Bill Totten's Weblog

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Loose Wheels

by Jim Kunstler (June 11 2007)

Is the jailing, un-jailing, and re-jailing of Paris Hilton a harbinger of anything? Has America's Love/Hate-o-meter for wealthy celebrities swung in the negative direction? And does that swing portend something more ominous for our society at large? I've been saying for a while that the time would come when the moiling masses of the un-rich would turn on their pantheon of media-conjured demigods, and that this would be a symptom of mechanical trouble in the giant gas-sucking Hummer limousine that the US economy has become. Are the wheels about to come off?

I had an eerie thought a couple of weeks back while sojourning in Telluride, Colorado. This refuge in a box canyon, 8000-plus feet above sea level, at the end of a sixty-mile road from the nearest small-town airport, is pretty much entirely a creation of media celebrity money. Ralph Lauren's 30,000-acre spread is the town's welcome mat. The little main street is mostly occupied by realtor's offices. The mountainsides are dotted with the peeled-log palaces of Hollywood playahs. In short, what you see is a whole lot of conspicuously-displayed wealth. My eerie thought was this: what if a time came in America when the conspicuous display of wealth was not such a healthy thing for the displayer? What if these displays only made them conspicuous targets for the hordes of economic losers that the Long Emergency will shake loose? What if wealth is actually forced into hiding instead of displaying itself for all to see?

I admit it was not a big deep thought, just an eerie one. Of course, one would have to begin by asking what kind of society would worship clowns like Donald Trump in the first place - and the answer would be: a society of envious slobs deluded into thinking that they could become the next Trump if only the Baby Jeezus would whack them over the head with a sock-full of silver dollars. This is, after all, a culture currently fueled by two dangerously childish ideas: that it's possible to get something for nothing, and that when you wish upon a star your dreams come true.

People who believe that it's possible to get something for nothing can be persuaded easily that those who have gotten a lot have gotten it unfairly. And the flip side of wishing upon stars is that when your dreams don't come true you can only blame it on the stars.

It's hard to locate in history another society so devilishly rigged for implosion than the empire that runs from sea to shining sea. Every structural element in our financial sector is a jackstraw groaning under a load of false expectation. The hedge funds are only the most elaborate pieces, with their intertwined webs of exponentially unreckoned risk. The equity markets are a three-ringed circus of "greater fools". The mortgage clusterfuck has barely begun, with a tidal wave of ARM re-sets about to kick in that will not only shatter the aspirations of the formerly middle class, but will also put the entire suburban sprawl-building juggernaut out of business - just as the imminent global oil crisis makes that way of life obsolete. The undercarriage of the vehicle - medical and retirement entitlements, plus the social safety net - is rotting away as the massive debt obligations of the federal government are suddenly denied an easy re-fi rollover by the foreign central banks who no longer see the point in buying the trash paper of a nation that manufactures little more than celebrity envy fantasies.

It was sad to see Paris crying for mommy in the moments before she was limoed back to the LA lock-up. But it was surely a milder fate than the denizens of Versailles met back in the 1790s - perhaps the last time in historical memory that such a class of feckless parasites was so cruelly, comprehensively, and theatrically disposed of. Personally, I don't hate Paris Hilton and Donald Trump, but I'm mighty sick of them cluttering up the collective head-space of my culture. I'm afraid that the moiling masses will adopt a more punitive attitude. They usually do when gods fail. Temples tend to come down.

You wonder who the new gods will be. In France, after the bloodbath of the 1790s, the new gods were abstract virtues rather than personalities: justice, brotherhood, equality, et cetera. The mob soon tired of abstractions, though, and turned to the appealing figure of General Bonaparte. Why? because he displayed the prime signature of charisma - the aura that he actually knew what he was doing. In a nation that has lost its head, this is a striking attribute.

Bill Totten


Post a Comment

<< Home