Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Problem With Blame

I was responding to Gabe's comment to the previous post, and realized it might be fitting just to publish it here instead -- if only to keep up my streak of daily posting this week.

Re: I think the bottom line is what James Kunstler and you have been harping on: we cannot continue to live as we have been living... but we are surrounded by fucking idiots.

What's worse, in my opinion, is that I don't think we can so easily look around and blame the "fucking idiots" for this mess. Consumption, be it the kind that rapes the environment or the kind that ignores reality (i.e., via credit & debt), is now fully engrained & inseparable from our contemporary culture. Which to say, it is almost impossible for most people to do live truly alternative lifestyles, let alone imagine something differently.

For example. One of the things observed about the decrease in gas consumption in California is that it is mostly because of California's wealth. I.e., in a very real sense, they simply can afford to conserve, either by living in urban areas, or buying cars w/ better fuel consumption, etc. For the vast majority of Americans, however, this is almost impossible. They have, for example, accumulated so much shit in their houses that to move to a smaller, urban area would mean they'd have to leave as trash a lot of the things they've picked up along the way -- enormous couches, a tv p/room, rugs fit more for the Tajj Mahal than Maple Avenue, dust-covered treadmills, pool tables, etc.

(And this is to say nothing at all of the neglected urban cores themselves, where we are asking people to move in order to consume less. They have become inhospitable places, due to a generation of poor maintenance, decayed family and doomed communities. Which is to say, it takes more to bring people to an urban area than opening a couple of bars. What's worse, the problems of urban living are mostly correctable for those who can afford it. The moment an urban area is "cleaned up," look around, and you'll likely find it has been "cleaned" of those who are blamed for making it dirty -- the poor, the homeless, the drug addicts. They are blamed for their irresponsible maintenance of their neighborhoods and the the poor stewardship of their exorbitant "government handouts," despite the fact far and away more government money (tax breaks, etc.) were extended toward the suburbanization of American cities than was extended to its core. Ah, but where there is suburban crime & decay, the blame is on video games and violent tv, not irresponsibility.)

There is also, and perhaps more fundamentally, the simple fact that most people shop at Wal-Fart or Shitkea because their budget forces them to do so. We know that we should buy a more expensive toaster or coffee table, or whatever, knowing full well the cheaper good will break down, forcing us to spend more on a litany of replacements every few years than we would on a one-time investment in something of quality craftsmanship, something that lasts. And yet, (a) most of us don't have the money on hand to make that one-time investment, so to buy the nice table means to put it in on the credit card, and thus to pay even more for it because of interest; and (b) if everybody stopped buying the cheap replacement-goods, this country's economy would shrivel & dry up faster than Betty White's vagina. When taken together, it is a powerful one-two punch that keeps us stalled, our imagination racing for an alternative we cannot conceive.

I write all this, hell, I think all this, I know that it comes off as defeatist. But I don't think so. Seeing our world as itself calling for -- groaning out for (as Saint Paul puts it) -- a fundamental change, not a "makeover" fit for ABC and that spikey-haired twat with the megaphone -- is the stuff of religion. The fact that those who consumed by this call, those who groan so often that they are finally ignored, are not always explicitly religious, and that most of those who are explicitly religious do not do so, is an indictment fit for another post.