Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, July 12, 2010

"I swear I saw your face change, it didn't seem quite right."


A simple question re: Nation-building.

Why do we imagine that water-treatment systems and power plants will automatically lead to peace and a stable nation?

Not to disparage such ideas as necessary to civilized existence, or as a definite good, but the comparison here to Germany and Japan is important. Both nations were defeated in war, not invaded and overrun, or suffering under ineffectual governments or suffering absolute civil collapse, or civil collapse consequent to invasion. It's the civil condition that's critical, not the condition of the infrastructure. Germany and Japan already had social stability; infrastructure merely aided in maintaining that stability. Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan: all had suffered social collapse or prolonged social instability. Water treatment plants and electricity were not going to replace what culture could not provide. Which is not to say culture could not eventually provide it; but technology is not a substitute for culture. If it was, there'd be no ghettoes in America, no "wrong side of the tracks," no neighborhoods where you keep your car doors locked and don't stop at red lights. (Yes, I exaggerate, but to make a point.)

It's peculiarly Western, or perhaps peculiarly American, that we think all problems are solved by owning or providing to society the right "things." And yet we only apply that lesson abroad; we never apply it at home, where we know it doesn't work (or imagine it leads to personal corruption). It isn't that the advantages of industrial society are actually disadvantages: but they aren't the reason for civil order or social happiness.

And yet we go on telling ourselves so, at least when we extend our reach abroad and try to bring peace and order to foreign lands. Or, more accurately, we tell ourselves it is so simply because it benefits contractors like Halliburton, who build the power plants that don't work and the water treatment systems that never get completed. Such socialism is anathema at home, but de rigeur abroad. As always we have again committed fornication, but, it was in another country and besides, the wench is dead.

I guess there is some value to a liberal arts education, huh?

And, to go on too long, that subject is connected to this one. Which I mention only because of the second comment.

The unemployed are a constant reminder of the failure of Republican policies.

Seriously, the economy has changed as we sent all of our jobs to China. We have a lot of 50+ people who may never work again. What are we to do with them?
This marks at least the third time within my lifetime that unemployment has hit so many people in middle age. I remember the spate of books that came out then, like Executive Blues, a book I remember reading as an article in Harper's in the mid-90's:

Jerry Meyer was a certified success story--the youngest-ever vice-president of McDonnell Douglas at the age of 40. At the age of 50, he was unemployed and on the flip side of that dream, a victim of corporate downsizing. His bewildering journey from corporate success to white-collar joblessness is a memoir that Fortune magazine called "brilliant, original, and raging".
But that's the "nice" review, and Myer's problems started, not in 1995, but in 1991:

If you thought that receiving a nice severance package and having out-placement specialists assisting you makes job search easier, think again. Meyer chronicles his experience in job hunting after being laid off from a corporation. He begins in 1991, weaving past and present into his narrative and revealing to the reader the many forces that shaped his career and his often conflicting feelings about working and the future. The subjective nature of the narrative is both the strength and the weakness of the book. Meyer taps feelings that a downsized employee could relate to and even encourages introspective thinking, yet he is cynical. His tone might be too discouraging for a job seeker.
That's a much more accurate review of the book. And that was nearly 20 years ago, long enough for a new generation to grow up ignorant of the immediate past (as all American generations seem to do). And that was after the collapse in the economy in the 80's. Anybody remember Jerry Meyer? Anybody remember the number of people in their 50's in the '90's who were suddenly unemployed and unemployable? That time, we blamed Japan, not China. Anybody else remember we've seen this movie?

And if all of this starts to sound like territory Barbara Ehrenreich has covered more recently, that's because it is.

As I say, I'm in my 50's now, and I've seen this movie three times. When do we start to take a lesson from it? Or will we just keep treating it as a movie, and continue in our uniquely ahistorical posture?

4 Comments:

Blogger ProfWombat said...

Barbara Ehrenreich's new book 'Bright-Sided' is terrific.

Not many people remember Michael Harrington or RF Kennedy in Appalachia, either.

Saw the wonderful Seymour Melman and the reprehensible Herman Kahn debate in college, maybe 1969. Kahn, extrapolating from the then facts, declared with certainty that this would be the Japanese Century. This, from the man who thought about the unthinkable.

Melman, at one point, almost lost it, breaking down into a mix of tears and infuriation, then recovered and demolished him...

9:04 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

The gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for the people who break them ... It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play.
-- Robert F. Kennedy

9:48 AM  
Blogger Grandmère Mimi said...

As always we have again committed fornication, but, it was in another country and besides, the wench is dead.

One wonders whether the bulk of our social engineering, both at home and abroad, has the hidden goal of giving contracts to corporations.

...there'd be...no neighborhoods where you keep your car doors locked and don't stop at red lights. (Yes, I exaggerate, but to make a point.)

You don't exaggerate. There are neighborhoods in New Orleans where we stop briefly and check for traffic and proceed through the red light.

A friend lost his job more than a year ago and applied for countless positions during that period, and still does not have a job. He may lose his house because they can't pay the mortgage. Thanks goodness his wife is employed, or they would not have health insurance.

My friend is 64 years old and is highly skilled in computer programming and in writing. What are his chances of finding a job? Yes, we've seen this movie before.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Rmj said...

A friend lost his job more than a year ago and applied for countless positions during that period, and still does not have a job. He may lose his house because they can't pay the mortgage. Thanks goodness his wife is employed, or they would not have health insurance.

I remember a church member losing his job, when I was a child. It was such an unusual occurrence, it reverberated through the circle of people who knew him so that even I was aware of it.

Since then, I've seen such unemployment happen on a massive scale, three times now, as I said. Something fundamentally shifted us back from the post-Depression era to the pre-Depression era. More and more I see FDR as the aberration, Hoover as the norm. Ironic, too, since he won the Presidency by his massive aid efforts under Wilson (IIRC) aiding flood victims in the South.

Hoover helped the flood victims; today we simply relocate them away from the cameras. Last time I drove through New Orleans (from the east to the west), there were parts of town I'd swear didn't have traffic lights left in them. Or people, for that matter.

12:15 PM  

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