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Had it with "Back to Normal"? Maybe now youre ready ...
This is not just another one of those「what *IS* he smoking? 」articles that I post from time to time just to try to maintain some tenuous intellectual and emotional connection to the people back in the Land of my Birth (... stand beside her ... and guide her ...). No, This is one of those dam-busting rants that Ive kept pent up inside for a very long time, unsure of just how to express it, but yearning to get the damn thing off my chest. You see, as satisfying as it might have been to just spew this harangue at y'all back in April, I was well aware of how resistant most people in the US would be to the message, and reluctant to waste my righteous frustration on people who were not yet ready to listen.
There is a certain gallant stupidity in the way that most Americans approach the rest of the world -- a quality best expressed in sappy BabyBoomer comedies like "The Three Amigos" or "Moon over Parador" -- in that most Americans are just a bit TOO sure of themselves, and too confident that THEY know how things work. Most of them have to see the literal gates of hell for themselves before they will accept someone else's warning that we are approaching them. Besides, with so many competing narratives on your Twitter feed, Why would you listen to mine?
Twitter is NOT the real world. Twitter is just, like, this enormous public pillow that we all scream into ... because none of us can afford therapy.
-- Francesca Fiorentini --
It has been painful to watch as you self-immolate in tribalistic bonfires of fingerpointing, whataboutism and self-destructive pseudomacho chest-pounding. I know that the roughly 36% who stuck shoulder to shoulder with Your Puppenfurher throughout his most demeaning gutter-crawls are not representative of what MOST Americans stand for. But no matter which side of the silly squabble line you occupy on issues like ... yknow ... masks, mail-ins, media, marble edifices, Melania & youknowthelist . . . it seems that almost everyone in the US ignores the elephant in the room. In fact, for the past four months you have been doing everything within your power of rationalization to AVOID taking a hard, dark look at why the shitstorm is hitting so hard, or admitting just how unprepared your social structure is to handle the sort of stresses that this world is sure-bet certain to encounter over the next half-century. When faced with the ethical purity, simplicity and perfection of a virus, no propaganda ... or bluster ... or analysis ... or Committee of Experts ... or ten-step plan (even one drawn up by a team of twelve Faucis) can possibly compete.
But you had to find that out for yourselves, before you would listen to a divergent like myself. I am sure that a lot of people will still struggle to imbibe the message, but after -- well not 150,000 deaths YET, but at this point we know the day will come ... -- I think most Americans are at least willing to take a sip of some straight stuff, and stop drinking kool-aid once and for all (no matter what flavour). Anyway, the impassioned message Ive kept behind the logjam wont wait forever. So whether you are ready to hear it or not ... I just hope I can express it clearly enough for readers to see the direction in which I am pointing.
First, I would like to quote from a post that I made some three years ago, before anyone understood the true meaning of the words "Trump Administration." It helps if you can understand that this "crisis" has been around for a long time, and the verities of human folly did not just appear magically in response to some particular president, or come sweeping into our lives on the coattails of the Coronavirus:
There’s a joke that was popular in international business circles back around the turn of the century, when it was already possible to see the direction we were headed. An Arabic businessman’s father is accompanying his son on a business trip, and as conversation progresses, he keeps expressing open disdain for the displays of modern progress that his guests are showing them.
Noting the friction, someone asks if he thinks these signs of progress and internationalization are "against his religion." The old man gives a deep belly laugh, waves off any unintended insult, and explains: “I don’t mind all these fancy inventions or even gaudy displays of wealth. It’s just that you can’t expect them to last.
You see, my grandfather rode a camel. My father rode a truck. I ride in a limo, and my grandson wants to fly his own plane . . . .
... but HIS grandson will ride a camel.”
We need to confront the fact that every generation born from this moment on will grow up with fewer resources, less room, more social stress, higher risks of natural disaster and disease, less personal and professional security, etc. etc. etc. This is no longer a point that is up for dispute. The ecosystem that supports human life is already overloaded, and our population continues to soar higher. But unless you live in Kiribati, the Seychelles or the Ganges Delta, you have yet to feel any TRULY signigicant impact from Climate Change. So people flip over to the next article on their newsfeed and . . .
