Here is my latest article for the Southeast Voice here in Ireland.
In Interesting Times, what makes sense for Ireland?
Amazing isn’t it, how fast things are happening? In my previous article, the big news was the beginning of a new Cold War, a major historical event. Today, only two weeks later, that news has been eclipsed by the collapse of Wall Street giants, pillars of the American financial system for more than a century. This is another historical event, to be compared to the 1929 crash, which led to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Things get more and more ‘interesting’ as each day goes by, and this is only a foretaste of bigger problems in store for all of us.
Our whole industrial, energy-intensive way of life is simply unsustainable. Ever since since the Industrial Revolution (c. 1800), we’ve been consuming, destroying, and wasting resources at an ever-faster rate. After a mere two centuries we are already running into terminal global resource scarcities. Energy and food price rises, and our collapsing economies, are indicators of this – they are how ‘the market’ responds to such scarcities. Geopolitical conflicts – the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, the emerging conflict between the US and Russia – are also indicators. They show how ‘great powers’ respond to such scarcities. They are scrambling to secure control over the resources that remain, like hungry children fighting over the last scraps of food on the table.
Famine and genocide in the Global South are also indicators. That is how imperialism responds to such scarcities. Genocide is being imposed on Africa for the same reason genocide was imposed on the natives of North America and Australia in past centuries – so that the resources and land can be stolen and incorporated into the imperialist economies of the invaders. Kissinger and other American ‘policy gurus’ have spelled this out clearly – that achieving massive global depopulation is a matter of ‘national security’ – to ensure cheap and unimpeded access to remaining resources.
It is important to understand that rising population itself is not the reason we are running out of resources. If we began managing resources wisely – using them for actual human needs instead of devoting them to the industrialist profit machine – we could feed everyone on the planet. Of course populations levels do need to stabilize, and this becomes easier to achieve when societies and economies are themselves stabilized in relation to available resources. Countries with higher levels of stability and prosperity also tend to have lower birthrates.
The reason we are running out of resources is that our profit-and-growth based economic system cannot continue without consuming resources ever-more rapidly. The paradigm of economic growth is a kind of Sorcerer’s Apprentice: it is a machine that has been unleashed, which was useful to us for a while, and now it is running out of control, destroying all around it. Humanity has a choice: change the system, or continue into the abyss.
Unfortunately, it is not humanity that is making the choice. The choice is being made by wealthy elites who themselves are isolated from the suffering, and who are fully committed to keeping the machine going. Arranging wars and genocides have been standard procedure for these folks through the centuries, as they’ve expanded their territories and fought over territories. Today, as the global economy is imploding, all stops are being pulled out to maintain the elite’s banking system, the heart of the machine. This is the only priority. The consequences for humanity are not important. If food and fuel become unaffordable, and if money becomes worthless, so be it. The market will decide who starves and freezes. The elites who control the market will simply look for new growth opportunities in depopulated territories.
How does Brian Cowan respond to all this? He has no concept of anything other than the machine. He says we can only watch and see what the machine decides to do, and prepare ourselves to tighten our belts, accepting as inevitable whatever suffering the market imposes on us. Mr Cowan is of course not unique. No leader in any ‘advanced’ nation has any concept other than the machine. Only in the Global South, as in Venezuela, do we see leadership that is capable of thinking beyond the machine, and able to give economic priority to human needs and sensible development.
We cannot expect our leaders to change, to think outside the machine. They are part of the machine. Their profession is about catering to those who run the machine, and obtaining funding and support from them by proving they can make nice speeches and get elected – putting them in a position to run the country according to the dictates of the machine. Those who don’t play the game this way can’t get elected. The media can ignore them, or make them look foolish, and in the end voters feel compelled to vote for the ‘lesser of the major evils’, lest the bigger evil get in. The mainstream media is of course the subservient propaganda arm of the machine, and any questioning of the inherent virtues of growth is strictly taboo.
