Austerity, and the Ways We Disguise What We Lack

Austerity, a term that’s been hijacked by financial criminals to cover their extortion. What else could it possibly mean other than a gloss, a moralistic veneer poured over the dismantling of the lives of great masses of people so as to mine whatever whiff of monetary “value” they might still have lodged in the corners of their straightened lives? Why should we consider a term as bankrupt as this?

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The charade of Good Cop/Bad Cop that passes for governing these days! Each side playing to whoever is still broken enough to listen. Claiming they are all that keeps the horrors of the other side from eating us all in one gulp! As with any sport, we might have a team we naturally favor, but they are doing everything in their power to spoil the entire league! When will we recognize the “two sides” are merely hand puppets on opposing hands of the same beast? A monster who sees us as merely fodder to be exploited one way or the other. We can either play along and fill their particular side’s coffers, or we can get out of the way and be saved for later, for after they’ve trodden on anyone still foolish enough to attempt to fight the whole system.

Wealth is Power, Power is Wealth! It’s been drummed into us for so long, it’s not surprising we believe it’s true! Even more so for those who’ve put so much effort into grabbing and holding their piece. They are frightened. They want to hold it tight. They will crush anyone or anything that gets in their way! No not scary non-white Obama, or scary orange-tinged Boehner, I mean the whole lot.

What they don’t see, what those who resist them, and those who are afraid to resist, all share is a lack of imagination. Unable to conceive of a world where tomorrow isn’t just like yesterday, only more so.

It won’t be. The machinations of wealth to hold onto power, power’s striving to hold onto wealth; both will collapse into the void of their own delusions.

There will be power during and after collapse. But it won’t be in the same hands or wielded in the same ways. Mobs who are now safely seen as minions to provide cover and confusion for the clever will come unstuck and run amok. New groupings will arise and they will have much more direct hold on forms of power that lack the fragility and the sheer ephemeral nature of things like fleets of super-carriers and armies chained to their air-conditioned tents. None of this is foreign to all the people who “don’t matter” today, though it will come as a big shock to those who still think they do!

This isn’t a jeremiad for a coming apocalypse. What will arrive won’t be ordered and fit any known narrative as neatly as that. Our fixation with those stories, either praying for the End Times or fearing those who do, is another aspect of that lack of imagination coupled with the toxic vapors released by millennia of repressed guilt. Fulfilling Gilgamesh’s Fate, we expect to be punished as part of a story that means something in ways that reflect directly on the delusions we’ve held sacred for so long.

Evil may be banal, but this harping on the Apocalypse while doing nothing to prepare for collapse and disaster is just boring after a while! It’s like Bill & Ted pausing to catch their breath as they fall and they fall without reaching bottom.

We’ve seen the images of colliding galaxies. There is disruption on a scale we can not possibly imagine. But it doesn’t happen the way we would imagine it, the way twelve year old boys would act it out with spinning Frisbees or twirling their hands, making slow motion sound-effects of explosions. It takes billions of years. It is practically unnoticeable to whatever creatures might witness it from close at hand. Eventually its impacts effect every one of those vast legions of stars, and all who ride them; but to say, “This is the day!” Would always seem a lie.

Our catastrophes are not on that scale, thank God! We haven’t the power to do that much damage! But it shares in the microcosm its combination of the inexorable with the slowly continuous. It is happening, it looms in our minds eye like a brightening haze in a night sky. It is happening. It will arrive. But no one can say “This is the day!”

What we all will be able to say is at some point, “Oh! Now it has struck here!” Some have already reached that point! Many have done so centuries ago. Their descendants wondering what the big deal is today!

*

Ah! That felt good!

It won’t convince anyone. Its point lost in the appearance of what I insist it ain’t. Apoca-porn. Whatever we call it.

It is related to the concept of austerity seen as something other than its recitation as part of the end-game of globalization. Unless we can be serious about what’s at stake, the level, the depth, the breadth of catastrophe we face AND its pace, that combination of inexorable with continuous that characterizes its coming; we lose the possibility of comprehending what true austerity is, and what it can do for us.

In aesthetics austere is connected with stark, but also with awesome. What is austere has a clarity, and an enormity of presence, that makes it both unmistakeable and also inspiring. It connotes a grandeur that’s related to an old term, the sublime. It echoes the way what is austere connects us to our vulnerability as it pulls our attention out of ourselves onto something greater.

None of that appears even in caricature in any of the bloviating about austerity today. That shouldn’t be surprising. None of its mouthpieces believe what they’re saying anyway. They repeat incantations given to them by failed astrologers – oh! I mean Economists! And they expect these chants will get them what they want, another day that feels like yesterday, only so long as they can maintain a level of intoxication that blurs and fogs everything that might show them it won’t be.