Self-delusion is a strong potion. You dont have to be a former addict to be familiar with its strength ... though it does offer some gritty insights. People want to keep feasting on the manna of "infinite energy" even if they have intellectually resigned themselves to the fact that "yeah man ... some day we are definitely going to have to transition to 100% renewable. No-carbs 'n' all that! I get it!"
I know . . . most people honestly believed in the self-serving myth that we were "in control" of what happens to the environment, and therefore ... being the rational, scientific, highly civilized gentlepersons that we all are ... we should have both the self-discipline (OH, the irony!) and the practical, technical ability to somehow "fix" things while still enjoying all the 21st-century "comforts" that consumerist capitalism promises us.
You think youre so educated and youre so civilized
Cause youre a strict vegetarian
But with the overpopulation and inflation and starvation
And the crazy politicians
I dont feel safe in this world no more
I dont wanna die in no nuclear war
I wanna sail away to a distant shore
And live like an apeman...
I feel a deep sense of guilt, as a member of perhaps the most profligate and careless generation mankind ever birthed, to those reading this article who have their entire adult lives ahead of them. Those of us who came of age in the latter half of the 20th century enjoyed a way of life that never was and probably never again will be possible. It's true... we were SOLD the "American Dream". All the power groups and institutions that currently dominate our lives were on the snake-oil podium, catapulting the propaganda. So sure, blame them too... But we were all more than happy to buy into the "more & bigger is better" myth, and ignore all evidence that we were acting like proverbial Prodigal Sons (& Daughters).
And it took a VIRUS to Wake us. Dafuk. Up! A tiny little thing that you can't even see! And so simple . . . it is literally nature's equivalent to a copy/paste command. The full biological purpose and programming of a virus is nothing more than this:
Find a host containing raw materials. Use raw materials to copy yourself. Repeat forever.
How brilliant and uncompromising is that?! There is no volume of bullshit - in all of the Washington Capitol District - that can cover up something like that, distract it from its existential purpose, or get it to "... just vanish. It goes away by itself."
The novel Coronavirus most commonly identified as CoVid-19, but sure to be called by future generations "The First Horseman of the Apocalypse", shows what utter, self-delusional folly it is to think that our current scientific, technological and organizational abilities are capable of coping with ... much less controlling ... the objective, unalterable, immutable principles that control our planet's behaviour. I first spotted the disconnect back when I was in University. I was taking a course in “Ecology” (another buzzword of the era) and one segment that I decided to do my paper on dealt with Population Dynamics. For some reason, after looking at all the models in the textbooks, I decided to try plugging in the data for the human species.
It was like the first tolling of a funeral bell. We just don’t have enough planet to support this many people without massive inputs of energy, but most of those inputs are actually REDUCING all the other factors in the equation, at least from a long-term perspective. The human race is going to have to cut its numbers to a level somewhere short of 1 billion. My calculations actually gave a figure of just 300-500 million, but there were a lot of variables that I knew at the time were undercounts, such as the total sustainable food output of a given area, and the amount of arable land each country contained. The only statistics I could use were government official figures, or estimates I found at (not at all surprisingly) the CIA.
In retrospect, I guess it was a bit silly to present such an idea as a formal scientific thesis paper (one professor apparently called it "pretentious"). But as a scientific exercise, it was an entirely valid analysis and calculation. The earth contains only a given amount of surface area, and most of that surface area is already overused. So we MUST be close to the ceiling. . . .
That last point was the one assumption that most of my professors challenged. I thought that my perception of "how overcrowded the world is" justified the assumption that we could only cultivate land already in cultivation (or fallow), so efficiency was the only factor that could increase output. And as I have noted in previous posts, current crop yields are inflated and unsustainable because you cannot keep pumping in fertilizers indefinitely. We have exhausted our credit line, and any more borrowing will just dig the hole we are in deeper.
