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Jun 19, 2010 10:42 pm

Revitalizing America

Anthropologists, like Peter Worsley, termed a"revitalization movement" the attempt to restore, by ritual means, an imagined lost of age of abundance. The Seneca relgion of Handsome Lake; the Sioux ghost dance; the Melanesian cargo cults: all examples of societies near collapse making a last ditch effort through fantasy to reverse the decline reality had in store for them.

One sees the same thing in the United States today in our increasingly furtive efforts to breath life back into the American Dream -- a dream based on perpetual growth and unlimited, cheap fossil fuel. Of course it could be different. Americans could wake up to the fact that things can't go on like this forever. Or Obama could say, instead of merely hint, that peak oil is a matter of geophysics, not tax policy. Or, indeed, the Energy Deparment could announce that no combination of switch grass and used french-fry oil will ever come close to replacing the 20 million barrels of crude we use everyday.

But none of that will happen. And that is why I expect"revitilization" and ritual. In other words, what we are likely to see is the foredoomed but profoundly seductive attempt to make the physical world obey the desires of the majority of industrial humanity by means of ritual action. The Sarah Palin fans chanting “Drill, baby, drill,” as though drilling a hole in the ground magically obliged the Earth to put oil at the bottom of it, are taking tentative steps in that direction. So are the people who insist that we can keep on enjoying the trappings of the age of abundance if we only support a technology, or join a movement, or adopt an ideology, or – well, the list is already long, and it’s going to get much longer in the near future.

My guess is that we’ve got a couple of years at most before somebody puts the right ingredients together in the right way, and the first fully fledged revitalization movement begins attracting a mass following with its strident denunciations of the existing order of things and its promise of a bright future reached by what amounts to a sustained exercise in magic.

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