A long while back, toward the start of this blog — February 5, 2007, to be exact — I published one of my first posts here at The Spiral Staircase that transformed this site into a doomer blog (of sorts — I’m never listed on the usual roundup of doomer sites and writers (except way down the page here), which is undoubtedly a good thing). That post, called “Steamrollers,” adopts as its primary conceit the steamroller slowly but implacably rolling over its targets and grinding them into dust. (We humans are the targets, BTW.) I’ve never been able to sustain my focus on doom, so I’m not nearly as much a Cassandra figure as many other bloggers out there, but doom and industrial collapse are clearly among the themes of this blog. I thought it time to update that blog post, even though steamrollers bearing down on even then us have only progressed a little bit. But that was partly the point: they move slowly.
China (and India)
Chinese communism has been a bogeyman for many decades, but more recently, its hybrid capitalist economy threatened to overtake the U.S. economy. In the five years since blogging about China and India, their economies have revealed feet of clay not unlike our own, which may well be an endemic feature of late-stage capitalism even when newly adopted. My initial forecast about China and India, however, was about neither politics nor economics but about sheer population demographics. China’s birthrate for 2012 slowed to 12.31 while its population grew to 1.34 billion. It’s still a seemingly slow-moving danger, but as Al Bartlett’s talk on exponential growth demonstrates, the slowness belies its seriousness. India’s birthrate also slowed to 20.6 per 1000 while its population grew to 1.3 billion. Trends for both, however, remain undisturbed. (Data again courtesy of The World Factbook.) Merrily we roll along.
The Rise of
Islam (or Islamofascism) became the newest faceless enemy post-9/11, but the truly threatening stuff was always fringe and has stayed decidedly so. (Don’t believe media hype about terrorism. That’s just cover for the American security/surveillance state, only slightly behind the British model.) However, if one steps outside the American perspective even momentarily, it’s easy to see that we Americans, whether behaving like a nation with the soul of a church or merely fighting the latest, greatest, global resource war, are a far greater threat to others than they are to us, and it’s gone mainstream. We have by far the largest military, backed by the full power of the state and a surprisingly compliant citizenry, and the willingness to use it preemptively. In contrast, fanatical Islamists are derided for living unshaven and unkempt in tents and caves. And what’s worse, in the U.S., the lunatics are running the asylum. For instance, we have a serious presidential contender with wacky, kooky Mormon beliefs (and who just selected as a running mate an Ayn Rand devotee, speaking of wacky and kooky). But it’s scarcely any better even with the more traditional Catholic Church, which has been mired in repeated and ongoing controversy since its inception but is now almost wholly invalidated over priest sex abuse and pederasty scandals and cover-ups, or for that matter, the mainline Protestant religions, which have veered toward an unmistakeably doctrinaire fundamentalism that knowingly and willingly makes victims of everyone. They are collectively called the Religious Right, and they’re pulling the levers of power. So on the world stage, we’re the weird ones, and violent to boot — a potentially catastrophic combination if the other countries of the world ever wise up and form an alliance against us.
When I blogged about economic collapse five years ago, the housing bubble hadn’t yet burst, and repeat criminal shenanigans in the financial industry hadn’t been brought to light. Well, history caught up quickly and we got steamrolled while the banks and bank executives that caused our woes got bailed out, which is to say, bankrolled. How’s them apples? Concern that the euro would replace the U.S. dollar as the benchmark currency or petrodollar has been replaced now that the euro is poised to fail — the first of a likely cascade failure. Meanwhile, foreclosures, bankruptcies, joblessness, and protracted economic malaise have signaled a new paradigm where the 1% feast and the 99% flail. This steamroller was a veritable speedster, but its work is not yet done. Look for further and worse economic dislocations as everything and everyone goes bankrupt at once and fiat currencies cease to retain meaning as mediums of trade. In truth, this may be the best thing for us: economic incentives to rape the earth will disappear. Of course, billions will be swept away as scarcity and starvation become commonplace, but maybe the earth will survive.
I warned that we stood to become mindless, ignorant fools. Welcome to Idiot America; we’re there now despite myriad talking heads filling the air (between their ears) with noise. The data on stupidity are simply too overwhelming to deny. But stupidity is only part of the story. An even stranger phenomenon is taking place, where people have in a sense stopped being human. The decline in empathy is worrisome, but my sense is that we’re transforming into something more like zombies: mindless, soulless straw men craving brains. BRAINS! (Um, we’re not geniuses; we’re just cannibals, preying on ourselves now.) Hal Smith at The Compulsive Explainer has a good grasp of this, but he admits it’s something almost no one has noticed and is so hard to get one’s head around that it may as well not even be happening. There’s a joke in there somewhere about the futility of sticking one’s head in the sand to deny something we can’t even conceptualize because we’re already too stupid.
(was Global Warming, now) Climate Change
This issue earned a new sobriquet, but it’s still an old, slow-moving story. Some small portion of the public caught on in advance of the media, but it’s filtering down now. Even Rolling Stone is publishing on climate change. (I thought Rolling Stone was a music industry magazine; who knew it would be trump the NY Times in terms of honesty and integrity?) Anyway, after record-setting temperatures in March 2012, a record-setting July 2012, and dust bowl conditions across the Midwest, more skeptics are willing to entertain the notion that water in the bathtub isn’t calm little wavelets anymore; it’s sloshing around creating havoc.
There are other steamrollers to consider, but this is an update, not a new blog post. Guy McPherson at Nature Bats Last points out that no matter how bad things get, the American public reacts with indifference. I can think of several deplorable reasons why so few are roused to act, but in a more charitable mood, I have to admit that what we do or don’t do doesn’t matter anymore. Our fate is already set. We’re just waiting for the steamrollers.