Nothing screams credibility, clear-minded insight, and heroic dedication to progress like an all-caps titled diary declaring the 8-century march of freedom, democracy, and scientific enlightenment at an end and the purpose of this website futile. Short of a sandwich board laden with Bible verses, it doesn't get much more boilerplate apocalyptic: The diarist runs through a litany of current socioeconomic disruptions, then deduces from his own narrow expertise in this specific area that (a) nothing else whatsoever is happening or will happen in the world to mitigate, complicate, or reverse these problems, (b) human beings are powerless meat-puppets of economic theory with no active role in shaping our own future history, and (c) the only thing that can possibly save us is the total obliteration of global financial markets, because naturally our salvation can only come from a practical impossibility or a deus ex machina - standard fare for self-important historiographic melodrama.
The greatest realization of the Renaissance was not that human beings are such noble or hardy creatures - Europe had just passed through the chaos and terror of repeated outbreaks of the Black Death, so those societies were well aware of what fragile, deranged, selfish shitheels people could be under pressure. The most profound epiphany, that gave birth to everything we cherish in modern society, was the utter uselessness of constructing our view of the universe on fear and frailty: The arms and castles of the mighty didn't save them, the humility of the pious was no shield, and the stone sanctums of the priestly class afforded minimal protection. The vile and saintly died in droves together, and the rats that gnawed on their corpses didn't seem to notice any difference in flavor.
What emerged from the wreckage wasn't more compassionate, more principled, or more orderly than what preceded - people had simply lost interest in morbid obsessions, and increasingly lost patience with people who made cults of misery. They died of the same diseases, deprivations, wars, and cruel murders as their medieval ancestors, but somehow it became more pertinent to care about cultivating what was worthwhile in life than to wallow in its insecurities and failure modes, and out of that came everything. They had no reason to expect this future to emerge, and most of them would probably have been horrified to see the complications and occasional catastrophes their decisions have created over centuries - they just chose to stop being cowards, and that made all the difference.
Would you rather be the contemporary of Galileo Galilee, risking your life so that modern science would not be smothered in its infancy by the Inquisition, than live now and face down the cornered rats of religious fundamentalism corrupting textbooks and occasionally blowing up buildings? Maybe you think there is some kind of comfort in the past because you already know where it led, but no intelligent person would prefer for the past to be the present - and yet it's the very certainty of the past (illusory certainty at that) which makes it so attractive to various forms of intellectual masochism to imagine our past as our future.
The urban Romans became obsessed with a fantasy of heaven that looked like a Bronze Age pastoral village; the Dark Age Christians who actually lived in pastoral villages adopted a Mother cult because they wanted to crawl back up inside the womb; then in the 20th century, since we are all such weak children incapable of making rational decisions, we were supposed to blow up the world and end up prey to barbarian hordes with spiked shoulder pads and funny hairdoos; and now we're going to be agrarian serfs under the lordship of...Manhattan bankers? How exactly does that process unfold, Professor Wray?
I get the part about their undermining government on behalf of private interest, but that kind of happened a lot even in modern history, and I don't recall any developed country reverting to the 12th century because of it. It just didn't happen very often or very deeply in the United States, so I can partly understand this "hysteria of the privileged" suddenly confronted by what are relatively commonplace problems in history. Warnings that the United States could come to resemble the darker periods of 20th century Brazil, Argentina, or even post-Soviet Russia if absolutely nothing is done and we just passively march to our doom have the ring of credibility to them, but the implication that our civilization is destined to dissolve à la Cambodia or Afghanistan seems based more on comic-book-driven pop culture dystopias than rational assessment of anything.
The reason the future is now so often portrayed as a catastrophe in popular culture is not that reality has gotten worse, but that it's simply easier - i.e., cheaper to write, market, and consume - than articulating a better future. And it's the exact same reason purveyors of Apocalypse have a leg up in most venues of thought and belief: It's very, very easy - and often seductive - to conceive of circumstances worse than those we experience, and to linearly extrapolate contemporary problems to absolute extremes. Societal improvements on any but the most superficial level require some kind of genuine imagination and talent to communicate, and some level of imagination on the part of the viewer to understand and appreciate, so it's always far simpler to sell people their own fears packaged in authoritative-sounding language than to come up with anything useful.
