Monday, September 15, 2008

Are our [current] values and ideas legitimate?

James Howard Kunstler
September 15, 2008
A Ripe Moment

...I wish I knew whether this extravaganza of ruin might settle the question as to whether America goes into hyperinflation or implacable deflation, but the net effect is that money is leaving the system in big gobs. And if not money per se, then the idea of money as represented in certificates, contracts, counter-party positions, and gentlemen's agreements. This is the day that America finds itself a much poorer nation. The capital we thought was there, is gone.

A lot of it was actually translated over the years into Hamptons villas, Gulfstream jets, and other playthings that will now go up on Ebay or some equivalent as we turn into Yard Sale Nation in a general liquidation of remaining assets. Of course, the trouble in a situation like this, where absolutely everybody is trying to pawn off assets, is that there are very few buyers on the scene, so the prices of all these things go down down down. Everything is for sale and nobody has any money.

This was essentially the state of things in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the only escape from that turned out to be the mobilization for war. And in the aftermath of that terrible war, we were the only industrial nation that hadn't been bombed to rubble. What's more, we had a very handsome supply of industrial world's primary resource, oil, at our disposal. So we spent the next thirty years making oodles of things and selling them to people in other lands (lending them the money to buy), until these nations were back on their own feet and solvent. And after 1975, the industrial club picked up a bunch of new members and they all began to clean our clock.

So, as our industrial base waned, and our factories got old and brittle, and our labor force was steeply under-bid by cheaper labor forces, we embarked on a quest for "the new economy." This was represented in successive turns as the information economy, the consumer economy, the high-tech economy, et cetera. They were all ruses, aimed at concealing the truth -- which was that we had become a society no longer producing things of value, no longer generating real wealth. The final act of this farce has been the so-called "financial industry."

That "industry" turned out to be most earnestly devoted to the production of complex swindles. They were so finely engineered that it took twenty years for the swindles to stand revealed, and they were cleverly hitched to the primary thing that the American public vested its identity in: house-and-home. Thus, much of the public finds itself in very real danger of becoming homeless and broke.

We generally recognize that some wicked-massive transfer of wealth occurred in the process of the mortgage fiasco, but it remains to be seen whether any residue of this wealth can actually be retained, as represented by currencies, contracts, and supposed securities. The wholesale settling of debt now underway may leave an awful lot of this stuff with no value.

We should be frightened by the political implications of this Great Implosion of presumed wealth. Some group of somebodies will have to clean up this mess. Moving toward a major election, it is hard to imagine the American people giving the clean-up task to the very group that created the mess -- no matter how many cute little faces Sarah Palin can make on TV. Both parties have so far managed to ignore the gathering crisis of banking and money, but they can't ignore the sequoia trees crashing down around their ankles and shaking the earth they stand on.

At issue now will be the question of legitimacy in all its human social dimensions. Is our money legitimate? Is the authority of our elected officials legitimate? Are our values and ideas legitimate? These are the things that will determine what kind of future we find ourselves in...

I think it should be clear to any reasonably well-informed person that the values and ideas in chereidi communities are not in fact legitimate - they are the wrong track on steroids. Even if you discount the horrendous leadership of the chereidiban concerning matters of halacha and corruption, the attitudes they are forcing onto our youth about employment and finances have no future but bankruptcy and hunger for entire communities - that should be obvious. Whoever thought selling their wives into slavery and sending their children off to be raised by strangers so they could sit around all day contributing nothing toward their fiscal responsibilities to their families and communities will find out the hard way that this bizarre unnatural and unbiblical paradigm cannot function in the real world.

And then what? The young men have no job prospects, don't know any arts, crafts, or skills, and many can hardly speak English properly. What will they do when their wife has one too many maternity leaves and is "laid off" permanently? What will they do when one of the kids gets sick, or the furnace breaks down, or the electric and heating oil bills shoot through the roof? What then?

In the past, the chereidi have relied on charity, but as more and more people fall into need and less and less people are inclined to give to charity, how is that going to work? How many more tuition hikes can families take? Will more scams, frauds, and ponzi schemes keep the community afloat? How many more prison sentences will it take to show the "gedolim" that their mafia-style governance is leading us to ruin? How many more people's lives ruined? How many more youth and their families will walk away before the "gedolim" repent of their sins? How many more neshamas need to be destroyed by poverty and hypocrisy in our communities before things change?

Are our current values and ideas legitimate? No, they aren't. They're fiction - no, worse, they're fantasy. We have two choices. We can return to solid historical values of our grandparents and great-grandparents, who worked hard and built both this nation and our communities. Or, we can continue in this something-for-nothing delusion that money will fall from the sky for us that we have made up for ourselves and end up with exactly that - nothing. Either we will teach our sons the arts, crafts, skills and trades that our community needs to survive, or we will teach our sons to steal, as pirkei avot notes.

So far, we've been teaching them to steal. Shame on us. This is what we will have to stand in front of Hashem and try and explain - how we taught an entire generation of young men that honest labour is beneath them, that supporting their wives and children is beneath them, that honesty and uprightness in order to protect Hashem's good name is beneath them.

Well, class, good luck with that.

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