, is so especially unique, so singular, so perversely special — the treatment will have to be novel, too. The uniqueness of these social pathologies tell us that American collapse is not like a reversion to any mean, or the downswing of a trend. It is something outside the norm. Something beyond the data. Past the statistics. It is like the meteor that hit the dinosaurs: an outlier beyond outliers, an event at the extreme of the extremes. That is why our narratives, frames, and theories cannot really capture it — much less explain it. We need a whole new language — and a new way of seeing — to even begin to make sense of it.

But that is America’s task, not the world’s. The world’s task is this. Should the world follow the American model — extreme capitalism, no public investment, cruelty as a way of life, the perversion of everyday virtue — then these new social pathologies will follow, too. They are new diseases of the body social that have emerged from the diet of junk food — junk media, junk science, junk culture, junk punditry, junk economics, people treating one another and their society like junk — that America has fed upon for too long.

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Palloy2

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2018, 02:24:19 PM »
Quote
... the overwhelming despair, rage, and anxiety of living in a collapsing society.

AND everyone armed to the teeth with guns, AND the despair at maybe being bankrupted by relatively minor medical problems.  AND the despair at protesting peacefully in the streets and being tazered, gassed, water-cannoned, and thunderflashed for the privilege. 

I don't know how you can live there.

Let's pass the time imagining we are millionaires, buying super luxury yachts that rely on fossil fuels to move anywhere.
"The State is a body of armed men."

Offline Golden Oxen

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2018, 03:35:34 PM »
Quote
... the overwhelming despair, rage, and anxiety of living in a collapsing society.

AND everyone armed to the teeth with guns, AND the despair at maybe being bankrupted by relatively minor medical problems.  AND the despair at protesting peacefully in the streets and being tazered, gassed, water-cannoned, and thunderflashed for the privilege. 

I don't know how you can live there.

Let's pass the time imagining we are millionaires, buying super luxury yachts that rely on fossil fuels to move anywhere.

They say men dying of thirst in the desert see a beautiful oasis where there is nothing but hot dry sand.

Many lack the will or ability to hide as you choose, but we all end up in the same place, no matter what the delusion.

                                   


                                     


Offline RE

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2018, 05:41:49 PM »
Let's pass the time imagining we are millionaires, buying super luxury yachts that rely on fossil fuels to move anywhere.

Alternatively, we could pass the time sweating in the tropical rain forest living off a Goobermint pension and pretend we could survive eating Pythons while we complain about cripples who have a great fantasy life sailing the coastal waters of Maine and Nova Scotia.  To each his own.

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SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN

Offline edpell

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2018, 06:35:15 PM »
Guys, I prefer t think I am part of the superior 10% that will survive to after the inferior 90% die-off. So, join with me in speeding the bright future after the transition. 

Offline Eddie

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2018, 10:12:38 AM »
Another fantasy.

Haven't you heard? Climate change is a bitch. The 10%.......or 1%...or (more likely 0.001%) who survive won't have it easy, by any means.

You live until you can't anymore, which is what we all do anyway, more or less.

I try to concentrate on the present most of the time. That's where we actually live, not in the future, be it bright or dark.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline K-Dog

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2018, 04:31:21 PM »
Another fantasy.

Haven't you heard? Climate change is a bitch. The 10%.......or 1%...or (more likely 0.001%) who survive won't have it easy, by any means.

You live until you can't anymore, which is what we all do anyway, more or less.

I try to concentrate on the present most of the time. That's where we actually live, not in the future, be it bright or dark.

"You live until you can't anymore, which is what we all do anyway, more or less"

Yes, concentrate on the present and keep the big picture in perspective.
Under ideal conditions of temperature and pressure the organism will grow without limit.

Offline Palloy2

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #7 on: January 28, 2018, 04:45:44 PM »
Quote
K-Dog: Yes, concentrate on the present and keep the big picture in perspective.

No, concentrate on the (VERY) big picture and imagine you are being tried for ecocide by your grandchildren.
"I'm innocent!  I was just concentrating on the present."
"The State is a body of armed men."

Offline Eddie

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2018, 04:54:05 PM »
I think you're being a little harsh. I spent the afternoon planting lettuce, chard, and onions. I don't take credit for wholesale ecocide. I was born into this.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline RE

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #9 on: January 28, 2018, 05:07:54 PM »
I think you're being a little harsh. I spent the afternoon planting lettuce, chard, and onions. I don't take credit for wholesale ecocide. I was born into this.

Agreed.  This bizness of blaming EVERYONE for the fact they were born into a civilization and society which basically REQUIRES you use the monetary system to supply your daily needs is ridiculous.  You can of course reduce how MUCH you use this economy, and the less money you require for your daily life in this system the better.  If you need $100K or more to maintain your lifestyle, you are definitely using way more than you need to, even in Amerika.  As a single person, I can live quite well on $25K a year.  If I was healthy and adopted a child, I could raise that child on an additional $10K/yr.  Current Amerikan prices here for living slightly above poverty level.

