April 19, 2016

The Ship of State


“Strait times come in history. Our time is such a time, millennial, full of fast currents, tossing, eddied, dangerous to pass through.” -- John Fowles, “The Aristos"

The thing is under the boat. The crew suspects as much but can't know for sure exactly where it is. They won't know where Leviathan is until it rises, inevitable and unstoppable, from the deep directly beneath them.

Can you feel it lurking just under the surface? I can and I think you can as well. The Greeks knew it as "Nemesis." Melville's Ahab knew it as "thou damned whale" and he struck at it from Hell's heart. Unperturbed it gathered him up and took him down. Then it took the boat and after that the ship. All save one followed. The whale beneath the surface of America's life is still there and all signs point to its breaching soon. Exactly where and exactly how are still unknown, but soon.

I feel the thing beneath the boat and I think others of my fellow citizens in ever growing millions feel it as well. We do not feel good about it and what it augers for the near and far future.

The jobs are not coming back. To know that you need to get off the inter-states; off the scenic blue highways that lead to your summer beach retreats. You need to get into the towns that have been passed by; the towns whose main industry has become food stamps and "assistance." These towns are growing in number daily and will continue to grow.

There is no work in these towns. The factories that supported them are long dead or dying. They, like the people they supported, are carbon based life forms and the strange insects that govern us seem to be united in making sure they never return. The checks and the food stamps come, but that's not enough to paint the houses or put in the gardens or do much more than eat too many pizzas and drink too much watery beer. The young would leave but more and more there's no place to go. They spend their time instead deciding on what sort of new tattoo will go well with the previous twenty.

The building of new houses and malls and condos and other large construction projects are not coming back. And even if they did where would we find the workers trained to build them? Old carpenters have moved on to making a living at something other than construction. There's not enough work to bring young ones onto the job and help them to master the skills needed. When a nation stops building it stops having the jobs that can train the next generation of builders. Mexicans, working cheap and off the books, are still in some demand, but there's a limit to repainting and the kind of minor brickwork that makes for a pleasant garden.

The money isn't coming back except at something worth less with every passing day. It begins to seem like mere slips of paper or a meaningless string of numbers that always seems to decrease. The stock market moves in fits and starts but doesn't seem to inspire the confidence needed to boost what once was the middle class. The debt looms ahead and consumes everything even as the argument is over whether or not to increase the debt rather than pay it down.

It's large and it's under the boat and it is beginning to rise. The crew is confused and flailing about. And the captain is insane but convinced he's on the right course. During the boom years it was commonly said, "A rising tide lifts all boats." True enough, but the rising of Leviathan can break the spine of our boat and send it down into the Maelstrom.

And the thing is under the boat.

[Republished from November 2011]


Addendum 2014: The End of the Pequod

From the ship's bows, nearly all the seamen now hung inactive; hammers, bits of plank, lances, and harpoons, mechanically retained in their hands, just as they had darted from their various employments; all their enchanted eyes intent upon the whale, which from side to side strangely vibrating his predestinating head, sent a broad band of overspreading semicircular foam before him as he rushed. Retribution, swift vengeance, eternal malice were in his whole aspect, and spite of all that mortal man could do, the solid white buttress of his forehead smote the ship's starboard bow, till men and timbers reeled. Some fell flat upon their faces. Like dislodged trucks, the heads of the harpooneers aloft shook on their bull-like necks. Through the breach, they heard the waters pour, as mountain torrents down a flume.

"The ship! The hearse!—the second hearse!" cried Ahab from the boat; "its wood could only be American!"

Diving beneath the settling ship, the whale ran quivering along its keel; but turning under water, swiftly shot to the surface again, far off the other bow, but within a few yards of Ahab's boat, where, for a time, he lay quiescent.

"I turn my body from the sun. What ho, Tashtego! let me hear thy hammer. Oh! ye three unsurrendered spires of mine; thou uncracked keel; and only god-bullied hull; thou firm deck, and haughty helm, and Pole-pointed prow,—death-glorious ship! must ye then perish, and without me? Am I cut off from the last fond pride of meanest shipwrecked captains? Oh, lonely death on lonely life! Oh, now I feel my topmost greatness lies in my topmost grief. Ho, ho! from all your furthest bounds, pour ye now in, ye bold billows of my whole foregone life, and top this one piled comber of my death! Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!"