Winners are supposed to win! Experts know better! They all keep repeating these “truths” in the fading wish that sheer volume will make them continue to work out that way. They aren’t. They won’t. This is the price of insincerity! When they’re all just going through the motions acting out roles they no longer even understand, yet insist they still believe, lying to themselves the way they’ve become accustomed to lie to the rest of us.

There’s a race for victim-hood. It’s the last refuge anyone still believes in. What may have begun as a desire for justice has been bargained away until the best anyone can hope for is to call out, “Unfair!” To wrap ourselves in justifications for whatever will keep our illusions alive.

Austerity is something else. To begin with, it’s not “voluntary.” As the illusion of Wealth flips its sign and falls to earth as the poverty it has always created, we don’t have much choice. Over-reach will settle its books.

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“I can’t do that! What if something happened?!!!”

Doesn’t this boil down to what we are afraid of when we confront the futility of our efforts and the need to let go? It’s a bit transparent, isn’t it? I mean, we are afraid. We are afraid that something would happen. We are afraid that something outside our control will occur.

Isn’t that it? The fear that we lose the illusion that we control something. At least by holding ourselves within a futile and failed way of life we are getting something expected, if not desirable in a wider context. It is desirable as a means to hold onto a comforting delusion.

I was raised in a household that made no preparation for dealing with pain, loss, and death. This isn’t unusual.

What are three things we can be certain will affect everyone in the course of a life? Outside the stupid joke about taxes, I’d say that list pretty much covers it. If that’s the case, then how can we justify ignoring these unavoidable contingencies and how we could prepare ourselves for them?

We are full of justifications. We are too busy meeting basic needs. Those needs amplify as we have to deal with the toxicity of the efforts we take on to meet those needs. Our time is swallowed up. Our capacities diminish through stress and lack of rest. In the end we run into a wall of paralyzing futility. Still, we continue to mumble that we’d do something about it if only our responsibilities weren’t always in the way!

What about those most basic responsibilities? After all, we may avoid pain, loss, and death for a while. We may be “lucky.” But nothing will keep them at bay for long. What then?

What I found was that life as a family collapsed. As my father lay dying we were devastated as though by a strike from out of the blue! That he was in his mid-seventies, an alcoholic, and chronically depressed; were “facts” we all knew, though they were never discussed. That my parents put all of their efforts into the displacement of quite appreciable psychological difficulties and the results of traumas they’d been through decades before I was born, was ignored. That we lived in silence and fear was ignored. That any signs of affection we might exhibit with each other were tangled up in repression and twisted out of context, was ignored.

We had a roof over our heads. We ate well. I was dressed adequately and went to school.

None of that did me any good. From a very young age, I was aware, in a visceral sense, if not consciously, that I was in peril. That none of my real needs were being met. That I was in danger and no one was helping. I was alone.

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We balk at austerity – again not the bullshit being foisted “for our own good!” – the real thing; to be in a situation that is sharp and clear, where we have contact with the awesome and the sublime. We avoid it so desperately with plenty of justifications. It’s either here or it’s coming whether we like it or not.

We focus on what we’ll “lose.” No mention of what we might gain. These are tied together since we refuse to acknowledge what is at stake in life. We don’t want to hear that we’ll lose our illusions. That we’ll lose the fiction that we can control our lives and accomplish anything other than its destruction. That’s what we’ll lose.

Austerity is a gift. Perhaps the last gift for those unwilling or unable to accept any of the other gifts life offers. It is a gift with the possibility that we regain an ability, a capacity to accept life’s other gifts. A “last chance.”

Bickering over the way “our enemies” have spoiled everything! Scheming ways to get our revenge. Locking ourselves up in a train of ever-expanding “necessity.” These are the ways we disguise what we lack.

What austerity does – and it’s not optional when it finally arrives – is tear away these disguises, these excuses. Many would rather die than accept its gift. It is perhaps the final choice life ever gives us.

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4 thoughts on “Austerity, and the Ways We Disguise What We Lack

    1. Andrew,

      Thank you!

      I agree! Of course I do think this kind of philosophical pursuit is essential if we are to skirt the usual pitfalls.

      While I’ve put direct emphasis on Art and Craft, Philosophy and education are equally central to any life with any quality in it! None of these are limited to the institutionalized channels we are accustomed to finding them in. They are all parts of what you have called civilization’s benefits and what I would argue transcends the bounds of any particular organization of societies, whether inside or outside of civilization.

      And so, further grist for the mill!

      Like

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