Longtime readers know that I have a fascination with the apocalyptic and the dystopic. A few years ago, when it looked like the global economy was about to plunge into the abyss, this blog was preoccupied with econopocalyptic themes. Well, Greece aside, the world hasn’t gone to hell, but rather to a severe version of heck, and I have learned to be more measured. Plus, it always does me good to read history for balance. Peace, good order, and prosperity is by no means the natural state of humankind, and to believe that it is can be to deny oneself the inner means to be resilient through a social and economic crisis.
That said, I’m trying to make sense of this disturbing post by The Anchoress, who observes ordinary middle class people where she lives on Long Island arming themselves and waiting for everything to fall apart. She writes:
In the past few weeks I’ve heard some surprising people admit they’ve been arming themselves and purchasing ammunition — one such discussion happened all around me at the hairdresser’s while I sat and listened. The stylist and his boss, they’re storing food and arming themselves. The chiropractor who popped in to say hello while taking his afternoon stroll said he is armed, too: “never in my life thought I’d have a gun in the house, now we have two.”
They’re arming, they say, because they “see it all going bad.” These same folks who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 were now asserting an idea the far-left had floated around before that election, but instead of “Bush is going to install martial law and suspend elections.” they’re saying it of Obama. “He paid off his friends and did nothing to create jobs and he wants it all to go bad, because then he can stay in power and dictate.”
Yeah, it seems as paranoid and nuts as it did when it was said about Bush, but this stuff is not being said in an extremist corner of the internet — it’s being said in a middle-class suburban salon in an area where 30% (or more) of the businesses are now shuttered, and houses are being foreclosed upon and then re-occupied seemingly overnight, creating what the stylist called “a neighborhood full of changes and no hope. Forget about new small businesses,” he said, gesturing across the street, where a small food shop’s “opening soon” banner had become sun-faded and worn, even as the door remained locked. “That guy is never going to open.”
There is an absolute collapse of faith in our systems and in the guy they helped put into office. These folks who were so quick to believe the press in ’08 and to believe in “hope and change” are now willfully believing the absolute worst. While I was getting my grey washed away I heard about local goings-on that I won’t write about here until I check it out for myself, because I don’t know what is real and what is paranoid fantasy or conspiracy theory. But the thing is, the anxiety is real, the doubt is real, as is the willingness to believe the absolute worst of all of our institutions — the press, the churches, the government. These folks are utterly convinced that the only thing that is going to be installed come next January is chaos and oppression. They’ll vote for Romney (“assuming there is an election and we’re allowed to vote and the vote is actually counted…”) simply because he’s not Obama, but they’re convinced that America’s best days are over.
“Soon, it’s going to be every man for himself, mark my words” said the salon owner. “I’m telling you, get a gun. Get a generator, now, because in six months you won’t be able to. Stock up.”
Read the whole thing. And lest you think this is a sentiment limited to suburban scaredy-pantses, note that the multibillionaire investor Jim Rogers has been saying more or less the same thing for the past few years. And he is similarly cynical about this presidential election:
TFT: Will the presidential election change the investing picture at all? And what are your thoughts about Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate?
JR: As far as I’m concerned, the election is irrelevant. One [candidate] happens to be from Boston and one from Chicago, and whoever wins, their friends are going to do well, but other than that America is not going to do well. There’s very little difference in any of these guys. None of them understands the problem. These are the guys that got us into trouble. You expect them to get us out?
I share that view of this election and economic policy. Wall Street always wins. As Simon Johnson puts it:
Some regulators have started to stand up to big banks on some issues, and this should be encouraged. But overall, Wall Street prevails on all the major issues, and most top officials at Treasury and the Federal Reserve are only too happy to cooperate.
Going back to the Anchoress’s post, I was most struck by this statement:
But the thing is, the anxiety is real, the doubt is real, as is the willingness to believe the absolute worst of all of our institutions — the press, the churches, the government.
I think this is true. But why would it be more true today than it was in, say, 1968, when the country was going through far more darkness and tumult?
What gives me pause here is reflecting on the history of Paris I’ve just finished. Over and over again, the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy didn’t see the revolt, the violence, coming. After all, everything was fine with their sort.