[Civello's work will be on view at this weekend's Bay Street Landing Artists in Residence Studio Tour 2009, Saturday and Sunday, April 25 and 26, 12 noon to 5 p.m. Information: www.bslartists.com.]
"A MORTALLY DELUDED NATION" ?
In a March 9, 2009 post on his blog, Clusterf--k Nation, writer James Howard Kunstler––author of The Long Emergency, on the impact of peak oil; and The Geography of Nowhere, on the unsustainable suburban development model––complains bitterly about our willfully deluded views on the current economic mess.
Concerning the underlying causes of this mess and our refusal to contemplate what it really means for the global future, Kunstler writes,
. . . the mandate of clarity requires me to ask: to what state of affairs do we expect to recover? If the answer is a return to an economy based on building ever more suburban sprawl, on credit card over-spending, on routine securitized debt shenanigans in banking, and on consistently lying to ourselves about what reality demands of us, then we are a mortally deluded nation.
THE CHANGE OBAMA'S NOT TALKING ABOUT
This has been, even after only a few months, the biggest disappointment of the Obama presidency: that the candidate who called us to a national movement for change has too often, as president, chosen easy crowd-pleasers like reversing policies that forbid foreign aid funds from being used for family planning counseling; that rescind Bush's ban on the use of stem cells for medical research; or that announce the shutdown of Guantanamo as a goal, not a resolute undertaking now.
Each of these is an important and necessary reform. But none measures up to what real statesmanship requires, which is that the president tell us what current realities demand of us, in Kunstler's phrase; that he tell us the truth. Which is that we're going to have to change the way we live.
Many of us already have made some changes--the easy ones that don't cost anything in terms of time, money or real sacrifice. Yes, some of us are buying less, saving more, being more thoughtful about what we really need, versus what we can do without; trying to think in terms of the long term. But for how long?
Despite evidence of fundamental weakness in global markets, a growing number of bank insolvencies worldwide, and continuing decline in employment on a global scale, a few spurts of improved stock performance and the occasional good number appearing among the nearly uniformly bad, seem to have persuaded some people that the downturn is turning around.
And just as Americans went back to buying SUVs after oil prices fell, it's reasonable to assume that to many Americans, recovery means going back to more of same, which means too much of everything. Especially debt.
But instead of urging people to buy for cash--paying off the credit card bill each month and carrying a $0 balance, or at least severely curtailing their credit card dependence, which would substantially improve family finances but lower bank revenues––Obama bows to the financial industry's power. And to the need to condemn the idea of economic contraction as heresy.
FOR THE LONG-TERM UNSUSTAINABLE
At a meeting with credit card bankers on Thursday, April 23, Obama proposed fixes to deal only with the most egregious credit card industry practices. More important, evidently, than the need to address the shop-till-you-drop ethos of too many American consumers, was the need to keep consumer credit flowing, which keeps already sky-high consumer debt levels climbing ever higher.
But if the downturn should have taught us anything, it is that when we insist on a constant expansion in the rate of growth, the unquestioned gold standard of American business philosophy; when we refuse to impose limits, the limits impose themselves, ruthlessly and globally. And judging from what people like Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman are saying, the worst is not over and the end is not near.
Who, if not President Obama, will tell us that the party's over . . . that we can't consume our way to fulfillment . . . that we can't resume the consumerist orgy that foreign investors in our debt have enabled . . . because very soon, no rational investor will want to lend us the money required to keep it going? When will Obama find the courage to tell us what he surely understands--that there can be no return to things as they were; that we have to begin to change the way we live now?