For quite some time now, utterances from the elite classes of the industrial world have had a sidelong relationship at best to the reality that most of us inhabit. Recent weeks have seen the surreal quality of official pronouncements slam into overdrive, however. I first noted some time ago that the most difficult job in the world these days must be writing satire for online parody websites such as The Onion and The Babylon Bee; the struggle to come up with stories more absurd than the latest official pronouncements has got to be appallingly stressful.
At this point, though, I’m sorry to say the Onion and the Bee have been left behind in the dust. Here in the United States, we’ve got Nancy Pelosi insisting with a straight face that expanding federal expenditures without raising taxes doesn’t increase the federal deficit. Her argument is that the gargantuan spending bills the Biden administration is trying to push through, loaded as they are with trillions of dollars of handouts, will increase incomes and spending so much that tax receipts will exceed the expenditures. It’s a familiar argument for those with long memories, as it was made by the Republicans under Reagan. (Do you remember the Laffer Curve? I do.)
Democrats in those days still occasionally had the brains the gods gave geese, and pointed out the absurdity in that claim. They were right, too, as the exploding deficits of the Reagan years demonstrated all too well. Yet Pelosi, who got into politics during the years when that very topic was a hot issue, is busy channeling Ronald Reagan without the least awareness of that fact, and spouting a variety of economic malarkey that most eight-year-olds would find embarrassingly childish. It’s the kind of over-the-top absurdity that makes professional satirists stare in horror at the TV screen and gulp down that third martini.
Ah, but Europe has outdone Pelosi in the absurdity sweepstakes. In response to the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian war, pundits and politicians across Europe suddenly got around to noticing that most European nations are so weak in military terms that any good-sized country in Africa could invade and conquer a couple of them any time it had a mind to. In particular, a great many people noticed that Germany has a tiny, underfunded excuse for an army, navy, and air force. Now of course there are very good reasons why Germany is in this condition, stretching back well beyond the century of European history that ended so cataclysmically in 1945, and there are equally good reasons why Germany should be kept in that condition as long as possible. Fans of American comedic songsmith Tom Lehrer will doubtless think of certain lines:
“Once all the Germans were warlike and mean,
but that couldn’t happen again.
We taught them a lesson in nineteen-eighteen,
and they’ve hardly bothered us since then!”
Such cold considerations went out the window once Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border. German Chancellor Scholz, to enthusiastic cheering from other European capitals, has announced a colossal new military budget that will give Germany an army larger than Russia’s, the third largest in the world, with naval and air forces to match. Why Germany needs so huge a military, given that in theory it will only fight side by side with the armies of all its European allies, is an interesting question. The logical answer should not exactly comfort Germany’s neighbors, several of which own large chunks of territory that used to be German. Yet here we have a Polish politician being quoted as saying, “I’m not afraid of a strong Germany. I’m afraid of a weak Germany.” I hope he doesn’t end up learning the downside of that attitude the hard way, as so many of his ancestors did over the last half millennium or so.
So we’ve got a leading American politician insisting that spending even more money the government doesn’t have won’t add to the federal deficit, and we’ve got leading European politicians grinning vacuously as the most economically and strategically powerful state in Europe launches a campaign of breakneck rearmament, the way Kaiser Wilhelm II did at the turn of the last century and a funny little man with a toothbrush mustache did in 1933. It’s impressive, in a bleak sort of way. For several years now I’ve been writing about the collapse in basic reality-testing capacity on the part of the privileged classes in the industrial world. I’m beginning to wonder if the privileged classes have been reading my essays and saying, “You think that’s blank-eyed, slack-jawed, foam-flecked delusion? Hold my beer.”
Meanwhile, as we wait to see just how soon the United States forces itself into the unenviable choice between hyperinflation and debt default, and just how soon the nations of Europe decide to make my recent essay on the next European war a hideous reality, what is to be done? Sure, there are plenty of rational responses, and I’ve talked about them here and in my books at quite some length. Still, there are times when the best response to a frankly crazy society is to go even crazier, and leap in a single mighty bound to an alternative perspective giddy enough to make the whole steaming, fetid mess make some kind of sense. I think this is one of those times.
No, we’re not going to talk about the Discordians again. Granted, I’m a properly ordained Chaplin (as in Charlie) in the Legion of Dynamic Discord—my noseprint has been filed with the California State Bureau of Furniture and Bedding!—and the head of a Discordian cabal so omnipotent and elusive that its very existence is a secret from most of its members. (You’re probably a high-ranking initiate already, you just don’t know it yet.) Granted, I’ve also written at quite some length about Discordianism already, noting among other things that the Discordians were responsible for the most profound and effective critique of Hegel yet proposed. No doubt I’ll return to Discordian themes in good time, for that matter.
But there are times when even the drug-soaked ravings of a bunch of giddy California beatniks just aren’t adequate to deal with the gibbering lunacy of allegedly sane and rational people pursuing allegedly sane and rational policies that are leading the world straight toward disaster. So set aside the love beads and the battered volumes of Robert Anton Wilson, break out the cheap bourbon and the blurry zines festooned with a smiling clip-art face smoking a pipe—
Yeeeee-HAAAAW! Yessiree, “Bob,” we’re gonna talk about SLACK!!!
