Monday, October 29, 2007

1973 (eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die)

1973—the primal scene of late capitalism in America. It is the year of the oil shock, the year America withdraws from Vietnam. It is the first year of the closed frontier, the first year in a decade without a planned manned mission to the moon. It is the year of Watergate, the year of the Endangered Species Act. It is the year the World Trade Center opens and the year the Sears Tower is built: as high as America will build. 1973 is, in short, the moment of confrontation with limit, with the impossibility both of the sci-fi future we thought we were promised and of continuing along the path of Fordist, production-oriented capitalism.

The rest of the decade, the bad '70s, malaise and stagflation, is the depressed consequence of this recognition—and the "solution" was Reaganism (and its successor Bushism), the absurd denial of limit in the face of all evidence, a psychological phenomenon propped up by empty symbolic victories, irrational exuberance and bubble economies in trading markets, and profligate spending and debt on the level of both consumer and nation. This is the true moment of birth for consumer society, of carpe diem credit-card capitalism.

This is the mode that has dominated the last thirty years of American life, and now it is ending, a new moment of crisis which expresses itself as a return of the repressed, which is to say a return of the limits of 1973: a new energy crisis, a new liquidity crisis, a new Vietnam, a renewed awareness of environmental crisis, and the reaching of the absolute mathematical limits of how much debt people/the nation can possibly take on.

We've borrowed everything we can from the future; there's nothing more to take. We have to change the way we live.