This is a time of the politics of the apocalypse — an all-or-nothing view of the difference between winning and losing an election and of holding power or not holding it. There is no middle ground on what winning or losing means. This has been on the rise for a long time. But it has intensified of late. No one really knows how to roll it back. Politicians say that it is time for the country to come together. But on whose terms?
Dan Balz, Bomb scares and the politics of the apocalypse, Washington Post, October 24, 2018.
Back in Cold War times many smaller nations tried to be non-aligned, not on either side of the conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union or China. Neither the U.S. or the Soviet Union would allow that. Political money and weapons poured into small nations to force a choice. That was the geopolitical dynamic of conflicting ideologies and programs of all or nothing. It was inescapable; it was unresolvable until one or the other side was beaten into submission. After that, the world’s nations had only one choice.
This is the dynamic of the politics of apocalypse in the U.S. and across much of the world. Decades ago, here in the U.S. many middle class Americans chose non-alignment through third party movements and political disengagement. Back then, this was a politically affordable luxury facilitated by the continuing weakness of the extreme right wing. But, that shift to non-alignment and disengagement gutted the moderate wings of both the Republican and Democratic parties. The right wing was becoming less affluent and more militant while the left wing continued to enjoy much offered by middle class affluence and remained relatively passive – until it was too late. We have now entered into a state of affairs in which non-alignment and disengagement are no longer viable choices. The right wing has engendered a long march for all or nothing which can only be satisfied by the capitulation of the left. To my knowledge when such apocalyptic challenges have arisen, such as the clash over control of the formation of new states in the western territories and the spread of the institution of slavery in the 1850s in the U.S., the left has never capitulated. Nor has the right ever capitulated. The only outcome now possible is apocalyptic victory for one side or the other.
So, what does this mean for jobs? If you check out the employment reports put out monthly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you will have noticed that most job growth is in services and a big chunk of those jobs are in social services and health care. This is to be expected. Suicide, family crises, workplace accidents, random acts of violence, epidemics of depression, violence, and preventable diseases are to be expected in times of apocalyptic political polarization. Overwhelming stresses drive immediate emotions to the front, short-circuiting the intellectual capacity to look down the road behind us and up the road in front of us. People become overly oriented to the here and now , which makes us more susceptible to ideological scammers who take advantage of emotional vulnerabilities and more limited understandings of our situations.
So, workforce growth is now being forced into two complementary paths: jobs causing destruction (both legal and illegal) and jobs assigned the work of repairing the destruction to everyday life (both paid and volunteer). Take a look at the massive number of personnel that was deployed in Pittsburgh to deal with one event of destruction and consider the enormous volume of costly equipment involved. Multiply that response by a thousand times a day across the world. Throw in the industries and business support services required to create and maintain the military and policing forces and social and health services required to respond to these destructive events. Now allow yourself to accept that the scope of the global conflict will continue to escalate as the extreme right wing assault on democracy and human rights continues to grow, as right wing governments take control of more and more of the world’s military and policing forces, as more non-violent and violent acts of resistance are mobilized, and safe havens from the conflict continue to disappear.
The world of work is not separate from these trends. It is being polarized right along side the polarization of our politics. More and more our work choices are between those that create destruction and those that try to prevent destruction and those that involve repairing and replacing what has been damaged and destroyed.
All of this, of course, has to be understood in the context of the ending of the era of real growth in wealth. That real growth was fueled by growth in the use of fossil fuels to augment human labor and to power technologies that require an intensity of energy flows that cannot be match by massing together armies of workers. We are still pumping more and more fossil fuel energy into the world economy, but monitoring and repairing the destructive side effects (current and cumulative, environmental and geopolitical) now require the consumption of more wealth than the increase in fossil fuel use produces. Thus the politics and jobs of apocalypse are very much the politics and jobs of a world of people trying to protect themselves from the losses of wealth that are happening all around them. The wealth losses take many forms. Some, like the loss of quietness in the night and open spaces where a person can seek solitude, we only notice when we try to take account. But, the emotional toll is still very real and very costly.