Those of my readers who know their way around the weirder crawlspaces of the American imagination know already that what we’re discussing is the Church of the SubGenius. Like the Discordian movement, it exists somewhere on the continuum that unites serious cultural and philosophical critique with absurdist put-on. The difference between Discordianism and the SubGenius phenomenon is very precisely that between mellow mid-twentieth century California and raucous late twentieth century Texas, which is where the Church of the SubGenius was born.
I’m not a member of the Church of the SubGenius, much less one of the exalted Slack Masters. My Third Nostril is not yet open, for I have not contemplated the One True Pipe while smoking a certain mysterious Himalayan herb that grows only on beds of pure yeti dung. No doubt true SubGenii will look down on my comments here as utterances of some dreary middle-aged Discordian heretic (all Discordians are heretics) who’s probably a Pink Boy anyway. With that in mind, I’m not going to hold forth about the alien space god JHVH-1, the Yacatizma (or for that matter the Yacatisma), the Stark Fist of Removal, the Nazi Aluminum Hell Creatures from Inside the Hollow Earth, or any of the other oddities that inhabit the febrile imaginal cosmos of the Church of the Sub-Genius. No, we’re going to focus our discussion here on SLACK!!!
Slack is what the SubGenius hopes to attain through his faith in “Bob.” Slack is to the SubGenius what salvation is to the Christian, what nirvana is to the Buddhist, and what sprouting half a dozen writhing tentacles while screaming “Iâ! Iâ!” through lips that are no longer human! is to the devout worshipper of Cthulhu. What is slack? Ask a bona fide Slack Master that and he’ll whack you over the head with his pipe, but we’ve already settled that I’m not a bona fide Slack Master. So I’m going to interpret it through my own mildly deranged lights, and reveal that it actually makes an absurd amount of economic and ecological sense.
Slack is what you’re being asked for when somebody says, “Hey, cut me some slack, okay?” Slack is what slackers hope to achieve by slacking off. If you’ve ever helped out aboard a sailboat or done anything else involving lots of rope—er, let’s all just pretend that nobody noticed the possibilities for off-color jokes here, shall we?—you already know that slack is the opposite of tension. Slack is wiggle room. Slack is the opportunity to stretch and take a deep breath. Slack is also room to maneuver. Slack is the condition in which you’re not going all out all the time, so you have the chance to kick back and enjoy life for a bit, or get up to trouble if that’s your thing, or extract yourself from an awkward situation. We can get painfully serious for a moment here by saying that slack is resilience.
That means, in turn, that slack is the opposite of efficiency. I created quite a little tempest in a teapot some years back on my old blog, The Archdruid Report, when I pointed out the resilience is the opposite of efficiency. Quite a flurry of people popped up to insist that no, no, it just ain’t so—but they were quite wrong. Consider a bridge. If you make it in the most efficient possible way, using as little steel and concrete as you can get away with and still support the expected load, it’s not going to be resilient, and someday when really heavy traffic hits at the same time as a bad windstorm, down it will go. If you want your bridge to endure, you have to be inefficient, and put a lot more steel and concrete in it than you think you need. That is to say, you have to be sure that it has sufficient slack built into it.
A lot of the people who insisted that efficiency and resilience can’t be opposites didn’t get as far as this kind of analysis, to be sure. They were responding to words like “efficient” and “resilient” as though they were simply synonyms for “good,” or maybe “doubleplusgood,” and the logic of Newspeak takes it from there: good cannot be ungood! (It’s this sort of thinking that makes it impossible for so many people to grasp the necessity of tradeoffs.) Yet there are some smart souls who point out that being efficient in doing things means you have a lot more free time and a lot more available resources to make trouble with. They’re quite right, but they’re actually proving my point without realizing it.
You can use efficiencies in some places to increase the availability of slack in others. If you learn how to wash dishes efficiently, you can zip through a sink of dishes in a few minutes and go on to sprawl on the couch and put your feet up, while the inefficient dishwasher is still fussing with pots and pans. Your total supply of slack hasn’t changed—you’ve just concentrated more of the slacklessness in your life in a smaller amount of time, and so you’ve been able to stretch out the time in which you can enjoy slack.
In the same way, if you like to eat beans, you can annoy the bejesus out of Bloomberg, buy them in bulk, and cook them up in batches in a slow cooker—the beans, of course, not Bloomberg—rather than getting them precooked and half predigested in cans for a much steeper price. That cuts you additional slack in several different ways. It costs less, so you have more money to spend on other things; you don’t have to go to the store as often, which saves you time; and if you’ve got some ten pound sacks of beans in the cupboard, along with a good assortment of other bulk foods, you know you’ll still have something to eat when the shelves at the corner grocery are bare because the puppet on a stick who pretends to be leading the United States has made yet another stunningly inept economic decision.
