Monday, December 29, 2008

Isaiah Stroud and The Long Emergency

Jim Kunstler is a doomer, and today I found his forecast for 2009. This is doomer-porn at its finest, and unfortunately events may prove him correct. Robert Samuelson, also writing today, describes the trashing of conventional economic wisdom and closes with:

Much depends on whether the frantic policies to combat the recession succeed. Probably they will, but there are no guarantees. Our ignorance is humbling.

Kunstler is no economist and Samuelson is no doomer, yet both are uneasy about our hazy future. The bottom line is that we cannot assume the return of Business As Usual (BAU). Why am I talking about this? I finally caught up with current events in Rogers Park, specifically the death of Isaiah Stroud, and in reading through it all I have seen a glimpse of what might be, and it is chilling.

Craig Gernhardt has put up several posts about Isaiah's killing, starting here, then on to here, here, here and ending with this piece by Mike Harrington.

Through most of this Craig invited young people to post their comments about what was going on in their lives and their reaction to Isaiah's death. Moving past the poor grammar, all CAPS comments, and emotion on all sides, what is clear is that a slice of the current generation is headed down the slope with little hope of a better future. Whether or not that lack of hope is the result of out of touch parents, young people who will/do not take advantage of the opportunities available (pointed out by Man On The Street), poor schools, economic meltdown in local families, systemic racism, an overburdened social safety net, bankrupt government entities, exhausted taxpayers, or some combination of all of the above and more, the fact remains that in the decades to come we will continue to reap what has been sown, or not, in this community and others.

What has this to do with Peak Oil and the Long Emergency? The current credit crisis has put the kibosh on fossil fuel projects that are difficult, technologically challenging, and thus capital intensive. This includes new projects in the Canadian tar sands. The impact on all of us comes from the continuing decline of the older oil fields with few, if any, replacements to pick up the supply slack. Cantarell is now declining at a rate of 30%/year. Mexico, once the second largest and now 3rd largest supplier of oil to the US will quickly fall off that radar. Russia's Gazprom is either holding back or has reached peak production. Northern Ghawar is rumored to have watered out, or is about to, which leaves the southern wells as the last stand for this supergiant field. Ghawar was the largest field ever found, Cantarell the second largest. Arctic oil and gas fields are assumed but there is no current data that can offer a reliable number in terms of proven reserves. Eventually, the consequences will be a resumption of the climb to stratospheric prices, perhaps in a year, no more than two. Our economy is fueled by oil; primarily as a transportation fuel but also in the plastics industry (fertilizers in the case of natural gas.) The timing and shape of any economic recovery will be heavily influenced by the availability and cost of fossil fuels, especially oil.

If Kunstler is correct and BAU does not resume, then opportunities for undereducated, emotionally immature youth will deteriorate. If the young posters at Craig's site are unhappy now about the dearth of jobs they consider acceptable, they will become apoplectic in the near future. The current economic environment has made it a buyer's market where jobs are concerned. The competition from bright, educated, underemployed individuals will crush those who possess only the most rudimentary skills. The skills needed to keep this society running will not be obtained running drugs, hanging on street corners, or walking away from opportunities because you don't like what has been offered and prefer immediate gratification to pursuing a long term plan.

I have long maintained that poverty is no guarantee that a person will become a criminal or a failure. I have only to look at my own family to know that is true, starting with myself. At the same time, I am watching the most vulnerable of my family begin that slide downwards, and I fear that nothing I say or do will cause them to take command of their futures and turn their lives around. One is autistic and will need help all his life. One has Aspergers, which was diagnosed late in his teens so he has had little help. He has decided to quit school, get a job and pursue a GED. His mother does not object. Stocking shelves and bagging groceries are obvious options. Whether or not he can achieve more will be up to him but he has shown little initiative to date. One niece has completed college and is starting a family while another struggles to survive. Ours is not a family with a history of dysfunctional behavior or parenting, at least not in my parents' generation. Yet members of my family may join the tide of people who will become fodder for those who are better able to survive. They may become part of the new servant class that Kunstler foresees.

Reading the comments at Craig's blog I cannot help but believe that some of those who wrote in will engage violently with a future that shunts them aside. They will be ill-equipped to survive any other way. iPods, Blackberries, and text messaging are no substitute for skills that pay wages. Flipping burgers at Ronald's house may help with the rent, but are no substitute for skills that are in demand for a lifetime.

NGOs and non-profits can provide opportunities and resources. Governments can provide structure. Parents and other adults can provide guidance. Young people can learn and embark on a future fueled by hope in lieu of despair. But it won't happen if all don't do their part. In the Long Emergency we can either face an uncertain future with the expectation that we can maneuver through it and come out whole on the other side, or we can assume the onset of systemic collapse and hunker down in our best imitation of societies that previously traveled this path; Serbians, Croatians, Palestinians, Afghanis, Armenians, Sudanese, Hutus, Tutsis, Congolese, Cambodians and countless others.

