Saturday
Dec112004

« Pause, Reflect »

Today I spent a perfectly beautiful evening with my wife at home. We listened to Christmas music: Bing Crosby and the Vince Guraldi score from the Peanuts TV show usually make my season. We put up some decorations, a wreath, and a tree (actually two—fake main tree, living smaller tree for the end table). We petted the dog and walked her. We shut off the lights and left on only the holiday lights. We talked lovingly and of great topics of concern.

It is a poignant time for me, who has been worried well beyond my quota about the peak oil/economic collapse issues. Lots of people laugh it off, and I would love to be among them, but I have been cursed with curiosity, and for my troubles in investigating both mainstream and alternative outlets, I am worried sick sometimes. The rest of the time, I am totally perplexed at the possibility for life like I never imagined it. You may ask how this has anything to do with the perfectly lovely domestic bliss I just described. Some will say that I am just ruining my present with fanciful thoughts of a future that I have no control over, and get on with things. Therapy would probably tell me that maybe this is too big an external issue that I stand no chance of settling, and maybe it's time to be sure my wife and I are working toward the best relationship we can have.

I don't see the demarcation line, if there is one.

My wife and I are all about the future. We don't have much choice; our future is going to happen one way or another, and of course we got married because we wanted a future together. And I really do believe in us. It's the matter of what we will confront that bends my mind in odd ways. The matter of peak oil and economic collapse cause so much mental dissonance with people mainly because they think it couldn't happen. They think it couldn't happen because they have been told it can't happen. Supposedly it can't happen because experts say it can't happen. Well, the weatherman is an expert, and sometimes we find he doesn't know shit either. So it is with the matter of massive scale resource depletion, and economic disaster. Economic disaster can happen separately from resource depletion, but is certain to happen in a world where resources are consumed at such a radical clip. Our fine nation is one that is kept afloat by an economy of debt. Our economy is a vicious cycle of IOUs. Christmas time amounts to the High Holy Days of this modus opperandi. A nation already operating under the weight of immense debt is herded into an even wilder spending spree in the name of fun and family togetherness, and keeping the economy going. It's a house of cards, people. We can make money from paper to make it seem like there is more money, but it is meaningless unless either there is actual material wealth that it represents, or if everyone agrees that the stuff is valid and will carry the same agreed-upon worth in a week, month, year, or decade. The paper is worthless for the most part, and the credit card is nothing but a promise to pay. But even the world's biggest credit consumer can arbitrarily decide to pay or not pay, or to spend more and more, even when it shouldn't. But it's okay. We trust the government to handle things. Well, some of us do...

I am losing my faith in this system. Every day, I see more and more homeless people on the corners of my once-middle class suburb. I just know that all these people aren't drug addicts or mentally ill (at least not leading to their homelessness). I just know that some of them were working even modest jobs at Target or for a private firm selling plumbing supplies or something. And not all that long ago. No, some of these people were living in 2 bedroom apartments a year ago. Some of them lost a job not for any crippling economic slowdown, but for greed. Their companies decided they needed to make more money, or at least appear to make more money by pinching the bottom line and cutting some staff and offshoring or just hiring cheaper workers. Companies are interested in making profit, and profit comes at a cost. Eventually, a widespread elimination of jobs will eliminate the buying power of the people who once bought your product. It's cannibalism, really. Henry Ford's winning innovation was his desire to make something that every man could use, but also to employ people so that they could be those "every men" who would buy the stuff he made. America's greatness for the middle of the 20th century was expressed this way: the workers on the line could afford to pay for the stuff they made, which of course made good business. Now we have a growing number of people who can't pay but for the cheapest stuff, and Wal Mart is all too happy to oblige. Of course, Wal Mart is paying people so little to make and sell their wares. Wal Mart has then created its own mini-economy of poor people buying cheap shit from other poor people made poor by the corporation that facilitates it all. Hey, Wal Mart sells cheap shit. Even if you work for Wal Mart, it's on the verge of being too expensive if you have other plans, like feeding your family and living in a habitable place. I'm sure Ms. W. could attest to that. Welcome to the land of the working poor.

So on this lovely evening, I have not visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, but instead of the bursting of the credit bubble. This very well could be the last of the great American Christmases of shameless self indulgence and irreverent consumption and waste. With Bush about to steal the office of the Most Important Man in the World once again, we could be hosed. I read that there is a lot of discontent in Japan and China, and that the dollar, once the mighty arbiter of economic power in the world, is now cowering with its tail between its legs. It hasn't been a secret that we are the leading debtor nation. That's old news now. But we've been trying the patience of the nations who make that possible. Our money just isn't what we said it was. And that's all it ever was after 1970. We said it was worth this or that, and that it would be that way. And people responded in like. But that only lasts while both parties are in agreement. So, sort of like you not wanting to give your drunken, wifebeating uncle any money when he is begging for it, the world is wising up and we are gonna be in deep shit, because not only will we not be offered new money, some may cash in and take out what is here when there is just no point in bothering. Should Saudi Arabia and Japan decide to close up shop here, we could be in for a "shitstorm" as Jim Kunstler says.

I'd almost rather be the passing observer of 30 lethal car accidents a day than contemplate the shitstorm factor of the pending economic crunch, coupled with peak oil's permanent scenario of nothing but dwindling resources. But I don't have the luxury of self-censoring, so instead of laughing off the car accidents, I ponder these other things, nearly endlessly. It messed with the week before my wedding, the time around my birthday, tainted my vacation (even more so because of the fact that we drove and participated in the same behavior that got us here), and now it's spoiling my Christmas, sort of.

