The Final Act

The Final Act by Dmitri Orlov for ClubOrlov

In processing the flow of information about the goings on in the US, it is impossible to get rid of a most unsettling sense of unreality—of a population trapped in a dark cave filled with little glowing screens, all displaying different images yet all broadcasting essentially the same message. That message is that everything is fine, same as ever, and can go on and on. But whatever it is that’s going on can’t go on forever, and therefore it won’t. More specifically, a certain coal mine canary has recently died, and I want to tell you about it.

It’s easy to see why that particular message is stuck on replay even as the situation changes irrevocably. As of 2019, 90% of the media in the United States is controlled by four media conglomerates: Comcast (via NBCUniversal), Disney, ViacomCBS (controlled by National Amusements), and AT&T (via WarnerMedia). Together they have formed a corporate media monoculture designed to most effectively maximize shareholder value.

As I wrote in Reinventing Collapse in 2008, “…In a consumer society, anything that puts people off their shopping is dangerously disruptive, and all consumers sense this. Any expression of the truth about our lack of prospects for continued existence as a highly developed, prosperous industrial society is disruptive to the consumerist collective unconscious. There is a herd instinct to reject it, and therefore it fails, not through any overt action, but by failing to turn a profit because it is unpopular.”

Two years earlier, in a slideshow optimistically titled “Closing the Collapse Gap” (between the USSR and the USA), I wrote: “…It seems that there is a fair chance that the US economy will collapse sometime within the foreseeable future. It also would seem that we won’t be particularly well-prepared for it. As things stand, the US economy is poised to perform something like a disappearing act.” And now, 12 years later, I believe I am finally watching what amounts to preparations for that act’s final rehearsal; the ballet troupe is doing stretching exercises and the fat lady is singing arpegios to warm up…

Clearly, this final act is yet to be performed. The media replay loop continues to play, keeping the populace convinced that the future will resemble the past (except, perhaps, it will have more wind generators, solar panels and electric cars). The populace continues to be persuaded to go out and shop for (or, more frequently now, order online) things it doesn’t need, to be paid for by money it doesn’t have.

Of course, there have been changes. The populace in the US has been doing progressively worse. Drug addiction and suicide rates have skyrocketed while rates of childbirth have plummeted. The purchase of a home is now out of reach for the vast majority of young couples. Artificially rosy unemployment statistics hide the 100 million or so people who are considered “not in labor force” (because they lost their jobs some time ago and haven’t been able to find another one). Uniquely among developed nations, life expectancy among white males—historically the most economically active and prosperous part of the population—has been dropping. These are all negatives, but neither any one of them nor any combination of them adds up to anything that could cause the US economy to undergo a spontaneous existence failure.

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