Too Big to Fail

We are fucked.

That eloquent three-word summary generally sums up my opinion of our world situation. I am far from a fatalist (nihilist?): I am pretty happy lately, what with most of my health besides a couple quirks (ow, my foot, ow, my torn bicep, ow, my teeth) and a journey to South Korea now just three months away. I am paying off bills nicely with this temp. gig. I have a family that loves me, good friends and a stable sense of myself, more than I have ever had in my 30 years.

But, we are still fucked.

It comes down to our lifestyle, what we have grown accustomed to, what our neighbors (globally speaking) are growing accustomed to and what this planet can tolerate from its most prolifically reproducing bipeds. Whether you believe in global warming or not, whether you believe free-trade and the allowance of an American-style of life worldwide is good or not, whether you believe in God or not and some bigger, greater plan for us all beyond this life, unless you are in some sort of self-sustaining delusion because any other conclusion would be far too much to handle, our planet in this life continues to move apace toward catastrophe and there are not enough “carbon offsets,” “regulations,” “green technology” or the like to stop it because, like the big banks last year, we have become “too big to fail.”

Remember that? When banks and investment firms so tightly tied to not only American finance but to the world's had reached such dire straits (money for nothing?) that the United States government needed to hand them bailouts to survive on the theory that they were “too big to fail,” meaning everything, from your business to your house, would burst into flame if they bit the big one? That isn't just about Manny Fae and Macky Fack. It's your disposable diapers.

I would not begrudge any new parent the seemingly small luxury of dumping junior's poopy pants in the trash instead of cleaning and cleaning and cleaning cloth diapers like they did in the olden days before individually wrapped prunes and reality television. New parents already have a lot of shit to deal with than to deal with that shit, too. But, where do those diapers go? What would a world look like if every single new parent on the entire planet was throwing their child's crap-filled Huggies into landfills? There are some biodegradable diapers out there that you can flush or compost, but they're more expensive and not widely available. But, is the majority of overtired new parents, especially those with severely stretched incomes, thinking about that? Can you blame them?

So much of everything in this world is now tied to everything else. If we all stop driving our cars, the auto industry fails and tens of thousands of people are out of work. If they are unemployed, they don't buy as much stuff, which then causes other businesses to go under, laying more people off. People collect unemployment checks for months, sometimes beyond a year and beyond, which causes governments to go deeper into debt, forcing them to borrow more money, which increasingly loses value. And so on.

So, we continue to create need. The need for a car (and the batteries that power it, the tasteful leather appointments that accentuate its interior, the electronic components for the sweet sound system), need for entertainment (when times are tough, who would fault anyone for a little escapism?), the need for clean diapers (and the adhesives that keep Junior from giving the neighbors an impromptu peep show), the need for food beyond the essential (do the Dew). That food needs to be packaged to be shipped across the world, so those Gala apples from New Zealand get packed into cardboard boxes. If we stop eating apples from the other side of the world, both that apple farmer and box maker go out of business. Some want to eat locally but it costs twice as much for the apple two towns over as it does from the farm 10,000 miles away because that one has been subsidized to death. We want to be good stewards to the planet and I want my siblings' children not to inherant a planet where the disadvantages outweigh the advantages and there is trash up to their assholes but what am I to do, Whoppers are $1.50 this week at Burger King. A man's gotta eat.

Am I exaggerating? Beyond their election campaign platitudes, would any large enough group of influential people in this world try and test the theories? What is their motivation, really?

Look at Tata and Chery (sic) Motors of India and China, respectively. Until only a few decades ago, much of these large countries were lightyears behind the standard Western technologies we have grown accustomed to, nay, demand today. Much of both countries remain deeply rural and “behind the times,” yet each has begun to significantly get onboard with a Western way of thinking. Tata and Chery have made strong pushes toward becoming globally viable automobile manufacturers, with India's Tata introducing the Nano, a car made so affordable as to allow everyone the opportunity to own one. Truly, the people's car.

On its surface it sounds great; and, perhaps, to the many poor who might see the automobile as a way out of poverty it is. While there has always been a disparity between the very rich and very poor, that gulf has narrowed over just the last several decades as we have become a much more global society. And with each passing year, the gulf's distance between the two islands narrows faster. Again, the poor person in India might not see anything wrong with this. And there is the problem.

There isn't anything wrong with this. Who am I to say you cannot buy this car or that house or that plasma-screen television or those apples from New Zealand or those disposable diapers? And even if I have that right, who is going to listen?

Which is why we are fucked. Because, as the somewhat smug but well-pointed Thomas Friedman declared in a recent New York Times opinion piece, “The world keeps getting flatter — more and more people can now see how we live, aspire to our lifestyle and even take our jobs so they can live how we live. So not only are we adding 2.5 billion people by 2050, but many more will live like 'Americans' — with American-size homes, American-size cars, eating American-size Big Macs.”

In a section in my Lonely Planet travel guide to South Korea, in the section on Busan, it mentions a particularly chi-chi portion of the city that actually has, gasp, Western-style, single family homes. I feign a gasp because anyone around these parts would ask what the big deal is. Having been to Korea once already, I can attest that I saw absolutely no Western-style houses. Most people in cities tend to live in large apartment complexes. In rural communities, most live in smaller, more traditional homes. While the Korean McMansion is an oddity rare enough to get a travel book bullet point, imagine if families beyond one tony neighborhood in that one city decided they wanted to live like we do, eat like we do, travel like we do, drive like we do (wait, they already are doing that). Now, imagine every developed nation thinking like that. Now, imagine every nation thinking like that.

Whenever I get into this sort of mood I think about the Mike Judge movie Idiocracy. If you have not seen it, you really should. Like Office Space, it has quietly amassed a pretty faithful cult following. While Office Space touched on the sort of inane, pointless business culture that I see throughout this temp. job – where we argue whether “web” should be spelled “Web” and then have our clients change their minds in the next edit. While it keeps me employed just a little longer, none of it really matters if you allow yourself a moment or two more to think about it – Idiocracy, taking place 500 years in the future, presents an exaggerated, but still very plausible world. Almost everyone is soft and dumb, an energy drink is sprayed on crops because it has electrolytes and advertisers have proclaimed “it's what plants crave” and the same seat that you use when watching the hit television show “Ow! My balls!”, a show of shots of people getting kicked in the crotch (America's Funniest Home Videos?), is also the same seat where you relieve your bowels. You know what I did this morning while taking a dump? I checked my e-mail on my laptop. And I loved it.

Which is why we are fucked. Because all of us, if given the opportunity, would do the very same thing. And there's nothing, and everything, wrong with that.

But, after all this, I am still in a good mood. Why not? I do some of what I can, I try to be aware of what is going on in the world and know the consequences of my actions and know that, ultimately, none of it matters all that much. It doesn't mean I stop trying. But, when you know things are so completely out of your control, it takes a little of the pressure off. If only the leaders of nations, of stupid little companies, thought this way, maybe things would be a little more pleasant more often. But, they can't -- because everything is too big to fail, and those diapers aren't going to change themselves.

—John Dunphy