Last year's conference was the second venue at which I gave that talk. The first one was at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota, on the shore of Lake Superior, an hour's drive from the Canadian border. There, the talk was very warmly received, by the students and the community elders alike, and resulted in very purposeful discussion. You see, this school is very popular and very successful at teaching a wide range of traditional skills. Many of these skills are directly applicable to creating independent, resilient lifestyles within the setting of a small community. But forming such a community is a problem: real estate is expensive, transportation costs are high, jobs are few and far between and pay less and less, and there is a great deal of financial and regulatory overhead that stands in the way community self-sufficiency. After some brainstorming, a potential solution was hit upon: the school would create a colony for its graduates, allowing successful graduates to become part of it. Since, in turn, the colony would embody the principles taught by the school, it would help strengthen the overall effort.
When I gave the same talk a month later at last year's Age of Limits conference, the reaction was rather different. There was almost no discussion of impediments to implementation or ideas for overcoming them. Instead, the conversation veered off into gender politics, with some amount of booing and hissing from the female members of the audience. You see, the examples I picked, which included, among others, traditional, religious communities with patriarchal gender roles, were said to be ill-suited as models for such a “progressive” group. (By the way, I never proposed that they be used as models, only as examples from which general principles can be uncovered.) Then there followed some harsh (and, to my mind, ridiculous) criticisms of the Amish, who were said to abuse their wives and children. Compared to the focused and productive discussion at Grand Marais, this one turned out to be a complete waste of time. I was flabbergasted by this reaction, only later realizing that I had blundered into an American cultural war zone. I later realized that none of the criticisms raised had the slightest bit of relevance to the topic under discussion. Here, I want to draw a line behind all of that, and establish a basis for moving forward. I hope that this year's conference will be on target.
Discussions of social policy, especially with regard to such things as the rights of women and sexual and racial minorities, play a very special role in American politics. As I've explained recently, it has recently been shown that the US is not a democracy, in which public policy is influenced by public opinion, but an oligarchy, where public policy is driven by the wishes of moneyed interests. On major issues, such as whether to provide public health care or whether to go to war, public opinion matters not a whit. But it is vitally important to maintain the appearance of a vibrant democracy, and here social policy provides a good opportunity for encouraging social divisions: split the country up into red states and blue states, and keep them in balance by carefully measured infusions of money into politics, so as to maintain the illusion of electoral choice. Throw a bit of money at a religious fundamentalist candidate, and plenty of feminists, gays and lesbians will vote for the opposing kleptocrat who will, once elected, help Wall Street confiscate the rest of their retirement savings, in return for a seat on the board; throw another bit of money at a rainbow-colored lesbian, and plenty of bible-thumping traditionalists will vote for the opposing kleptocrat who, once elected, will funnel tax money to his pet defense contractor in return for some juicy kickbacks. This part of the American political system works extremely well. On the other hand, if some matter comes before the politicians that requires helping the people rather than helping themselves and their wealthy masters, the result is a solid wall of partisan deadlock. This part works very well too—for the politicians, and for the moneybags who prop them up, but not for the people.
While it is the entire country that is being victimized by this system of governance based on the principle of social divide and conquer, it is women and minorities that are the pawns in this game, and the biggest losers, with some of the worst outcomes out of all of the developed countries. The US has the largest number of children born into poverty and leads the world in teenage pregnancy and the rate of sexually transmitted disease infection among teenage girls. In spite of what's been called “progress,” the effect of women working outside the home has been to halve family incomes. American women never got equal rights: the Equal Rights Amendment died a painful death in 1982, when the final deadline for its ratification expired. (Compare that to the Russia, where the equal rights of women, including equal pay for equal work, was enshrined in Article 122 of the Constitution of the USSR in 1936, and has been a fixture of the political landscape ever since.) As for minority rights, there are more black slaves in America today than there were before the Civil War—they used to work on plantations, but now they work in prisons, many of which are privately owned, where they make money for their politically connected owners. With regard to the rights of sexual minorities, it needs to be noted that not only does the US lead the developed world in rape, but that here rape is evenly distributed between men and women, male rape being most prevalent, again, among the prison population.
This vast landscape of societal failure is obscured behind a verbal veil of political correctness. Never mind the fact that the nirvana of progressive race and gender politics only exists on television (where it is faked) and among a few of the continuously shrinking remnants of the middle class—we are still required to pay lip service to it. Elite universities have evolved an entire gender-neutral, racially bland system of circumlocution, which is now mandatory for everyone to learn and use: say “he” instead of “she,” and suddenly you are a sexist. Calling a spade a spade is forbidden: idiots no longer exist—now every one of them is “mentally challenged,” nor do senile old fools—who are now “Alzheimer's sufferers.” Scores of people are required to undergo mandatory sensitivity training, where they are brainwashed until they are no longer capable of telling other people exactly what they think of them. Thus, hypocrisy has been promoted from a character flaw to a national requirement. (By the way, this inability to communicate effectively takes a terrible toll on national productivity, but that's a side matter.) The important point is that those who insist on acting as willing pawns in this game are choosing a specific path for themselves. I like to call it the path of voluntary extinction—the guaranteed end result of endlessly plastering societal failure over with bullshit.
The Age of Limits conference is based on a certain view of the future, which was first articulated in the Club of Rome study of 1972, and, in spite of a storm of criticism, has been vindicated because its predictions have turned out to be exactly on target. One of the presenters at this year's conference will be Dennis Meadows, the co-author of the study. This study predicts that global industrial civilization will have largely run its course in as little as two decades. Those who accept the predictions of this study (the purpose of this conference is to discuss their implications and ramifications) also accept a rather austere view of the future.
In this context, the path of communities that abide is not the path of voluntary extinction. It is the path of survival, the path of individual sacrifice for the benefit of the community and its future generations. The tasks of giving birth to, bring up and educating the next generation while keeping everyone housed, fed, clothed, healthy and entertained will leave scarce time for pursuing higher education or a career outside of home, exploring alternative lifestyle choices, or discussing gender politics. The two most important occupations will be Mother and Father. Small communities have little room for specialization, but a basic level of specialization based on whether you are a boy or a girl has been found to be universally advantageous. This is what I would like to take as the point of departure for this year's conversation.