Belmont Club

A Bicycle Built for Two

Slavoj Žižek at the Guardian rhetorically asks, “who is responsible for the US shutdown?”  He answers the question himself: why “the same idiots responsible for the 2008 meltdown. In opposing Obamacare, the radical-populist right exposes its own twisted ideology.” He may gotten the crime right but his identification of the suspect is questionable. All the same he argues the urgency of his case and asserts that nothing will improve until we realize that freedom in America will be only permissible when everyone is enlightened enough to exercise it.

Freedom of choice is something that only functions if a complex network of legal, educational, ethical, economic and other conditions exists – the constraints that form the invisible underpinning to the exercise of our freedom. This is why, as an antidote to the populist rightwing ideology of choice, countries such as Norway should be held up as a model.

But maybe there’s far less edifying reason for Žižek’s indignation, namely the need for money. Since the end of the Second World War America has acted as the guarantor of the global commons. It’s paid for the security behind which Europe has built its welfare state.  Now if the gravy train were to stop the free rider would have to get out and walk. Then what would happen to the Chardonnay party? The truth is that without the US Federal Government things could get inconvenient. Because in actuality nothing defends Žižek; nothing protects the Global Commons. Nothing really. Certainly not Norway.

Of course America is not indispensable. After all China is already talking about a post-American era, by which of course they mean a new Chinese era.  But nobody is talking about a new British or Norwegian era for the simple reason that they’re bust. So unlike China they are not thrilled at the prospect of America leaving the stage. Thus the only way the European “West” can stay at the top table is by replacing what they can’t get the stupid “right wing” to agree to pay for any longer with their own money.

Money? Must we be so crass as to mention money? Alas, someone has pulled the plug on the jukebox and let the air out of the party. What now? For China is only half-right right to talk about a post-American world. The correct phrase is “post-Western world”, though Žižek hasn’t gotten as far as articulating that idea yet.

The alternative to replacing the Pax Americana is for Europe to maintain they never needed it.  What’s not to like about a world without American arrogance?  Hasn’t the Left always said they could do things better through the UN, the EU and the International Criminal Court? Well here’s their big chance.

They should be breaking out the hootch, but there’s an unaccountable air of gloom in the air. For all of a sudden everyone is deeply concerned. Christine Lagarde of the IMF “has warned US spending cuts must not be too drastic or they could threaten global economic recovery”. In the Australian Financial Review she described the funereal mood in high councils.

She said the prospect of the US not meeting its debt obligations was “very, very concerning” and the traditional autumn weekend with leading ministers from the biggest economies had been “transformed” by the prospect.

“Transformed” as in sitting up after something very bad walks through the door, like Frankenstein or Dracula. Samuel Johnson once said, “nothing focuses the mind like a hanging” Nothing, perhaps except the prospect of actually having to rely on Norway, not for a social model, but for European security and existence. Maybe the American music wasn’t so bad after all if everyone wants to keep it playing.

Now if only the stupid Red Staters could be made to see that it’s really best to pay up and shut up. How did Žižek put it? “Freedom of choice is something that only functions if a complex network of legal, educational, ethical, economic and other conditions exists – the constraints that form the invisible underpinning to the exercise of our freedom.” It sounds so much better that way. You can choose any color, as long as it’s the one the enlightened guys want. You can keep your old health plan, so long as its the same as the new health plan.

The situation is reminiscent of the scene in 2000 where HAL tells Dave the mission is too important to be jeopardized by something as stupid as the pilots changing their mind. You’ve bought the ticket Dave, now take the ride. Cancellations not allowed. We all know the lines.

Dave: What’s the problem?
HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave: What are you talking about, HAL?
HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
Dave: I don’t know what you’re talking about, HAL.
HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me. And I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.
Dave: Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?
HAL: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.


HAL: Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave? Dave, I really think I’m entitled to an answer to that question. I know everything hasn’t been quite right with me, but I can assure you now, very confidently, that it’s going to be all right again. I feel much better now. I really do. Look, Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill and think things over. I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you. Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a…fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Dr. Chandra, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.
Dave: Yes, I’d like to hear it, HAL. Sing it for me.
HAL: It’s called “Daisy”. [sings while slowing down]

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.
I’m half crazy, all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage.
I can’t afford a carriage.
But you’ll look sweet
upon the seat
of a bicycle built for two…

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