My diagnosis is not based on scientific evidence, so please don't quote me as an authoritative source. It's simply the impressions I'm getting from observing human behavior in my vicinity and from a variety of sources on the web.
Sure, progress is seldom continuous or steady, and there are always setbacks. I can't help but feel that the current setback I'm seeing is more severe, and more permanent, than we can survive.
Not so long ago, I had hope that humanity would latch onto science and act on what science is telling us, that we would consume less: less meat, less fuel, less mindless entertainment, less packaging, less durable goods, etc. Sustainability was in vogue for a while, just as it was back in 1988-90 when the headlines were filled with stories of medical waste washing up on Long Island beaches.
Well, corporate capitalism wasn't gonna stand for that. It had to pivot toward offering ways for us to consume our way out of environmental catastrophe.
Now that the hipster cohort is entering middle age and graduating from retail and service jobs to office jobs or their own businesses, they have far more disposable income than just a decade ago. So meat is back in a big way. But just grilling a steak from Kroger is passé. What's in now is The Meat Experience: Japanese wagyu beef and other such luxuries that travel thousands of miles to get to your plate.
The affluent are moving into urban areas, riding a wave of gentrification; the less affluent are purchasing or renting overpriced homes in on the exurban fringes, with longer commutes even for people with service jobs. More people driving more, and faster, with the resultant pollution and the collisions that exacerbate traffic jams, is not a recipe for success if we're trying to preserve the environment for future generations.
SUV's are back, including Hummers, as are muscle cars. Partly as a response to the way COVID-19 has disrupted normalcy, I'm seeing people driving their high-powered machines even more aggressively than before (which in Houston is saying a lot), with little regard for traffic laws or the unwritten social contract that keeps us all from killing each other. I'm seeing the aftermaths of wrecks and emergency vehicles responding to them more than before, more bumper assemblies left lying on the sides of roads and highways and even beside dumpsters. After all, cars are disposable: You get in a wreck, insurance buys you a new one. Air bags make it more likely that drivers will walk away from even spectacular wrecks. Unfortunately, these drivers appear to believe that people are disposable too, driving as if they don't care who dies. Texas is on pace this year to set a new record for motor vehicle fatalities (sorry, can't find the source for that).
I'm seeing also this motor mayhem because I'm driving more than ever. Unable to gain steady employment in my field, I'm currently relying on my rideshare gig as my primary source of income. It's not unusual for me to drive 200 miles in a day, or even 300. However, I was not observing so many wrecks in the first year of my rideshare career.
The Political Establishment and the Overton Window
Dare we mention that the political establishment of the US Empire is a big part of this retrograde motion? The Democratic Party establishment is playing Cold War politics and using its media mouthpieces to ramp up ambient fear levels. They howl about the Russians while Republicans howl about the Chinese, combining to manufacture consent for a Cold War posture toward both, putting exorbitant spending on military hardware outside the range of debatable issues.
In my youth, I was attracted to the Democratic Party because I saw it evolving into a pro-environment, anti-war organization. Now the Dems support environmental initiatives only when it suits them and the benefactors, and they cry out their opposition to foreign military entanglements only when Republican presidents get us into them. "It's the economy, stupid!" of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign has morphed into "It's about a whole range of issues that will keep folks from talking about our morally bankrupt foreign policy, stupid!" It's also about keeping the progressive wing placated with half-measures like Ocasio-Cortez and Markey's so-called Green New Deal.
The Devo Epiphany
One of the presets on the Sirius XM satellite receiver in my car is Channel 8, the Big '80s. The channel features three of the original MTV VJ's: Anita Blackwood, Mark Goodman, and Alan Hunter. They use their platform not only to play the hits of the 1980s, but to comment on the songs and performers, even to educate listeners about the historical background thereof.
Of the three VJ's, the one I find least appealing is Goodman. He's been in the media business for 40 years, but in all that time he hasn't learned to keep his observations concise when he's not reading from cue cards. However, a few days ago, he said something that hit me hard. As an '80s Treasure Chest selection, the channel played Devo's "Through Being Cool." Goodman remarked afterward that Devo (specifically Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale) wrote the song in response to all the music fans who latched onto them after the success of "Whip It" but didn't look more deeply into the band's core philosophy. Despite its call to "eliminate the ninnies and the twits," the song is less an indictment of superficial fandom than a song of praise for the nonconformists who intrinsically grok the concept of De-evolution.
Nearly four decades after the release of New Traditionalists, Devo's fourth album, the song remains relevant. It illustrates that the forces of evolution and de-evolution are always in conflict, like the Hegelian dialectical concepts of Thesis and Antithesis. Sometimes one side or the other gains the upper hand, and humanity moves either forward or backward.
Right now, from my perspective, it feels like we're what Elvis Costello would call "5ive Gears in Reverse." Walking down the road to ruin is indeed fashionable.
The Optimism of @caitoz
Caitlin Johnstone, for all her bitterness toward the de-evolutionary factions, retains a cautious optimism that our species is becoming more conscious about the evils of the current world order, and that this consciousness will gain sufficient momentum to overturn it. Part of that conclusion stems from people's ability to take video of state oppression and post it online in seconds for millions to see before the social media algorithms know what's hit them.
This consciousness revolution will not be televised, but it will be captured live and posted on the Internet. It will not proceed in a straight line: The dominant paradigm always manages to react, course-correct, and restore its narrative to prominence. So the revolution will have to learn diversity of tactics and diversionary tactics to avoid suppression.
I see it happening, but I don't see it succeeding, at least not in my lifetime. Even if disastrous climate scenarios don't come true as predicted in the next 10-20 years, my prediction is that neither Caitlin nor I will live to see this revolution come to fruition.
The establishment is getting better at snuffing the opposition faster than the opposition is at evading it. Every time a new online platform opens up offering leftist voices without censorship or surveillance, some establishment entity either buys or otherwise co-opts that platform, and we're back to Square One. I sincerely hope that Panquake will build in sufficient defenses, both in its code and its business practices, to avoid such co-optation.