Monday, January 08, 2007

Bad Shit

On my most pessimistic days, I can't scotch the dread that Seriously Bad Shit's a-Comin'.

I used to be able to pooh-pooh myself out of the idea -- just the usual, residual Former Doper Paranoia -- but I admit that occasionally the whole Global Warming/Fundy Nutjob/Peak Oil/Protofascist Right Wing/Loony Jihadist/Incredibly Stupid President ball of wax just jumbles all together in my poor little head and I just can't avoid the fear that we're headed pell-mell for a long, slow-rolling Katrina that leaves us all foundering in shit.

Saturday's balmy 75-degree weather played on the evening news like it was the greatest midwinter gift anybody's ever had. People out biking and sunbathing and marveling at the budding blossoms fooled into emerging. Me, I was quaking in fear all day. Absolutely immobilized, horrified. Yeah, yeah, I know, El Niño, not Global Warming, blah blah. Didn't stop me from fantasizing the complete and utter destruction of the hardwood forest on Short Hill. Didn't stop me from picturing palm trees in Purcellville. Polar bears dying on melting ice blocks in the ocean. Maniac religious cults, maddened from hunger and boredom, roaming my road looking for people to either convert or kill-- doesn't make much difference to them.

It says something about the times we live in when an unusually warm day in January can trigger that kind of panic.

Then I go and read this interview with Chris Hedges, author of the newly published American Fascists. Hedges, the former NYT bureau chief in the Middle East and the Balkans, knows as well as anybody the warning signs of Bad Shit. And he's not afraid, not too polite, to call a Fascist a Fascist. He describes the interior emptiness that drives people to its dubious comforts:
For me, the engine of the [Christian Fascist] movement is deep economic and personal despair. A terrible distortion and deformation of American society, where tens of millions of people in this country feel completely disenfranchised, where their physical communities have been obliterated, whether that's in the Rust Belt in Ohio or these monstrous exurbs like Orange County, where there is no community. There are no community rituals, no community centers, often there are no sidewalks. People live in empty soulless houses and drive big empty cars on freeways to Los Angeles and sit in vast offices and then come home again.
Jesus. There it is. Ashburn, Virginia. Mile after mile after mile of enormous, piss-elegant houses on a nightmare labyrinth of endlessly recursive streets, each one of them with three or four gargantuan flat-panel TVs spewing endless crap at the inhabitants.

I know that emptiness, dig? I fear that emptiness. I work hard to fill that emptiness with music and books and writing and loving and working. I understand how that yawning, unfilled nothing might lead you conclude that Jesus talks though your TV set, telling you to kill atheists, Muslims and fags. I've felt it. Driving through Ashburn, it shrieks at you from every phony brick facade, from every molecule of oil-depleting vinyl that wraps these thousands of hideous fuckboxes.

Just one economic bad patch, one big layoff at AOL or Verizon, one upward tweak of the interest rate on their jive-ass "creative" mortgages, one year of $10/gallon gas, one son or daughter killed in Iraq, one terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11, one natural disaster -- and that's all she wrote. It's off to the MegaChurch, the only thing that provides any explanation that doesn't consist of "You bought that fuckin' huge house and those three SUVs and the jetski and the eight cellphones and the Sybian, asshole. Live with the consequences."

Hedges explains the appeal of Christofascism:
This is a world of magic and signs and miracles and wonders, and [on the other side] is the world you hate, the liberal society that has shunted you aside and thrust you into despair. The rage that is directed at those who go after the movement is the rage of those who fear deeply being pushed back into this despair, from which many of the people I interviewed feel they barely escaped. A lot of people talked about suicide attempts or thoughts of suicide -- these people really reached horrific levels of desperation. And now they believe that Jesus has a plan for them and intervenes in their life every day to protect them, and they can't give that up.
I'm getting that book.

Oh, and Jim Kunstler is a real cheerer-upper today, too.


Anonymous said...

I don't want to rag on Kuntsler too much--I've bought his book, and I'm mostly glad that he's taken on the thankless role of Peak Oil Cassandra--but I sure wish he'd put a cork in that "there's nothing we can do" horseshit. I don't know that he could be talked out of it when all he can think of on an unseasonably warm January day is the deer tick population exploding, but stating baldly that using hybrid cars won't help or that global warming is unstoppable--without providing one smidgen of fact to back it up--is just encouraging the rise of Christofascism, because if man can't do anything to improve things, well, who does that leave? Yes, I'm sure that all sorts of people have looked at the thermometer and had at least fleeting thoughts of global warming--I know I sure did--but there's a bit of a jump between that and claiming that the climate change juggernaut is unstoppable.