To return to the Renaissance, the lives of ordinary people in Europe outside of a few intellectual hotspots were essentially the same as in the late medieval era - and advances in other parts of the world were still less significant or even radically backward (e.g., the eradication and subjugation of New World civilizations by the Spanish). In fact, Europeans in general had it somewhat worse in terms of both material and psychological security because of social, political, and religious turmoil, so it was not a time of utopian optimism and human happiness - quite the opposite.
Believers of all stripes felt assailed by what their various traditions saw as heresies, just as in the first few centuries of the Dark Ages; Constantinople had fallen to the Turks; epidemic plagues kept terrorizing the great cities and economies of the continent; the torch-bearers of scientific revolution worked furtively in fear of Catholic Inquisition and Protestant fanaticism, and modern ideals of universal rights simply didn't exist even among the enlightened aristocrats. The best of the elite sought to be benevolent and paternalistic, but no less absolute rulers, and disemboweled insolent subjects with the same savagery as their illiterate barbarian ancestors.
The lesson, in case you've missed it, is that bright futures do not follow from how happy, prosperous, or optimistic the people that build them are. A case could even be made that there is an inverse correlation, within limits - that humanity only ever has an opportunity to improve itself when confronted by points of stark decision, and that all the wrong choices in all time before mean absolutely nothing when even once the right decision has a chance to take hold. This is more basic and profound than philosophical humanism, and goes to the very basis of evolution itself: Once an adaptation increases the survival and versatility of life in general, it becomes an unstoppable contagion that persists even across eons.
Freedom, democracy, social justice, human dignity, equality, and enlightened inquiry are not fragile hothouse flower ideas that wilt in the unfiltered sunlight - they are unquenchable fires that spring up everywhere there is the remotest opportunity to do so, born in the blood-soaked chaos of a backwater peninsula and now so predominant their enemies don't even bother to argue with them anymore. The opponents of the Enlightenment have no authority left standing, and instead pursue their agendas by default - distracting people with idle amusements, trivial disputes, and overwhelming floods of junk information to drown out the formation of coherent understanding. These retrograde forces have given up directly controlling us - there has never been a more spectacular rout in human history than the overthrow of totalitarianism - and now the best they can do is appeal to our individual weakness, greed, fear, and apathy to drag us into their swamp where our higher nature won't threaten them.
Looking down from the perspective of history, I don't see villains worthy of fear - I see sponges, vultures, flies, and assorted opportunistic parasites who wouldn't even be a serious concern if not for our willingness to cooperate in our own degradation. This is how the disease of corporatism functions, and it's not the same thing as the private feudal dynamics it enables - feudalism, like every other social dynamic that has ever evolved, is always present, everywhere. People are motivated by powerful instincts to seek advantage for their children, even if those advantages are unfair, and the result is similar whether the context is medieval Spain, the Canadian parliament, or the Vietnamese politburo. And because these instincts are always present, there are complex social immunities that are constantly undermining, diluting, and eradicating dynasties.
There's a reason we don't have states in this country called Rockefelleria, Carnegieland, and JP Morganistan, and it isn't because of trust-busting or New Deal social spending - those were good for ordinary people, but were not the primary reason the heirs of the original robber-barons don't rule over us. The reason is that the highly financialized corporation is a barbarian horde enterprise, not a feudal/manorial economy - they don't produce anything or directly manage actual productive capital, they just suck up money through opportunistic maneuvers and strategic usurpations. As a result, it's not the aristocracy/shareholders who primarily benefit, but the executive agents of the corporation - the warlords/CEOs and their lieutenants, and as a result corporate thievery is a remarkably meritocratic institution. It's somewhat like the Mafia had once been - it helps to literally have family in the Family, but it's not essential, and ultimately the thieves can't help but express their degenerate nature by preying on and betraying each other.
That isn't to belittle the amount of damage corporate warlords can do in the meantime while society is organizing defenses - hell, it took 80 years before the United States could make a dent in the Mafia, and that was only after the mob had been weakened by wars, competition with other criminal organizations, and the chaos introduced by drug trafficking. But sooner or later, people who produce nothing and subsist on thievery always get sloppy, and the societies they glean off of smack them down - or else their children become mainstreamed, and the problem is reduced to the unfair advantages of a wealth-supported political career rather than some Hunger Games scenario where we're all slaves to terrorist elites.
