Saturday, August 25, 2012

"No, No Keshagesh: You Can't Do That No More"

Buffy Sainte-Marie at Skagan Festival in Denmark, July 2, 2011

"Keshagesh" is a Cree(?) [yes, it's Cree, per Buffy her own self]  word which Buffy roughly translates to "greedy guts," the description of a little one (she calls it a puppy) who eats his own share and then wants everybody else's. An apt description of capitalism in all its aspects, a system run by mindless greed. Mindlessness is the key to understanding the nature of greed. When the puppy grows up, he is supposed to set aside his youthful mindlessness and behave with apparent thoughtfulness, wisdom and probity. Of course, it doesn't always work out that way. Sometimes the puppy never grows in wisdom, never has a thought but for having more, never gains enough insight for measured action. We all know that kind of adult dog.

The enduring Crisis of Capitalism has been upon us for what seems like forever now. The financial crash of 2008, preceded by varying forms of economic meltdown, has forced millions upon millions of Americans into poverty. The United States boasts the highest poverty rate in generations (and it is almost a boast, for this huge increase in poverty is due to deliberate policies). Millions have lost their employment, millions have been forced out of their homes. This is an ongoing situation. Literally nothing has been done at the governmental level to stop or reverse the impoverishment of Americans. Instead, policies have been adopted which ensure and increase the further impoverishment of Americans while a handful of greedy guts at the top of the economic pyramid have continued to flourish, to flourish at levels and in ways they never imagined were possible.

The wholesale impoverishment of Americans has had the effect of slowing, and in some respects reversing, the consumer economy on which the entire economic system was once dependent
 -- this despite the statistics that show continuing growth in income and consumption, statistics that could only be true if the small segment of Americans who are flourishing financially are somehow spending wildly which most of them aren't. For all intents and purposes, they're hoarding cash so exactly where the increases in income and consumption are coming from is something of a mystery.

For many decades now, Americans have been warned that they are overconsuming, and if they keep it up, they will consume the planet and ensure their own extinction. This idea of consuming "everything" has been around for centuries, and it has had a powerful restraining influence on some aspects of American mindlessness and greed, though obviously not all.

At one time, the mindless consumption of natural resources was incessantly warned against. The forests were vanishing, wildlife was going extinct ("like the buffalo"), pollution was fouling the waters, the seas were being emptied of fish, on and on, while starvation was stalking the suffering peoples of Africa. All of which was true enough, and people's habits changed. The rapine that had previously characterized resource extraction was mitigated in North America (while it massively expanded in South America and elsewhere) and the rate of consumption by Americans stabilized and even declined in some respects, while more and better food crops enabled the nearly complete eradication of famine -- at least for a while.

Americans learned to make do with less; their houses and cars got smaller (for a while), rising petroleum consumption was reduced, sustainable forests became more commonplace, more and more people were being fed better food from fewer and fewer farms and so forth. At the time (early 70's) the specter of the future was "Global Cooling" -- a new Ice Age.

Suddenly, that prediction was set aside, replaced with "Global Warming" due to increasing levels of atmospheric C02 caused by human activity, primarily the incessant burning of ever more fossil fuels and the raising of ever more billions of livestock animals. The devil's in the methane, you know.

As the developing world developed, the previously charming or sometimes threatening subsistence economies were replaced with more or less carbon copies of the American consumption economy,   requiring ever more resource extraction to sustain.

The endless greed and growth spiral was seemingly unbreakable.

Until the last few years as Americans have become more and more impoverished, all sorts of lifestyle changes have ensued but they don't seem to be statistically significant as yet. As more and more Americans have become impoverished, the prices they pay for basic foods and retail goods and services have increased, in some cases by double or triple what the same products and services cost before the crash.

This means that most people are paying more for less. And that may be the major source of the statistical growth in consumption we've seen during the course of the Endless Recession.

As Americans become less well off, the environmental strain of supporting the excessive lavishness of the American lifestyle is mitigated. From an environmental perspective, many Americans -- perhaps against their will, but by necessity -- are living ever lighter on the land, and it's hard to say that's a bad thing.

On the other hand, millions of Americans have seen their futures and those of their progeny stolen from them. Living with less material goods is one thing. Most people can adapt to that without too much problem. The problem is that people don't see a future for themselves or their offspring under current conditions, and that means that getting by with less has no functional purpose, especially not while some are living so high on the hog, it beggars belief and staggers the imagination.

I've referred in the past to the idea of full employment and enforced savings as the surest way out of an economic depression and pointed to the experience of WWII as an example. War is by no means the only way to accomplish that end, and it is not a desirable means in any case. No, given the global challenges of climate change and massive environmental degradation, along with the ever more fraughtful deterioration of the nation's infrastructure, it should be a straightforward matter for the public sector to put everyone to work "rebuilding the world" for as long as it takes to correct as much as we can of what's gone, but there is no political will to do it (well, outside of China.)

Yet it could be started tomorrow, and within literally months, and few of them, the Endless Recession would be over. And nothing like it need ever come back.

There is, of course, no political will to do any such thing, however.

So the American People are mired in a downward spiral from which there appears to be no escape.

"Keshagesh" will continue to eat his own share and everyone else's until there is nothing left for anyone, including "Greedy Guts."

And then what?


  1. I really like this song a lot.

  2. Me too. I find myself waking up with it rattling around in my brain... "No, No, Keshagesh, you can't do that no more, no more, no more, no more..."