Props on the Sybian reference, BTW, although I wonder how many people who don't run porn sites have actually bought the thing. Wikipedia says that it costs $1345, and after reading the description, I'm not sure what it does that a mid-range "personal massager" and a couple of pillows doesn't.

Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts...

I went to visit my aunt in the hospital last week. She's very sick...very sick. Very. Anyway. She can hardly breathe, oxygen mask on, etc. And before I left to come back home, I went in to say goodbye -- I'm sure for the last time. She said...

It's warm outside.

I know. It's real warm for January.

It's global warming, honey.

Those were the last words I'll ever hear her say. And she's a very wise old soul. So, take what you will from that.

Secondly, regarding this...

There are no community rituals, no community centers, often there are no sidewalks. People live in empty soulless houses and drive big empty cars...

You know. I know that's true and all. But a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't help but curse people who write stuff like that because -- as I pulled into my driveway, my neighbor was in his driveway. And I HID in my car until he went back inside. I will do ANYTHING not to have to get in a conversation with him. And I came in shrieking to The Skimmer about people who write stuff like that because people bug me! Real live people get on my nerves! Maybe we don't *want* all this *community!*

Sorry for ranting that way. But, it's true!

Jeddie, I had a meeting today and I might need your help. It involves writing something on this very topic. Look for an email tomorrow.

Neddie said...

Aw, BG... I'm so sorry about your aunt... Watching people die sure is hard, ain't it.... So sorry, so sorry....

Community: Of course you're not required to like everybody, hon! I certainly avoid contact with many people, neighbors, co-workers, my kids' friends' parents -- I don't like 'em! No apologies! At our age, we have earned the right to choose the people we associate with!

But what ol' Chris Hedges and I are talking about isn't associating with people, or choosing our friends... It's the fact that modern exurbs, like Ashburn and countless others around every city in the country, are designed to make each and every homeowner feel like a modern nobleman. The phony baronial brick facades, which hide the horrible piss-colored vinyl siding on the other three sides not visible from the street, declare in loud, brassy tones, I've got mine, Jack! You're supposed to overlook the fact that these grand ancestral houses are packed together like sardines on eighth-of-an-acre lots, 12-15 feet separating these magnificent country manors.

The effect isn't to bring people together in a common weal (a res publica, in fact!), but to perpetuate the lie that alienation from your neighbors is not only possible but desirable. And by "community rituals," we mean things like Independence Day parades, Christmas caroling, Halloween Trick-or-Treating -- stuff we associate with Norman Rockwell America, back when we knew how to build friendly towns where even people who didn't like each other at least treated each other civilly. How are these things enriched -- or even possible -- in a place where there are no sidewalks, no walking streets,no alleys, indeed no Main Street at all? Where all the houses are both sardine-close and absolutely walled-off from each other?

This is the alienation I'm talking about, BG. You've got your wonderful, soul-enriching cookie-baking contest with your online friends -- now try to imagine transferring that camaraderie to a physical neighborhood where the entire design of the place shrieks "Keep away or I'll call the cops!"

Small wonder people feel empty. The whole place is designed to make you feel empty.

Will Divide said...

The choir you are preaching to lives here at my place. However I think you underestimate the tons of apathy those TV ZetZ dispense. Those people with the flatscreens are no more capable of killing anyone as they are of climbing to the top of the Washington Monument. Now the appitite for watching people killed is another matter; but even that, maybe, is losing its broad appeal.

Me? lately I've been thinking about how the people who are going to get by will get by.

Anonymous said...

No, I know. I was on a real kick to hate everyone yesterday so I was blowing some steam.

Ohio's full of little fake Georgetown's now. They're called Lifestyle Centers. Do you guys have those? We've let our pretty little towns with their cool little businesses go under and now we've got fake little towns with fake cobblestone streets and cheap street lamps. Each one has a Cheesecake Factory, several preppy clothing stores and a Barnes and Noble.

It's ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

"Maniac religious cults, maddened from hunger and boredom, roaming my road looking for people to either convert or kill-- doesn't make much difference to them."

From my perspective, we are about an inch away from that, except all of the current maniac religious cults look pretty well-fed. It's these folks who make me want to exercise my constitutional right to bear arms. At least I'd go down fighting when they come to get my liberal Episcopalian ass.

Anonymous said...

neddie, dude. I hate to put it this way, but you're on the wrong side of the continent. Purcellville ain't gonna be no place to be when the excrement really starts moving through the impeller.

I guess what I want to say is, not only do I catch your vibe, I live this shit. My mission in life is to save as much as possible -- to keep the options open -- for our kids, and for the critters, who will have to live in our terrible future. So in between fighting stupid timber sales and filing lawsuits to save little bits of habitat and the rare critters therein, I pay a lot of attention to what's happening in the ocean and in the technical literature.

