Sunday, March 22, 2009

Disease in a time of weakness

Over at The Automatic Earth they've posted some interesting videos, one of which I've embedded below…

The video series of which this is the first part is a fairly technical but very well presented explanation of how the shorting the shares of Bear Stearns triggered the Wall Street meltdown. But to focus on the trigger for the meltdown is to miss the point of what's happening. All systems tend to carry a burden of disease causing pathogens. Every society has its criminals, every living creature carries viruses and bacteria which can potentially cause problems and often do. A healthy organism — or organisation — can usually deal with this burden. But when the body or organisation is weak it becomes vulnerable.

Our economic system was already weak and vulnerable. Millions of brilliant minds had already prolonged its life well beyond what could be considered reasonable. It was bound to succumb to some trauma eventually and the longer the system's life was prolonged, the more trivial and minor the triggering event was likely to be. Sure, prosecute the crooks. Don't pretend though that the overall catastrophe could somehow be averted in perpetuity. In many ways the longer the collapse is held off, the more terrible it will be when it happens. This is the paradox of the situation we are in. What conventional wisdom may hold up as solutions to the problems we are facing may well simply increase our vulnerability. Improve crop yields through genetic engineering? Doesn't that simply make for an even more unsupportable human population overburdening the Planet's ability to cope? Can you now see what a catastrophe the discovery of a cheap replacement of oil might be?

There are two responses to the current troubles and future prospects which I personally find distasteful. One is the "look for the culprits" distraction. Let's be frank here: we are all the beneficiaries of the current system and two-thirds of us wouldn't have existed without it. Blaming other people for everything that's wrong is dangerous, destructive and fundamentally dishonest. The second one Richard Heinberg trots out sometimes and that is "Oh What hath us baby-boomers wrought?" I find this even more nauseating and unhelpful.

In small business it translates into the whiners who blame the competition for their failure and incompetence, or the even more short-lived types who beat themselves up and collapse in depression. I've always been an admirer of a certain type of toughness, unsentimentallity and good humour in adversity.

So what will our present collapse mean? Simply put, most organisational complexity above a local or family level will wither and die. The surplus wont be there to maintain it. In a town like ours it means a lot of us will need to find different things to do, or different ways of doing what we do now. No big deal in some ways. In places where organisational complexity is all there is, things will be much harder. In places where there may well be a strong community but the economy is dependent on high levels of complexity it will be very difficult too. Think export dependent agriculture. So the choice for all of us is either move or adapt in place.

1 comment:

Bobby said...

Ahh yes...well said Lloyd. Time to gather our loved ones close and get ready for the storm...gonna get ugly alrighty.