The harpoon was darted; the stricken whale flew forward; with igniting velocity the line ran through the grooves;—ran foul. Ahab stooped to clear it; he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone. Next instant, the heavy eye-splice in the rope's final end flew out of the stark-empty tub, knocked down an oarsman, and smiting the sea, disappeared in its depths.
For an instant, the tranced boat's crew stood still; then turned. "The ship? Great God, where is the ship?" Soon they through dim, bewildering mediums saw her sidelong fading phantom, as in the gaseous Fata Morgana; only the uppermost masts out of water; while fixed by infatuation, or fidelity, or fate, to their once lofty perches, the pagan harpooneers still maintained their sinking lookouts on the sea. And now, concentric circles seized the lone boat itself, and all its crew, and each floating oar, and every lance-pole, and spinning, animate and inanimate, all round and round in one vortex, carried the smallest chip of the Pequod out of sight.

But as the last whelmings intermixingly poured themselves over the sunken head of the Indian at the mainmast, leaving a few inches of the erect spar yet visible, together with long streaming yards of the flag, which calmly undulated, with ironical coincidings, over the destroying billows they almost touched;—at that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act of nailing the flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago. Moby Dick; Or the Whale, by Herman Melville

Posted by Vanderleun at April 19, 2016 11:17 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Poignant essay. I grew up in western New York. It's sad to realize the economy there peaked when I was 11 years old. It's all down hill now. hang onto the things that matter and perhaps we'll get through this.

Posted by: bill at June 7, 2011 10:23 PM

A heart-breaking read, Gerard. I live in a strange little bubble. Construction is booming, work seems plentiful. New box stores are building and opening. Even the mall seems like it's booming. At least on the surface. We aren't plagued with illegal aliens. We have all kinds of manufacturing and tourism, but you are right. The leviathan of that unseen coming just fills us with dread. Our good times aren't going to last, and when it hits here, after having already ravaged the towns to the east and north and west of us, it will hit like a sledgehammer.

Posted by: Jewel at June 8, 2011 1:12 AM

When a relative employed by the federal government moaned about the potential government shutdown, calling it an "unpaid vacation", I had to remind him the private sector has been on unpaid vacation for a couple of years now. Then I posed the question to him, "I wonder why the Democrats didn't balance the budget while they had a super-majority?" I don't think he got it. He's just glad his cushy public sector lifestyle wasn't interrupted. Meanwhile, here in the real world...

Posted by: RedCarolina at June 8, 2011 7:30 AM

We need more things like this http://techshop.ws/locations.html and like this: http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/Main_Page and more events like this:

Posted by: Fingers on a Keyboard at June 8, 2011 7:47 AM

Like Jewel, I live in a bubble, or -- more accurately -- the belly of the leviathan itself: Washington, DC.

We have no recession here, because we are impoverishing the rest of the nation to enrich ourselves.

Unlike RedCarolina's relative, I wouldn't have had a problem with a "shutdown," since I had worked for years as a contractor with unpaid vacations thrown in the mix. A shutdown would have meant that all us "non-essential" workers would have been sent home for a few days. If we're non-essential, then why are we here?

Posted by: Don Rodrigo at June 8, 2011 8:52 AM

The leviathan is the oh, so correct, environmental gang who want to go back to eating grass and shitting in holes in the ground. Here are some examples:

I see that the State Dept. has finally (After two years consideration.)approved the XL pipeline to bring oil sands oil from Canada to Houston, Texas. This is a much needed addition to our oil gathering and refining needs. The pipeline would also provide 20,000 good paying jobs.

Guess what? Today the EPA filed to block the construction for further environmental study. Read about it here:

In the Permian Basin of West Texas, the Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of declaring the Sand Dunes Lizard endangered. If this happens, it will destroy thousands of good paying oil industry jobs and bar access to millions of barrels of oil in the two richest oil producing counties in the continental U.S.
Read about it here:

These are just two examples of the way this leviathan is actively destroying jobs and making the energy situation worse. They have done the same to manufacturing. Taken to their desired ened state, it means poverty for all.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at June 8, 2011 9:31 AM

Taken to their desired ened state, it means poverty for all.

Not quite, we "Federales" living in the Black Hole by the Potomac will continue to prosper for quite some time after the collapse.

My suggestion? If things get much worse, then people from the Real America that is hardest hit set up squatter camps in the general Washington Metro Area. The Mall is a good place to start. 'Twixt the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, and then on up to Capitol Hill, a sea of recvs, trailers and tents would be a stark reminder of the reality.

Posted by: Don Rodrigo at June 8, 2011 11:13 AM

My suggestion is secession. The states need to start telling the Feds to go fuck themselves, and soon.

