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White Is The New Black


James Howard Kunstler

Let it be remembered that as the world was blowing up, Fashion Week gave the New York news media a case of the vapors. But let them tell it. In the immortal words of The New York Times’s Cathy Horyn: “…amid the parkas and the managed pant-suits there was a story here: the amount of embellishment and new technology….”

The mantra of New Technology is on everybody’s lips, of course. New Technology is the New Jesus. It’s descending from out of the holy ethers to float us across the rivers of Babylon to the New Jerusalem – although, now that fashion has got its hooks into the stuff, I dunno, it could be game over for New Technology. Nothing goes out of fashion like fashion. The same newspaper, by the way, tells us that “long-form blogs” are also joining the Dodo and Paris Hilton in the Museum of Extinct Curiosities. But I wouldn’t want to try this on Twitter. And the mosh-pit of Facebook seems an uncongenial place for my brand of high-toned comedy. I guess I’ll have to soldier on here.

Around the same time that Kanye West was perusing the gift bags at the Alexander Wang show on Pier 94, I heard a curious thing on NPR. Some cheeky young envoy from the realm of New Technology was complaining that the “public space” of Twitter and Facebook had to be respected world-wide as “the new town square,” and wasn’t it appalling that the authorities tried to shut these things down in places like Egypt, Algeria, and the lesser kingdoms of Arabia?

This is the kind of virtual thinking that passes for mental exercise these days in the land ruled by Lady Gaga. Hello. We (meaning the USA) do not run these foreign countries – I know it may come as a surprise to the paranoid conspiracy crowd. Even when these faraway places blow up and their former tyrants beat it to Monte Carlo, Zurich, or Riyadh, we do not step in and run them. We try to meddle a little, of course, but in the moiling red mists of revolution nobody even has the authority to pay attention to one of our perspiring attaches, and they don’t want to hear our bullshit anyway, even when it comes with a suitcase full of cash.

The idea that the rest of the world owes Jeff Zuckerberg and the creators of Twitter a certain respect is unrealistic, though it goes against the grain of our own First Amendment and the cardinal beliefs of Rachel Maddow. The clinical psychologists often speak of boundary problems – the inability to recognize where your stuff leaves off and the other person’s stuff begins – but what we’re seeing now in the American thought-sphere is explicitly geographic (and ethnographic) confusion. We don’t understand that we are not them, and they are not us.

Likewise, the infantile idea that these nations in the throes of revolt will slide from disorder into natural democracy like falafels into a pita pocket. What you generally get in political upheavals throughout history are protracted periods of confusion, factional fighting, and violence.  More often than not, they resolve in the rise of a new tyrant, some figure who seems to know what he is doing when everybody else around him does not – which is the essence of human charisma, being a declension of the following:

1.) People who know what they are doing.

2.) People who seem to know what they are doing.

3.) People who pretend to know what they re doing.

4.) And people who don’t know what they are doing.

Most of the human race is composed of the fourth category, which is why the figures in the categories above them claim their attention and allegience. Sometimes, the results are very unfortunate.

The world is now blowing up politically at the same time that it is blowing up financially, and there should be little doubt about the relation of these two conditions. At a time of rising resource scarcity (oil, metals, fertilizers), and capital scarcity (unpaid loans vanishing in the black hole of default), and raucous weather in places where grain crops usually grow (Russia, Australia, Argentina), you can be sure that things will get weird.

They are finally getting weird in the streets of the USA now, too. Wisconsin is surely just the first of many hashes that cry to be settled – and that state is not nearly as broke as broke as Illinois, New Jersey, and California. A lot of stuff is shaking loose out there. Our charismatic leaders, alas, have been drawn mostly from category 3, and out of all their pretending comes a banking system that is flying apart like a Chrysler Slant Six engine that somebody poured Karo syrup into, thinking it might work as an “alternative fuel.” The reverberations will be felt in every household, business, and office in the land.

Some wags out there are even blaming Ben Bernanke for the worldwide rise in food prices, and the cause-and-effect relationship there is rather plausible. You juice the world money supply with an artificial $100 billion a month, at least, and the juice flows somewhere, lately into stock and commodity markets because who the heck wants bonds when no issuing entity has a prayer of staving off some kind of default, and the interest rates are a joke anyway.

Americans lost in the Techno-rapture and the inane transports of Fashion Week have no idea how fragile our vital supply chain system is. If the lands around the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea continue to fall apart politically, you can be sure that something required by the oil markets will get broken over there – whether it is an oil terminal, or a shipping channel, or a royal skull – and before you can say Mike Huckabee the shipments of food to America’s supermarkets will be interrupted, with predictable results.

This could be a helluva week. We’ve flattered ourselves for years about how wonderful it is that everything is connected in this world – the Tom Friedman fantasy about the eternal sunshine of the global economy. Now, we’re more likely to see the dark side of connectedness, as the planet’s goodie-bag deflates and folks in colorful costumes start fighting over what’s left.

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