Historically, All The Time

I have to tell you, right off the bat, that I am going to use a philosophical term the definition of which is not so much evolving as it is emerging toward a meaning. As such, the term has no ‘official’ meaning and can be used to mean just about anything the wordsmith chooses.

This freedom from meaning is pretty heady stuff. It is even more so when, as is the case here, the wordsmith doesn’t define the term in any specific way, allowing it to be defined solely by the context of the essay that contains it.

This refusal to acknowledge that words actually mean something is delightful. I now understand why Karl Rowe and Fox News love and pursue this policy with such single minded devotion.

But, I digress before I even begin.

Consider, for the moment, the notion of the ‘permanent present.’

Whatever else the permanent present may be it is also a moment in time that does not end. As such, it offers the nihilist plenty of political cover to justify the status quo, even in the face of looming and predictable disaster. More importantly, it allows those who do not consider themselves nihilists to function as such, all the while spouting nonsense about their plans for the future.

The permanent present pulls off this last trick by aligning itself with a general lack of imagination within a given society’s political and economic elites. Put another way, when 1) the MOFOS in charge are confronted with eminent change in the basic structure of the economy and the demography of their society and 2) when intelligent responses to that change are incompatible with a smooth segue from the old to the new and 3) when the elites lack the imagination to “see the other side” of the impending disconnect, the elites respond by re-enforcing the status quo, defending it at all costs. When this happens society becomes stuck in the permanent present.

If you look back, you can see, in hindsight, this happening, historically, all the time. All us good Southerners will recognize immediately that the run up to the War Between the States was just such a moment of permanent presence. The political elites in the South were ‘all in’ on the slave economy and could not imagine what the other side looked like. They knew as well as anyone, perhaps far better, that the slave economy could not continue. It was no longer a viable business model and came with a host of destructive social and political byproducts as well.

The Southern oligarchs who ran everything knew the entire socio-economic structure did not work and was headed for collapse but they could not envision what was to replace it. At least, they could not see what was to replace it without instituting massive and unacceptable social and political upheaval.

So, the Southern elites did what unimaginative elites always do, they doubled down on a losing hand. They went all in on obvious nonsense in an insane effort to save their ‘way of life.’ It did not work out well.

The same can be said for the political elites throughout Europe in the run up to the “Great War,” WWI. The great nationalist movements, the social upheaval of capitalist economies, the separation of interest between capital and labor, new rich and aristocracy and the general and pervasive stratification of society was outside the comprehension of the MOFOS in charge. Naturally, these elites decided to start a world war and slaughter unknown millions and tens of millions. I suppose they thought this would relieve the pressure.

Rather than doing so, the war they unleashed raged for half a decade, took a generation off and fired back up a decade and a half later. The second half of this world war, commonly called WWII, was merely a sequel to the first. It was required in order to slaughter another hundred million or so and resolve some of the loose ends not securely tied up after the initial iteration.

History is replete with examples of political elites doing stupid stuff when they knew better but simply could not help themselves. They could not help themselves because they were stuck in the permanent present and unable to envision what waited for them on the other side of the change that was coming. And, make no mistake, the change always comes. It comes whether we decide to slaughter hundreds of millions first or not. It is always still coming.

This has important implications for us right now.

While I am no fan of either the current President or his political party, he has one great advantage as a leader over his principal opponent. President Obama and a significant minority within his party are not stuck in the permanent present. That cannot be said for the Republican Party or any of its leaders.

Having made this observation it is not my contention that Mr. Romney and other members of his party do not understand they are on the ‘wrong side of history,’ as we used to say in the 60s. I feel certain they do. Unfortunately, the Faustian deal Reagan made to ally the country club Republicans with the Christian, ‘I need certainty’ Republicans. That stupendous political design flaw combined with the inability of any Republican to face up to the impending hydrocarbon ‘cliff’ (if I may borrow and paraphrase a hysterical image from the Wall Street plutocrats) we confront, means no significant leader within the Republican Party can see the other side or speak of it, in the event he can see across the abyss.

It is not just the Republicans. The preponderance of Democrats cannot see the other side. As a result, while the Earth quite literally burned, our government fiddled for at least the past two decades.

President Obama will occasionally pay lip service to the major problems confronting us. Granted, he never does much about them. His lack of action results from either 1) his inability to overcome the dead weight of the permanent present or 2) because he really isn’t much of a leader or 3) because he is all about soaring rhetoric and he really doesn’t care or 4) some combination of all three. So what, he at least recognizes and publicly acknowledges that, as a society, we have to move past the hydrocarbon economic and socio-political system or we will fall off the hydrocarbon cliff.

The rest of our political elites, particularly in the Republican Party, are busy doubling down on a lousy, stupid bet. They are saying we need less environmental regulation so we can get on about the business of fracking. We need to “drill, baby, drill” and smash the substrata of the Earth, pressurize the substrata so that more and dirtier hydrocarbons can be extracted to “burn, baby, burn.”

Viewed globally, the hydrocarbon-based economy and socio-political superstructure it supports is a busted business model. Absolutely everybody knows it. Unfortunately, the economic and political elites cannot see how we get to the other side without massive disruptions and dislocations, both political and economic dislocations. The elites suspect the same set of MOFOS may not have all the money and all the power on the other side of this change and that is paralyzing.

It is sad. We all know what the problem is. We even all understand what the solution is. We simply lack the political will to willingly and intelligently migrate from here to there. This is particularly pathetic as we all know the change is coming. The hydrocarbon cliff is out there and, like lemmings to the sea, we are going to charge over it unless we change directions. Maybe this time we’ll kill billions instead of hundreds of millions, all in the service of the permanent present.

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Mike Copeland

Mike Copeland

I am old enough to know better. I have a B. A. from Birmingham Southern College and a Master's in City Planning from Georgia Tech. I have worked in SC State government for over a decade leaving as the Deputy Executive Director of the State Budget and Control Board, the state's administrative agency. I have owned the Fontaine Company since 1984 and am the managing member of viscerality.com.llc a management, marketing and consulting company.

I am the author of several novels, some of which you may buy and read if you are of a mind to do so.