Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What Now? (Originally Posted as Change What?)

OK, so we've gotten what we asked for and some of the hitters have already been through asking the hard kwestin, what now? I originally posted this in January of this year addressing what specific things would have to be at the top of the new president's agenda. Submitted once again for your consideration and commentary.

Right off the top, this post should not be mistaken as a criticism of Obama. It's not. I sincerely believe that we American people will absolutely elect the leadership that we deserve.


That said, let's be serious as in E.C. Hopkins class seriousness about the scope of what has to be addressed by all levels of leadership at the twilight of industrial civilization. This means not only the elected administrative manager of political governance, but the proprietor class which sets policy, funds, and directs administrative management embodied in the office of the president.

At the beginning of November I tried to enjoin this type of discussion with the post Goal State - How Do We Get There. (I also reposted this article in January) The current uncritical excitement surrounding Obama's win in the Iowa caucus brings me back to the article that inspired that post in early November. Hoping for a New Deal which paints the problem from the perspective that E.C. labored to get us all to consider. In my opinion, this article gives us a very concrete and constructive place to temper our political expectations for Obamian change agency.
Richard Heinberg's current Museletter consists of a thoughtful essay ("Big Melt Meets Big Empty") concerning the alternative realities of science (physical reality) and politics (political reality). Heinberg identifies the opposition between these two as the key cause of the seeming inability of political institutions in the US and elsewhere to constructively respond to the twin threats of climate change and resource depletion. He advocates working toward overcoming this opposition, to whatever degree that is possible. His key suggestion is that interested groups of citizens develop realistic assessments of the efficacy of various potential policy responses, and that they then use these assessments to create an advocacy program to push for the enactment of desired policies.

Looming in the background for Heinberg, however, are two critical and related specters, either of which would likely doom any constructive initiatives that might be developed: 1) resource wars; and 2) implacable opposition on the part of elites. It seems to me that a fruitful way of looking at these twin threats, is to see resource wars as, in a sense, the bitter consequence of elite opposition to ameliorative policies. That is to say, if, faced with energy scarcity, elites succeed in blocking serious consideration of "powerdown" approaches (like the oil depletion protocol), resource wars become the likely outcome - - the "default" option, as it were. Conversely, if ameliorative policy options are viable, resort to "last one standing" warfare can hopefully be avoided. If this is so, then the question of the potential for elite acceptance of some such policies seems to be the key factor in assessing the possibility of a hopeful outcome to energy transition.

Ultimately, power holders must be convinced that [energy transition] policies, if obnoxious to them now, will be far less destructive to their interests than a complete breakdown of society and biosphere - which is the very real alternative. For a historic example of a similar conversion of elites think of the 1930s New Deal: then the titans of industry had to sacrifice some of their financial power in order to keep from losing it all. Many wealthy individuals never forgave Franklin Roosevelt, whom they regarded as a "traitor to his class," but most of them reluctantly agreed that redistribution represented the lesser of evils.
The analysis offered is original, detailed, and very well worth your perusal. Here's the thing, we're not simply talking about temporary wealth redistribution as a stopgap in order to ensure continuity of the governance status quo. Instead, we're talking about what will be required to transition our entire way of life (or more accurately what remains of it) into an entirely new modus operandi. The plans that have been operationalized under the Bush administration for the transition suggest some rather draconian designs on the future of Americaness - frankly at this juncture - I haven't heard any serious counterproposals to those plans and their continuing unfolding.

Atlanta? Drought anybody? - Is there a single candidate who has shown the perspicacity or gumption to even mention the slow motion catastrophe unfolding in the southeastern U.S.? That's pretty much minimum baseline for a serious operator. That said, I don't see a single serious change agent operator on the presidential event horizon. What I see is a collection of opportunistic faces that will be applied to pre-existing plans and narratives much as lipstick might be applied to a pig or frosting to a turd.