We see a great deal of resentment building in both our societies. "Vote the bums out!" is ringing loud and clear and far and wide, shouted loudest by people who conveniently forget they voted in the bums in the first place. Look at the Rob Ford mania in Toronto. The man really is a lot like Sarah Palin: proudly uncultured, he advocates simple solutions to complex problems.
There is a real allure to this approach. Most of us recognize on some level that things are rapidly complexifying beyond the average Joe and Jill's ability to deal with, or even assimilate. I'm tempted to say that the global economic system is nearing maximum complexity: even the Wall Street types appear to have no real idea what the hell is going on at this point.
And simplifying life is a noble and necessary goal on many levels, not least because I firmly believe the present way of life is unsustainable. We can argue Peak Oil if you want--the "drill, baby, drill!" folks certainly do. We can argue climate change/anthropogenic global warming (and most, if not all, the same people will argue right back). Or we can find common ground in the notion that current debt levels, both personal and governmental, are, if not beyond repair, very quickly getting that way.
These are not problems. These are predicaments.
The difference is critical, especially since the vast majority of people insist on viewing each issue as a problem that simply needs solving. Or, depending on the amount of tea in your blood, needs solving simply. I am deeply indebted to John Michael Greer for this essay explaining why a problem is not a predicament, but a predicament is a real problem.
Simply put: problems can be solved. Predicaments have no solution, by definition. They can only be responded to, adapted to, and coped with.
The Tea Partiers at least recognize (some of) the issues. Given humanity's astonishing ability to sleepwalk right into disaster, that is actually a real point in their favour. But they see each predicament as a problem, and their proposed "solutions" will invariably compound the trouble. Such is the nature of predicaments.
For an example, look to the clever backronym somebody devised for "tea": Taxed Enough Already. From a Canadian or European perspective, of course, the mere notion that anybody in the United States of America could possibly consider themselves overtaxed is preposterous.
(My e-friend Rocketstar makes an excellent point here: that the Republicans are making a concerted effort to block the repeal of Bush's tax cuts for the rich. The highest tax rate in the United States is currently 36% and they're fighting like mad not to have it rise to 39%. Under the patron saint of Tea Parties--Ronald "The government is not the solution, government is the problem!" Reagan, that rate was...wait for it...50%.)
You see this playing out all over the U.S, as budget impasses stalemate state after state. Essential services are on the chopping block, because the only alternative--raising taxes--is literally unthinkable.
Here we see people responding to a supposed problem by continuing the behavior that first caused the problem, then let it develop into a predicament. This is so deeply ingrained in human nature as to be near universal. Indeed, our primate cousins are susceptible to the same sort of thinking. Google "monkey trap" if you don't believe me.
We're in a giant monkey trap of our own devising, and it's long past time we recognized the trap for what it is.
I don't have any answers. Only a plea that we start asking the right questions.
As Catelli notes:
...those of us advocating (and yes I include myself) for action on the environmental front really want others to do the acting. I'll replace my light-bulbs, but I still want my house and car. We are afraid of the coming enviro-apocalypse, but we don't rationally do anything about it. We leave it for others. I really do not want to change the way I live. I don't, I like my life the way it is. Do you? Call me hypocritical, but there it is. (I have a constant sense of dread that change will find me, and I will not like it.)
I include myself, too. I think most people would. Enviro-prophets like Al Gore are not shining role models for sustainable living. I do like the way I live. I've done little things and have plans for larger things down the road (our goal is to live self-sustainably in retirement, or as close to it as we can manage). But that's later. If I was truly serious, I'd have done something ten years ago.
Some of the Tea Partiers--it goes without saying, the young, healthy ones--want to abolish Medicare. Like that's going to happen.
Since so few of us are willing to act on our own, we need some sort of authority to act for us. I recognize here I'm treading on a tightrope. It's a very fine line between "act for us" and eco-fascism. I wish to state categorically that I am appalled at the PSA recently put out in Britain by the environmental group 10:10. Warning: this video is not for the squeamish.
The Tea Partiers would, of course, disagree. They believe that they are their own authorities. Or that God is their authority...which is much the same thing: after all, God so rarely stops these people from doing what they feel they must.
They can disagree all they wish, but the predicament will keep staring them in the face.
Problems can be individually solved. Predicaments require collective effort and will to adapt to.
The debt predicament, for example, is going to require a monetary rethink on a planetary scale. Money is rapidly outliving its usefulness. It is increasingly being exposed as imaginary: the naked green emperor. As expected, the standard response to this predicament is to print more money and create more debt. Which is quite obviously insane. But the alternative is another unthinkable. How can you even imagine living without money when it practically defines many people's existences?
In the meantime, we have the Palin/Ford brigade trying to pretend complex predicaments are simple problems. It doesn't bode well. Should this new party called Tea succeed in gaining power in the United States, as I rather suspect they will, they will soon find they don't have the answers they thought they did. And if you think things are disturbing now, wait until that realization takes hold!