Saturday, July 19, 2014

It woulda been nice

I'm in North Carolina this week, talking with people about the nature of government and what role it can play in causing or solving our nation's problems.

But at the moment I'm procrastinating in the hotel room before going out.  Continuing this week's theme of 21st century capitalism's decline and fall, over at my favorite doomer blog, the Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer is once again exploring the mismatch between material decline and our guiding myth of Progress.  He thinks it is going to be a painful and traumatic wrench - one which people are completely unprepared for.  I think he's probably right, but I'd add a few caveats.

As I've related before, when I went to the former USSR as an eager young anthropologist in 1994, I thought I'd be looking at the excitement of the end of an ideology and the beginning of a new one.  But when I got there, no one wanted to talk about any such thing.  They were much too busy trying to keep a roof overhead, keep the daughter in school, the son out of the army and find a place to store 100 kilo of potatoes for the winter.

There's no doubt that many people did not survive the dry run for collapse that was mid-nineties Kazakhstan.  Male life expectancy was dropping to the mid-fifties and most of that had to do not just with material suffering, but the ripping away of life's sureties - salaries, certificates, positions, status all lost their value and that hit middle aged men the hardest.  Vodka and automobiles culled that herd.

But one advantage the Soviet people had was that they'd almost all given up on the monomyth of Soviet progress.  There was no collapse of an ideology to study, because it had been hollowed out to just another bit of habitual theater.

So the reaction (and the long-established practice) was to hunker down, and do their best to ignore anyone who was rash enough to rave about a new myth - capitalism, Islamism, nationalism, socialism or whatever.  The state was happy to encourage that for the most part.

In the current US, as I ignore the pundits and the boosters and talk to regular people, I find very little faith in the myth of progress.  Yes, Greer's analysis is correct that it's the accepted default mode, and people don't really have cognitive alternatives other than to wish for it to be true.  But they don't seem to believe it.  The faith is broken at least when it comes to their little part of the world - and for many, in the big picture as well.

If and when the failure of Progress becomes too obvious to ignore, there will be those who can't adapt.  But I wonder if the majority of people are being eased into decline at a pace that will eventually result in a "well, it woulda been nice" rather than an abrupt collapse of a world view.