Monday, May 21, 2012

Hot and Hazy

Summer seems to be getting an early start this week, with forecasted highs coming close to records that have stood for sixty or seventy years now. This on the heels of a winter-that-wasn't-a-winter, so the countryside was flush with vegetation a month or two ahead of schedule. I'll make an easy prediction now that we can look forward to lots of verbal battles between people who advance theories of global warmings, and those who argue against them. Leading the way on the anti-side will be the pundits like Rush Limbaugh, who have zero scientific training or knowledge, versus people on the pro-side who accuse people like him of wanting to destroy the earth and life on it.

That's a simplification, of course, but I think it illustrates at least the caricatures of where people stand on the issue. I don't really pay much attention to the debate on manmade global warming, as I think we're likely to do ourselves in as a civilization before it will ultimately become a serious issue. However, I do listen to Limbaugh from time to time while driving and caught a tidbit along the lines of "Folks, if we had to heat up the earth, we could never manage that. Only God could do something like that." That anyone could take him seriously after a tidbit like that goes to show that his audience is no more sensible than he is. Again, while I don't really pay a lot of attention to the theory, it seems that statements like that at least tip the credibility scale toward scientists who actually try to seriously study the issue.

In a lot of ways, the cultural crisis which is starting to shake up human society seems to be cut from the same cloth. Why the term "cultural crisis," anyway, and not "economic crisis?" Think about this, though -- an economic crisis implies problems with the economy, confined to the economy. The Great Depression generally fell into this category, where people had built an economic model that had some serious problems, but the overall culture was relatively sound. When the economy collapsed, people were able to still get by, and had some idea of where they were going as a nation and a people (in contrast, look at Nazi Germany, which was the product of a destroyed German culture in the wake of World War One). Now, the problem is so much greater and is no longer really confined to just one aspect of human society. America is stumbling, has no idea of what values it should be embracing (we have Jersery Shore on one hand, we have Joel Osteen on the other, with NASCAR and militarism in between).

The rest of the world is largely in the same boat, too, because the economy and consumption have become the end-game of all human effort everywhere. People measure who they are by what they have. When you have it, then what? Things rust and rot away, or we just get bored with them, like a middle aged salesman with his wife, and go chase something new. The ancient Greeks put stock in philosophy and learning, the Romans in tradition, the medieval European in religion, the Chinese in meditations on the nature of things, Enlightement thinkers in science and natural philosophy, early Americans in rights and law...and modern Americans in phantom things like Facebook stock.

A Dark Age is a combination of many things, part of it a time when there is no longer enough of an input of energy to sustain the socioeconomic models that people have built, but it's also a time when old ideas that have carried us forward die. With the Greeks, it came when the notion of pan-Hellenism died out during the Peloponnesian War, the Romans when perpetual conquest could not be sustained, and in the modern day when the idea of perpetual growth and consumption run into the reality of limited energy and markets.

In the end, it's not unlike the global warming debate -- we see what we want to see, put so much faith into an idea, that we conflate our existence with that idea and mindset. Now, we're facing the fact that our models are broken and we still cannot come to grips with that, preferring to deny that there is even a fundamental problem with things and that life as we know it can't go on forever. Traditionally, the summer has always been a slow news season, as people vacate Washington to go on vacation, but the Greek crisis hasn't resolved itself (the Greeks not even knowing who they want to lead them), the French are still pursuing their own broken model, and America is forced into an election that will change nothing, because reality itself has begun to catch up with the process.

We may be coming up on a very hot and hazy summer indeed.

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