Given this scenario, what makes sense for us in Ireland? There are two parts to this question. First, is the question of policies – what kind of policies, or program, would be in the best interests of the Irish people? Second is the question of means – how could such a program ever be adopted and implemented?
As regards policy, the only course that makes sense for Ireland is disengagement from the machine, from the global market. Perhaps the machine has been good to us in the past, but what has it done for us lately? While inward investment moves on to cheaper labor areas, we are left with debt and a collapsing economy. For everyone everywhere, de-globalization, disengagement from the global market, is what makes sense in times of resource crisis. The role of the global market is to drive down the source price of commodities everywhere, deliver most of the profits to the cartels that dominate global distribution, and force consumers everywhere to pay markups for every step along the distribution chain.
When we attach our economy to the global market we find ourselves squeezed between two forces – the market value of our exports, and the market price of our imports. Whether we come out ahead or behind in this exchange is not under our control as a nation. We are basing our prosperity on what amounts to a casino operation, and we have had a few good years on a winning streak. But those days are over and continued participation in the casino is driving our national economic decline. The recent events in Wall Street make it perfectly clear that this is not going to turn around. The knock-on effects are only beginning to ripple out, as Europe’s central banks rush to prop up the dollar, lest the whole casino come tumbling down.
The way to disengage from the global machine is to begin moving toward national self-sufficiency. This does not mean to stop trading with others, but it means doing so selectively, value for value, and not depending on trade primarily for economic activity. It means taking stock of our resources, not as commodities on the global market, but as the means of our own ongoing sustenance. It means re-building closer links between Irish producers and Irish consumers, and getting rid of the distribution cartels that rob our farmers and gouge us in the supermarket. It means replacing our financial system and the basis of our currency, as the current systems are designed to keep us in debt. And none of this can be begin until we regain our national sovereignty by leaving the EU and abandoning the Euro. The EU, in the final analysis, is simply a conspiracy to compel all of Europe to stay linked to the machine, whether they like it or not.
Of course I’ve only hinted at what it means to disengage from the machine. In fact this would involve a thorough transformation of society and of economic activity. There is a very interesting DVD documentary, taking a close look at a country that went through such a transformation. The DVD (findable on Google) is called How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba suddenly found itself with both its markets and its suppliers cut off. It’s oil imports dropped drastically, it had virtually no foreign credit, and the US was imposing a trade boycott. Cuba was forced by external circumstances to learn how to become self-sufficient.
The DVD tells the story of how Cuba adapted, and it’s a very inspiring story. They were forced to adopt organic agriculture, and to put in small gardens everywhere, because they couldn’t afford fertilizers and pesticides, nor diesel for the tractors. There were a few very difficult years, with food rationing and inadequate diets. But eventually they restored their soil, learned the new techniques, and came out the other side better than ever, in terms of their food supply. Farmers, even the smaller ones, are now among the most prosperous members of society, and everyone is eating a wider variety of more healthy foods. Cuba does have some state-run farms, but the most productive and successful farm sector are the small independent operators, typically producing for nearby consumers.
The government of Cuba did all it could to support people in adjusting to the sudden change in circumstances, but the transition never could have happened without the creativity and grassroots efforts of people in their communities. People planted ad hoc gardens wherever there were vacant lots, and on their patios. Some farmers returned to using oxen and horses. Farmer’s markets sprung up everywhere, and even urban areas were producing a good portion of their own agricultural needs.
Cuba was forced to disengage from the machine all at once, under the most difficult circumstances. And she succeeded. Ireland, if she had the national will, could undertake disengagement in a more orderly and less traumatic manner. In these articles I’ve been trying to raise the alarm, that disengagement is necessary, even though things still seem like they’re going on more or less as usual. The seismic shifts are happening, but it takes time for the tsunami to build up and reach our shores with its full force. We would be much better off doing something now, than waiting for the onslaught.
The next article will delve into the question of means – how could Ireland somehow find the national will to move toward disengagement, and begin to manage its own destiny sensibly? Given that our major political parties, and media, can only think inside the machine, what hope is there for shifting the national will in a radically different direction?
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