Soundtrack in my head: Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime”
In my last three posts I talked about the revelation of the mass surveillance program in which our emails, internet searches, and mobile phone data are collected, stored and subject to review by the U.S. government at any time. It could be said that we are dealing with paranoia run amuck.
One of these posts talked about potential links between this PRISM program and President Eisenhower’s warning 52 years ago about the threat that the military-industrial complex could have on rational foreign policy discourse. Viewing that speech in its entirety served as a useful snapshot of the beginning of the 1960s and how the U.S. saw itself then as compared to now.
But I think it would be oversimplistic to only blame the military-industrial complex in the U.S. Yes, I believe they have an undue influence in U.S. foreign policy. Yes, access to untold billions of private conversations has to be tempting for any entity to want to exploit. Nevertheless, I think greed and hunger for power are only part of the equation.
It could be that mass surveillance and infinite detention are part of a conspiracy to remove the foundation of democracy, of the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Sixth Amendment and other rights that we’ve taken for granted. But it could also be the desperate thrashing about of a government realizing that it is actually quite powerless in the face of some cold hard realities racing towards all of us. It might very well be that paranoia run amuck among these decision-makers. Realities that, frankly, very few Americans want to accept and face.
One of my favorite “tell-it-like-it-is blogs,” The Automatic Earth, has what I believe to be the best assessment of the quantity, trajectory, velocity and texture of various large pieces of excrement headed towards the giant ceiling fan in whose breeze the world in general and Americans in particular have been basking in for two-thirds of a century.
The blog’s author, Nicole Foss, sees the first challenge being with the financial meltdown that started in 2007, but whose full effects have yet to be felt. We aren’t in the panicked months of 2008 when the word “bailout” first entered the nation’s everyday vernacular, but signs of it can be seen in the financial crises in Europe, the slow economic recovery in places like the United States and Japan, and rapid rise and quick fall of artificial bubbles such as China’s construction boom. What Foss sees is a crash that would make 2008’s crash seem like a tiny firecracker, followed by a futile “Great Collateral Grab” which will only show the degree to which assets are already over-leveraged.
Foss projects the second wave troubles coming from tightening energy supplies. Even if the world is able to successfully press the “reset” button on the economy and head towards a recovery, this recovery will run headlong into the reality that a 150-year old energy party that the industrial world has enjoyed is about to have the plug pulled on it. This “energy party”–that is the comfort and affluence we have enjoyed over the decades–is about to end with the end of easily accessible oil. The crisis we are facing can be best summed up in five letters: EROEI, or for short, “Energy Returned On Energy Invested.”
The EROEI for crude oil has been, until recently, very high but is beginning to decline rapidly. The above graph shows the comparative EROEI for various efforts at extracting energy in the past and present. You can see how newly developed oil has a much lower EROEI than oil twenty years ago. Despite all the hype about “green energy,” we are not going to come anywhere close to the EROEI levels in the past, and given that the world, and Western society in particular has been dependent on such high EROEI levels, we are faced with a second crisis that we must face and then overcome. The fact that the there is a mad dash towards Canadian tar sands despite the huge expense of extracting the oil from the sand, fracking instead of the natural gas development we’ve seen until recently, and efforts by coal companies to blow up entire mountaintops shows that times are indeed getting tight.
At the same time, we must overcome a third hurdle which is the environmental fallout from this long “party.” Climate change is one big part of this but there are other factors, including depletion of valuable resources, rapid use and destruction of topsoil due to of unsustainable farming practices, the depletion and/or poisoning of precious freshwater sources, and the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs from the over-use of antibiotics in our medical and agricultural systems. More reasons for paranoia run amuck.
So, in that light, should we be surprised if our governments are beginning to act with paranoia run amuck? This is, of course, not to excuse their behavior. Nevertheless, in order to address actions by our government that would have seem bizarre a few generations ago, we have to understand the climate in which they are operating. These are extreme days, on many different levels.
My point of this blog post is not to be doom and gloom. My point is that we as a human race have chosen to learn our lessons the hard way. I am optimistic about the long-term survival of the human race, but we’ve got some difficult times and adjustments to overcome.
The answer doesn’t start with our federal government, much less the state. Our political system is incapable of producing knights in shining armor, which is why I never, ever have worked for a political campaign and never will. Change has to come from deeper within–within ourselves, between ourselves and God, or however you might want to visualize it.
This doesn’t mean that we abdicate the inclusion of our voice on the important questions of the day. Certainly, our First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments are worth fighting for. Our environment is worth fighting for. What it means is that we need to always be aware of the big picture and let that larger view choose for us where it’s the most important place to get involved.