Grace is Gone

Posted: December 6, 2009 in Consumerism, Culture, Idle Nonsense, Industrial Collapse

Lots of joke memes develop at Fark.com, some of which make it into the mainstream while most appear to live and die at that website alone. One that always tickles me goes something to the effect “let it go, man, ’cause it’s [already] gone.” The newsbit to which it’s attached is typically someone chasing after a dropped cellphone, but the kicker is that he or she goes down a sewer pipe with a lighter or into an animal habitat at the zoo, both with predictable results. It’s unlikely that most of these Darwin Awards candidates believe they’re risking life and limb for some easily replaceable piece of electronics. Rather, it’s that they’re asleep at the switch, lulled into a false security that nothing can go wrong. In other cases, I suspect what’s at work is an adamant refusal to accept what is obvious to nearly anyone else, namely, that it’s irretrievably gone, whatever it is. That’s the launching point for a list of things — all institutions — that are all beyond their use-by date but continue to creak along on momentum, unable to muster the grace of acceptance that their time under the sun has come and gone.

While not yet a corpse, the church (denomination unimportant) is a dying institution. Religious faith will probably never disappear entirely, but it may eventually be regarded as a fringe belief. As evidenced in this article, shifting demographics and poor attendance have, despite population growth and the enviable tax-free status churches enjoy, caused more than a few church buildings to be put up for sale. Scaremongers suggest that across the world, good, virtuous Christians won’t simply fade away through attrition; they’ll be overwhelmed by hordes of Muslims, which though not godless at least worship a different god, which is almost as bad. Of course, that’s mostly false. But in the meantime, the church as the central focus of life and community has already been decimated in many communities compared to the past. But you can now live in a church building converted to condos or apartments. It may not quite be a sacred space anymore, but it’s close enough for dilettantes.

The newspaper (or more generally, journalism) and recording industries are two institutions that are in the process of being destroyed by new electronic media, mostly available via the Internet. Book and magazine publishing probably aren’t far behind. Means of production and distribution have become widespread and democratized, which has effectively broken the former institutional monopolies over information and media. In the process, the products and services of these industries has been either bastardized or hijacked as their underlying business models no longer providing sufficient revenue to pay content creators. Since hardly anyone pays for or cares about quality and integrity — luxuries of a professional class (used to be the aristocracy) insulated from scrambling for each paycheck — we will soon have instead an endless parade of garage bands, blogger-journalists, and self-published authors vying for our ears and eyeballs. Some will be good at what they do, no doubt, but the mountain of useless material to sift before finding the nugget of gold will be immense, defeating the whole creative enterprise.

Whereas many institutions are crumbling because of outside influence, banking and financial institutions are relegating themselves to the dustbin on history. Not content with usury and penalty fees (and other scams), the big banks and investment houses have gambled their wealth away in a variety of speculative ventures and shell games. Federal, state, and municipal governments are doing the same, whether through creative accounting, deficit spending, or outright looting. The day will come when the services performed by banks and governments will simply disappear because debt service will consume all their operating funds.

In traditional educational settings, students used to be required to regurgitate facts, in essence to show that they had both developed the ability to learn and remember information and that they had in fact used that ability to acquire familiarity with a large body of information. I wonder how long it will be before students are tested on their mere ability to retrieve some arbitrary piece of information from the global information store. Instead of regurgitate, will they regoogletate? “This will be a timed exam, open notes, open book, open Google.” Students are already being taught a different sort of new math — not some non-base 10 counting system but rather developing a  feel for estimating math solutions. Yeah, right. Because of all the content areas where exactitude is possible, it’s just not important to have correct math answers if instead one has the proper feel for it. The traditional classroom is also under attack from proponents of homeschooling and unschooling. I haven’t yet investigated either fully enough to evaluate their effectiveness. I have no doubt they can be highly effective for individual students in fortunate situations, but for the masses, I have reservations that either of these approaches is a panacea. Of course, public education itself is pretty abysmal by now. That’s why maybe it’s time to let it go, man, ’cause it’s already gone.

The supreme example of an institution on its last legs, though we refuse to acknowledge the abundant warning signs, is industrial civilization. We’ve been marching to the beat of this drum for 150–200 years, depending on how you count, and now it’s the only beat we can hear or remember. It’s also proliferated around the world so that once it’s over, there are too few small, localized economies or societies to which all the refugees of civilization can repair. Sure, the future is uncertain in its details, but if you deny or don’t get the broad outline, you’re just an ostrich with your head buried in the ground. I can’t spend too much time or effort on this topic, though. It’s too soul-crushing for me.

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Comments
  1. This rings true to me, Brutus. I’ve been aware of these waves but had not drawn any conclusions. Thanks for handing them to me.

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