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The New Disposition of Things

How life will work in a future of forced simplicity
Monday, July 29, 2013, 7:08 PM
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Executive Summary

  • The end of plentiful resources will challenge many deeply held social beliefs
  • Downscaling and re-localization will be the dominant economic trends
  • What this will mean for “work”
  • What this will mean for lifestyles
  • What this will mean for social relationships

If you have not yet read Part I: Class, Race, Hierarchy, and Social Relations in The Long Emergency, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

I’d also argue that the recent historical saeculum — the climax decades of turbo-industrialism post World War Two — produced extremely anomalous social and economic conditions that have torqued our expectations in highly unrealistic directions. Chief among these was the assumption that the economic equations of the late 20th century would persist indefinitely; that there would always be more of everything, including cheap fossil fuels and monetary credit to support our activities. Now, as we encounter the onrushing reality of no-longer-cheap energy, our expectations for technological rescue become ever more detached from reality. On the money side of things, we vainly try to offset the impairments of capital formation with pervasive accounting fraud, asset price manipulation, and market interventions, all of which only worsen the impairments of capital formation. In short, the principal arrangements of modern economies are headed for an inflection point, probably sooner rather than later, where we can expect critical systems to founder — banking, agriculture, trade, transportation — and thus for social conditions to enter a flux of change as well.

The economic abnormalities of climax turbo-industrial life also produced a range of ideological distortions around questions of social organization, in particular the conflation of technological progress with expanding social equality. The idea was defective in more than one way, but certainly in the sense that technological progress itself was assumed to be limitless. The 20th century cavalcade of wonders — movies, airplanes, radio, atom bombs, heart transplants, computers, etc. — had programmed the public to expect nothing less. This hubristic techno-narcissism was most conspicuous among the techies themselves. No one could imagine the possibility of a time-out from progress, let alone an end of technological dazzle. The idea of ever-greater social leveling was also at odds with the human predilection for status-seeking. And, in fact, technology became both a signifier and an enabler of social status in the computer age for the billionaires who developed it and the young people who used iPhones and Facebook minute-by-minute to jockey for status enhancement. All the while, in the background, peak cheap oil was provoking a concentration of financial wealth in the shenanigans around capital, so the basic gulf between the haves and have-nots only grew deeper and wider...

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