The American Century and Kangaroo Island

When I think about how bad can it get, I think about Kangaroo Island, a big long island off the coast of Australia that burned a few months ago.

It was mainly a nature reserve and tourist destination and the reason people went to it was to see the koalas and kangaroos. My brother and his wife went there. When they arrived, they said, “Where are the kangaroos?” The guide said, “Wait until night. You’ll see so many kangaroos you’ll say take me back to the hotel, I can’t stand all these kangaroos.” And sure enough, as soon as it got dark there were kangaroos popping up all over the place like popcorn.

A third of the island burned, killing thousands of kangaroos and koalas and other animals with names I have never heard before, several of them listed as nearly extinct before this even happened. So that’s how bad it can get.

I get from here to there by thinking about Charles Darwin, who was reluctant (The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, David Quammen, 2006, Norton) to come forward with his theory of natural selection. I like to think about the years he spent sitting at his desk in Downe House, studying barnacles, suffering from headaches and stomach aches, slowly working his way toward the inescapable conclusion that species came and went, some of the most beautiful were gone forever, and clearly, God did not prefer human beings to beetles. It would have been hard indeed to be the guy who proved this to be the case, especially if you had a wife, as he did, whom you loved and who trusted in God to bring the two of you together forever in Heaven after you died.

Kangaroo Island is how bad it gets. The kangaroos did not know how to get off the island. Do we? It turns out that the mayor of Kangaroo Island (probably someone who now wants people to get right back to work as fast as possible) is a climate change denier. He doesn’t think climate change had anything to do with the fires.

Which is related to Trump actually telling people “on TV,” which used to mean something, that they might try drinking clorox or disinfectant generally to clean out their systems.

In the meantime, Andy Blunden in Australia, whose book on Hegel for Social Movements I’ve got to finish and do a review of (the problem being that I really have to read Capital first) sent out to a discussion list that I belong to a 7-page rant (his term) called As of 2020, The American Century is Over. In response, I sent it around to a few close friends and people in my family, who represent a range of political opinions and perspectives, from managers to small business owners to healthcare professionals to teachers of all sorts. It’s a broad-brush arc of the rise and fall of capitalist America, its role in the world and how the bottom line looks from the middle of a global pandemic.

The responses I have gotten back tend toward the personal, which I find inspiring. They revolve around “When did you notice this was happening?” Our friend B. says for him it was the late 1960s, when he was in the National Guard and might have gone to Vietnam. Our son Jake remembers that when he went to Italy in 1997 to attend the University of Bologna, Americans ruled — they were cool and knew everything. he could tell by the way everyone smiled. When he went back the first time after 9/11, things had changed. American knew nothing. No one was smiling at him now. So for him the turning point was 9/11. Joe and I have noticed in trips to Mexico people will say “no me gusto” when I ask if they’d be interested in coming to the US. Mexicans don’t want to come here; they’ll skip the US and go to Canada. Canadians have no reason to come here. Joe and I would go to Colin Barker’s social movements conferences in Manchester, and we’d meet Brits who would say straight out that they didn’t want to visit the US, although they’d be happy to see the Grand Canyon at least once before they died.

And of course, the reason Joe and I were in Vietnam was because supposedly the US had something to teach other countries about how collective bargaining works. How’s that going for you, as they say? While the TPP (see early entries for the full story on this) was potentially coming to pass, there was a signed side agreement between the US and Vietnam that laid out a version of independent grassroots unions that looked a lot like unions in the US before 1948 (Taft Hartley). So people wanted to know how that worked, and we had something to teach. Then when Trump was first elected things got iffy — we had a good half-semester, but the reason for us being there was slipping and we were being asked to teach more and more cross cultural management, etc. The third time we went the Department of Labor Relations and Trade Unions was in deep transition; now it has merged with the Business Administration program. “This is how we do it in the US” is no longer a selling point.

Meanwhile, here in Berkeley, we are in a bubble. The recent rains make the front yard look great but they mean there will be lots of growth this spring, thus wildfires next fall. But the rains aren’t enough to really fill up the snowpack. We have had about 6 weeks of lockdown; I go to the grocery stores once a week and stand in the “senior” line to go in. No more than 20 people are allowed in the store where I get most everything, which used to be jammed.

Can you see the customers?

Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

2 thoughts on “The American Century and Kangaroo Island

  1. As usual, Helen, you present a clear and vivid picture of your world, our world. I am holed up in my apartment in New York, having had an unexpected surgery on March 20 to correct a stress fracture of tibia and ankle caused by osteoporosis. I was suffering a leg pain for weeks and it wasn’t diagnosed until one good doctor ordered an MRI. I am recovering nicely and was able to walk to Central Park today to see the cherry blossoms. The PSC and CUNY are functioning virtually with many complaining about the time it takes to adapt to teaching on line; meanwhile the union has taken strong stands on resisting cuts and supporting the green new dea.
    I hope you and Joe stay safe.
    Marcia Newfield

    1. Great to hear from you!! You inspire me to take that weekly anti-osteoporosis pill that I’ve been told to talk. That’s good news about both your walk in Central Park and the PSC. Not clear when or if we’ll get back East this summer, although i hope to be in Vermont in the upcoming winter and would love to see you.

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