And all I can really tell you is: yeah, it's really that bad. In fact, it's much worse than most of us can ever dare to think. And all due respect, Tom, and yeah Kunstler's a carping pain, but here's the worstest part: There Are No Real Solutions. Maybe it ain't gonna wind up quite where Cormac McCarthy's gut-punching latest takes us, but for my money The Road got the emotions way too right.

Sorry, Neddie. Sorry kids. Sorry critters. We really, really fucked things up. Best we can do is limit the damage. Unfortunately, there's a world of assholes out there who can't see past their own pain and denial, and they're going to keep thrashing around until they can't.

So keep that light burning, and stay in touch with your friends.

Anonymous said...

Every generation considers theirs the moment of the end or the second coming or whatever. A few decades ago, the scenario involved nuclear weapons, followed by nuclear winter. When we succumb to the illogic of fear, we see demons and prophets.

Neddie said...

Wull, Bobo, how "illogical" is it to be afraid when two nuclear superpowers with enough firepower to destroy the entire earth several times over, superpowers with directly antithetical worldviews who consider themselves to be engaged in a titanic ideological struggle for the world's future, constantly play a game of Nuclear Chicken?

Don't seem too irrational to me... Didn't at the time, either.

A-and Pi, meet Bobo -- Bobo, meet Pi: This thing actually moves needles on measuring devices, Bobo. That mercury is going higher, man. It's not "irrational" at all: it's happening. That's why an unusually warm day in January got through my defenses and blew my cool so badly: It's me telling myself, Get used to it, chum. Plenty more where that came from...

No, I get your point about unusual circumstanecs making people behave irrationally and believe silly shit, but I maintain that just 'cos people are behaving irrationally doesn't mean that the circumstances ain't about as unusual as they get.

I'm pondering a new lifestyle, in which I become the Al Swearengen of the Great Hudson Bay Land Grab of 2008...

Anonymous said...

My point was not to dismiss the terribly frightening possibilities which could have or may arise from nuclear war or global warming. Both of these, as well as many other challenges to humanity, are worth the deepest concern and effort to counter.

Fear is the bugaboo here. Definitionally, fear is irrational.

Anonymous said...

I'm pondering a new lifestyle, in which I become the Al Swearengen of the Great Hudson Bay Land Grab of 2008...
being geographically much closer i volunteer to serve as your advance party neddie, i'll commandeer a hydro electric dam and get started on building the saloon. awaiting further orders. btw, could we consider James Bay instead? It's the lower bit; we could make Moose Factory our base of operations...

Neddie said...

Bobo: Point taken. Peace.

David S.: Are the fuckin' Dirt-Worshippers under control up there? Answer in the affirmative, and you have your fuckin' orders.

Anonymous said...

Fifty-Four Forty or Fricassee!

Boldly Serving Up Wheat Grass said...

Your post reminded me of another two-word notion -- this one perpetuated exclusively by right-wing politicos: "junk science."

To give a local example, Pittsburgh was the home of Rachel Carson -- the woman scientist responsible for pointing out in the early 60s that DDT was toxic -- but more broadly, she's often cited as the beginning of the environmental movement (with the publication of her book Silent Spring).

Two or three times in the last month, a couple of my ultra-con cow-orkers have casually compared her with Hitler! They contend that her "junk science" (a direct quote) led to the banning of DDT, which then led to the needless deaths of millions (because, had we saturated the earth with DDT, no one would have died from malaria, etc.).

Right or wrong (and, I haven't yet started sprinkling DDT on my cornflakes), it's the "junk science" thing that gets me most. These are folks who outright deny (based on the same two-word rationale) global warming and evolution -- two areas in which the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly present.

mtraven said...

I had a day like that yesterday and it resulted in this doom-laden post, please to enjoy. Four Jerimiads for the price of one!

Anonymous said...

I have just the thing for that Nocturnal Emptiness, having suffered from it for many years. I grope around for my iPod, which I keep in a luminous sheath for just this reason, stick the little speakers in my ears, and I go to The Church of St Aretha.

Listen, really listen, to Do Right Woman, Do Right Man at 3am, the tears will flow, and you'll feel so much better. I don't believe in God, but I do believe in humanity. If Aretha's not your saint, find someone who is. (Not that Mr Partridge, though. He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy.)

Then get up in the morning and start fixing things. Start making things that little bit better. Do Your Best, as we used to say in the Wolf Cubs.

Anonymous said...

Neddie --
A lovely piece of writing. Thanks. It is the coldest San Francisco winter weather I've ever experienced. God sent us your winter weather this year. He's angry about the Pelosi thing.