Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Clusterfuck Nation.

The exact origins and definition of the term "clusterfuck" are a matter of debate, but for the present purposes, I note the definition in Wiktionary [1] : "A particular kind of Catch-22, in which multiple complicated problems mutually interfere with each other's solution. The looser usage, referring to any chaotic situation, probably prevails."

This definition accords with James Howard Kunstler's usage, who writes a blog called "Clusterfuck nation", which describes a nation whose threads of ideology and infrastructure are codependently connected via the use of huge amounts of energy, car-dependence and hence oil. Thus in its addiction to the latter, it is ensured that the entire edifice must fail. Kunster is not a cheerful commentator, as in his book "The Long Emergency" and deftly played-out in his novel "World Made by Hand", where he invents a world which, if not downright apocalyptic, is entirely post-industrial, following a collapse of society and technology, and driven mainly by the toil of humans and other animals, and human ingenuity using hand-held devices, hence the title.

The aspect of codependency is common in the West. Kunstler is writing specifically about the United States, since he is an American, but in general, the problems and instabilities he alludes to are those of all of us, and I note with unsettling and compounding disquiet, that the news breaking on the British shores is not great just now and does little to promise better times to come. We are addicted to our lifestyles, which are comparatively comfortable and all forces conspire to enable a common addictive behaviour. No legitimate citizen should starve in the U.K. The welfare system is intended to take care of that, but with 49% of the British population on benefits of some kind (including pensions) and an economy that is starving of revenue, I wonder for how much longer that can be sustained.

When it was set-up in 1947, the welfare state was intended as a safety-net, not the way of life it has become for many. It has been argued that the system has contributed to social disintegration since broken families are "encouraged" by it, coupled with high ("real") unemployment, and this is a significant part of the rise in crime among sectors of the young [2]: a lack of a sense of belonging and purpose. The welfare system props-up the mess without fostering the means to get out of it. Personal debts and government debts are high. If the economy is on the verge of a recession, the service sector will begin to contract and since we have "lost" most of our manufacturing industry, it is service-jobs that keep the money in circulation. Less money in people's pockets will hit retail and entertainment industries hard, resulting in job-losses, more for the welfare system to pay out and less in the way of tax coming back into it. The escalation in the cost of basics like fuel and food will compound these difficulties. A real clusterfuck situation.

I do not envy the present government its many tasks. Some solutions might be simple but harshly unpopular. Real vote-losers; but the present issues are of far greater magnitude than mere party-politics. How to unify a nation in economic decline and which will call its debts in? Mr Brown has called for the British people to waste less food. Good common sense, one might say. When I was a kid, food wasn't wasted. We didn't starve but neither did families put half-dozen different ready-meals into a microwave because one child wanted this, another that and another sibling something else. You ate it or went without. Perhaps there are too many choices now and this has contributed to the confusion and freneticness that we seek to escape from by buying more material things.

Ironically, it is cheaper to cook from basic ingredients than any number of BOGOF's (buy-one-get-one-free deals), which are under threat, being blamed for much of the 4.1 million tonnes of food that is wasted in Britain annually - around £1 billion worth or £400 a year for an "average" family, whatever that is these days. I reckon about 3 people per household given these figures. There is a lack of awareness of basic skills such as growing food, cooking it, elementary nutrition, household repairs and so on that were not that long ago, common knowledge.

I'm not knocking anyone or anything, and I am certainly not as pessimistic as Kunstler (probably because I can't bear to think that way), but in an age of unparalleled university expansion in Britain, there is an absence of fundamental teaching about how to live and to live within one's means. When the credit cards are taken away, the housing market has fallen and the welfare bill is no longer affordable, what otherwise will happen to this population, on the whole of pretty decent people, left without the wisdom and practicality of generations? Mr Brown, apart from not wasting food, what should be our priorities in the world at hand?

[1] http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/clusterfuck
[2] "The welfare state is behind youth crime." By Simon Heffer: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/05/28/do2801.xml

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