As this suggests, slack doesn’t just have to sit there being slack. It can be used, and used in many different ways. You can cut yourself some slack financially, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. You can cut other people some slack, too, in at least as many ways. To do that, however, you’re going to have to buck the concentrated pressure of the corporate media and the entire momentum of life in the industrial world. Across the board, the structures of modern life are set up to demand that all the inmates of the madhouse we call industrial society ought to be running flat out all the time, without any time to catch their breath and think about what it all amounts to. You know what this means. THEY’RE TRYING TO STEAL YOUR SLACK!!!
And of course there are reasons for this, which aren’t limited to the arrogance, greed, and incompetence that our ruling class shares with every other ruling class in history. Glance back over the last seventy-five years or so of the history of any product manufactured for the mass market, from Cadillacs to chocolate bars, and what you’ll see—the steady decline in quality and quantity that has been summed up neatly as the crapification of everyday life—can be described just as neatly as the abolition of slack. The elite classes in the 1950s were just as arrogant, greedy, and corrupt as their present-day equivalents, but they somehow managed to bring much better products to market. Why?
Cast your gaze further back through the centuries to the declining years of every other civilization on record and you’ll know why, because exactly the same process has played out over and over again. It’s not just that you’re running out of slack. They’re running out of slack. Civilizations have a certain amount of slack—yes, we can describe it in less “Bob”-infested terms as stocks of untapped natural resources, social networks not yet degraded by market pressures, and many other good things as well, but we can sum them all up as slack. The longer a civilization lasts and the more shamelessly it steals from the future by drawing down the resources that support its existence faster than they can regenerate, the less slack it has left, until finally the rope pulls tight and the civilization is left to twist in the wind.
May I tell you a secret? You don’t have to join your civilization up there on the wooden platform while old Father Time keeps busy at his day job as history’s hangman. All you have to do is make sure you have plenty of slack. You almost certainly won’t be able to do that if you insist on maintaining the lifestyle the corporate system wants to sell you, but let’s be honest, that lifestyle sucks, and one of the things that makes it suck is its utter slacklessness.
Millions of people have already walked away from that lifestyle. The Great Resignation, as the media is calling it, is a far more significant shift in America today than most people realize. The Covid shutdowns of the recent past, while they gave the middle classes the opportunity to work from home in their pajamas for a while, threw millions of working class people out of their jobs and forced them to find other ways to keep themselves fed and clothed. This they accordingly did, and having found options that don’t require them to submit to the abuse that passes for management these days, a great many of them have zero interest in going back.
Meanwhile a significant number of those middle class people who got used to working from home have discovered that they’re happier avoiding the toxic politics and petty tyranny of office life. A great many parents over a very wide range of income classes have also discovered how miserably inadequate a job the public schools do of teaching children, and how easy it is to manage something better via homeschooling. The foundations of American society are cracking apart as people discover that life outside the corporate asylum really is better than life inside it.
I’ve been talking about this in my various online forums for quite a while now. Most of my readers will probably know the catchphrase “Collapse now, and avoid the rush!” It’s a good summary of what I’ve been suggesting, but, er, there’s one little problem: if you really want to get ahead of the rush you may not have much time left.
I spoke at the beginning of this post about the drool-spattered idiocy that passes for political and economic policy these days. The costs of such vagaries are by no means abstract. For the last half century, the relative prosperity of the industrial world has rested on a strict if tacit agreement on the part of all major industrial countries that politics and economics were to be kept separate. No matter how sharply the United States and China quarrelled over the status of Taiwan, say, the flow of products and investment between the two countries was sacrosanct. Love it or hate it—and it had as many downsides as upsides—that agreement was what backstopped the dollar’s status as the global reserve currency and medium of international trade, and provided a great deal of slack for a global economy that tolerably often needed as much slack as it could get.
Those days are now over. By turning the global economy into a military asset to use against Russia, the Biden administration and its European allies have given notice to every other country on the planet that they cannot allow themselves to remain dependent on the dollar, or on US-centric economic institutions, unless they want to be forced into subservience. That’s why nobody in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, or southern Asia has signed onto the sanctions against Russia; it’s why India is now negotiating with Russia and Iran to buy their fossil fuels using local currencies, leaving the dollar high and dry; it’s why Venezuela is talking about adopting the Russian Mir credit card and money transfer system, and why Saudi Arabia has signaled that it’s going to start pricing some of its oil in yuan. That means in turn that the era of economic globalization is over, and those countries that profited most from that era now stand to lose everything they gained.
Yes, the United States is at the top of that list. This country was cut an immense amount of slack by the dollar’s status as reserve currency and medium for international trade: by some estimates, the equivalent of a trillion dollars a year in direct and indirect economic subsidies. Unless something changes drastically, that’s going to go away in the near future, with consequences that will leave our economic and political system in tatters. You may want to cut yourself plenty of slack in your own life, dear reader, because we may be in for quite a wild ride in the months and years immediately ahead.