But this was the 1980s. Everybody was running around shouting that it was Morning in America®, and naturally "rational, level-headed" scientists who were fully invested in the industrial capitalism paradigm didnt want to admit they were seeing elephants.
For those of you who are poised to object -- "But the earth's population in 1980 was ALREADY higher than 500 million. Doesnt that sort of . . . duh! . . . disprove your theory?"
Duh! indeed. On this point I even managed to win the argument with the professors judging my thesis. Population Dynamics never seeks to estimate a "maximum" population. The figures wildlife management officials, free range farmers and many others use are intended to estimate the "carrying capacity of the land" -- that is to say - what level is healthy. In the natural world, populations of various animals are fluctuating all the time. Anyone who lives outside of a concrete dystopia is aware of that. It is entirely NORMAL for the population of a particular animal or plant to soar way past the "carrying capacity" of its' environment. It happens constantly. But when a population DOES execute one of these spikes (at least according to the theory they were trying to teach us), it is a sure sign that there is about to be a collapse. Everyone who spends time outdoors can verify this. As a kid growing up in suburbanised New England woodlands, it means that last year you saw deer every time you took a walk, and that the following year, you saw quite a lot of dead deer in the winter. Or Gypsy Moths would strip every oak tree as bare as Miley Cyrus' latest onstage outfit, and dead ones literally clogged up your drainpipes ... but the next year, there were hardly any to be seen.
The thing is ... science really has no insight at all into the specifics of HOW the population is going to crash, or even exactly when. It truly is as unpredictable as the weather. The only certainty is that the collapse WILL happen. This is a basic principle of biology. Contained systems just cant go on growing forever. They always overshoot, and then crash. Sometimes a disease comes along and races through the overpopulated crowd, instantly lopping off any excess. Sometimes animals fight so intensely for territory and food that in time, only a percentage is left alive. Sometimes the food supply implodes, leaving all but a handful to starve. And sometimes, things happen that scientists prefer not to analyze too closely. Perhaps youve heard the "old wive's tale" about lemmings?
Regardless of how you "explain" it, the biological principle is there. It isnt going away, and it refuses to be bargained with. It is exactly like a virus in that sense. It does what it does, and you are just going to have to Deal With It. If you don't ..... well then, It will deal with You.
There is one important biological principle that scientists and statisticians have understood for ... well, at least a century, and all humans on this planet are going to have to deal with eventually. This fact is an elephant that nobody dares welcome into their living room. But it is not going anywhere. At some point we will just have to confront it.
There are too many of us.
People, that is. Some of us have to go. We can do it gradually, and perhaps without any resort to fascism, barbarism, or any sort of "final solutions". But as CoVid-19 demonstrates, we do not have a choice in the matter. The entire planet is straining to force us back into balance, and as any climber will tell you, the higher the peak, the more loose rocks you are going to encounter. A population collapse WILL happen. It becomes more likely and more imminent with every new baby born. With a current population of roughly 7 billion . . . . Folks, it's a long way down, and we have yet to test any parachutes.
Those of you who are having a "Big Brother Moment" ... I can sympathize. I know what sort of unmentionable possibilities I could have stirred up with that last paragraph. Who is going to decide which part of the surplus is expendable? How will they go about choosing? Will there be camps and showers, and ... errr ... no, on second thought, Im not going to go there. The important thing to remember is that it will happen regardless of what anyone does or says. If we somehow find ways to exercise some degree of control over the process, we should count ourselves lucky. But the ultimate outcome is certain. People are starting to take note of the broken furniture and trunk-stains, and wondering why our political and economic leaders never make mention of the elephant. I tend to think that Bill Gates and the goals of his foundation are deeply misunderstood ... but even supposing that the conspiracy theories about him are untrue, People believe them for one obvious reason -- because the tinfoil haberdashers who want to blame Bill Gates are the only ones who seem willing to discuss that Gawd-damn elephant.
I have much more to add about population, and the environmental crisis that it fuels. But there are so many other existential problems facing our society today that I dare not continue to ramble down just one of the dozens of possible narrative tracks. At this point, it is moot to ask "what is wrong with our sociopoliticoeconomic system and how can it be fixed?" when a far more productive question might be: "Is there ANY part of that system that still works?
