porpoise muttons majesty


There is one thing I’ve learned in all my years of therapy, and that is DON’T READ ARTICLES LIKE THIS ONE. Recounting in detail just vivid enough to give you horrible daydreams (but vague enough to keep you from knowing what to do), Alfred McCoy delineates nine different ways the American Empire will end, and end quickly. It’s got it all: China, space war, Oil Shock, tech viruses… and it does it without even mentioning loose nuclear material, superbugs or global warming.

Many things contributed to my cure from PTSD – therapy, drugs and time, mostly – but one other directive from my therapist was to erase all of my news bookmarks on my web browser, and forbade any research on the dark subject matter that was clouding my brain. The minute I saw this article, it felt like what a whisky must feel to a person just out of rehab. I consumed the piece knowing full well I shouldn’t, and regretted it instantly.

The comments didn’t help either, full of people mentally masturbating to their own collection of apocalypse porn. Some people obviously get off on writing variations on “we’re all fucked”, although I’d wager none of them have young kids. Having children makes that sort of scorched-earth thinking irresponsible.

However, the piece raised a tangential issue: when people like me start feeling incapable of fomenting change, despair begins to take hold, and many of us move away, or opt out at some macro level. I don’t mean to raise my personal importance to an untenable level, in fact, I think it applies to almost all of you reading this. Your demoralization makes these nightmare scenarios more plausible. When the smart men and women stop giving a shit, they’re very unlikely to fight for it when things get bleak.

And why the fuck should they? We live in a culture that denigrates expertise, mistrusts facts, and has given corporations the same rights as humans. To quote from the article:

Congress and the president are now in gridlock; the American system is flooded with corporate money meant to jam up the works; and there is little suggestion that any issues of significance, including our wars, our bloated national security state, our starved education system, and our antiquated energy supplies, will be addressed with sufficient seriousness to assure the sort of soft landing that might maximize our country’s role and prosperity in a changing world…

Now, to quote “Animal House”, I find Milton as boring as you find Milton. There’s nothing in this that you haven’t heard a million times before, in the usual harpie progressive hand-wringing squawk. Even the right-wing goons will join in the turkey shoot. You’ll see exchanges like this:

“Okay, then I’ll buy a hybrid and get solar panels and eat locally.”

“Won’t matter. The oil shock will take away all plastics. You’re fucked.

“I’ll get some land with good soil and learn how to farm basic staples and store them.”

“Then some people with machine guns will come and take it away from you. You’re fucked.”

“We’ll move to Canada or Australia or Italy.”

“They won’t let you, and besides, it’ll be even worse over there. You’re fucked.”

However, through all this bottom feeding, it is interesting to think that people like me and you can speed this process of disintegration up considerably. So I put it to you, fair readers: is the idea of “America”, in its present state and trajectory, meaningful to you? Do you believe in any of these scenarios? Do you believe you can protect yourself against the worst of it?


0 thoughts on “porpoise muttons majesty

  1. xuxe

    i think you could definitely contrast “progressive” politics with xenophobic tea party bullshit conservative politics and realize that one of them drives us toward like, progress and the future, and one of them drives us toward like, a new dark ages.
    but i don’t really believe the dark ages scenario because people are too interconnected and hard to control nowadays, especially in the US. that’s the doomsday scenario that freaks me out most but i see it as a pretty low probability.
    the doomsday scenarios that you are talking about aren’t that frightening to me because i find so much ethnocentrism in them.
    people talk about the loss of “our way” of life – i already don’t feel as though i live the normal American “way” so i don’t think i have a lot to lose.
    i think we are headed toward a harder more dangerous world in some ways – more like what the rest of the world already lives.
    but in exchange we also get the rise of other countries and cultures that have a lot to offer, if you can appreciate them as shockingly equal to our own American culture. we could end up with global cities that look like Bladerunner. they kind of already do…
    globally, there is a huge rise of the middle class. the middle class needs to eat. maybe the US will become more agricultural again. they need food in China. maybe Brazil and other Latin American countries take over global financial leadership. who the hell knows how it will shake out. economic growth is mostly coming from the emerging markets and i think the fear of losing control is a huge driving force behind the like, fear mongering.
    Americans are not the only ones with ideas, and we don’t have to have a unilateral future.
    glass half full…

  2. Amy S.

    I don’t have any idea what will happen to this country, but I know that we’ll go to our graves blaming each other for whatever does.
    And I, too, had to turn off NPR for a few weeks when hearing “Another soldier has died in Afghanistan” was making me despair.

  3. kent

    Gloom and doom sells. I have some observations from a slightly longer life observing world events:
    1) We’re always going to hell in a hand-basket. Millennial thinking has it’s purpose: it focuses the mind. Sometimes shit actually gets done as a result. It also sells papers, or whatever it is people buy these days.
    2) Worrying just wears out your mind. If you think about it honestly, didn’t all the most horrible events in your life come as a surprise? How many things have you worried about that never actually happened?
    3) Former empire isn’t that bad a place to be. Sure, Greece and Rome have horrible governments, but Greeks and Italians know how to enjoy life. When I worry about the USA, I worry less about Empire and more about the gnawing insecurity and unhappiness at the center of the American soul.
    Worry less, buy better olive oil, and hug your kids. No matter how awful parts of it are, very few people die wishing it was shorter.