I present the Bush regime as Exhibit A of this principle: Total, three-branch control of government for eight long years; utter criminalization of the Executive branch; open use of torture and imperial conquest to expand private interests; terrorist threats and familial retaliation against critics; systemic falsification of government documents, intimidation of witnesses, obstruction of justice, suppression of science, overwhelming infiltration of a tiny religious cabal into the highest echelons of power; thorough control of media; and brazen subversion of democracy both at home and abroad. So...why was my beheaded corpse not lying in a ditch somewhere circa 2005? Why am I - or more importantly, any liberal activist at all - not scrounging for cockroaches to eat in the corner of some dank cell for political prisoners?
It certainly wasn't for lack of malevolent desire on their part: Dick Cheney was happily about the business of plotting internment camps for political dissidents when the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina removed the veil on what the regime really was - a bunch of incredibly, cartoonishly self-involved criminals who were so busy stealing the change from the taxpayers' couch cushions they forgot to even pretend to be a government. They were so degenerate, and so useless in their stolen offices they forgot to give anyone a reason to obey them - even their own underlings. Cheney himself didn't even know that - he seemed to think he was building some kind of corporate-religious juggernaut state that would grind his enemies into dust, and many of us thought so too: The problem, for him, was that he was trying to build it out of stupid, selfish, cowardly vermin - the raw materials of right-wing conservatism.
His fantasies blew away like a dry sand castle in the lightest wind of real opposition, because the regime's power was always entirely conditional on the apathy or fear-driven acquiescence of the American people. Even they understood that to some extent, which was why they were always very careful to insulate the public from the consequences of their policies - avoiding the very mention of a military draft like the plague, and relying on a pattern of petty retaliation and intimidation to silence critics rather than going the full Pinochet like many of them clearly wanted. In the end, all they succeeded in doing was denying the American people a government for 8 years, but they could not create one themselves and they could not stop us from electing one when a real candidate finally showed up.
Which brings us back to the nature of the corporate power gnawing at our society - its ability to impose anything is limited by its single-minded nature and fundamentally cynical motives. After all, who would volunteer to die for a corporation? That was another lesson of the Bush regime - Republican support of its policies was almost entirely mercenary and based on never being asked to sacrifice for them in any way, shape, or form. Their objective, same as the corporations they serve by default, is simply to be takers without consequence - to give nothing back, ever, because they have a sense of absolute entitlement and moral impunity that permits no external accountability. This is the gangster mentality, and fortunately people who are like this usually have a lot more loose screws in their brains than just a lack of empathy and moral objectivity - they're not bright, and not very good at adapting to changing circumstances.
What they are (at their best) is tactically clever predators with an instinct for sensing petty opportunities they can exploit, and that's how the corporate assault on democracy worldwide is operating - not via the bloody fascist coups of the 20th century, but through the cracks in people's attention and the fault lines in their solidarity. And contrary to what we may believe or wish to believe to excuse our own inadequate responses, this is largely not a pervasive conspiracy, but a case of many similar people with only loose associations behaving along similar lines in their own countries and industries.
Watch a wolf pack zeroing in on prey, herding it into a trap: There's no plan involved, and no prior agreement to pursue any given line of attack - it's just that the wolves know their roles in the pack, and know from instinct what they're called upon to do based on their position relative to the prey. Without this kind of parallel thinking and predatory instinct, there would be no danger from organizations like ALEC - nothing they say or do explicitly is the key to their influence, but the relationships they form by cornering political and regulatory authorities.
If it were as simple as buying politicians, wealthy people on our side like George Soros would be every bit the puppetmasters Republicans project on them as being, but politics is always more complicated than the idealistic understand it to be - always a balance of forces in constant motion. Corporations can't own politicians, they can only rent them - and the same is true of the corrupt sector of the electorate, as Republicans are continually discovering to their chagrin and rage. They have to pour the wealth of nations into keeping our government sabotaged and dysfunctional, because we have proven time and again that we can dispel generations of their most concerted efforts and thickly-lain lies with the force of a mere decision.
