Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shifting Economics: The Austerity Drag and Modeling a Better Future

[Occupy? Whatever happened to Occupy? What I was afraid of, basically, is what happened. Repression has had the effect of factionalizing the Movement -- inevitable in any case -- which caused multiple schisms. There is much common ground on the issues; the fundamental problem is how to undertake the necessary actions. There is no "process" agreement, and as long as there isn't one, the Revolution is stalled. This leaves lots and lots of room for the demons of Austerity to frolic unmolested.]

Supposedly, because of the leftist-commie-pinko-socialist-mau-mau-kenyan in the White House, the United States has been the victim of an enormous lack of Austerity, unlike the happy-contented Europeans who have been wallowing in it for the past many years thanks to the brilliant economic mind of Frau Merkel.

Well. The absence of Austerity in the United States is something of a myth, one that is kept alive almost as much by the one political party as the other. Government Austerity is being imposed, in some cases quite radically, at the state level where all the many experiments in New Model Economics have been underway for some time.

As I've been pointing out since the beginning of the Endless Recession, certain aspects of the New Model Economics of Austerity being imposed on the United States, Europe, and much of the rest of the world by what amounts to a handful of institutions and individuals intent on world domination and endless exploitation of the masses are clearly matters of policy: keeping unemployment high, driving down wages and benefits, disinvestment in large segments of numerous countries including the United States; accumulation of vast wealth in fewer and fewer hands, forced impoverishment of millions upon millions of Americans, Europeans and other people around the world, rampant commodities speculation and resource exploitation at a more massive scale than ever, financial manipulation, looting of national treasuries, restriction of (some) civil and political rights, driving people out of their own homes and into rental properties, cutting welfare and social benefits including education, making access to what remains increasingly difficult, restricting access to and raising the cost of medical care, on and on and on.

These and more are the obvious policies of more and more supposedly "democratic" governments which have taken the almost universal position of governing contrary to the will and the interest of the People.

This is Doctrine, applied almost everywhere, and the Kenyan Socialist isn't standing in the way, he's lubricating the skids. He's doing a remarkable job of it, too. He was auditioned and hired to manage the masses, and some tumult from time to time, he's done a bang-up job of it.


Documentation of the atrocities continues without let up, but without much point either. One cannot still be "laying the foundation" for a Progressive (or any viable) Future, not by a long shot. One needs to be actually doing it by now, or undertaking a viable alternative, not pretending that one more Democrat (or one more Republican for that matter) is going to be the transcendent change-agent who will bring on Paradise. That's not what our political class is there for. At least they're not there for your Paradise. Or mine. Or anyone who hasn't bought and paid for them.

No, we cannot re-create the conditions that led to the Progressive Revolution of the 20th Century, and I doubt we'd really want to. I don't think we really want another Revolution along those lines.

We need something different, something better, and something that contrasts sharply with the policies that are being imposed from the top which are impoverishing and restricting and repressing millions upon millions of Americans and others around the world.

That's what Occupy set out to be, but it has so far been unable to maintain a unified front in the face of increasingly harsh repression. The key to Occupy was the demonstration of alternatives to the Way Things Are. Occupy was for a time a very public model of What Could Be.

This aspect appealed to me probably more than any other, but I remember a conversation I had with a fellow named Dominic at one Occupy event I was part of last fall. We were discussing intentional communities, and how I saw the Occupy Movement as one that was establishing spontaneous temporary intentional communities all over the country and the world as demonstrations of another world of possibility. He agreed, but he had many reservations about it. He said that he had been involved in the establishment of a number of intentional communities over the last ten or fifteen years, and he said it is a very difficult and delicate process, and that most efforts fail.

The spontaneity of the Occupy effort was itself a problem for endurance, and even then, at a very early stage, it was clear that burn-out was going to be a big factor. He thought the temporary nature of the community -- no matter how long or short a time it lasted -- was actually a benefit, because if the Occupations were not intended to be permanent, they would not become institutionalized, and their efforts, while fleeting, could well have a greater long-run influence than if they became "established" and all the difficulties and flaws of community building were to become the focus, or the Occupations became fundraising or political institutions like practically every other non-profit or NGO.

The notion of separation from and limiting engagement with the broader society -- including the police who even then were so intent on repression; the local Occupy was confronted with nightly raids and arrests by riot-clad police from the first day -- was appealing to Dominic, as it was to me.