Isaiah's death can be just another meaningless loss of a boy who may, or may not, have associated with gangs. Just another tickmark in Chicago's homicide count for 2008. Or, perhaps, in view of the economic and credit crisis in front of us and the risk to all of us if our economy, society and government fail, his death can become an opportunity to renew our commitment to improving this community for everyone. Mike Harrington's essay gives several excellent suggestions.

The Long Emergency has just begun to peek over the horizon and has yet to play itself out. It is up to us to manage it and help the other "Isaiahs" pursue a more positive future. It is in our shared interest to do so.


The North Coast said...

Kheris, this is the finest post you have ever published on your outstanding blog.

I think of all the young men like Isiah Stroud, and the young women who are inducted utterly unprepared into motherhood at age 12,14,17 (how come no one ever speaks of all these lost girls).

But I think even more of the millions of middle-class suburban Matthews and Brittanys et al, who are about to join the ranks of the traditional poor, and how utterly unacclimated to a life sans middle class entitlements they are. Their parents are middle class only by virtue of very limited skills that make it only in a really lush economy and will have no value in the economy ours will most likely become in the not-distant future. I speak of the millions of people who are business-managerial or sales and service, and who made out well enough to borrow to the hilt for the houses on oversized lots in the exurbs, with 3 cars in the driveway and lives totally dependent on copious amounts of cheap gasoline and good salaries. whose marginal skills will lose value once the Long Emergency starts to pick up steam. I'm already seeing the fallout in the financial industry, which will probably contract 50% by the time the dust settles.

My bet is that these places will be fertile breeding grounds for civil disorder on a scale that makes all the insurrections in Los Angeles put together seem like an afternoon street brawl on Ashland Ave compared. Entire regions will become the "badlands", for these people have no more coping skills that would help them in a vastly altered environment without access to the mall and easy money, than do our own poor youth, and they are far less acclimated to adversity.

At least our local youth don't take it as a given that middle-class level jobs will land in their laps and all lights will turn green just because they possess a degree they borrowed to the hilt to get, just to discover that it has no relevancy at all in an environment badly needing people with real skills but not needy at all of the kind of occupations that have been the most rewarding economically for the past 40 years.

Combine greater levels of poverty and hopelessness among our local cohort, plus sudden impoverishment of our vast middle classes, and their isolation in increasingly non-negotiable suburbs, and you have a perfect recipe for civil disorder and humanitarian disaster on a scale unseen since the destruction of the Roman Empire.

Let's hope the LE plays out more slowly than some expect it will, and in the meantime, work to take the best advantage of the resources we have here in Rogers Park and elsewhere in the city of Chicago. We have walkable communities with access to transit and jobs, and we are, I note, a little more closely knit and less isolated from each other than suburbanites tend to be. All of our citizens of all socio-economic ranks can benefit from the greater social cohesion we enjoy here, and build upon it. We are going to need each other, and we are going to need all the co-operation, good will, and willingness to bear hardship and deprivation we can muster in ourselves.

One silver lining- enough of the formerly middle-class around here will be experiencing real hardship, to feel more in common with the "poor", and the poor will feel less isolated and marginalized. Adversity sometimes begets neighborliness and cooperation among people who are competitive and hostile in normal prosperous times.

Grammar Gal said...

Although we don't know each other, I commend you writing, and, in particular, this post.

It seems to me there are many factors in the senseless death of Isiah and others like him.

One is the influence of the media, pushing and pushing these kids to materialism. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that parents are not "parenting" properly because they, too, have fallen for the same goal--that of having MORE, constantly living beyond their means in order to have MORE--while neglecting their responsibilities as parents.

The emphasis on sex is overwhelming, causing under-educated teens to feel, "Well, my friends are doing it, I should be doing it, too!" They do not understand the consequences, and shuffle their children, one after another, into their own mother's care, in order to seek out more "thrills" and other things they have been taught to think they are "entitled" to.

Some of Craig's commenters bemoaned the fact that there are no jobs for them! Of courser not, if all you do is skip or drop out of school. Yet, they expect six-figure jobs if they DO complete high school (or obtain a GED).

This is fallacious thinking on their part, but they have been taught by example. And because they choose to live in their own world, they have no concept of reality, and the HARD WORK necessary to make it in that real world out there.

Cosseting by the many social service organizations will not help them. Nor, apparently, will our alderman, who has made no comment re: Isiah "Freaky Nu Nu" Stroud's stabbing death, though it occurred about 200 feet from his office door!

It is up to the parents to WAKE UP! Do not expect someone else to "do the dirty work" of raising your children to be good, hard-working citizens. That is SOLELY your responsibility, whether that child was planned or an "accident'!

I wanted to keep this short--sorry!

And, North Coast, your comment, as usual, is wise and thoughtful! Thank you!

Kheris said...

I just rewatched Blade Runner last night. As stunning as Ridley Scott's vision of the future was, even more disconcerting is realizing that it may be what is facing us, absent the extensive space travel, space colonization and replicants.

Man On The Street said...

EXCELLENT post. You manage to land squarely in the middle without condescending to either side. Which is what I was trying to do but fear I may not have.

