Monday, June 20, 2022

Umair Haque Revisited

This content was originally prepared for the option3 podcast - not including quotes.

Daniel Pinchbeck, Fareed Zakaria, and Umair Haque my triumvirate for news and cultural analysis. Pinchbeck is my open-minded and my longterm thinking guy who picks up where Terence McKenna left off. Zakaria is conventional but well informed; he is a supposedly a radical centrist but more of vanilla flavored Clintonian centrist. (I secretly used to include Alex Jones as a counterbalance to someone like Pinchbeck but Alex is having a rough decade. As I better understand Zizek, I include him too.)

Enter Umair Haque. 

“despair, rage, and anxiety”

When we take a hard look at US collapse, we see a number of social pathologies on the rise….strange and bizarre ones... They suggest that whatever “numbers” we use to represent decline - shrinking real incomes, inequality, and so on - we are in fact grossly underestimating what pundits call the “human toll”, but which sensible human beings like you and I should simply think of as the overwhelming despair, rage, and anxiety of living in a collapsing society.
        Umair Haque, January 25, 2018

I first read Haque in January 2018 in an article titled, “Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse”. I blogged about it here.  He observed that “America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse…and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”.

He goes on to talk about the opioid epidemic, “nomadic retirees”, weakened “social bonds”, and “a predatory society” and writes the “uniqueness of these social pathologies tell us that American collapse is not like a reversion to any mean, or the downswing of a trend. It is something outside the norm. Something beyond the data. Past the statistics.”

It’s a singular read. The subtitle of the article is “The Strange New Pathologies of the World’s First Rich Failed State”. He leverages not only the political-economic but the psychological and soular. It’s something people such as Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, or Philip K. Dick had anticipated.  The concept of a rich failed state deserve more attention. 

“this is all about supremacy”

Kids are not allowed to be just kids in America. What are they doing at school? Well, they’re not studying or learning very much — you only have to look at America’s dismal rankings in international education to know that much. They are being trained to be little consumers and producers.
        Haque, December 4, 2021

In an article ”Why is America the Only Country in the World With Regular School Shootings?”, he revisits school shootings and talks about young people, socialization, and consumerist one-upmanship: “What is all the stuff really saying? What is the message the social signifier is sending? See how powerful I am. See how much better than you I am. I am the superior one. So this is all about supremacy. That is why I said American kids interact in profoundly weird, abnormal ways, compared to anywhere in the rest of the world. Their every interaction is a competition for social superiority.”

He continue: school is an environment where "aggression, competition, individualism, greed, selfishness, contempt for others, nobody having any kind of intrinsic human worth or inalienable dignity…all those are norms. And the most aggressive, competitive, ruthless, selfish, greedy, and violent are the ones who win the power, money, and fame.”  Then he concludes: “Grown up American life is a contest to the death. And so is life for America’s kids.”

“A death drive?”

Think about all the self-destruction for a second… What kinds of people want more gun massacres? …What kinds of people don’t want everyone to have decent healthcare? Not to cancel student debt, which is crippling three generations at this point, and slashing a massive hole in the economy? What kinds of people don’t care about the spectacularly obvious ongoing death of the planet — as if the megafires and megafloods and pandemics weren’t a clue?
        Haque, June 7, 2022

In the article “The Age of Thanatos”, Haque relies on a mythological metaphor to observe that our hostile world, driven by poor policy-making and the related social collapse, has triggered the death drive in our collective unconscious.  He relies on psychologist Harry Guntrip to point out that death in this case is an attempt to return to the womb in a form of infantile regression.

There’s a lot more to the article. He ties in Republican hate for children, the scapegoating of gays, and the role of atavism in forms of our hunger for fascism and theocracy (rather than the hard work of democracy).  He closes with “Freud made a mistake. Civilization, he theorized, is humanity’s greatest source of unhappiness, frustrating us endlessly with its demands and grating work and difficult freedoms. Perhaps. But try living without it.” 

Civilization Collapse

You can now literally begin to see what it means to be a species living on a dying planet. You can see with your own two eyes what happens when a civilization’s investment rate is too low, and it’s consumption rate is too high.... Extinction. It eats through everything, and replenishes not enough, and so its own life support systems come undone.
        Haque, May 30, 2022

One of my concerns about Haque is the repetition and wordiness. In “A Conversation About Civilizational Collapse”, he seems to ramble. It's a small price to pay for the quality of ideas.  Still he make a simple point that merits attention. A lot of attention. I myself have discussed species loss since at least 2012 when I started option3. I am not certain when I came across the ‘nine planetary boundaries’ concept.

In this article, he basically frames civilization collapse, climate change, and species loss - including our own extinction - as a problem of underinvestment that requires immediate amelioration. He points out that “shortages, inflation, uncertainty, war, conflict, nationalism, fascism, fundamentalism” embody this immediacy. People who don’t already know about these ideas probably need to experience some very serious person loss in order to have an awareness.

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