But if you separate, how can you demonstrate?

"That's the problem, isn't it?"

The point of the demonstration, after all, is to present to the public a vision and a model of what could be and should be. If you've separated from the broader society, such as the hippie communes did in the Olden Days, how do you demonstrate and model the alternatives for a better future? You can't assume that everybody will show up at your door. You have to go to them...

At this point in the Austerity Drag, however, any alternative at all becomes a potential model, I think, and some of what we were fretting about -- productively -- back in October may well have been mooted by events.

One of the clear points back then and now, for example, is that there are hundreds and hundreds of "models" out there, churning away at the mill of change, each one an element of what could be a transformative whole.

I've wanted to write something about "transition towns" for example, as one of many models of one element of shifting perspectives. Transition towns and permaculture are of course Utopian visions, but that's how you make real change happen. Without the vision you get nowhere. I'm well aware of that in my personal life, and I know something of how the "vision thing" works in the larger social context as well. It's fundamental. Or at least it should be. Yet ignoring or keeping visions and Utopias under wraps while focusing on matters that are really not going to change anything have come to dominate consciousness.

The nearly universal quest for Austerity (for everyone else) from the top -- even when it's masked as kenyan-mau-mau-socialism -- is an opportunity, it seems to me, to probe ever deeper into the question of modeling and demonstrating a better future, Utopianism, and shifting perspectives.

I like the model of St. Francis because he was able to establish a clear contrast between the opulence and violence of the social and political leaders of his time with the simplicity, harmony and joy to be found in the voluntary poverty he and his disciples instituted and practiced. In other words, voluntary "austerity" is one thing; the violent imposition of Austerity being practiced by governments and the particular private interests that own and control them is quite another.

Of course, as some wag at St. Peter's said (at least in the Zeffirelli movie) about Fracesco and the Pope, "The Holy Father knows what he's doing; this filthy, ragged beggar will bring the Poor back to the Church." Mwah ha ha ha ha.

Power can imagine nothing except that which serves it or is destroyed by it.

But there is something else, isn't there?


  1. Well, my philosophy has been that the Revolution can't be stopped, but I guess it can be postponed for a long time. Part of the problem is the magical powers of austerity haven't yet indicated the divide in the elite. There is a divide, though the elite don't necessarily realize it yet.

    If you make money by primarily serving the public, or by serving the people who serve the public, your future looks grim. I'm not just talking about low level workers here, either. I'm talking about all the way to the top. Basically, things people can do without, they will do without. I expect a lot of people will be dropping cable TV for example, Fox News, CNN and all these orgs will take a big hit. Movie budgets and video game budgets will have to come down. Big changes are coming to "aspirational" goods makers, like Apple and Cadillac. A college education will no longer be a given, companies may eventually have to start doing internal training for the skills they need, as they are faced with a shortage of people with the required educations.

    Death will stalk the land. As public health programs succumb to austerity, expect new pandemics to appear. Progress will be reversed. The places that have most recently joined the modern world will likely be the first to go back to more primative ways of living.

    The effect of all the above stuff is that portions of the elite will take a hit, and will start to realize that austerity isn't just for the lower orders after all. The ones who will do the best are the really entrenched, politically connected monopolies. Stuff people need like life giving medicines, food, electric power, and yes, dealing with the new legal penalties you have to face for not paying back money you've borrowed. (People will try very hard to pay off their debts, but the debt machine will work hard to keep them enslaved. The banks will be fine for a long time.)

    Folks who make money from copyright, however, are going to be shocked at how little people need their wares in the new, austere world. (They'll fight back of course, by smashing the "pirates" and working on legally destroying cheaper indy culture. All for nought. People won't be buying because they've got no extra money, not because they are stealing.)

    At some point, we'll see a new phase of the Revolution, in which the portion of the elite that's having their lunch eaten by austerity will join forces with the large portion of the public that's been suffering with it.

    It's inevitable.

  2. A pause, perhaps, but not a halt to the Revolution; it's being carried on in a thousand little ways. David Graeber's Fragments provides a prefiguration of how it might proceed.

    The definition of "progress" is changing. It ain't what it used to be, that's for sure!

    The Elites have been stealing from one another for years and years. They enjoy it. But eventually they'll run out of stuff to steal from one another and the rest of us will be too poor to bother with... and then what?

    Alternatives are forthcoming...