My point is that it's time to meet in the middle and that the "haves" (for lack of a better word..I know you are not all "haves") in Rogers Park, to some extent, have made their approach, starting more than a few afterschool programs, park district programs, even fighting tooth and nail to build the youth center on Howard.

The problem, as I see it, is that the "other side" (again, lack of a better term), at least a substantial number of them, don't seem willing to reciprocate. Instead of acknowledging that the "haves" (some of them) are making an effort to reach out and embrace this diversity the community now finds itself in, they pull back and fall back on the old standbys of racism accusations, feighning innocence and turning a blind eye to the problem. In the case of Isaih, respondents to Craig's blog denied vehemently that he had any connection to gangs (despite the fact that his "tribute wall" was riddled with gang images (six point stars, pitchforks, GD lettering... hell, the name of the group, B Block Boys, used a six-point star in place of the "o"). They refused to allow for the possibility that the B Block Boys may have actually been (minor) members of a gang, stating that flashing gang signs and posting them on the web, beatdowns of rival gang members and even selling dope was just something that "little kids do". How can you NOT despair for the future when older people who should know better defend them on that (and I suspect they were older than Isaiah because of their constant references to him as "lil bro", "lil cuz", etc.). How can you not want to throw up your hands and say "fuck it" when the answer to the issue of a lack of jobs is "the white man doesn't want us to have good jobs" (as one person stated), yet they ignore the question of whether they have even TRIED, even taken part in the hundreds of job training programs available in the city (many free).

(For the record I am African American, raised in Chicago, a former Robert Taylor housing project resident).

From all I have read here, a lot of Isaiah's friends think NO ONE is accountible for his death or the events and lifestyle that may have led to it, not his parents, not his friend he hung out with, not even himself. One poster alternately called him a kid and a grown man in the span of one board, which i guess is part of the problem. I suppose it (his death) just... happened. It's just excuse, excuse, excuse. Blame everyone else.

Yet it keeps rolling on, most recently with the attack on the bar owner and co-worker at the Glenwood who were trying to ride the Red Line home after a late night, encountered a bunch of teens hanging out in the train station at 3:30 a.m. and were attacked for trying to go through a turnstyle. For basically no reason. Just for the hell of it, just because they were "disrespected".

Have the "haves" (and I use that for lack of a better term right now) done all they can to make things better for those who may not have as much or not carry the same values? Probably not. But undeniable efforts have been made to make Rogers Park a truly diverse and welcoming community. At some point, those on the other side have to reach across to bridge the game. Arms are only so long.

I personally don't think it's going to improve. There are too many, vital differences in the belief on how life should be lived, between what constitutes right wrong, between what a parent's responsibility is. And over the coming years people will refuse to spend another dime to live or work in a neighborhood where they can't even walk from their train station to their front door without worry and will eventally say "fuck it", move away to leave the community to the B Block Boys and no one will blame them. I know I'm a pessismist. I wish someone would prove me wrong.

Laura Louzader said...

As a postscript to my post above, I have noticed, that while we are seeing slight increases in crime among the usual suspects here in Rogers Park and elsewhere in the city, that middle-class enclaves in the suburbs are seeing MAJOR changes for the worse in levels of citizen civility, in keeping with the deteriorating economic situation.

My mother lives in Webster Groves, MO, in an upper-midde-class enclave where she has a small home nestled among large, lavish homes. Well, her neighbors rode high on the HELOC hog during the boom, and since the retrenchment, the foreclosure rate in her area has ramped up steeply. Now, this old railroad suburb used to be a bastion of gentility, stability,and civility. No more. Mom says that her neighbors, mostly affluent GEn X'ers with large families and beautiful, large homes that they often doubled in size during the boom, are behaving "differently" and that the level of civility has dropped steeply.Drivers are much ruder, as are other shoppers in the stores, neighbors, and other people out in public.

This sort of vibes with the symptoms of social dysfunction and breakdown in middle-class communities across the country. More people killing their families, more shooting rampages, more road rage, more altercations over nonsense, and more and more formerly middle-class people living in tent cities.

·._.·[ðRÈÖ ßÄRßÌÈ]·._.· said...

When I Found Out that Isiah Was Killed I Cried I Went To Middle School And High school With Him He Was A Good Kid He Just Hung out Wit the Wrong Croud He Wanted To Be One Of Missy Elliott Back Up Dancers He Loved To FootWork..

(Footwork(ing) is a fast footed style of dance style. This dance is street born on the south and west sides of Chicago. It involves a frenetically stomp and hard stutter steps)

He Even Has Videos Of Him FootWorking On Youtube Just Put In his Name Isiah Stroud You Will See aLot Of R.I.P. FROSTBITE That Was The NickName He Went By I Do Miss Him I Rember Im Middle School the Art teacher Gave Him Some Diffrent Words To Sat and Not Curse He Was In The Class Say in Holy Smokes Is Was So Funny I And High School Was The Best Seeing Him In The Halls After Class Would Make Me Smile He Was Foot Working Or Playing Jokes On Some one But i Really Do Miss hin And I Pray For His Family And his Son That They Will Make It And Isiah Stroud Will Be in My Heart Forever

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