Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupations and Wall Street

I follow politics. I'll admit it. I don't like sports in any meaningful way, though I do consider myself athletic. Athletic, though when I play structured sports, I can't shake the feeling that I'm sacrificing valuable time that could be spent towards more productive ends. I think a lot about what sort of things are productive, and what things are not; the benefits of structured activity, and the downsides.

And so I follow politics. Casually, maybe. I would not identify myself as anything like a "news junkie", because I like to think that I try to cut to the important trends behind the day to day bric a brac, and see the greater powers at work, and how they fit into history, etc. and all that. But to follow semi-daily news is to be a sort of news junkie. What does a junkie do but load his day and mind with trivialities, with clutter that does nothing but fill mental, and thus temporal and physical space (although with ipads and iphones, there's less filling of physical space, at least).

But I like to think I somehow stay above the quotidian BS that is daily Mainstream politics. I don't watch cable news. I don't read the headlines in any sort of fervent way, though I do use twitter as a way to dip my toe into the stream of the media's consciousness. I've set my BS detector such that I try to see, on twitter at least, what a variety of sources are saying about the world's never ending drama. I follow Glenn Beck, Al Jazeera, his holiness the dalai lama (but he is the ultimate in staying above the fray. Or is he the ultimate master of divine spin? Up for debate, I say), NYTimes, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Pinchbeck, Murdoch's The Daily, numerous science-ey handles, and many more. I also check in with favorite sites, though I find this more difficult as a means to find good info. It becomes more about navigation than about reading. Twitter allows you to set the course and enjoy the ride. And if I have set my destinations evenly enough, it's a balanced, varied cruise. Sort of like what having a self driving car will be like when humanity evolves.

And incidentally, that's the very topic I'm sleuthing out. Not so much the self driving care, important as that is. Rather, it is all very much about the evolution of humanity to me. I'll perk up when a pundit or author or intelligent person on the street is willing to get into it, and talk about where we're really going. Details provide the important landmarks, but Philosophy in the news, that's what I'm looking for. The collective conscious, unconscious, and everywhere in between.

And there has never been a better time for this, really. Not only are the doors of media perception so profoundly thrown open (alright, cracked open. Which is a huge improvement. The world is peeking its collective nose into our shared human room, where big media has been yelling a play by play through the door for awhile now. It smells sweaty.), but there are more people than ever, more education than ever, more ideas than ever, all of it just waiting to play out. We were all born under the "may you live in interesting times star", and we can either choose to take note or not, at our peril.

Anyhow, in my trolling, it feels as if things are afoot. And as someone who is not exactly positioned to be a conventional kind of success story, I've long been cautiously optimistic that the times they are a changin'. That's my bias: I want to be poised and ready to slough off so much of this gilded ephemera, and go towards a more egalitarian, and ultimately more interesting future. That's my MO. I want things to shake up, and I trust that we are collectively smart enough at this point not to descend to the messier aspects of shake ups. We won't get fooled again! Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose! Other memorable rebellious lines from songs before my time!

Granted, during and after college, when I had seen it as a foregone conclusion that I would be unable to find conventional (read: profitable) work, I had incubating within me a convulsive incubus of rebellion and anti establishment hope. With teeth. It's a good thing I read a lot of Orwell too, or I might have gotten a bit swept up in proselytizing and generally carrying on against the status quo. I was fortunately (and I owe a great thanks to Orwell's Politics and the English Language for helping me reach this state) allergic to words like socialism and Marxism, and instead wanted to know something more like the actual state of things. What I mean by "the actual state of things" is a longer topic than I can really consider here, but here's a bullet list to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:

-what really makes our society run. Chiefly, oil: how much we have of it, and what we do with it.

-the deal with climate change

-the deal with the general health of the west--mental, physical, metaphysical, spiritual.

-agriculture and water

To further simplify this list: I simply wanted to know about the basics. Having in some time given myself some kind of adequate primer on these bedrock topics (with some help from my studies as a student. Go figure), I became certain that things as they were could not continue. As James Howard Kunstler would say, I saw it clearly that our culture was going to have to make "other arrangements". There were (and are) too many cars, too many houses, too much crap, though not necessarily too many people. Certainly too many pampered people, though. And so I was ready for this change of plans to play out fairly quickly. Eager, even. I imagined the future as defaulting to some communal kind of state. We'd have to throw in together and figure things out somehow, and those wedded to crazy and unhelpful notions about free markets, globalism, and the trimmings of the so called modern economy would be forced to eat crow and join reality or go hungry.

