Published online 4 January 2012.
Yeah, I know, it’s 2012, and we are about to be deluged with a hailstorm of appeals to the Elmer Fudd Theory of Electoral Victory in the run-up to November’s elections. Happy new year, everyone; I intend in this diary to summarize the likely events that can be seen as “coming down the pipeline” this year and in the years to come.
In the end, though, I would like to promote a vision of a different sort of society, a society which would start on its new path by recognizing that the future envisioned here is a product of the society as it currently is organized. A society organized along different lines, then, would approach its future in a more conscious way.
The likely upshot of Election 2012 will be that the Great Progressive Mirage will once again disappear, to be replaced by “election run-up,” and that we will once again be stuck, post-election, with a world of 10% unemployment, 20% underemployment, and a Congress that is half filled by the 1%.
Meanwhile, we can expect more of what we received earlier as we head into 2012. Global warming, for instance, should at some point in the medium-term future cause crop failures and resultant famines. The atmospheric accumulation of CO2 will also make the oceans too acidic for the formation of coral reefs (among the world’s most genetically diverse ecosystems) and will take a millennium or so to cycle naturally out of the atmosphere. Peak oil will create an increasing drag on the world’s economy as fuel prices become more expensive and as the environmental costs of mining it increase. The subsidy provisions of the PPACA will kick in, mandating that everyone buy a “Bronze Plan” or levying financial penalties upon us. At some point a Republican President (or maybe even a Democratic one) will use the provision in the NDAA which allows Presidents powers of arbitrary and indefinite detention without trial. The military industrial complex will continue to grow, as the US government continues to “prosecute” wars in a dozen countries with a secret empire of drone bases since the definition of the term “terrorist” is infinitely malleable and since, as Nick Turse points out, “The drone increasingly looks less like a winning weapon than a machine for generating opposition and enemies.”
College will continue to be a financial gamble, as students undergo increasing levels of student loan debt to pay for increasingly expensive college educations with increasingly limited job prospects for graduates. The global economic growth rate will continue to decline, moreover, as the economy continues to be “financialized” further.
The poverty currently experienced by countries such as Greece will spread to other places in Europe as the Powers That Be in Europe continue to demand austerity planning to reduce government deficits. At some point this may lead to the collapse of the Eurozone.
We can expect these things because our government and economy, as well as our collective vision of the future, are pretty much the domain of the 1%ers, whose main concern is in maintaining a system based on capital accumulation. This is how they work: the 1%ers are the (cultural, bureaucratic, and economic) managers of a society in which the accumulation of exchange values drives the society as a whole.
What matters to the 1%ers is that we continue to have a society in which “the economy,” as well as “the government,” continue to be the province of a relatively small group of people within the overall society. And it works. From William Domhoff:
Here are some dramatic facts that sum up how the wealth distribution became even more concentrated between 1983 and 2004, in good part due to the tax cuts for the wealthy and the defeat of labor unions: Of all the new financial wealth created by the American economy in that 21-year-period, fully 42% of it went to the top 1%. A whopping 94% went to the top 20%, which of course means that the bottom 80% received only 6% of all the new financial wealth generated in the United States during the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s (Wolff, 2007).
The 1% are the primary beneficiaries of economic expansion, then. The 1%ers are the managerial elites, the group that provides the expertise and the cultural “glue” to keep the system together as an accessory for its service to the 1%. The 1%ers are the cultural vanguard of the 1%.
There’s no conspiracy to be found here, however. We swim in 1%er cultural norms as if we were fish in water. Political action has to go through candidates, publicity through the mass media, mass action through money (everyone has to be paid, and even grassroots political movements have to be financed). Business, through property law and monetary creation and government regulation and the tax code, is organized so that its main beneficiaries are for-profit corporations. Our lives as participants of the system are encapsulated in the concept of the curriculum vitae (the “course of one’s life” in Latin), in which we list an accumulation of “things we did” and “experiences we had” to increase our exchange-value as workers. All the 1%ers have to do, then, is to insure that a system rigged in favor of the 1% actually works for the 1%. So where do we go from all this? Look below the fold.
The root of the problem (and here we can remember that the word “radical” comes from the Late Latin “radicalis,” meaning “of or pertaining to the root”) can be found a May 2011 piece by Joseph Stiglitz: “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%“:
The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.
The 1% get to accumulate the best houses, educations, doctors, lifestyles and so on, and the 1%ers are there to occlude the understanding of fate to which Stiglitz refers. They run the mass media, the organizations of “economic expertise,” the political organizations. They are what Chris Hedges calls the “liberal class.” Our future, the one we are fated to experience, is at stake in the managerial control of the 1%ers. When you have a society that is being mismanaged under the banner of “management,” and being made less secure for all that the 1% pursue “security” and less sustainable for all that they pursue “sustainable development,” the collective idea of the future is being somehow occluded.
Our collective occlusion of the future will appear all the more staggering for those who read Dean Baker’s recent piece in the Guardian. From Baker’s first sentence:
It is remarkable how efforts to reduce the government deficit/debt are often portrayed as a generational issue, while efforts to reduce global warming are almost never framed in this way.
One can see, then, how the idea of the “future” has been turned into a propaganda item for, specifically, the advocates of austerity planning (or “fiscal prudence” if you like euphemisms), and the attempts of the 1%ers to appease bondholders (read: the banks) by cutting state budgets around the world. The real future, the one in which global warming brings planetary ecosystems to ruin, is of no import: what matters is the “future” of bondholders concerned with asset values.
What would our society look like if it was actually focused on the future I’ve described, rather than the “future” described in self-contradictory fashion (insecure “security,” mismanaged “management,” unsustainable “development,” and so on) by the 1%ers?
Well the first thing we should hope to see, here in the US, is that society would start to listen (actively, and critically) to its elders, by which specifically I mean the ones most connected to the ecological life of the past. But at some point we would see a society transitioning into a form which would give everyone a place in its collective efforts (rather than creating a “relative surplus population” to keep wages low). The main collective effort of this society would be to reduce Earth’s atmospheric endowment of carbon dioxide through the phasing-out of fossil-fuel production and the creation of alternative means of energy storage from sustainable sources, and to reduce society’s production of non-CO2 greenhouse gases. A collective re-engagement with the growing of food (under ecologically-conscious conditions) would buttress this collective effort.
Beyond that, our future-conscious society would begin its participation in the thousands of daily miracles available to a collective human being that had stopped fooling itself. The growth of each collective would be based on the pursuit of individual growth of its members.