Thursday, September 25, 2008

Towards the New Dystopia

This post is meant to be read in correlation with brother Athanasius' most recent post on the financial crisis in Wall Street, which you can read here. First, let get a few things out in the open: I cannot say that I am a Distributist, not because I do not believe it is a practical system, but because I simply have not read that much about it. I like what I have heard, and I think that if Chesterton and Belloc were so trustworthy in other areas, then they are probably worth listening to in economics as well. I'd like to read more about it. Economically, I am like so many others: anti-socialist, disgusted with capitalism, looking for that ideal via media. At heart I guess you could say I am part feudalist, part Jeffersonian agrarian-republican, part 1890's populist, and part distributist.

Now that you know where I am coming from, let me also say that I don't understand a lot about modern economics. I have read a lot on economy, but the modern maze of financial terms and realities on Wall Street confuses the heck out of me, as it does to many! I heard an interview recently in which one professional financial analyst confessed that even many in the financial business are confused about what a lot of these things are. Why should something so important be so freakin' difficult to understand or make sense of?

At any rate, I do not want to comment on the economic aspect of the crisis because I confess I am too ignorant about it. However, just because I am ignorant of the specifics does not mean that I (or anyone for that matter) does not know when something is fishy, or when someone is being cheated. However, I would like to talk about where we will wind up as a result of this crisis, which Athanasius hinted at in his article.

I for one am shocked that the analysts keep saying that "nobody saw this coming." That's bunk! I saw this coming at least as early as 2000. True, I did not foresee the way it would fall out, but one thing was always self-evident from taking even a cursory look at our financial system: it was and is unsustainable. That's what I knew in my gut. I came to this conclusion based on several factors:

(1) There was too much debt.
(2) Everything was too expensive, especially home prices, which were almost prohibitive to someone not choosing to put their wife into the workforce.
(3) Too much was purchased from overseas.
(4) Too much labor (and thus capital) was exported and outsourced.
(5) The economy was driven not by necessities by by luxury items.

It does not take a genius to see that such a system cannot perpetuate itself for ever. At the time, I believed (and still believe) that the system would eventually crash and that (as Athanasius said) slavery and the abolition of the middle class would be the result. Influenced by historical studies, I conceived this slavery in terms of a new feudalism. Let me explain.

In the feudal system, serf did work for a lord and were granted protection and a space to live in exchange for working on the lord's land and turning over a good amount of the crop to him. The serf never owned his own land and had little rights against his lord (though most of the time the system worked out tolerably well). I imagined that in the age to come, because of massive debt, the middle class would shrink to a point where home ownership became the exclusive domain of the rich. We would still have all our houses, but we would no longer own them (not like we own them now anyway). But instead of paying off a mortgage, we would be just renting perpetually. Instead of renting from a lord, we would rent from some faceless corporation or management company. There would be the rich and the renters, and that'd be it. I still think this a highly likely scenario.

It is interesting how everybody has a universal pessimism for the future. The Victorian ideas of progress are dead in the dust. Everybody universally believes that the future will just get worse and worse for us until the End, but we differ in what ways we imagine this dystopia. I personally have always wondered what type of world the age to come after the fall of our system would be, and I think I always hovered between two-options:

1) A repressive, ultra-authoritarian, surveillance society as described by Orwell in 1984, in which technology is put to use to dull our pleasures and make us slaves in the truest sense.

2) An excessively recreation-luxury focused society in which pop-culture is the only culture and technology is put to use to bury us in an ocean of pleasurable distractions, as described by Huxley in Brave New World.

While I used to greatly fear scenario 1 (and such a nightmare is always possible), I'd have to say that the way culture is moving, the Brave New World dystopia seems a lot more plausible, and a lot sooner than I previously thought. If we are to lose our freedom, it will be in such a way that our slavery is more desirable than true freedom. We will have so many iPods, Google applications, mind-altering substances and Netflix to choose from that nothing else will be of real concern to us, and we will gradually lose our individuality and gel into one stupid blob of ignorance.

This situation cannot prevail ultimately: the Church will always exist, dissent (the good kind) will always exist, and men will always be there with the courage to think freely. One disheartening thing about modernity is the way it crushes the individual, the way it makes us all feel so helpless against "forces" (i.e., results of evil choices) beyond our control. This is what is so romantic about the Middle Ages or the classical age: back then, you knew who your enemy was, and if he was threatening you, you could arm up, face him in combat and hurl a spear at him. How I wish to God that the answer was as simple as facing our corrupt financial system and hurling a spear at it with the fury of Achilles.

I think we are done. What do I mean by done? I mean done. Done as Rome was in 476. Done as Athens was after the Athenian defeat in Sicily. Done as Israel was when Nebuchadnezzar came knocking. At least done insofar as the present form of our society is concerned. Why did it have to happen during my life? Part of me is happy (as Athanasius says, "the anarchist in me"), but it is not pleasing to pay so much for gas, watch food prices go up, wonder whether or not I'll be able to get a student loan next semester, and meanwhile have nothing in my savings: not because I blow my money on junk, God knows I don't! But because just the cost of paying my mortgage, bills and gas alone is 99% of my income.

Get ready for the new dark ages, the coming brave new world. Better get some food stored, get your weapons loaded and head for the hills!


Anonymous said...

This guy is pretty informative:

Alexander said...


This is off topic but your blog in Fire Fox looks all messed up (from the youtube video postings). It looks fine in Internet Explorer though.

Boniface said...

Thanks, Alexander, but what exactly can I do about that?

Alexander said...

Without taking down the youtube things I have no idea. A direct link to them instead? Though that doesn't look as good (but it would definitely make the blog come back to normal).

Dymphna said...

Don't head to the hills yet. Americans are not all fat, helpless slobs. I think we can do better once our backs are against the wall.