Most of the people I hear from either casually or in the print and pixels of official stated opinion express a grinding fear of approaching “Big Brother” government. With bee-sized surveillance drones threatening everyone’s personal space, and computers harvesting every byte and micro-shred of personal information from the computer cloud-space, it’s easy to understand the escalation of paranoia.
But I maintain that we are going in the opposite direction: that centralized national governments are set to founder out of sheer incompetence abetted by the sad fact that the diminishing returns of technology never sleep. I’m convinced that the first stage of the long emergency will feature the recognition that the American federal government in particular is impotent and ineffectual. Every day will be Hurricane Katrina, a tragi-comedy of errors.
The process has been underway for quite a while, anyway, in the corrosive effects of legislative paralysis and in the surrender of the rule of law in the executive branch. The failure to enforce banking and securities regulation was especially pernicious since money matters are so crucial to political stability. This failure has been so arrant and complete that it has infected all the realms of authority in our culture, and to a degree that threatens their very legitimacy. Nothing is more damaging to a self-governing population than the loss of faith in the legitimacy of institutions and the people who run them.
This is now the case not just in government and law, but also in business, medicine, education, the clergy, and the media. All, in one way or another, are suspected of being cheats, sell-outs, grifters, perverts, and swindlers. The rule of law is so fundamental to a successful and orderly society that its absence breeds a psychology of the most extreme cynicism.
This ominous mood now greets the developed world – i.e. places where the electricity is on more than it is off – at the same time that the world faces an epochal compressive contraction of energy supplies and disabled capital formation, meaning that it no longer has the means to remain as developed as it became in our time. The combination of this severe resource predicament and a loss of faith in the management of it will lead implacably to a devolution of political power from the grand national scale to smaller, autonomous political units: cities, towns, localities. And even as the power to manage affairs devolves, it may do so in a very uneven way.
Some places will surely be subject to despotism of one kind or another, and neo-feudal arrangements will likely arise as desperate people without means sell their allegiance to wealthy persons – especially holders of productive land – for basic security in food and shelter. Some places will be horribly mismanaged and unsuccessful. That is why it is so important to carefully choose a place to live where you might ride out the next several decades in a new historical era of tumultuous change.