What is even happening anymore

Y’all, I’m sorry, but the book lists aren’t going to be ready for a few more days. I had some other stuff going on, overshadowed, of course, by the ongoing collapse of the US.

Yeah, that. And yeah, I said it.

Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. All of us need to have these conversations, to look at the elephant in the room, and freaking talk about it. Nothing is “normal” anymore (whatever that even means), and it’s not going to come back in the way you were comfortable with.

I’m not going to make a giant list because you all know that nothing is “normal.” And maybe you hope things will “go back to normal.” Stop thinking that. It won’t. Besides, “normal” wasn’t working. “Normal” in this country props up racist infrastructures, and everybody who got to be comfortable in their daily existence claimed that this was “normal,” when so many people can not access that level of “normal” and instead have spent their lives struggling, being denied many things, and marginalized for whatever reasons.

Tara Scott, book reviewer extraordinaire for The Lesbian Review and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, posted a link on her FB timeline the other day by a writer based in Sri Lanka. That link takes you to Indi Samarjariva’s piece that he posted about a week ago titled, “I Lived Through Collapse. America is Already There.”

Samarjariva was born during Sri Lanka’s terrible civil war, left the country, then came back in his 20s, while the war continued. Here’s how that article starts:

I lived through the end of a civil war — I moved back to Sri Lanka in my twenties, just as the ceasefire fell apart. Do you know what it was like for me? Quite normal. I went to work, I went out, I dated. This is what Americans don’t understand. They’re waiting to get personally punched in the face while ash falls from the sky. That’s not how it happens.

This is how it happens. Precisely what you’re feeling now. The numbing litany of bad news. The ever rising outrages. People suffering, dying, and protesting all around you, while you think about dinner. If you’re trying to carry on while people around you die, your society is not collapsing. It’s already fallen down.

I bring this up because what is happening in the US is not something most of us in this country have dealt with. That second paragraph pretty much describes many of our lives, does it not? And yes, we can certainly talk about privilege during a collapse. Samarajiva does, when he says, “It honestly becomes mundane (for the privileged). As Colombo kids we used to go out, worry about money, fall in love — life went on. We’d pop the trunk for a bomb check. Turn off our lights for the air raids.”

He wrote about looking through old photos, and said it’s shocking, and almost offensive to see them now.

“There’s a burnt body in front of my office. Then I’m playing Scrabble with friends. There’s bomb smoke rising in front of the mall. Then I’m at a concert. There’s a long line for gas. Then I’m at a nightclub. This is all within two weeks.”

There is no big announcement about a country’s collapse. Americans have been waiting, maybe, for a sign that it’s time, the collapse is coming. But we won’t get one.

“As someone who’s already experienced societal breakdown,” Samarjiva says, “here’s the truth:

America has already collapsed. What you’re feeling is exactly how it feels. It’s Saturday and you’re thinking about food while the world is on fire. This is normal. This is life during collapse.

On October 1, Samarjariva posted another piece, titled Collapse Takes a Lifetime. America is Just Getting Started..

This is how that one starts:

It took forever. I feel that Americans are really underestimating what’s going down, and how long it will take.

First off, yes, America has already collapsed. You can’t just step over your newly dead and poor. America has already lost more lives than in WWI and Vietnam, combined. The economic contraction is the worst in your recorded history. The rest of the world has stopped accepting your passports. Worst of all, this is all self-inflicted. Your leadership and 40% of the population drove off a cliff, and they’re still hitting the gas.

If this isn’t collapse, what is?

There are a lot of people right now talking about the upcoming US elections, saying that if we can just get through them, and the authoritarian administration ends, that it will somehow stop what’s happening. That it will somehow solve something.

“Americans,” Samarajiva says in that October 1 piece, “have completely unrealistic expectations of, well, many things, but specifically how long recovery will take.”

You think you’re going to vote this away in a few weeks? Lol, no. Speaking as a recovered collapse addict, recovery doesn’t take months, quarters, or even years.

Recovery takes generations.

Americans think they’re special. The entire (white) identity of this country is founded on believing that somehow, this country and its (white) citizens are “exceptional.” As a result of that magical thinking, we cannot fathom failure even when we’re slogging through it every day as it lays waste to thousands of American citizens and residents.

Samarajiva notes that you don’t just lose 200,000+ people and vote it all better again. Nor do you crash your economy and recover right away. “This is the work of generations,” he says. “Other people — people not yet born — will have to clean up your bloody mess and, honestly, it will never be the same.”