"The Economy" is subject to the same rules that apply to all organized systems: they cannot continue to grow indefinitely. Nothing can continue to increase in size forever. Except possibly the universe ... and on that point even Einstein wasnt ready to commit, one way or the other. Yet everything in our current economic paradigm - every investment report, every stock analysis, every GDP forecast, every adjustment in fiscal or monetary policy - every single damn detail is fine-tuned to serve the principle that growth is good, bigger is better, and limits were made to be exceeded. That is not just illogical ... it is certifiably batshit insane.
But who wants to hear someone lecture about the merits of a shrinking economy? Are you telling me I *CAN'T have two cars? But Ive always had two cars. Why not? I understand your point about water restrictions, but if I dont water my lawn, the grass will die! Wait ... what's that? I can only eat hamburders once a week, because meat production is inefficient and cruel? Shove it up your P.E.T.A., friend. Next youll be telling me I should spend my summer vacation in My Own State!
You can see where Im going with this. Intractable problems. Impossible assumptions. Broken systems. Gordian Knots of policy and organizational challenge, which people think can be fixed with a poleaxe and a callow disregard for "experts".
What would you say if I told you that the answer to ALL of this -- the Coronavirus, the economy, the dysfunctional government, and yeah ... perhaps even climate change, overpopulation and the preservation of some functioning human civilization over the next century -- is so simple that it can be encapsulated in just three words?
What would you say if I told you that someone had even trademarked those precious three words, and was walking around the US trying to get people to listen to them?
I see that youre skeptical. Fair enough. Let's start with something simple, concrete and easy to test for accuracy: Dealing with a pandemic.
You all know how the US is dealing with the pamdemic. You read articles about it all day, every day. I dont need to point out the elements of failure to make a convincing case that the US did it wrong. But how many of you have taken a long, close look at other countries, to see some hints on how to "do it right."
Though it is a bit of an overgeneralization, most of Asia seems to have responded to the Coronavirus with the speed and discipline necessary to contain a pandemic. The actions taken are a bit less important, since a detailed comparison of (for example) Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and New Zealand will probably confirm that each took a slightly different path. The important point was to publicly identify and explan a plan for containment (getting people to stay home, wear masks, social-distance, etc.) and then convince everyone to abide strictly by the plan ... with NO exceptions ... until medical authorities were satisfied that they had the outbreak under control.
Governments in most of Asia explained to their citizens that the virus is a fact of life. It is going to be with us for a long time to come, and it cannot be argued with. So any ideas of "going back to normal" need to be treated with caution. Instead, we are being asked to examine everything we do, and try to figure out ways that it can be done with less physical contact. Sounds almost comical when you describe it that way ... but that is just what is happening. We are trying to build a completely NEW "Normal". (I should note that, as this trend goes, Japan still lags far behind Korea and Taiwan, not to mention New Zealand.)
For now, we (citizens in such countries) are expected to continue educating ourselves, staying abreast of guidelines, and following the rules no matter where we go, rather than making a big stink about "rights." In return . . . well . . . most importantly, we get "results". And I am not just talking about the number of new cases a day. This weekend, Japan's J.League began allowing live crowds to return to football stadiums (ie. soccer for you Yanks) for the first time since February. It is a bold step, and one that the government and sports officials are approaching cautiously. There were dozens of public service announcements, and flyers passed out at the stadia, explaining the rules and detailing the sort of behaviour that was expected of all fans.
