Monday, November 16, 2009

Collapse...and the possibility of change

Have been mulling over the concept of Collapse these past few days. Not, let us hope, as a precursor to my own. I am curious, though, about how and when Collapse is the necessary precondition for the Change We Need.

Was brunching and chatting with Dan D on Sunday about BobOnARoll's review of the movie 2012, and it occurred to both of us how that silly disaster film functions as a sort of real-world metaphor for the implosion, collapse, catastrophe, call-it-what-you-will circumstances we face. The thin crust of the earth upon which all life depends begins to split apart and liquefy, north is south, up is down, and a select few float safely away, encased in a protective ark, above it all. Yep, that's what it feels like to me some days. But, gratefully, not on most days.

The idea of a 'necessary collapse' comes to mind as I'm reading Jonathan Alter's book on FDR's First 100 Days. Alter suggests that, in 1933, during the week leading up to the Inauguration, the near-collapse of the banking system played directly into FDR's ambitious plans for reform. And that, rather than cooperate with Hoover's team to avert collapse during that critical week, he demurred in part for dramatic effect and to gain leverage for the changes he thought we needed. Was he right? Did we need bank holidays and failures to achieve reform and recovery?

Luckily, we are not waiting for the collapse of the health care system in order to enact needed changes----though the half-measures now in play, which do not include a public option or other serious efforts to reduce costs, will lead to Collapse if not revisited in the next 5-10 years.

Maybe we needed to let more banks, large companies, and financial institutions collapse in order to get the changes we need in financial and insurance regulation and outmoded capital intensive industries. BobOnARoll was in favor of letting GM go down the drain. And Citibank, too.

What further changes in the ecosystem do we need to experience in order to ratify climate treaties, reduce emissions, and end deforestation? Relocation of millions of people from coastal areas threatened by rising seas? The collapse of the electric grid under the strain of 30+ consecutive 100-degree days in Manhattan? The final retreat of the snows of Kilimanjaro?

I do not root for disaster but my cynicism too often kicks into gear when I see inaction, based on fear or ignorance. Do we need Michael Rennie to return in his spaceship, bring the earth to a standstill, and threaten us all with incineration in order to get serious solutions to our intractable challenges?


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