During the period leading up to the American Civil War there were a stretch of irrelevant non-entities occupying the White House. Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Filmore, Pierce, Buchanan; each vied with the last and was topped by the next in their nothingness. This went beyond error or incompetence. It was a sign that the electorate, the Electoral College – back then there was much less of a whitewash to make it seem this was a popular decision – was rapidly losing confidence in the entire enterprise. What difference does it make who holds office in an organization that has splintered and eroded to the point that so many of the powerful begin to look beyond its institutions? In the 1840’s and ’50’s they looked to business or to a new fantasy of national glory embodied in a potential confederacy for the way forward. Even Lincoln was expected to be a non-entity. In many ways he was seen at the time as the culminating last straw, the mother of all non-entities. How this all worked out later, with the war and its aftermath, is open to debate; or at least it should be. The point I’m trying to make is that whenever a system is disintegrating it will find itself led by people who are seen as ever more irrelevant and useless. They don’t bring the system down through error, their placement is already a function of a wider collapse.
This is a way of looking at the state of governance across the world today. It’s not as important that each crop of leaders appears to be a caricature of the last. This is a time with such a short attention span that few bother to see how the extreme joke of a Dan Quayle in the seventies becomes the elder statesmanship now being rehabilitated for G”W”B. What’s important is the fact that contemporary leaders don’t even bring real advantages to the powerful few who set them in place any more. It goes a step further, as with the pre-Civil War period, many if not all, of the powerful are themselves in a crisis of confidence with their own abilities to gain further, or even just hold onto, the power they have. They too have joined the masses of consuming individualists both puzzled by the way things are going and in the thrall of ever more fantastical “solutions.” In all of this, no one is seriously considering the existing system as a way forward, and so the loonies are allowed to “drive the bus.” No one believes the steering wheel is actually attached to the wheels anymore, although the brakes and accelerator seemed to be working….
Funny how this seems to end in war. Not just the kind of business-as-usual wars that help erode resistance around the edges of whatever current hegemony is dominant at the time, but the kind of war with a capital “W,” like the Civil War here in the U.S. or WWI and WWII. Again, this is no accident. It’s not the particular “evil-doers” trotted out as their justifications fault. In every case the events leading up to hostilities occurred in a fevered dream-time of anticipation and deep hunger for a release from the hard work of having to come up with an alternative way of dealing with collapse. We tend to forget this, in a conspiracy of silence born perhaps of shame? Even today, when there’s so much talk of inevitability in certain aspects of the general decline, usually cases of the weak getting weaker, the things that actually matter to the powerful at least manage to get an energetic exercise of effort into their amelioration, if not solution. The hands only go up in mock surrender at greater forces when the case is not considered worth the effort by those who see themselves insulated from its consequences.
The trouble is, at times like this, no one is insulated from the consequences of impending or ongoing collapse. That so many, both powerless and with power, should take that as reason to up the ante with greater efforts of will to deny that reality instead of confronting it directly, is precisely why times like these lead directly to war and the civilized horror of broad scale destruction.
The “inevitability” felt in such times grows out of an allegiance to system itself, over an above self-interest, even the instinct for survival. This trait is held up as a laudable example. This is what creates “heroes” and allows us to fight for “higher” purposes. We all see through this when an adversary claims this authority, but mostly we fall for it when it comes from “our side.”
Think about this the next time you nod in agreement at a partisan argument. Or when you shake your head in reluctant acceptance of some inevitable surrender of responsibility over the consequences of an action or inaction, taken or avoided because to do otherwise would be to cast doubts over the System’s underlying “Sanctity.”