The response by the public? Well . . . it truly does have to be seen to be believed. So here is just a sample:
Efforts to maintain social distancing were in place at every location, and were rigidly respected. While most people understand the concept well enough by now, and clumped in family groups with distance left between groups, at many stadiums the fans in the stands adhered to the very letter of the rules, and presented a perfect, unbroken checkerboard pattern with exactly one seat between each fan. During the broadcast of one match, at Kofu's Kose Sports Stadium, a halftime video feed showed a family of four spaced out across eight seats - the kids in the middle. As the announcers discussed first-half highlights, a drama played out before the camera that could not have encapsulated the lesson better if it had been staged by some media propaganda genius. Time after time the little girl would get bored, and try to move to a seat next to her mother or brother. Each time they would shake a stern finger, push her away, and deliver what clearly was some sort of lecture on the concept of social distance, and the reason why she was supposed to stay one seat away from everyone else.
This is the reason why Asia - and indeed much of the world - has managed to address Coronavirus where the US has failed. As I noted above, the underlying principle can be summed up in just three words. And I suspect that you are familiar with those words. They make for a nice political slogan.
Not Me. We.
People in Asia do not wear masks because they want to stay healthy and protect themselves from infection -- nearly everyone knows the science by now, and as Trump is fond of pointing out, a mask will not prevent you from being infected. For that matter, neither will sitting in alternate seats, or even washing your hands. The only thing that CAN prevent you from being infected is if EVERYONE wears a mask, washes their hands and maintains social distance.
As with the case of Bernie Sanders and his dream (however naive?) of transforming the US healthcare and economic systems, this is is an issue that "Me" cannot address. Such systemic social problems can only be addressed by "We". If "We" all wear masks, maintain distance, etc. "We" will stay healthy.
But it only works if everyone can put their own needs and egos aside. There is no "We" unless we all agree on what "We" should do. If one person decides to get on the bus without a mask, the cooperative "We" no longer exists, and as Jefferson supposedly quipped, "if we can not all hang together, then we shall assuredly hang separately." You can make all the pleas to "individualism" that you care to make, but it wont change this simple truth. If you dont want to wear a mask ... OK that's your choice, but you are NOT getting on the bus with the mask-wearing "We". Society does not operate that way.
Health care works the same way. Of course it does! Every truly successful human society depends on this idea of responsibility and reciprocity. "We" can all have health care, or a living wage, or just about anything else we ask of from our leaders and civil servants. But only so long as "We" all work for it together, benefit from it equitably, and contribute whatever we can to help maintain it.
The economy? Of course it would work better if we ran it for the benefit of every worker and every consumer, rather than making it revolve around the fortunes and the influence of a few fortunate or fortune-got individuals. Social justice and prejudice? we know how to solve those problems too. A guy from Galilee laid it all out in a pretty simple message, which happens to be all about putting "We" ahead of "Me".
It is also critical that we realise, and address, the fact that our current way of life is unsustainable. We all need to simplify - to reduce the size of our "footprint" as the ecologists like to say. To buy less, consume less, waste less. In order for "We” to live lives of dignity, purpose and satisfaction, it is essential that we ensure those things are available to people who do not currently have them. We do this understanding that we may need to restrain our own activities and excesses ... for the good of "We".
Wake up America. Your model isnt working anymore. When you turn your society into a Rat Race, it should be obvious that the ones who come out on top will be the rattiest of the Rats. So long as we identify with "Me", and treat everything as a zero-sum, survival-of-the-fittest free-for-all, we are seven billion tiny, separate, self-serving antagonists, each playing their own favourite con and hoping to come out on top.
But no matter how clever or how hard-working you might be, the mathematics of the situation simply won't be ignored. If we allow our world to operate on the basis of individualism and self-interest, then there is one person acting, working, scheming and fighting for YOUR benefit, and six billion, nine hundred and ninety nine million, nine hundred and ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine opponents ... people who will do everything in their power, no matter how devious or unfair, to PREVENT you from coming out on top.
Nobody can cope with those odds. Nobody.
On the other hand, if we identify with "We" . . . . If we accept that every single individual’s happiness, prosperity and joy contributes to the gross happiness, prosperity and joy of the planet . . .
Then you have one person (yourself) who is willing to forego their own selfish interests if it can benefit others, and six billion, nine hundred and ninety nine million, nine hundred and ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine who are willing to forego their own selfish interests in order to help YOU.
I don’t know about you . . . . but I like those odds a lot better.
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