I am a small fraction of one step ahead. I have never been overwhelmingly a slave to the commercial Christmas season, favoring a quality of interaction and reflection over gifts and other fiscally related exercises. This is the first Xmas with my wife in that capacity, but the fourth with her in the picture, and it sure is a hell of a lot better than not having her! I do let a few things get me off the dire predictions. Tonight, I listened to Bing Crosby's Silent Night. The song is possibly one of my favorites as it is—quite possibly one of the most perfect songs ever. Bing's vibrato was sweet and mellow, his baritone was rich and full. His Christmas songs remind me of the rosy holidays spent here in the same house that was once my grandparents, about 20 years ago and some since. I don't remember liking them then, but with both grandparents gone now, the Bing Xmas songs take me back, not just to grandmother's house, but to my own youth when my Christmas wasn't tempered with these troubling adult thoughts of money, heartache, and strife. The music may take me back even further to when my granparents were about my age, making do with the accoutrements afforded them in the years of the Depression or WW2. I wonder what their Christmases were like in the opening years of the almighty American era of consumerism when it was more innocent and fun, and really a sign that better things were ahead. Then I get a little teary eyed as I realize that only two generations later, I am at the other end of that show, when rampant holiday consumerism is not a sign of a bright future, but a sign of true desperation as a whole nation struggles to maintain an illusion of wealth and prosperity against all odds. It's a heavy thought, but it's nice to have Bing sing for me the same as he did for my grandparents. Bing is sort of a musical Ouija board between them and me.

Or maybe another glimpse of joy came for me in the form of the Charlie Brown Christmas show that now defines my season. I think that that show adds a little more poignancy to my dilemma now. That show was done in the year 1965. What Charlie Brown was up against is the same that I am up against now—the shallowness and ephemerality of the commercial Christmas. Even in 1965 there was something wrong. 1965 was about 20 years after the beginning of the suburban era which went hand in hand with rampant consumerism all year round, but in particular during the holidays. Even 40 years ago there was something wrong. Well, here we are. At least 40 years ago, people were working and able to pay for this stuff, and the system seems to have been working somewhat. But people apparently were unhappy in some way. Was it that they found that shopping wasn't really a source of joy? Or that suburbia was a place where people really cease to live as community? For Charles Shultz to satirize this, it must have been a problem at the time, and one that was already manifest to those who would see it. The irony of the TV show is not ironic now. America has made a Faustian deal to sell her soul all so that we can look good in the eyes of economists and bankers.

Another thing that gave me some joy tonight was listening to recordings I have made of sermons at church, and reveling in what a great teacher we have in our minister Jerry Lawritson. If not for the messages that come to me through him, this heavy shit I think about would surely cause me to spin out of control. On Thanksgiving, he gave a sermon about the matter of giving thanks. Giving thanks is more than just being glad that you aren't the homeless person on the corner of Balboa and Genesee (self preservation at the expense of others). Giving thanks is a matter of maintaining grace under pressure, in the most dire circumstances. How else do you think Jews made it through the Holocaust? Giving thanks is akin to a counterattack against fear and despair and everything dark and sick in the world. Giving thanks is an act of rebellion, a preemptive strike (Bush should be proud) against everything bad, a way of nipping it at the source by getting the upper hand first.

Also today, earlier in the morning, there was an NPR show about Hannukah that was hosted by Spock himself. The music was this extremely beautiful choral material, and the stories of Hannukah were short bits dropped between the songs. Some of the hope and faith and thanksgiving apparent in these stories is just so amazing. If we have rough times ahead, maybe there is something to be learned from the Jews about how to cope and even thrive. They remain defiantly proud and connected to each other, their traditions, to education, to getting into the nitty gritty of it all. Indeed, the name Israel means "he who grapples with God." The Jews have marked Hannukah each year for over 2000 years now, and their celebration is still one of being thankful for miracles, for each other, and for the opportunity to have a part in the Play, no matter what role they may have, no matter how difficult.

Sometimes I hear these things about the Jewish faith and sort of wonder about how after so damned long, they have seemed to retained a certain purity to their faith that unfortunately people in my tradition have splintered a million times over. In this year of the moral values winning out over the other 250 million sinners and heathens in this nation, it is a shame that I sort of need to tip my head down and mutter that I am a Christian, immediately adding a disclaimer of something like "but not one of those right wing nutjobs who voted for Bush." I should never have to do that. Jeeze. And furthermore, I am a member of the United Church of Christ, which now, very ballisily put out that amazing ad last week. The UCC is still on the fringes of Christianity, but I perceive it as being among the rare denomination that even tries to live out the mission Christ intended. People never hear about us because well, there aren't any sex scandals, and we aren't buying politicians. Now it seems we can't even buy time on the mainstream outlets on public airwaves. Our scandal, as much as there is one, is honoring something taught to us about 2000 years ago—that everyone is equal in the eyes of God, and yes, that means those fags, niggers, broads, and America Haters too. (Sorry, I had to get into character to get my point across.) The Jews spend their holidays celebrating miracles. My people go shopping, and end up giving each other guns for Christmas. Sometimes I feel miscast. I'm almost suspecting us liberal Christians (yes, such a thing exists) will know a certain persecution in this nation while those with more noble moral values hold office.

My Christmas is one of paradox; wondering if the world in which I live will collapse is a big thing. But so is putting my head in my wife's lap, putting on some Bing and listening to Silent Night in complete silence, eating leftover tri-tip, and taking at least a good shot at enjoying holidays, loved ones, and even life, despite its overwhelming complexity and troubles. The secret to surviving the future, should it play out like a worst nightmare, is altering one's expectations, and finding meaning and joy in what is instead of what you think it should be. I may doom myself with this peak oil stuff, but like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, they can't take what I have inside me. He had Mozart. I have Bing and Jethro Tull.

Oh, and I love Kelli a lot. And puppy too!

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.