Monday, February 19, 2018

The Social Pathologies of Collapse

As a companion piece to the previous post, here are excerpts from  Umair Haque's essay, "Why We're Underestimating America's Collapse."

Haque offers up five trends, pathologies that he contends evidence America's collapse. These five are the staccato rhythm of school shootings; the opiod epidemic; the rise of "nomadic retirees," people living in cars travelling the US in search of low-wage jobs; the decline of American life expectancy (Costa Ricans now live longer than Americans); and Number Five:

And that is my last pathology: it is one of the soul, not one of the limbs, like the others above. American appear to be quite happy simply watching one another die, in all the ways above. They just don’t appear to be too disturbed, moved, or even affected by the four pathologies above: their kids killing each other, their social bonds collapsing, being powerless to live with dignity,or having to numb the pain of it all away.

If these pathologies happened in any other rich country — even in most poor ones — people would be aghast, shocked, and stunned, and certainly moved to make them not happen. But in America, they are, well, not even resigned. They are indifferent, mostly.

So my last pathology is a predatory society. A predatory society doesn’t just mean oligarchs ripping people off financially. In a truer way, it means people nodding and smiling and going about their everyday business as their neighbours, friends, and colleagues die early deaths in shallow graves. The predator in American society isn’t just its super-rich — but an invisible and insatiable force: the normalization of what in the rest of the world would be seen as shameful, historic, generational moral failures, if not crimes, becoming mere mundane everyday affairs not to be too worried by or troubled about.

And Haque has a warning for the rest of us.

American collapse is a catastrophe of human possibility without modern parallel . And because the mess that America has made of itself, then, is so especially unique, so singular, so perversely special — the treatment will have to be novel, too. The uniqueness of these social pathologies tell us that American collapse is not like a reversion to any mean, or the downswing of a trend. It is something outside the norm. Something beyond the data. Past the statistics. It is like the meteor that hit the dinosaurs: an outlier beyond outliers, an event at the extreme of the extremes. That is why our narratives, frames, and theories cannot really capture it — much less explain it. We need a whole new language — and a new way of seeing — to even begin to make sense of it.

But that is America’s task, not the world’s. The world’s task is this. Should the world follow the American model — extreme capitalism, no public investment, cruelty as a way of life, the perversion of everyday virtue — then these new social pathologies will follow, too. They are new diseases of the body social that have emerged from the diet of junk food — junk media, junk science, junk culture, junk punditry, junk economics, people treating one another and their society like junk — that America has fed upon for too long.


Toby said...

Present day Amerika is where Ayn Rand's Objectivism leads. It's a straight line. When selfishness and greed are hailed as virtues the common weal suffers.

It is possible to judge a society on how well it constructs and maintains its public infrastructure. This includes transportation, parks, arenas, libraries, hospitals, water distribution, sewers, garbage removal, etc. Public infrastructure is the real sharing economy. It is there for all of us. It is what makes civilization function. Throughout the developed nations public infrastructure is suffering from lack of funds and lack of will. Champagne Bridge anyone?

Mound, I'm having a terrible time trying to post on your site. Google is up to its stunts again.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sorry about your posting difficulty, Toby. I have no idea what that's about.

Your remark on how a society is reflected in the quality of its public infrastructure brought to my mind two examples: Rome and post-WWII America.

Then America entered neoliberalism with its "everyday low taxes" regime. We began cannibalizing the state, cutting ordinary maintenance, repair and upgrading of essential infrastructure as a way to keep taxes artificially low, even if only for certain groups. Canada played this game to a somewhat lesser degree.

We all know how this plays out. Your car needs a $300 repair job to the heads and new gaskets. You don't want to put up the money and so you just keep driving until the engine is utterly ruined. You have cannibalized your investment, the purchase price of the car, to temporarily avoid basic maintenance.

Another example that comes to mind is Boston where researchers found natural gas plumes everywhere, from building foundations to sidewalks to local streets. Those gas lines were laid down over a century ago. They have decayed. Now they're releasing incredible amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Nobody maintained them for decades and now there's no money to rip up the streets and sidewalks to replace them.

Are these signs of pending collapse? I guess we'll have to wait and see.