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Archive for the ‘collapse’ Category

a suggestion

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The Guardian has a relatively interesting feature talking to prominent leftists and leftishists about the crisis and capitalism.

It would be a good thing if “we” could all get together and come up with something. Whether or not it seems likely that “we” could ever actually prevail even just slightly in a moment like this, it does seem like it’s part of the deal that we’d at least, you know, give it a poke.

But I’d like to make one suggestion before / if we do. If you happened to be selected to be left public intellectual of the month (seriously – I’m being serious now), and are asked to speak or write about the current crisis, by all means avoid expressions of schadenfreude, apocalyptic glee, giddiness and the like. Ordinary people are not going to share your popcorn as you settle in to watch this film. Say something about what should be done – normal folks want their retirement accounts to stay semi-there, want to keep a job, and don’t want their bank deposits to vanish into a bad dream of a customer service call that never gets answered, they’d like not to haul their currency to the Wal-Mart in a wheelbarrel – all reasonable things. 

Not trying to be hypocritical about this, believe me. This blog has been about 80% apocalyptic glee from the start, and is in part a chronicle of ten years that I’ve spent watching CNBC and waiting for the Big Event. It’s just, you know, we’re really bad at the PR side of the game, and it’d be nice to see “us” take things seriously, for once.

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September 17, 2008 at 11:35 pm

the canary’s dead

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Not the one that lives at the wharf, the one in the coalmine.

I’m lucky to have in-laws that I can use as my own personal focus group of middle american attitudes and reactions. Middle to lower-middle class, from the middle of the country (though down a bit from the exact center), a smattering of evangelicals and irreligious libertarian conservatives, also one Hilary Clinton supporting (now Sarah Palin? I’d bet) late-middle-aged single mom, they run the gamut. I’m not being arrogant – I come from rather ordinary to sub-ordinary stock as well (you should see the stuff that comes across the google alert thing I’ve set up for my very very rare last name – police blotter clip after police blotter clip), it’s just mine are from the wrong side of the St. Lawrence and I don’t really keep in touch.

Anyway. Um. Yeah. Mom-in-law emailed today saying that she’s thinking about pulling her $ out of the mutual fund in her retirement account. I’m sure I’m not the only person that’s been wondering at what point the bad news penetrates the awareness bubbles of ordinary americans, but I think, folks, that day is coming soon. Tomorrow? And when it does, watch what happens. They keep writing articles calling various abstract things that happen “the postmodern version of a bank run.” I think that the pre-postmodern version is still a viable form. We’ll see.

I’ve suggested that it’s probably not smart for her to pull the money, given the tax liability and the fact she’s yanking it back at a very unfortunate time. Who knows though. But even if she goes ahead and does it, where then should she put it? After all, from what I understand, the FDIC is funded to handle maybe one significant bank failure – say Washington Mutual if (when?) it goes.

Here’s guessing tomorrow’s going to be an interesting day.

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September 17, 2008 at 11:18 pm

Posted in collapse, crisis, economics

bounce

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The incessant, miraculous deferral of the catastrophic rupture, the long-awaited break. Always a bounce. That’s the thing about abstraction – that’s the thing about it’s marvellous ability to keep the story rubbing along. Come on now, try not to think jouissance. Try not to think interminable foreplay, a ten year tease. The rewewed high street shops, the cost of a terraced house, the dip and peak of oil. The end of the story will never arrive.

Today like many days, the futures numbers were in, the European markets had spoken, the crowds had delivered their wisdom, the columnists had typed – braving a bit of hysteria, the ever-reasonable had allowed a soupcon of panic into their columns. The disaster metaphors had circled, abroad and in our skulls. Perfect storm, category 5, smoke rising over lower manhattan, past the window at speed. And then the historical comparisons: Like the 1980s, but bigger. Like the 1930s, only worse.

It will never arrive, the collapse. It will never arrive because they will not let it. That is the thing about abstraction, storytelling. But also, the nationalization of failure, counterfeit, false paper, the spoils of ill-fought battle, the moral hazard. Something else will fail, the currency, the state, the national welfare, but not this.

The EKG is not broken; it’s the patient that’s undead.

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September 15, 2008 at 2:42 pm

apocalypse now

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If we Lombrosoed the best, wide-panning footage from recent collapse/catastrophe/dystopian films, we might well come up with something like this still I’ve just sniffed out of a HD version of the trailer of Blindness. From what I can tell / remember, looks like downtown Shanghai, though I’m probably wrong. The empty-tank abandoned cars, the gray-scale midrise blocks smothering the tight highway in the center. No one’s been around to sweep up casual debris for awhile.

Whether from environmental catastrophe or meteor strike, heatwave or coldwave, terror attack or ultra-SARS, vampires or the end of female fecundity, the mass blindness or bad politics or cannibalistic rage, we always end up here, under a gray sky, walking where we shouldn’t with shopping bags.

We even build the scenario into our fanciest new parks:

There’s lots to say about this. The least interesting thing, perhaps, is that, sure, everyone’s writing allegories and slantsenses of the same imminent catastrophe that really is around the corner, involving peak oil and the like. (It’s a bit more interesting to consider why they don’t simply make a movie about that. No fun, I guess, to see the shit that’s really about to hit the fan, but I don’t think that’s it. More pertinent is the trouble it takes to narrativize / visualize it, as it moves slow and mostly out of sight).

And more interesting, I think, are a few things that are a bit more obliquely there. A sense of possible or even manditory trespass on public grounds where you’re not, in normal times, supposed to walk. It’s a form of desperate liberation, and has a childlike fun adhering to it I think.

Also, there’s the entire question of the role of these gray ersatz buildings, the way they signal a catastrophe that had perhaps already started, that began perhaps even when the first nomadic sheepherders decided to put their tents up along a single path, then some travelling salesman came along and decided to stay put and just sell to them. Or maybe it’s the modernness of the architecture – the way the non-descript individuality of each building mirrors and matches that of the folks walking on the street. A generic family, a kid generically holding a parent’s hand, just as the building on the left has balconies you can enclose if you want, and the one next to it has a different sort of balcony, etc…

The uncollected rubish (you can imagine a crew sprinkling the set with little strips of paper, cuttings of plastic bags. Maybe someone even wedged that one down in the sewer inlet) brings to mind both a street party, a parade, before the cleanup crews pass through. Or is it just the everyday trash that flutters on city streets that aren’t well kept (like mine, I’ve quickly noticed…) because there’s no one left to collect it. The failure of services, of the civic, of public employment. The wind will take care of that, the ocean will collect it, as there simply isn’t the cash on hand, we’re in a crisis don’t you know, structural adjustments will have to be made, sacrifice the clean streets for the sake of…

The gray sky, of course, is more than just a marker of the weather. Sure, of course, it’s global warming, polution, the hot and damp that will soon enough mark the other season, all over the world, in its oscillation with hot and dry. But it’s also the lidness that keeps us in, that keeps our thoughts cycling on two-axes, the axes that run through this picture and these films and our gasping lack of hope for change – the wider weather that means the furtherest left we know how to get is the circulation of fantasies, like this one and all the rest it stands for, of our imminent and increasingly visible demise.

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June 26, 2008 at 12:56 pm