Sri Lanka lost ≈100,000 people over roughly 30 years, and it was deeply traumatic. We’re still not well. I do not understand how America can lose multiples of this and try to walk it off. It’s just… do you process death differently? Like, not at all? It doesn’t… you don’t just move on.

This is a broken country. It was founded on the premise that certain people are superior while others are expendable and its institutions are designed to encourage that. This type of system is ripe for corruption.

That’s another word Americans don’t like to use with their own government or institutions. And, as Samarajiva points out, “corruption” is a term (white) Americans apply to POC, not to their (white) government or white people. The current administration, instead, is referred to as “violating norms” or they have “conflicts of interest.”

Call it what it is. Corruption. At a level that puts other countries with histories of it to shame. And the cray that Americans call “capitalism” is also just corruption, and it solely benefits wealthy (white) people. Corruption is everywhere. All American institutions. And that’s just what we can see. What about what we can’t see? How bad is it?

Imagine the worst.

Think about all the people trying to do good, who believed in public service, who have been fired or who bailed, taking all their knowledge with them to be replaced by sycophants and lackeys, often who don’t have any experience in the positions they’re given.

That, too, is corruption. Kakistocracy. Authoritarianism. Oligarchy. Any number of terms.

America is not special. It’s just as susceptible to rot and corruption as any other country, and thinking that this utter breakdown and the chaotic, brutal, horrible mess we’re in right now will be fixed with one election is laughable. Except it’s not, because thousands of people have died in the span of months and meanwhile, we’re still thinking about what we’re going to do for dinner.

This is a generations-long fix. You’re no longer doing this for yourselves. You’re doing it for your generation’s kids and for their kids. We can’t fix this with one election. We can’t fix it with two. We can’t fix it with more than that. Elections can only do so much when the system in which they’re held is corrupt. And even if the system weren’t corrupt, elections should never be the ONLY thing you do. Democratic governments and institutions require constant vigilance and constant engagement, at all levels, and they require work to ensure that everyone truly can access them and can benefit from them.

So when you find a way to vote, think about how hard it is to do that for so many other people in this country, and think about what more you can do to start fixing that, and to start fixing all the other things wrong, and to start creating a country that doesn’t predicate its national identity on myths. Start thinking in terms of generations, as Samarajiva says, because that’s how long recovery will take.

It’s not just about you.

It never was.

WPA poster, Library of Congress

14 comments

  1. I watch what is unfolding in your country and it feels like watching a train wreck. Hard hitting dose of reality not just for the US but a warning shot for other democracies. Thank you for sharing this.

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  2. I read your post and clicked “like” all the while wishing for another word/phrase. Something on the order of “Crap! I thought so!” or “The glass is neither half empty nor full. It’s EMPTY!” You’ve written truths that are difficult to see, much less accept. Let us hope the percentage of people who are willing to clear their cataracts and begin the generations long trek back to democracy outnumber those who have followed the detour to where we are now. Thank you for your wake-up essay, Andi.

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    • I can’t tell you how depressing it is to see all these alleged progressives on social media talking about voting as if that’s the only thing that will fix this. The system is broken and corrupt. And until we address THAT, voting is only a delay of further horrible.

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      • Thank you. I haven’t heard this expressed so clearly on any social media. So many of us are caught between the new normal and waiting for the old to return. It won’t and shouldn’t. Once that reality sinking in we’ll hear a deep collective groan from those resisting change.
        As an urban planner, we are taught to frame our actions around the Iroquois Confederacy Seventh Generation Principle. We have not succeeded.

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  3. Well said, Andi! Samarajiva’s words seem right on to me. Our beautiful country is out of balance. They talk about separation of church and state? How about business and state! And the problem is global at this point. Breathe. Stay alert. That’s what I keep telling myself. Thanks for taking the time to write this. And having the stomach to do so.