Posted by: rickl at June 8, 2011 5:16 PM

"The states need to start telling the Feds to go fuck themselves, and soon."

They are, rickl. Arizona, and others passing laws to help the Feds enforce illegal immigration against the Feds wishes. 37 some states are suing successfully (so far) over mandatory health insurance. The beat will continue as long as the Obamaites continue to screw this economy and we citizens keep pushing.

The AG in Washington state is part of the health care suit, much to the displeasure of our Governor. I sent him a campaign donation and praised his stand. I've contributed money to Arizona's fund to defend against the Feds suit.

They have to hear from us, the citizens.

I write to my democrap congressman (Rick Larsen) regularly and tell him how he is screwing up. He doesn't like it, because he sends me these long form letters explaining how it's all for the children. Oh, how I'd like to get him out of there in 2012. I'll be working for that for the next 16 months.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at June 8, 2011 9:04 PM

When the beastie broaches, the lampposts in DC will be decorated with the worthless. That is just the start; the FREE LUNCH CROWD will take to the streets and not to find work either. What powers will deal with that mess, the Racist Right?

Remember the interregnum between the 2010 elections and the start of the new Congress? What happened then.
Imagine Obama losing on 11/12 and being in office until 1/19/13. How many more fiats will be issued stabbing businesses and the economy.

Posted by: Peccable at November 14, 2011 6:47 AM

"the lampposts in DC will be decorated with the worthless"
In your dreams, and in mine. I won't be there to lift the worthless to their deserved fate, if that happens, because I live 3,000 miles away.
Speaking of which, it's high time we move the District of Columbia someplace more centrally located, for instance, Kansas City. I'm sick and tired of being so physically isolated from the political power center of the country while their power over me is just, for them, a phone call away.

Posted by: Anonymous at November 14, 2011 9:55 AM

I wish Leviathan was lurking underneath waiting to break up our sick concoction of a vessel. But Leviathan is above us. Worse still than the millions who work at the levers behind the curtain, many drones were raised in its vocabulary and are at home in it's shadow.

We will look in vain through history for a democracy which ended in a bang and not an extended whimper. But as my man Alexis saw. "Americans have applied remedies which none but themselves had thought of before to those evils they share with all democratic nations, and although they were first to try them out, they have succeeded. The greatness of America lies in her ability to repair her faults."

Posted by: james wilson at November 14, 2011 11:02 AM

Well, ain't this a bright ray of sunshine to start the day!

It's worse than you think: millions of baby boomers are going to be retiring at an accelerating pace between now and 2035 or so, when the number of retired boomers will start to decrease. (In 2025, the media boomer's age will be 70, but longevity will be longer. It will take some time for the mortality rate to start to decrease our numbers.)

Think what that will do to the stock market as we boomers start to cash in our equity investments. There are going to be massive outflows of cash from equities into boomers' pockets to pay for our retirement centers, medical costs and lifestyle maintenance.

Because the generations after the boomers are poorer than the boomers ever were, this outflow is not going to be matched by inflow, not by a long shot. Overall, the value of equity-backed companies will fall, no matter what happens to their productivity.

Anyone younger than 50 today is going to get clobbered if you keep investing for your retirement with the old "buy and hold" method of investing in funds or stocks.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at November 14, 2011 11:39 AM

Poetry. Sheer, melancholy poetry.

Posted by: Velociman at November 14, 2011 1:26 PM

"This whole act's immutably decreed. 'Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates' lieutenant; I act under orders."


Posted by: Robert Oculus III at November 14, 2011 1:45 PM

"Think what that will do to the stock market as we boomers start to cash in our equity investments..."

Well Donald, after the Poobah-in-Chief gets finished with the economy, what will be left of those IRA and 101(k) retirements to cash out?

Posted by: Peccable at November 14, 2011 2:25 PM

And so the Grand Social Experiment of Wilson, Roosevelt et al comes to its inevitable conclusion.

Posted by: Brett_McS at November 14, 2011 10:30 PM

...the Grand Social Experiment of Wilson, Roosevelt et al comes to its inevitable conclusion.
Not soon enough!

Posted by: Peccable at November 15, 2011 5:41 AM

Sadly I live in one of those communities so well described in this post. Vacant houses everywhere, The city hiring bankruptcy specialists.

You've read all about us in Forbes and the Times. We are so desperate for jobs that we have 6 (soon to be 7) state prisons here. The other cities and counties dump their garbage here, then they point their finger and make fun of our crime rate.

