Wednesday, December 31, 2008


That is my instinctive response to 2008, taken from Episode 7 of this year's half-season of Battlestar Galactica. I will get to this in a moment.

As I have had to point out before, the great economic majority, here called the "middle class," but which includes many subdivisions and fragmentations and the working poor, hasn't advanced for 30 years through wage increases. It has advanced through asset inflation: stocks in the 1990s, when its companies converted pensions to investment funds, and through housing inflation in the 2000s.

Both of these patches are now rendered useless. Housing prices are still in free-fall -- down 18% in October from the year before. Given the great m-c's inability to save, that is 18% less for the future - college, for example - and for the present - a more reliable car for work, and in some cases clothes and food. No big surprise that "consumer confidence" fell to an all-time low. This is in effect a no-confidence vote in our leaders. It says no hope in sight.

The only thing that the middle class ever has going for it is analysis and accountability. The crisis needs to be explained. Causes and primary agents need to be found. Justice needs to be done: prosecutions of CEOs, hedge fund managers, and while we're at it of some financial economists for fraudulent product claims.

War has been waged on the middle classes for years. Now it is time to fight, using the class's actual strengths - analysis and accountability through law. There are calls for accountability for this with the Bush administration and foreign policy, torture, and general corruption and malfeasance - Katrina obviously comes to mind. There will be exposures of the rigging of the ground rules in favor of the bigs against the middles and the smalls - even the rigging of the bailout. Here's a picture just to remind you of the stakes (from the Economic Mobility Project).

A year ago I had wishes for 2008: that we could remember that value comes from labor and collective effort, and not just from technology, "entrepreneurial spirit," and leaders. My wishes did not come true.

This year I have wished that people would think systemically. The French do this when their national press gets up in arms about the death of a 57-year-old in an emergency room that lacked necessary equipment: they trace it to the decline of public services, Sarkozian cheapness for all but the rich, failed modernization, and various other major trends. Still, the French have not done this about Israel in Gaza: they see no systemic explanation, and generally look at the last rocket fired before the Israeli strikes. People who invoke systemic elements, like Dean Baker on structural government bias toward the wealthy in making good on losses for the largest banks' high-risk investments, or like Fisk on Gaza cited yesterday, or like this sociologist critiquing mutual militarism and its War Without End, are voices lost in the din.

This wish too did not come true.

Nothing good will happen until these wishes do.

Let's move from our own Battlestar issues to those of Galactica. As you know, the humans created Cylons to be their servants, the servants realized they were considered subhuman slaves, and the slaves revolted. There was a truce. It was broken a lot. Then the Cylons came out of their quandrant and nuked the planet, killing all but about 40,000 humans, who now wander space trying to find Earth so they can settle again. They have sub-light drives on their ships of course, but real travel occurs in "Faster Than Light" (FTL) mode, which occurs when they "jump." And of course they and the Cylons go at each other in every episode. The show's themes are love, fear, terror, and War Without End - and also how to end it. More than any other show I've seen lately, it gets at the mood and the systemic forces of the degenerative Bush years.

The breakthrough in the half-season aired so far (4.0) is that some Cylons rebel against the extermination campaign, which is tied to a parallel rejection of the subordination of their own earlier Cylon models - the Centurions (mechanical) and the Raiders (bio-mechanical pilots). The rebellion is the result of lots of human-Cylon interaction, hatred, and above all inter-"racial" love, which has a religious dimension I ignore here.

The core idea of the rebels is a kind of humanist egalitarianism. I personally believe that this is the sole basis for real progress on our Earth that the BSG humans are desperately seeking, which keeps me going through the repetitive agitation and character-loops of most of the episodes. Will humanist egalitarianism overcome racial hatred, continuous actual violence, and its endless renewal of hostility and revenge?

This brings us to Episode 7 (I omit its foolish title). SPOILER PARAGRAPH HERE: At the start, the humans barely avoid destroying their new allies, the rebel Cylons (the Twos, Eights, and Sixes), who then, through their Six-leader Natalie, offer the humans an amazing deal: they will take the humans to the Cylon resurrection hub (which allows endless downloading of minds and thus a kind of immortality), who can then destroy it. In exchange, the humans will allow the rebel Cylons to go their own way with the "Final Five" Cylons whom they think are great spiritual leaders. They will all, humans perhaps with Cylons, go to Earth together. The humans, especially the conniving, authoritiarian President Roslin, immediately go on to setting up a double-cross. The Cylons, realizing humans are double-crossers, decide to double-cross in turn. After Natalie-Six meets with the human Council to explain her theory that mortality makes life meaningful, she tells the other Cylons the humans still hate them, which prompts her fellow rebels to try to un-doublecross (to both defeat the human plan and to show the humans they are worthy allies), and also to realize that the inconsistency involved in un-doublecrossing will itself seem like yet another doublecross. The episode's last ten minutes are a great hallucinatory mix of sound and light that conveys the descent into madness guaranteed by the mutually cancelling and yet annihilating doublecross, as certain as Hamas Vs. Israel and as Spy Vs. Spy in the Mad Magazine of the 1960s. It ends as Athena-Eight, the Cylon married to a human and the mother of the first human-Cylon hybrid, Hera, while looking for Hera, and seeing Natalie-Six, escorted by soliders, greeting Hera in a corridor, and having a flashback to a dream many of them are having of the Six taking Hera away, responds by shooting Natalie-Six the rebel leader in the chest. At the same moment elsewhere, on the rebel base ship, President Roslin, has ordered the Cylon hybrid (the link between the bio-mechanical and the human Cylons) plugged back in. The hybrid speaks like an oracle, and controls the Cylon base ship. Once plugged back in, the hybrid first and only word is JUMP.

The base station FTLs and disappears.

The double-cross shall not be uncrossed. The only solution is to Jump.

For us, the non-leaders of the world, the only jump available is to block the next doublecross. That work begins by digging down to the depths of the doublecross we are living now.

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