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  4. I am now on the downhill side of life. These things you speak of hurt my heart, because I know them to be the truth. I was once a proud American veteran, now I hang my head in shame. I remember how is was that first time I voted, such innocent pride. In the next few weeks I once again will cast my vote, not so much with pride but more of desperation. Hoping my one vote helps America start to find her way to greatness once again.I
    Thank you Andi for this, these truths hurt like hell, maybe they can be the wake-up call America needs

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    • Don’t begrudge your service to this country. You believed, and you did what you thought was right with the information and context you had at the time. There is no shame in serving a country or cause you believe in, no shame in trying to protect others. What’s shameful is how this country treats and uses its veterans to prop up bullshit and more propaganda, and how it doesn’t provide decent care to its veterans, how it’s so difficult for veterans to access care, regardless of whether it’s for physical ailments or mental health issues. THAT’S what’s shameful. Your service is an honorable thing you did, and it’s good that you see now that this country did not and still isn’t living up to the ideals it professes. All the things you learned while serving, that you’ve learned since — these are all things that you can teach others or tell others about and thus help build a road for the future. Your service was a good thing, and just because the country betrayed us does not mean that you did. This country has betrayed us all. And now we know. So let’s get to work. Take care of yourself and stay safe.

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    • I’m with you as a slightly disillusioned veteran of the cold war. At times I also feel a deep sense of loss for what we believed as our potential for a just society. But that too was an illusion. And I feel cheated. As so should all of us who are disenfranchised. Old white men ruling everything must end. Geez, I’m tired just thinking of the effort it will require.

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  5. Thank you for the article. It was informative and very sobering. During the entire read I was waiting for the flip side, a hint at a solution, some trope on “but wait there’s more.” Sobering and effectiveness is not the same. Was the point of this article to open eyes? I thought I was a realist but now I’m thinking ahead twelve steps to avoid the sinking quagmires pull. VOTE? Yes, do this. Get a purpose. And understand its going to take a shit-ton more than voting. What happens after the vote tally and the obvious fight that is going to take place. Cliches of If the boat is leaking plug the holes come to mind but this article is saying the boat planking is ripped apart and you are now holding to driftwood as the sharks circle. Hey if driftwood is what I got, I’m looking for some hammer and nails and a shark gun. I get that people are suffering, traumatized, dying. I’m afraid. I’m afraid that the pessimist will conquer me and blow out my lone candle that is already battling a hurricane. Feed me something positive. For the love of mercy.

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    • This is about future generations. That’s why you work to fix it. Samarjariva finished the second essay with this:

      “Families do not recover in quarters. Nations do not heal in years. Societies do not transform even in decades. This is the work of generations, something which you, young American nation, need to understand. If you saw anything prescient in my earlier piece, know this. I am not speaking for you. I am speaking for your children.

      So please, do not think of yourselves. This is both useless and hopeless. Think of a baby, in your arms. This is both terrifying, and full of hope.”

      This is not about you or the current generation. Your work is for those who come after, and their work is for the next generation. I’m not trying to fix things for myself or even my loved ones.
      I’m working on fixing them for the generations who aren’t even born yet. I find comfort in that, because at least I will know that I did things, in my small way, to help build that road.

      I think it’s harder for (white) Americans to get out of that idea that this is an exceptional country. We’ve been told these myths all or lives; these myths were part of the founding of this country. We’ve been told that American institutions are the best, and the shining light of democracy or whatever bullshit will of course help the arc of history bend toward justice etc. ad nauseum.

      That’s not really how it works. Institutions are only as good as the people who created them and who sustain them and if most people just assume they’re working and they don’t engage with civic responsibility or with really looking at how those institutions really work, those institutions continue to prop up corruption and power. Meanwhile, the myths of this country are just bones we get thrown to stay quiet and not question. We’ve seen what happens when we do question — a right-wing media that paints us as “terrorists” and “un-American” and “unpatriotic” and whatever other fear-mongering they feel like spewing in an attempt to keep people divided so that they don’t question and they don’t challenge.

      This is an American response. It’s been going on for centuries. Literally. And the country then spread its “exceptionalism” propaganda. So it’s hard for (white) Americans, especially, to realize that they aren’t special, that their country has only really worked for a select few, and that it’s just as susceptible as any other place to rampant corruption and collapse.

      I don’t find knowing the truth dispiriting. I find it enraging and galvanizing, and it makes me want to work harder for future generations, and to talk with younger folx right now and help them, as they prepare for their work. We were all duped. So now that we know, let’s work on fixing it, and leave something behind for future generations to continue.

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      • Andi, until now I didn’t realize how many people continue to believe in American exceptionalism, how many continue to be duped. As painful as they were, my “un-dupe- yourself “ experiences were blessings in disguise. Dealing, almost daily, with the consequences of being a person of color helps me see through the myths that others persist in believing and promulgating. Other than showing kindness or doing acts of kindness, I am at a loss regarding how to move forward to benefit those who will come after our generation.

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