The department of corrections dumps it's sex offenders here, classifies them as transient and tells us they don't know where they are. There are 150 halfway houses and coming soon a new prison hospital so convicted felons can get medical care unavaliable to the law abiding citizens who used to work in all the factories here.

At one time we were the second largest industrial city in the state. Global companies started here. Equipment built here is still earning money all over the world. I worked for 40 years in a company that would be 100 this year if it still existed. The state took away our raw material because of environmental concerns.

I just saw a product the company I worked for made on television. Happens all the time. The city is on it's way to a new murder record this year. People get mugged in the best shopping center. And it all happened in 40 years. OK, Fed up, done here.

Posted by: glenn at November 15, 2011 7:27 PM

I just heard on Chicago talk radio: a Republican congressman that retained his seat, saying that now the two parties need to work together and compromise. That Daley character (the one that was O's chief of staff) earlier said that each party needs to do some heavy compromising that maybe puts their re-election in jeopardy.

Hey, Mr Daley, when's the last time you Democrats ever compromised on anything?

Hey, Mr Congressman, that attitude is everything that's wrong with the Republican party today.

You CANNOT compromise with the Statist/Progressive. Start playing hardball, Republicans, just like your enemies (and they ARE enemies) and for keeps, for once.

They disgust me, all of them.

That this country would prefer a low-life, Islamist progressive Chicago thug to a decent man proves that Albert J. Nock's "masses" have taken over the country. Where, oh where, is Nock's "remnant"?

Posted by: flyoverpilgrim at November 7, 2012 8:53 AM

Beautiful essay. You always do good work.

Posted by: Lorne at November 7, 2012 10:56 AM

I know I've said this before, but you can paint clear and concise pictures with words. Excellent!

Posted by: Captain Dave at November 7, 2012 12:05 PM

Arthur Silber sums it up.
Here http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/

"And thus we arrive here: the State and the ruling class have told all Americans, repeatedly and with great care, that they systematically, regularly and routinely murder innocent human beings, including American citizens. Except for a vanishingly small number of people, no one cares. No one cares about the unimaginable suffering, about the bodies torn apart, about the growing number of lives to be endured in unbearable pain. No one cares about the horror, the blood, and the agony.

The State and the ruling class were interested to know if anyone cared about these matters. They now have their answer: No. Almost no one cares. The full truth is still worse. To the extent they are aware of these horrors -- or easily could be aware of them, if only they chose to be -- most Americans support them."

Posted by: at November 7, 2012 2:25 PM

"working cheap and off the books"

There ya go kids, the key to your new success, if you are to have success at all.

Work smarter not harder, but wait, go ahead and work harder too, yeah, that's it.

Cut out the middle man, all of them, tell them to go pound sand, keep ALL that you earn. I mean, YOU earned it, right? How does another man have a right to the efforts of your toil? Correct, he does not. Only a forsaken thief believes what is yours is his and you have the right and the duty to protect what is yours no matter what. YOU are under no obligation to pay the debts of others, ever.

I installed a 16'x7' overhead garage door in a new home this past Saturday that I found out about by watching the ads under "Gigs" in the craigslist website. I charged $150, got paid in cash, and did it in less than 8 hours. How much money did you earn last Saturday? Know how I learned how to install garage doors? I RTFM that came with the 2 that I installed in my own brand new garage/office/workshop 8 years ago. Then I helped 2 neighbors install them in their garages. Piece of cake. Simple hand tool every red blooded american male should already own and use regularly. If you don't, stop reading this stuff and go blob out on the couch and watch a cooking show or something.

You better learn how to live lower on the vine all the way around if you expect to survive. The new normal is learnable for those willing to learn. I suspect most are not.

Oh yeah, I just completed the design and construction drawings for an $800k new home which will be constructed on an island off the SW coast of Florida and my pay was in cash as well.

Thievin' assed employers, bah, who needs em? Not me, for the past 30+ years.

When you build a society on the shaky foundation of criminality (gov't theft on a grand scale) everything above will come tumbling down eventually. There is no such thing as a skyhook.


Posted by: ghostsniper at October 15, 2014 9:11 AM

Ch-ch-chow-chess-koo, Cha-che-sque...uh, however you pronounce thet name...

Posted by: Will at October 17, 2014 12:52 PM

I like your Leviathan analogy, Gerard, but it feels like the Leviathan is lying on top of me.

Posted by: creeper at April 20, 2016 3:33 AM