Honestly, not a lot has substantially changed in this world view of mine. I still think the way the west lives is unsustainable. I still think we're headed for changes. It didn't happen as quickly as I thought it might. I suppose I expected that it was more obvious and immediately calamitous, the situation our society was in, and that we'd very soon have that Wile E. Coyote moment, where we look down and see nothing, and our sudden awareness of our reality, free standing in thin air, is what ultimately accelerates us downward. But it all happened so damn slowly. The crash of 2008 was a big deal, certainly, but it did not bring about the end of capital and the western way of life that I thought was so obviously a dinosaur. I privately pumped my fist in excitement to hear about the markets going down down down, but there was no real tipping point. And, more importantly, not enough people were really looking down. By sheer act of will and habit, we continued.

I will freely admit that this is a callous and impish viewpoint that I took. But it's not like I bet on stock failure. I kept it fairly personal. I do remember, though, fucking blasting an installment of Democracy Now where they had a libertarian texan on to talk about the sharks in the tank that would devour the american empire ( wherein between breaks they played the song from the requiem for a dream soundtrack by the kronos quartet and it was very emotionally intense). If i had had a car with a serious soundsystem I probably would have actually blasted it. As it was, I just had it turned up loud at work, at my manufacturing job (crazy right? In this epoch?), nodding my head to Amy Goodman's sick beats of change.

And I thought, maybe Obama will be the adult in the room here and proceed on a course that will actually help us in the actual future, not the one imagined by Thomas Freidman. And I thought that here it comes, the great leveling, the actual flattening of the world, where it would be time to put our heads together and figure things out, damn it.

But it was all tabled. Things sort of blew over. It's unclear exactly how. Quantitative easing and stimulus injections, in addition to what was probably a concerted and very hopeful effort by all major banks to just steady it all combined to keep the train rolling along (although in America we don't use many trains. I wish we did. For the purposes of this metaphor we'll say keep the car running. On fumes. Which we were also collectively huffing while those up front steering whispered in a harsh tone to shut up, and that everything will be fine. Are we there yet, i asked. No we were not.)

And so we roll along. Increasingly though, it's becoming clear that those driving don't really have a clue where we're going, or how to get there. It's ugly. It's so ugly that it's become a cliche to comment on how ugly it is. It's a new normal, and it is bleak. All the bleaker because all the solutions are so obviously band aids or guillotines. That is to say, the two main ideas offered by the two parties in charge are essentially "patch things up until it gets better", in the form of more job stimulus, more consumer relief, interest rate lowering etc and "cut it all loose" by unleashing the free market/libertarian/reaganomics dream of total safety net severance. To the reasonable person, it's clear that neither of these will do any meaningful trick. Maybe one seems better than the other, but we're still, to mix metaphors in a hopefully amusing way, like the General Lee car from the Dukes of Hazard after it hits a jump in a state of peril and the camera freezes: Frozen in space and time, at the mercy of gravity and fate. And of course, our clueless drivers.

They say that any given man is 3 days of hunger away from revolution. I think a new adage has sprung up. The average person is 3 years' unemployment away from finally doing a little something. And that's where we are now. People, in various ways, are doing a little something. We're peeking out from our shelters, seeing the increasingly ruinous state of things, and doing a little something. This is the Tea Party. This is Occupy Wall street. This is Facebook squawking, and the way in which, increasingly, casual conversation is increasingly becoming talk about the crazy world we find ourselves in.

As someone who's mentally been down this rabbit hole for awhile, it's nice to see some company down here. Indeed, if I had been coming out of college right now, I am fairly sure I'd be on Wall Street. Or rather in Zuccati park. As it is, I have a job that I don't want to take time from. I spent time at the Chicago protests, and that was spiriting to be sure, but I'm not yet prepared to go as far as getting arrested for this organization just yet. I want to play what part I can by doing what I'm doing now. A little something. As his holiness, the master of enlightened spin himself would say, "the journey of a lifetime begins with a single step". Or some words in a regular blogpost, right?