Wednesday, July 16, 2008
America, what will you do when you go to Walmart and the doors are closed?
Posted by James Curcio
Let us start this piece of wild conjecture with a supposition: you, like myself and many of those I know, have been aware for some time now that some kind of storm has been brewing in America. There is no arguing that the past eight years have sped up this process, but this pattern is not one that is unique to one administration. It is a pattern woven within the very fabric of Western civilization.
Let's be blunt, the mantle once held by Rome has simply passed on to a variety of Empires, from the Catholics to the the British, and most recently, to the United States. And like every other nation that has carried this banner, one must fall so that another might rise. (By the way, don't believe that the Empire lives on here in the States? Take a look at the architecture of our capital buildings. Why, what culture was it that the Romans so often aped?)
It is not entirely fair to call this martial spirit “Roman,” for as I said it has manifested across cultural and temporal boundaries with such regularity that it seems that what is present here is not only an archetype, but a biological imperative that operates in our neurology and endocrine systems every bit as much as in the memetic structure of the culture. This is not to say that it is an imperative that is universal, nor is it one that must be expressed in this form, but nevertheless it does, as this cultural program or complex would otherwise have ceased to express itself long ago.
Without undue elaboration, there are certain traits which embody this cultural program: patriarchy, commerce and industry as goods unto themselves, martial might and vigor used to spread the cultural myth far and wide through conquests, at the same time adopting harmonious forms, self assurance to the point of hubris, and most notably: the myth of the individual, which is a myth that never developed in the East except as an import from the West. None of this is to say that because of this common form these various civilizations are not different in equal ways, each with many other unique nuances, as there are countless ways which the United States is unlike Rome, and it is in fact only in the what I would call the underlying galvanizing myth of the society that this similarity resides. Additionally, it is obvious that cultures can exhibit some of these traits without embodying this “Roman” archetype. It is a character which, much like any of us, is constructed of generally the same parts, but when put together, has a unique, distinct and undeniable presence.
It would be sheer speculation to predict what the future holds for the U.S., but let's consider some of the basic facts available at this moment: the U.S. economy and value of the dollar is on very unstable ground, in part due to the idiocy of rolling thousands of default prone subprime mortgages into the investment packages and rating them AAA. But with all the hysterical news this has gathered, equally pressing are the results of climate change, which in ecological span of time is banging on our doorstep as we speak. Though argument can continue seemingly indefinitely about whether there is “climate change,” it is fact that at an alarming rate national disasters are sparking up in one location and then another, crippling the already taxed production capabilities of this country in virtually every industry. This is moving hand-in-hand with the effects of pollutants and untested chemicals will almost assuredly have effects on the safety of our future food and drinking water, effects which in the decades to come we can only speculate at. Tied into all of this, we are locked into a full-blown addiction to fossil fuels for the production of energy which, at this point, provides the entire backbone of our infrastructure, even our daily survival. Attempts to replace the heroin of oil with the methadone of other energy sources have been, thusfar, fairly superficial, and in some cases (as with ethanol), detrimental as a result of the other factors at play. We increasingly outsource to other countries, and the “giant sucking sound,” that Ross Perot suggested was heard as a result of NAFTA. (Who knew that someone so funny looking could be right? Certainly not America.)
This is only an incredibly cursory, even provisional, list of the factors at play, the singular point is to demonstrate some of the trends leading towards future realities which will have an effect on each and every one of our lives if they play out synergistically.
In the life-span of human civilization, it has been the East that has led the West, not the other way around. (Side-line note: Who owns an increasing minority share of our countries debt? China.) The only members of our waning empire who may reap true benefit in this brave new world are the outsourced international companies, many of whom are raking in billions in profits from the conflict in Iraq which was arguably manufactured for that very purpose.
In recognition of the facts precipitating this storm, apocalyptic mythology is bound to take hold, and surely it is a virtual pandemic. I am fascinated by elements of apocalyptic mythology, as is readily apparent in my creative work, but rather than proselytizing for the end-times, instead let's consider a very stern question: what the fuck are we doing?
By we, I mean you, me. Such global concerns as national or international market crashes and ecological disaster may seem out of our grasp, but all I see in the people around me is a business-as-usual sleepwalking state, where we follow the established patterns, many of us struggling harder and harder simply to make ends meet. At what point will we all wake up? At what point should we have a plan that involves something more than duct tape, some bottled water, and a couple cans of Campbell's Soup?
Cultural trends such as the “green movement” never seem to evolve further than the cult of the brand these days, casual and cursory lifestyle changes offered for the honor of claiming membership, usually resulting in minimal change of the status quo. The little changes make us feel better about ourselves, but though a good habit recycling plastic bottles does not change the situation.
Let's suppose, just for a minute, that all of this doomsaying is actually true: we actually do have to change the way we live our lives, and fast, if we want to weather this storm. We have to build communities, work locally and through the net, buy up land, and utilize it to the best of our abilities- at least until the possible eventuality that “buying” land no longer becomes necessary. Establish trade relationships with individuals who you can share with, as if the network you are building was a medieval village. (At least have the benefit of penicillin and the Internet. But do you know how to manufacture penicillin?) Learn what needs to be learned to maintain the quality of life that we have grown accustomed to, and at the same time come to realize which of those was never actually all that important.
Yeah, yeah, we've all heard the sustainability talk before. I've been a part of several experiments of this nature, and I have witnessed what I'm sure you expect: excessive concern regarding petty drama, an inability to maximize personal strengths and minimize weaknesses through self-knowledge or management, even though it should be common sense that if Fred is an excellent cook and can't build things to save his life, don't give him a hammer. Hierarchical politics, reaching the absurd point where individuals will viciously fight over who has the “majority share” of something that isn't even worth anything yet. If every member of a would-be community or network is unable to get out from under the heel of the grinding financial realities of living hand to mouth, it is virtually impossible for them to plan ahead, form a group and establish an operational plan that attempts to deal with the hurdles we expect to face, and grow their plan into physical reality.
Aside from these complications, it is surprisingly difficult to transition from our capitalistic upbringing to a community-reliant mentality. The day-to-day constantly sucks up all the energy and resources that were supposed to go towards building and sustaining a more conscious, conscientious way of life. We've been taught not to trust our neighbors. We live in an alienated, fractioned culture which can no longer even conceive of “community” without a sneer, or without the urge to try to sell someone something they don't need. There can be no community when there can be no trust between its members, and we are a decidedly untrusting and untrustworthy society.
America, what will you do when you go to Walmart and the doors are closed? (And yes, I realize that they are probably one of the international corporations that is positions to weather this storm thanks to their judicious application of pure evil. You get my point.)
It seems to me that this storm is brewing relatively quickly, and yet all of us are moving in slow motion. Let us hope that this is just misinformed fear-mongering, but supposing it isn't: we all need to pick up the pace, or, in the words of James Maynard Keenan, “learn to swim.”