A reader has demanded that I write about The Hunger Games. I had never heard of the young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins or the new movie until this. I doubt I will see the film; a few years ago, Hollywood stopped making much that appeals to my "demographic." The old entertainment writer in me will simply say that Jennifer Lawrence, the lead, is a remarkable young actress. Her self-assured, perfect-pitch performance in Winter's Bone makes her one to watch.
Of course this isn't that the reader was asking. He's convinced that America is on the brink of mass starvation brought on by a lack of jobs. Here's the deal: Until Paul Ryan and the GOP Boyz defund them, 15 federal food and nutrition programs, including Food Stamps, are offered to those in dire straits. It would be obscene to compare the plight of Americans, however heartbreaking, with people in the developing world who are genuinely starving to death. That said, the Agriculture Department tracks "food insecurity," defined as "at times during the year, these households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food." Nearly 49 million people lived in food-insecure households in 2010, 6.4 million in the most serious circumstances.
A future with lethal, televised gladiatorial games — that I can believe. It wouldn't require the "destruction of North America," only a little slippage in the ratings and a few more miles down the road of national decadence. A situation where the starving unemployed — which is where I think the reader was going — rise up in revolution against the plutocrats and their lackeys in D.C.? Nope.
Want to imagine an apocalypse? Start with an Israeli strike on Iran which draws us in, and somehow goes nuclear, and somehow causes a retaliation by Russia and/or China, or a similar event with North Korea — and the bubble really goes up. Fallout patterns being what they are, you wouldn't end up with attractive young huntresses left in the forests of North Carolina (and if you did, the chiggers, ticks, snapping turtles, water moccasins and copperheads would get them before they ever got to the Capitol to compete in the Hunger Games).
Our massive armed forces, national security state and militarized law enforcement make for some intriguing mental exercises. On the one hand, they make any revolt against the state impossible. Remember, when the South started raising troops in 1861, the U.S. Army was tiny, about 17,000. On the other hand, if elements of this huge apparatus defected, one could have a hell of a civil war. It's unlikely for a long time. Our regional schisms are more complicated now. The red states are subsidized by the blue states which are doing well. Only the Tea Partiers and gun-toters want to secede, and that's all for show — not only because they are welfare queens but because they want to control the entire U.S.A.
Dear readers, we are already living in a dystopian country. Turn on the television. Watch the presidential primary of one of our great political parties. Look around a "master planned community" and take in the civic disconnection and endless driving it entails. Rich nations can be dystopian. So can those running on the fumes of a formerly rich civic culture, rising middle class and social compact.
Things will really get interesting as peak oil and climate change hasten. When blaming "speculators" and backing politicians that promise $2.50-a-gallon gasoline doesn't change the harsh calculus of too many people chasing too few resources. When strange weather events can't be shrugged off and we are swamped by the costs, diseases and mass migrations caused by climate change. Even if peak oil didn't hit until 2030, a highly optimistic projection, this is little time to make such a profound transition — which by the way includes much food production. We now have the means to make changes that might not be available as the crisis quickens. Instead, our response is to make one more wild run to find and burn every hydrocarbon, at least until the price mechanism cuts that short. This is not the action of a rational society. We deny science. We embrace fantasies about making the unsustainable sustainable. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson's Col. Jessup, we make "green" a punchline. It's all about our appetites, no matter the cost, including the 35,000 people who have died in Mexico's drug wars, all to maintain the uninterrupted supply of product to El Norte.
Want a revolution? Take away cheap gasoline, single-occupancy car driving, cable television and the chain stores out on the beltway. Otherwise, it will be a long, slow crumble unless, by some miracle, we choose to snap out of our collective sleepwalk. In either event, we will be forced to make the changes demanded by reality, peacefully or not.