Friday, November 12, 2010

What Does "Becoming a Banana Republic" Mean?

Here's a film that gives you a pretty good idea of the last few steps that move a society from being "functional" to being a truly dysfunctional banana republic:

"California Dreaming" is a documentary broadcast on Dutch TV November 8. It portrays the consequences of a the subprime crisis and crumbling local government.

At 13:34 you can get a clear understanding of social policy in the US. The Dutch film crew asks about city assistance for these homeless people. The American social worker says "it isn't up to government". She doesn't say it, but her "solution" is for people to lift themselves up by they bootstraps. (Note: this is a physical impossibility, but it makes a great political slogan!) The clash is between a European sensibility where civil society implies a "we are all in this together" mentality with an obligation to help your fellow citizens. America is a "give me liberty or give me death" society, and all those homeless people are busy exercising their liberty to quietly die alone in the back alleys while the billionaires party like there is no tomorrow!

The nice thing about this film is that it isn't heavy on "message". It simply acquaints you with how "ordinary" are the people who are caught up in the tragedy of the Great Recession. And it shows people with optimism which will help whoever watches to either empathize if they have a job/home or to have hope/optimism if they don't.

The only part of this film I didn't like was the bit at the end which did try to give a message. But it is a yuppie/green/alternate lifestyle message which is malarkey. Watching the young adults sit around and self congratulate about their "choices" is just a rehash of the late 1960s/early 1970s "back to the land" nonsense that wrecked a lot of people's lives. The silly woman who babbles about buying a tomato plant for $3 and getting "six times as much" out of it from growing her own fruit is selling snake oil. You can hobby farm, but as entertainment. It will never economically compete with agri-business. Her ranting about "the system" is just silly.

The last bit where the woman talks about the "American Dream" brings to my mind a picture of Roman peasants optimistically saying "well the private plot has been 'redefined' as this wonderful 'collaboration' called serfdom on this good knight's land where he promises to look after us if we give him only 70% of what we grow, it's a wonderful opportunity to express our 'freedom' in this new communal arrangement". And in my mind I watch think jingly-jangly clink and clang off in their chains, happily working for that 'kind fellow' who owns them as serfs. This is the "new freedom" that Romans found as the republic became the empire and then turned into feudal estates.

Sorry: the joys of "not having to pay into the system" and having the "freedom" to live a third world lifestyle doesn't appeal to me. These young adults are foolishly telling themselves to accept a banana republic status for their land. They will move aside and let the property owning be done by the worthy rich while they will live out of the RV or do their communal grubbing at the edges of society. Pathetic!

You can test how serious this proposed new bycycling, hoeing your own plot, living by making-do really is. Instead of a young, healthy woman prattling about the glories of this "new freedom". Picture a 70 year old woman with arthritis trying to "bicycle" around town and avoid enriching those greedy oil companies. Picture those old bones stooped over trying to tend a measly, weedy garden patch. Picture this patch in a New England winter. Now you are starting to get the "real picture". This isn't a new "American Dream". This is the nightmare of a society on a downward slope trying to jolly itself along pretending that things aren't what they seem, that they are really OK if you just screw up your eyes the right way. Tragic!

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