You can't assign blame to people who do not have control over the levers of power, and none of us plebes have that despite all the bullshit about voting.  The blame lies with the people who have the power to direct the movement of the society in one direction or another.  That was the power the Robber Barons who built the Railroads had  150 years ago, and it's the power Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Mark Suckerbug have today.

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SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN

Offline Palloy2

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #10 on: January 28, 2018, 05:31:06 PM »
- Saving the Earth one chard at a time.
What's a chard?



Oh, looks like it's just what I need, but I suppose you have to EAT it. I bet it tastes a bit like broccoli.

Quote
Quote
Quote from: Eddie on Today at 04:54:05 PM

    I think you're being a little harsh. ... I was born into this.

RE: Agreed. This bizness of blaming EVERYONE for the fact they were born into a civilization and society which basically REQUIRES you use the monetary system to supply your daily needs is ridiculous.  You can of course reduce how MUCH you use this economy, and the less money you require for your daily life in this system the better.


I'm not blaming, just trying to point out that throwing away a car that needs minor repairs, will be hard to justify to your grandchildren.  Remember $10K/yr is $9,270/yr more than billions of children have now and your grandchildren will have.  It's your conscience.

"The State is a body of armed men."

Offline RE

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #11 on: January 28, 2018, 06:02:09 PM »
- Saving the Earth one chard at a time.
What's a chard?



Oh, looks like it's just what I need, but I suppose you have to EAT it. I bet it tastes a bit like broccoli.

Quote
Quote
Quote from: Eddie on Today at 04:54:05 PM

    I think you're being a little harsh. ... I was born into this.

RE: Agreed. This bizness of blaming EVERYONE for the fact they were born into a civilization and society which basically REQUIRES you use the monetary system to supply your daily needs is ridiculous.  You can of course reduce how MUCH you use this economy, and the less money you require for your daily life in this system the better.


I'm not blaming, just trying to point out that throwing away a car that needs minor repairs, will be hard to justify to your grandchildren.  Remember $10K/yr is $9,270/yr more than billions of children have now and your grandchildren will have.  It's your conscience.

Chard tastes and cooks more like spinach than broccoli.  Don't overcook!  It only needs a couple fo minutes in the steamer!

The Mazda did not need "minor repairs".  It needed at LEAST the front struts which were a minimum of $1000 to repair, but probably would have come in at $1500.  If the struts are so badly rusted they actually give way, the rest of the undercarriage was likely in bad shape as well.  I also simply did not need this car, even as a spare.  I bought SaVANnah last summer, so now I had THREE carz in the parking lot!  That is a pain in the ass of it's own in a climate like this, because if you don't drive them regularly the batt goes dead on them.  Tires go flat and you have to refill them all the time.  I barely drive at all even for 1 car, most I go out these days is 3 times a week for short drives.

I TRIED to GIVE the thing away to people who could use such a vehicle, but no takers.  Perhaps the folks who towed it away can sell off the parts and make a profit.

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SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN

Offline David B.

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #12 on: January 28, 2018, 06:03:53 PM »
I think you're being a little harsh. I spent the afternoon planting lettuce, chard, and onions. I don't take credit for wholesale ecocide. I was born into this.
lucky...
I won't be starting anything for at least a month and then only on the heated grow table. It sucks a few kw Hr per day but it's nice seeing something grow in winter.
If its important then try something, fail, disect, learn from it, try again, and again and again until it kills you or you succeed.

Offline Palloy2

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2018, 06:39:33 PM »
Quote
RE: I also simply did not need this car, even as a spare.  I bought SaVANnah last summer, so now I had THREE carz in the parking lot!  That is a pain in the ass of it's own in a climate like this, because if you don't drive them regularly the batt goes dead on them.  Tires go flat and you have to refill them all the time.  I barely drive at all even for 1 car, most I go out these days is 3 times a week for short drives.

Exactly. You bought 3 cars over time, when you barely need one, then didn't look after them because that's a pain in the ass, then you threw the rusty wreck away, and felt proud of your accomplishment!  We'll not mention about how much saVANnah cost, or how much second-hand parts from Japan cost.

It's just a "miracle" how long cars last in Cuba.

"The State is a body of armed men."

Offline K-Dog

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Re: Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse
« Reply #14 on: January 28, 2018, 06:43:19 PM »
Quote
K-Dog: Yes, concentrate on the present and keep the big picture in perspective.

No, concentrate on the (VERY) big picture and imagine you are being tried for ecocide by your grandchildren.
"I'm innocent!  I was just concentrating on the present."

That can't happen.  Grandchildren would be required and personally I am not into ecocide.

Worrying about what grandchildren would think is a particular kind of insanity.  Between here and there is at least one world war or something worse.  My ecocide will not be on anybodies mind.  I will be dirt and there will be no memory of me.  Further as I am among the thoughtful doomed I realized it was generations before us who should have known better who sealed our doom.  We have been going for a ride on a train and we can't get off. 

My ecocide?

We are voices in the wilderness. I want a different way.
Under ideal conditions of temperature and pressure the organism will grow without limit.

 

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