  4. D

    These scenario planning exercises are always fun, but you can’t take them too seriously. Remember: (a) it’s not only the negative trends that impact complex systems, and (b) the other guys have their own negative trends to worry about.
    Having said that, one has to be concerned that the decline of the dollar as a reserve currency, coupled with rising middle-class incomes in China and India and their embrace of Western consumption habits, will result in supply shocks in the single-malt market, leading to shortages, long lines, and the ultimate decline of our way of life.
    That’s the one that keeps me up at night. Also, global warming.

  5. Tammy O.

    I believe that we’re fucked. And not just as a nation. But, sure, yeah, it’s conceivable that this great American experiment could end (badly), too.
    I think that being fucked should compel us to actually do more good stuff, as much as possible – not less. Believing in the reality of change (good or bad – and doomsday is just an extension of the bad) gives us greater responsibility to help each other more.
    It’s our job as human beings to do some good in whatever way we can. We’re punching the clock on life each day, and we can make that time joyful, helpful, and meaningful. Otherwise, it just doesn’t matter how long any of this lasts.

  6. cate

    I work in Big Media and find it impossible to escape from the hand-wringing and true-sounding prophecies. I mean, I read Paul Krugman and want to jump out the window, and I fully believe that this job and its contents will be the end of my stomach lining. But — yes, I still do believe in the meaning of “America,” even though I constantly scope out real estate in non-violent Central American countries. It still means to me that my coffee shops don’t blow up, I can see my parents without having to get on a plane, and I can work at arguably the greatest newspaper in the world. It also means that I can send my kid to UNC without having to worry about putting them on a plane. But it’s not really about proximity, of course. It is about diversity, and diversity of choice. Even though that diversity grates on our less-evolved citizens, to me it’s the greatest thing in the world. That is the idea of America that is still so fascinating. And I think that in that idea, there is still hope.
    As far as protecting my family from the worst of what’s out there, our plan is to save as much money as we can, turn off the TV, and cover the walls with books. There’s not a lot else you can do.

  7. Steve Williams

    “Is the idea of ‘America,’ in its present state and trajectory, meaningful to you?”
    No. But then, I’ve never felt the traditional pride Americans are supposed to feel. I feel lucky I was born a white male American in the American Century, but mostly because I think it’s worse everywhere else.
    But I’m starting to think I’m wrong about that: http://urlzr.mp/f7
    “Do you believe in any of these scenarios?”
    I only skimmed the article, but I’ve been reading some pretty dark science fiction: http://urlzr.mp/g7
    Also a good deal of factual analysis that borders on conspiracy porn. Yes, I believe the scenarios are plausible.
    But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I spent 50 years aimlessly working to fit into our corporatist, consumerist, capitalist culture. It’s only in the last couple of years I’ve started to realize I’m just not cut out for it! I’m better suited to a lifestyle that celebrates more mundane values.
    “Do you believe you can protect yourself against the worst of it?”
    I think so. At least, I think it’s worth a try. For example, I think this isn’t quite true:
    “‘I’ll get some land with good soil and learn how to farm basic staples and store them.’ ‘Then some people with machine guns will come and take it away from you.'”
    First, self-sufficiency is impossible, even if we learn to farm. Rather, we must learn to farm AND work hard to build a strong community with diverse know-how. The latter is harder.
    Second, yes, there will be lawlessness. Again, our only chance is that same strong community.
    And even then, a lot of strong, productive communities will be victimized. All we can do is try.

  8. Anne

    Our younger son wants to move permanently to Canada after college, and I encourage him. But… as goes the US, so goes Canada (eventually)? I don’t know.
    “Expect the best, prepare for the worst.” Is that the new national motto?

  9. Bob

    When I think about this nation nation’s future,I’m reminded of a story that Harlan Ellison told about the movie serials he used to watch as a boy, and one in particular. One Saturday he went to the movies and saw a Hopalong Cassidy serial, in which Hoppy was trapped in a canyon, surrounded on all sides-in one direction a band of angry cattle rustlers, in another an Indian tribe on the warpath, in the third a raging river, and in the fourth a sheer cliff. Ellison was enthralled: escape seemed completely impossible. No doubt next week’s episode was going to be the greatest ever. He went to the movies next Saturday, practically nuts from anticipation, and then the moment arrived. As the serial started, he saw Hoppy riding his horse at a fast clip, while the announcer intoned, “Last week, after Hoppy escaped the canyon…”
    I’m optimistic–I think we’ll eventually work our way out of the dark, stupid spot we find ourselves in now. But it beats me how.


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