All of which is an elaborate way of saying that I'm not impressed by the direness of our situation. Sorry to be a party-pooper. I know it's gratifying to translate personal struggles and depressing trends into some kind of epic narrative, and often irresistible for specialists and quantitative experts to inflate their narrowly-derived conclusions into some kind of cosmic law of historical destiny, but that's just not how things work. Is Professor Wray claiming that the vast majority of the American population is going to starve to death?
Because that would seem to be the implication of claiming that the vast majority of our diverse economy is going to evaporate into medieval simplicity. And since he's talking about the global economy, isn't he really saying that the entire world is going to face a massive population bottleneck? And if that's the case, it isn't hyperbole to say that he is predicting Apocalypse. I just have one question: Does he project that in this future, there will be cage matches to the death where people chant "Two men enter, one man leaves"? Will Tina Turner wield political authority in this bleak future? If one Busts a Deal, must one Face The Wheel?
Again, I apologize if I'm getting a little flippant here, but I've read too much history. I'm aware of how the Roman Empire fell, how the Dark Ages came about, how they ended, and how the "enlightened" 20th century was soaked in blood and characterized by totalitarian jackboots proverbially stomping on human faces forever. More locally, there was that whole period in the 19th century where millions of people were sold as chattel, hundreds of thousands of Americans died on battlefields fighting their neighbors, and emaciated Irish corpses arrived in New York Harbor by the boatload. That seems a little more disturbing than what we're going through now and are likely to face as a result of it.
Then in the following century, an entire continent - the most developed, wealthiest, most educated, and most "civilized" - was torn to shreds twice in a single generation, and spent the remainder of the next half-century under the shadow of the real-life Mordor with 20,000 thermonuclear warheads on hair-trigger. I would find that slightly more anxiety-inducing than a pack of con artist swine selling worthless speculative instruments and paying off governments not to hold them accountable for it.
Of course, there are real dangers in the ensuing poverty and disorder suggested by history, but largely in the form of ill-conceived, psychotic, or counterfeit reactions against the status quo: Crazy apocalyptic religious militias, criminal dictator-governors who spit in the face of the Constitution (Scott Walker and Rick Scott have already achieved this status), and of course demagogues who rise to national prominence promoting bigotry. In fact, there's even a slight danger on our side - many of us would forgive a lot on the part of a leader who pulled out all the stops to fight Wall Street, or at least offered suitably incendiary rhetoric. But I'm not too concerned about that, and not quaking in my boots over parasites like Walker and Scott. Even the giant sponge-on-wheels that is Mitt Romney would be little more than yet another degenerate placeholder preventing the American people from having a functioning government.
Honestly, what is "We're Screwed" supposed to accomplish? Does that line actually motivate someone? Because it has done the opposite in my case: It's an affront to reason based on self-indulgent hysteria, and it just makes it that much harder to take legitimate concerns seriously. And even if I did take it seriously, am I supposed to interpret a hyperbolic pronouncement of doom and pusillanimous surrender to an imagined fate as a call to action? It sure doesn't sound like one - it sounds like an invitation to join Professor Wray in contemplating the futility of existence while sighing into a book of Kierkegaard and watching an Ingmar Bergman marathon.
Here's a radical thought: Perhaps someone with a PhD in economics would be better employed exploring opportunities for progress, probing for weaknesses in the phenomena that obstruct it, and sharing these insights as a way to spark and promote the general advancement of humanity toward the unknown unknown rather than telling people to go hide in a cave because Smeagol-in-a-business-suit is coming to get them. Yeah, corporations will try to steal your money, property, and liberty; and the rats in your pantry will try to steal your food; and the bacteria on your hands will try to colonize your internal organs; and always entropy is gnawing away at things. And yet here we are - most assuredly not Raptured, racially homogeneous, clapping in unison to some mustachioed Dear Leader, glowing in the dark, or fighting over ratburgers in sewer cities. Anyone who thinks that's in our immediate future, feel free to unload your soon-to-be-worthless dollars and bearer bonds on me. I will gladly take them off your hands so you can get about the business of stockpiling canned beans and claymores to fight off the zombie hordes.