THE OBSCENE DILEMMA
THE DILEMMA: While the universe twirls on in its beautiful zoot suit of reflections, affairs here on Earth are knotting into an obscene dilemma. The human capacity for production is outpacing the planet's resources --both physical and mental. From over-fishing to information overload, we have reached the limits to growth. At an unimaginable scale military-industrial sprawl is consuming every patch of wilderness, genetic heritage, tribal iconography, do-it-yourself culture and hard-won solidarity.
HYSTERIA: The same capacity for over-production is driven by technologies which have also overwhelmed us with our own reflection. Our sparkling information culture has fermented into a bitter vinegar of splintered disciplines, websites, journals, cable stations, artificial lifeforms and bionic systems -- multiplied by an orgy of analytical tools and digital effects. Intoxicated by the new digital powers, our entertainment engines disgorge a wasteland of unintegrated dreams and nightmares. The healing ganglia of spiritual reflection and dialogue recoils from such an overload into an equal and opposite explosion of fundamentalism, retroism and apathy. Unable to digest our tricked-out informational effluence, unable to hammer out a collective vision of progress, our bewildered, freelance psyches sway in torrents of data. To avoid drowning we cling to islands of tradition, disembodied memes and shrinking wages. Self-righteous evangelism and artsy recombinations of style suffice for depth of thought and feeling. Transfixed by born-again mythologies and the trickster god of infinite digital processing, we stagnate while the emerging corporate order feeds upon the fermenting data. Our democratic impulses have become pinched and nauseating before the grinding momentum of computerized management and control systems. The soul shrinks before the sprawl of email, humming screens, lifeless parking lots, monitored phone calls and surveillance cameras. And while our nerves unravel in the daily grind of data management, the madness of superstition grows everywhere.
SOLUTIONS: But the universe still spins in all its glory, waiting for us to come to our senses. What follows is an analysis which may sound subversive to many North Americans who have lost touch with their own democratic heritage, but is quite ordinary to many citizens and policy-makers around the world. The US may eventually follow, by sheer necessity, the lead of nations such as Canada, the Netherlands and Norway.
So here's the New Deal with an environmental twist:
Planetary exhaustion is often attributed to human overpopulation, but it is better understood as a consumption problem --starting with the top of the social pyramid. The bulk of OVER-consumption is in the hands of the planet's wealthiest, not to mention a costly military-industrial infrastructure which goes into maintaining the pyramid. Accelerated by Ronald Reagan's corporate welfare priorities, the USA has severely tipped the balance away from that which has a small environmental footprint (local economies, education and mass transit systems) and towards corporate sprawl, strip malls and a consumer culture in overdrive.
Regulations, tax policies, higher minimum wage and a re-birth of civic institutions can easily turn the pendulum back towards small business, the public and the underlying ecosystem. It's a matter of striking a balance. Free from monopoly interference, local energies, efficiencies and environmental sensitivities, can be unleashed. A broad productivity emerges out of low transport costs, intimate contact and customized relationships -- folding psychological and environmental needs into the very definition of productivity. Henry Ford's assembly line gives way to the network and triple bottom line cost accounting (corporate, social and environmental).
Henry Ford did not live in the age of the computer. Cybernetic theories of emergent behaviour are helping to underscore what many have known for centuries: there is great flexibility, effectiveness and beauty in small scale operations. It is well-documented that small-scale farmers use less fertilizer and pesticides by fine-tuning cultivation practices to suit their local ecosystems. (Agribusinesses are infamous for using a one-overdose-fits-all approach). In a similar fashion, small businesses fine-tune their retail and manufacturing practices to suit local needs. There are complex, unquantifiable benefits to interfacing with the proud owner of a local coffee shop rather than indifferent wage-slaves at a Dunkin Donuts. There are also immense efficiencies in local transport sytems. Walking down the street to a neighbor's store simply requires less fuel than driving to the shopping mall. And along the way you can bump into that peep from the hardware store who borrowed your bicycle.
Decentralization and redistribution goes a long way towards a reduction of pollution and disease, an increase in planetary stability and ultiimately of declining birthrates. The solution requires a paradigm shift in culture, attitude and priorities. We need a "civic infrastructure" to counter the corporate infrastructure which has been building for centuries. But we can't wait around for Donald Trump to pick up a copy of "Small is Beautiful" and have an epiphany. The people have to put the squeeze on the system at every level and build the alternate infrastructure one local node at a time. Changing tax policies and regulations to reduce corporate welfare is a critical goal, but along the way we can effect change immediately by turning our attentions and spare change back to our local cultures, economies and ecosystems.
SUBMODERNISM: Below the spectacle of the rich, below the radar of corporate control systems, below the Modern/Postmodern babble, lies a realm of local economics, deep involvement and charm: the Submodern. Flowing freely through the veins of every culture a wealth of irregular ideas, traditions, technologies and recycled goods ooze about, unintegrated into the larger machine. Most of us know such a culture. For many years in Willliamsburg, Brooklyn, my friends and I, humbled by the borough's depth and character, worked out our creative compulsions in its abandoned warehouses, experimenting with local media, local meanings, weaving a culture. For many of us the memory is still a revelation (even as we watch the neighborhood writhe in real estate speculation).
DANCING ON TABLES: Not every Submodern phenomenon is clean, desirable or even intelligent. Yet within its peculiar ranks percolate the secrets to a truly rich, sustainable society. Herein lies the homemade salsa and the methods of dancing on tables. Here is the love of trains and bicycles, the impulse to start a small business, and indigenous organic farming methods. Within the Submodern lies the birthday party on an industrial waterfront, home-brew Hip Hop clubs and 15-to-1 student/teacher ratios. Herein lies the small, the flexible and the wiggly, the delights and emotional efficiencies of rambling and puttering.
THE TWIRLING: Some believe we are falling, one genetic hack at a time, into a cybernetic, post-art, post-human, post-truth, post-nature condition. Although postmodernism has had a profound role in bringing dubious Western narratives into question, I believe it has settled into a routine state of fence-sitting: still marveling at the loss of absolutes while dipping a toe into the waters of madness. Here, below the noise, is an immediate involvement with the dreams at hand. We nurture nothing but self-evident joy within the local twirl.
-- Ebon Fisher, 2004