A problem distilled by admin:
“Extend-and-pretend” — or radically finite reality denial — is an engine of catastrophe. It enables negative consequences to be accumulated through postponement . . .
Yet the accumulation is a slow one, so perhaps there is no reason to expect a singular catastrophe recognizable as such. We’re not talking about volcanoes and meteorites but large-scale economic, social, and political phenomena. In the context of such phenomena, catastrophe, in Eliot’s words, may be a slow whimper until we run out of breath rather than a cataclysmic bang with an instantaneous reckoning.
Catastrophe—finally hitting the wall of reality—may in the end be local, diffuse, an ongoing yet controllable thing. The politics of the last decade might be read not as “extend and pretend” but as “scatter the negative consequences.” Shifting the metaphor, we should not ask “When does the pressure finally explode?” but “How do governments (and their functionaries) release steam at the margins?” Of course, we can also ask, “Where does the steam escape on its own, regardless of planned release?” The Cathedral is not stupid; perhaps it doesn’t let negative consequences accumulate so much as cook the books, fudge the ledgers, and move money between accounts (shifting metaphors again). State and federal policy as an endless series of maneuvers designed to keep the Good Ship Society afloat indefinitely, water flooding in through a thousand small holes but pumped out again through a thousand more poked by the shipbuilders.
Catastrophe is thus framed as a local event. Lehman Brothers goes bankrupt, the Fed prints more money. Another Detroit neighborhood loses electric power, another D.C. neighborhood gentrifies thanks to federal salaries. Or, in the social realm, a white Bosnian is killed in Ferguson, but now black Africans are “Christian terrorists.”
None of this is to say that a game of “scatter the negative consequences” can go on indefinitely, despite what its planners might think, anymore than a game of “extend and pretend” can go on indefinitely. But it is to say that the endgame exists, by design, on a much longer time scale than any of us realize.
Funny future scenario:
Sometime near the year 2114. Third world immigration has flooded first world city centers across North America and Europe. Some cities are 70+% NAM. The welfare state’s tipping point has finally been reached; austerity policies are beginning to roll back welfare programs at unprecedented rates to avoid state and federal insolvency. Widespread protests. Greece on a massive scale. At the same time, global warming has finally happened, and coastal cities are beginning to lose neighborhoods. Not a big deal for the rich whites and East Asians, but not all coastal cities are Malibu. Every month, more and more poor NAMs find themselves untethered and homeless, both within first world countries but, more devastatingly, in third world shitholes.
Those NAMs who have found themselves ensconced (though not assimilated) in Western countries start getting panicked phone calls from their cousins and uncles and grandmothers. “We coming to you for staying. No more home here. Just water.”
Now, these Western NAM immigrants—fourth, fifth generation—aren’t stupid. They know that austerity is on the horizon. If they want to stop those welfare rollbacks, the worst thing that could happen is a massive influx of more people putting themselves on the government payrolls. This is not ten thousand here or ten thousand there. We’re talking millions of displaced persons flooding into barely-solvent jurisdictions every month. The local immigrants know this great movement of peoples is the final nail on the coffin of their state handouts and privileges. Each family accepts a few of their own personal relatives moving in but vehemently opposes more distant relations or neighbors’ families jumping onto this already-sinking life raft.
Anti-refugee groups form, manned entirely by indigenous immigrant NAMs. Fourth generation welfare-addicted citizens protesting the daily arrival of flooded-out illiterate halal peddlers. A caramel-coated Tea Party is regenerated. The image of Caesar Chavez is evoked as the indigenous defenders of dying welfare programs take to the deserts to defend the borders of their Western golden geese.
As Stephen King once said: “It always comes round to the same place again.”