New Clear Vision

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Greeting the Fall of the Empire

January 27, 2011 By: NCVeditor Category: Ecology, Economy, Jan Lundberg, Politics

A Message of Possibility for the New Year, and Beyond

by Jan Lundberg

Please join me in greeting the fall of the U.S. Empire, a healthy way to begin a new year. It is a positive sentiment among some thoughtful Americans. Their ungiddy feeling flows from observation of world developments and the state of the U.S. political system and economy. The timetable is fuzzy, but trends are clear. It’s not pretty, but there is a thin silver lining.

These days are for many of us the winter of our discontent. Weird and dangerous weather on the rise, persistent fossil-fuel dominance, never-ending wars, unraveling of the social fabric, looming shortages of food and water, and lack of money for basic needs aren’t just some unpatriotic ravings of those who want to put America down. Rather, the growing uncertainty of our survival, individually and for our families, has everyone’s skull in a vice tightened by unseen or unknown hands. Those hands are actually of our own making: our dominant culture has been building up to a colossal, spectacular, global failure.

If the Empire’s collapse and cultural failure sound extremely negative, you can cling to your privilege in a world “burning in its greed” (the Moody Blues, Question), or go back to hoping for a lucrative job. Or you might keep up the magical thinking that says things will work out without major pain. But even a hard realist or pessimist who sees the Empire now starting to fall ought to smile — for as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang in Carry On, “Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice. But to carry on.” This can translate to “if you can’t stop the fall, roll with it. Standing like a wall won’t be wise.”

As to the most visible part of the Empire: no one can tell how much more U.S./NATO military effort will bring about whatever result in Afghanistan or Iraq. Or in Pakistan, or wherever the 1,000 or so U.S. military bases sit on sovereign countries’ soil. But the massive cost in taxpayer dollars, when the federal budget has gone way into the red with no sign of recovery back into the black, cannot be sustained — even if the trillions spent on war and waste could be recalled. It is sad that there is less concern in the U.S. than anywhere over the ongoing loss in human life, in terms of soldiers on all sides and the citizens of invaded nations. Yet, the human and environmental cost of optional wars mounts astronomically and will be paid somehow.

Regardless of military victories or failures, or how blatantly corrupt the mercenary/contractor factor is, the overall inefficiency of our government and U.S. society cannot last. The breakdown of both trust and function in the financial sphere as well as in community cohesion — as people work harder and harder (if they can) but cannot get ahead, mostly unable to help one another — is becoming apparent to the average citizen. Just a few years ago, if a visionary brought up issues such as peak oil and climate chaos, the usual reaction from a mainstream person was incredulity or “What, me worry?” This is changing quickly, with a consensus growing that general weirdness, stress and uncertainty relating to our dysfunctional System are on the rise. Moreover, there is no let up in sight. Collapse seems nigh.

Lest you believe this is the only message of this essay, keep reading.

The corporate media and the politicians have to keep hammering on the idea of the economy’s returning to infinite growth. But they don’t address the fact that peak oil has come, and the substitutes for petroleum cannot do much more than assure prolonged electrical energy. Peak oil is a liquid-fuels/materials crisis.

Given that the supply of cheap, abundant oil is much depleted for sustaining a massive population of hapless consumers, and given there is no comprehensive, scalable technofix, one can safely predict the end of the U.S.A. as we know it. But even without fully understanding the oil industry, many people from many walks of life are picking up on the utter failure of the Obama Hope Movement to deliver — ever. He is increasingly seen as just another puppet. This disillusionment would not be dispositive except that foreclosures are on the rise, the commercial real estate bubble will pop, and employment is not going up — well, it’s going up if you’re in a lower-wage outsource nation for U.S. corporations that care nothing about the welfare of the U.S. worker.

By now you might be squirming with some outrage over such a dismal analysis and the apparent lack of any alternative. Ah, but there is an alternative. The future belongs to the simple-living closer-to-the-land folk who can utilize what is known as Appropriate Tech. Above all, they know they must work as a close community. This is the only way they will survive. If this new scene is inevitable, how can we speed it along?

Living the future now means ditching the car or sharing one vehicle with others, not buying anywhere near the amount of gasoline or diesel we’ve been guzzling, and making sure one’s trade and dollars go only to local people. If The System that churns along for now so inefficiently, while it is less and less able to provide for us, and is doomed, then should its collapse be hastened? I hasten to say “Yes” only if it is carried out consciously and in a planned, compassionate fashion. Chaos is not the goal, nor a means. Yet, recognizing that the global corporate economy will rapidly give way to local, bioregional economies — linked across oceans and up and down rivers by a quickly assembled sailing fleet for trade and passenger service — means walking away from The System as it crashes down around us. It’s not pretty, but inevitable.

Some who do not understand the peak-oil basis of collapse, believing oil extraction will last as long in its dwindling phase as it took to peak, are trapped in the politics and economic theories of yesterday. They see the power elite continuing to hold sway indefinitely. They see coal maximized until the planet is completely fried, although they don’t take into account that coal cannot substitute for liquid fuels that have built the current petroleum-based infrastructure. So, these confused and despairing onlookers may place faith in a relic of 18th, 19th and 20th century social dynamics: class revolution. Or, they may believe in a social justice movement that may peacefully turn out the aggressors and the corrupt (perhaps via a “REAL Obama”?), redistributing the pie of consumption.

Another approach to fighting inequality, oppression and violence is from the impeccably logical Robert Jensen, journalism professor and author. He is a moralist and activist who calls upon us to do our best for our community. What set him off for his latest commentary on January 2 was a column titled “Yes, the Greatest Country Ever,” by Rich Lowry of the National Review. Jensen’s comeback was “’Greatest nation’ rhetoric roars back.” In it he points us to his 2004 book Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity that offers common-sense responses for us today as we get ready for a more right-wing Congress.

Jensen deconstructs the “greatest nation” rhetoric and challenges the concept of patriotism. These are difficult subjects, but it helps that whoever tackles them knows, as Jensen does, that collapse is upon us. In a 2010 essay he made clear that he feels collapse’s thoroughly depressing aspect must be openly discussed. Once we do that and check out better lifestyles in community, there might be something to raise our glasses to: peace, minimal violence, and greater clarity.

Jan Lundberg is the founder of Culture Change, and was an oil industry analyst at Lundberg Survey before joining the grassroots environmental movement in 1988.

{This article originally appeared in Culture Change, and is reprinted here by permission.}

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