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.