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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Positive thinking

My friends, I suspended my blog retirement so that I could see us through this crisis.  But it seems that not everyone in the world agrees with me that the $700 quintillion bailout-to-nowhere had to die.  And sure, for everyone who has anything in the stock market, like a college fund or a retirement plan or a few bucks, a 778-point drop in the Dow is a bad thing.  This includes me, of course: after Nick graduated from college this summer, and we stopped paying for Nick’s college tuition, we decided to start a little retirement fund.  With, you know, stocks.  There’s brilliant timing for you!  Last night, Nick called to ask whether we were OK.  Sweet kid.  “Don’t worry, Nick,” Janet replied, “we’ll be fine . . . as long as you can support us.” And, of course, we don’t really need to retire at 70 or 80.  We can keep goin’ at it—just as long as we still have jobs then.  But I think we’ll be in the clear on that front.  Because when the world is wracked by profound, systemic financial crises, the one thing everybody agrees on is that you need lots and lots of literary critics on hand.  So we’ll be essential personnel, for sure.  The people I worry about on the savings-and-investment front are the people who were planning to retire in the next couple of years.  They, my friends, are well and truly screwed.  It’s truly a shame that Hussein al-Obama couldn’t put aside his rabid me-first partisanship for just a few days and help John McCain save these people.

Anyway, why am I hoping for a better plan instead of mourning the dead one?  It’s not like I know anything about economics.  But I do have an Internet, and I read things like this (though I worry that this reply is all too plausible).  And like everybody else with an Internet, I’ve been reading Nouriel Roubini, so when he tells me the plan is “a disgrace and rip-off benefitting only the shareholders and unsecured creditors of banks,” I pay attention.  Then again, when he follows this by saying “the risk of a total systemic meltdown is now as high as ever,” I crawl back into bed and dream of post-apocalyptic scenarios involving feral roving bands of survivalists and transhuman bloggers. 

Which reminds me.  During a trip to Arizona State last spring, Eric Wertheimer introduced me to a cheery fellow named Jim Kunstler, who had somehow escaped my notice all this time.  For those few of you who might not have had the pleasure, here’s a snippet on the bailout from his most recent post:

The process of negotiating the package has given off an odor something like medieval scholasticism—a method much like the creation of Ponzi finance itself, in which layers of tortured interpolation rendered theological concepts so abstruse that all the prayer of all the monks and nuns ever conceived within the walls of the Vatican would not avail to reveal their mysteries. The object, of course, was to reinforce the essential mystery of religion, just as the object in Ponzi finance was to reinforce the mystery of engineered securities.

See?  I told you we would need literary critics when the meltdown comes.  Who else can come up with the necessary anagogical interpretations?  OK, you call them Biblical hermeneuts if you want.  I call them literary critics.  Hey, remember what Erich Auerbach said about figura?  Sure you do.  It’s right there in Mimesis

Figural interpretation establishes a connection between two events or persons in such a way that the first signifies not only itself but also the second, while the second involves or fulfills the first. The two poles of a figure are separated in time, but both, being real events or persons, are within temporality.

And they’re connected by the divine plan, you see, such that the sacrifice of Isaac (for example) prefigures and is fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ.  Feel free to offer figural interpretations of the present crisis in comments!  Let’s show the world what interpretive skills can do.

Of course, Auerbach didn’t invent figura; he was merely explaining it.  But mister, we could use a man like Erich Auerbach again.

But finance isn’t really Kunstler’s thing.  Like Dick Cheney, he’s all about the oil.  Indeed, his very next sentence is

What the mainstream is truly missing here en masse is that another tsunami is building right behind the finance fiasco, and that it will render moot the whole reeking cargo of schemes and wishes that comprises the Great Bail-out. I am speaking of the global oil problem.

Oh, just read the whole thing.  The whole blog, I mean.  Just one word of caution—don’t make it the last thing you read before you go to sleep.

Besides, looming behind the global oil problem, we have the global water problem.  I think this little-noticed passage in The Daily Show’s 2004 book, America (The Book), puts it best:

When alien races visit our planet thousands of years from now, certain utilitarian philosophers will greet them warmly their Earth Rover probes will discover that this barren, windswept dust bowl was at one time “wet” and capable of supporting life.

Estimated sources of fluid, 2100.

As I’ve been saying to Nick (when we’re not talking about other epic fails like the bailout and the Mets), I’m sorry we used up all the world’s resources before you got here.  The 21st century is shaping up to be interesting—permanent war, financial system tottering, oil drying up, fresh water on the way out.  But then again, as Nick and I decided earlier this year, if the new Wiis and HDTVs and personal sound systems are any indication, the electronic devices of 2100 are gonna rock

Ah, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  The NYSE opening bell is at hand!  Surely some revelation is at hand.  Let freedom ring!

Posted by Michael on 09/30 at 07:04 AM
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