Who Has The Time And Motivation to Comprehend The Mess We're In? Almost Nobody

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

If we don't understand the problem or the dynamics that are generating the problem, it is impossible to reach a solution or practical plan of action.

When it comes time to assess our grasp of the dynamics of this unprecedented era, how do you reckon historians will grade our collective political "leadership," intelligentsia, central state, corporate leadership and the "common man/woman" citizen? Did we rise to the occasion or did we falter, not in acting to counter the dissolution of the Status Quo, but in simply making a concerted effort to understand the tangled web of lies, corruption, perverse incentives, unintended consequences, simplistic (and utterly misguided) ideologies, not to mention the real-world limits of a supposedly limitless world, that have become the key dynamics of this era?

I suspect future historians (presuming the funding of such scholarly assessments survives) will grade all categories either F or D-. The reasons are not difficult to discern, and it behooves us to understand why we are collectively so ill-prepared to understand our era, much less fix what's broken before the whole over-ripe mess collapses in a heap.

1. Intellectual laziness. Very few people are willing to work hard enough to figure things out on their own. It's so much easier to join Paul Krugman dancing around the fire of the Keynesian Cargo Cult, chanting "aggregate demand! Humba-Humba!" while waving dead chickens than ditch reductionist, naive ideologies and actually work through an independent analysis.

2. Independent thinking is an excellent way to get fired, demoted or sent to Siberia. Though America claims to value independent thinking, this is just another pernicious lie: what America values is the ability to mask failing conventional ideas and systems with a thin gloss of "fresh thinking."
In other words, what the American state and corporatocracy value is the appearance of independent thinking, not the real thing. Since the real thing will get you fired, everyone who works for government or Corporate America masters the fine arts of producing simulacra, legerdemain and illusion. This only further obscures the real dynamics, making legitimate analysis that much more difficult.

3. Relatively few have any incentive to question authority, the state or the corporatocracy. Humans excel at figuring out which side of the bread is buttered, and who's lathering on the butter: self-interest is the ultimate human survival trait (we cooperate because it serves our self-interest to do so).

While we cannot hold the pursuit of self-interest against any individual--after all, who among us truly acts selflessly when push comes to shove?--we can monitor the monumentally negative consequences of self-interest and complicity on the systems and Commons we share.

When roughly half of all households are drawing direct cash/benefits from the central state, how many of those people are interested in doing anything that might put their place at the feeding trough at risk? Sure, people will grouse about this or that (usually related to the conviction that they deserve more or have been cheated out of "their fair share"), but as long as the government payments, direct deposits and benefits keep coming, what possible motivation is there for the recipients to devote energy to investigating the potential collapse of the gravy train?

Corporate America is no different. The store may be devoid of customers, but the employees will strive to look busy to keep the paychecks coming until the inevitable lay-off/implosion occurs. How many Corporate America employees will critique their way out of a paycheck? In an environment this difficult for job-seekers, you'd be nuts to bother figuring out why your division is failing, knowing as you do that the truth will result in the "termination with extreme prejudice" of the naive fools who presented the truth as if it would be welcome
Does anyone seriously imagine that any employee of a bloated bureaucracy will ever voluntarily challenge the squandering of revenues when that might cost them their own paycheck, bonus, contract for their brother-in-law, etc.? A few protected people (professors with tenure, for example) can be "brave," but their "bravery" is cheap: their protestations cannot trigger termination with extreme prejudice, so the gesture of resistance is just that, a gesture.

4. Those relative few who might have a real motivation to undertake independent analysis have little time to pursue this noble project. They are working absurd hours and enduring absurd commutes. Between getting the bundles of diapers into the elevator and planning what to cook for dinner, there is precious little time or energy left for figuring out the mess we're in. Just getting to a second or third job can suck up a significant amount of time, money amd energy.

And so the busy employee/sole-proprietor/contract worker listens to NPR or some talk radio program for a few minutes, reinforcing their ideology of choice, and turns on the "news" (laughably bad propaganda churned up with "if it bleeds, it leads") as background noise and spends whatever personal time they have on Roku, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. seeking distraction or solace from the daily workload.

In a strange irony, there are plenty of citizens who have plenty of time (recall that Americans manage to watch 6-8 hours of TV a day), but their marginalized status and dependence on the state drains them of motivation to do anything but seek amusement and distraction.

If we don't understand the problem or the dynamics that are generating the problem, it is impossible to reach a solution or practical plan of action. In other words, the four points above doom us just as surely as the dynamics of insolvency, corruption, debt servitude, Tyranny of the Majority, etc. etc. etc.

Choose your metaphor of choice, but rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic has a nice ironic texture in an election year, when the "news" will be focusing on rearranging the political deck chairs on the first class deck--at least when there's no celebrity ruckus or "if it bleeds, it leads" to crowd out what passes for "hard news" in a regime dedicated to the distractions of bread and circuses.

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Flakmeister's picture

Agreed, to a point... But our macro systems have evolved, to wit, the despotism of Ancient cultures to various form of social democracy. This was not an accident but the outcome of thousands of years of thought and debate, the idea does eventually win if if it truly has merit...

The better question is whether one can fix the current mess via the "free will" of the current collective. For that I agree, that we are probabaly too far gone, but if we are ever to learn to live fairly  and sustainably, the process of figuring out things had better start soon, vigorously no less. And without rose-colored glasses, i.e. the state will exist in some form, wishing it not to be is naive... 

Dr. Engali's picture

"the state will exist in some form, wishing it not to be is naive... '

Yes there will always be a state, the question is what form of state do we want. Personally for me the less intrusive the state is, the better. 

As far as the macro picture, I believe that is taking care of itself. The seemingly never ending expansion that this country has "enjoyed" since it's "discovery" is over. That is of course unless we want to start wholesale slaughtering of other civilizations which, I'm sad to say, we are exceedingly good at.

Flakmeister's picture

That current macro situation you deride is merely the continuation of practices from ancient times. Just becaue it is the last chapter in the book, doesn't mean the meme will vanish.

Yes, the state should be unobtrusive as possible, but the state also includes everything within it, i.e corporations, how do you curtail their right to be obstrusive while still repecting the basic liberties that we cherish?

pods's picture

The other thing that sucks is that the people will enjoy liberty inversly proportional to the power of the state.

But, if the state has no power than OTHER states might wish to impose their will on us through force.

No real good answers I am sad to say.


Flakmeister's picture

It is all about finding a balance...

But, why is it that the Danes are consistently the happiest people on the planet? They have a very active state.

I will grant you that they do benefit to some extent in that they outsourced some "stately duties" to NATO. But they do contribute




Spastica Rex's picture


Isn't contentment anathema to our economic system?

Flakmeister's picture

Aren't we told day in and day out that the path to happiness lies in having moar?

And if that is the source of the problem, come up with a clever way of regulating it... I dare you in the face of the cries for unfettered liberty....

Dr. Engali's picture

I believe it first starts with the local community, supporting one another. In the big picture I believe the internet can have a huge roll in global governance. We don't need "really smart people" to make our decisions for us. The collaboration of the collective can do better. People just need to learn to think differently. Life can function without a central authority.

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

I think a city-state would be far more efficient, and co-operation between cities, than nation-states.

Spastica Rex's picture

We have very little disagreement, even as we pick nits.

Personally, I am unable to conceive of a way in which I can effect the collective in a directed manner - I have very little faith in my own personal agency. However, I don't project that on others, and I admire people who try.

Flakmeister's picture

Ah but you have affected (sic) the collective, merely by interacting on the Zerohedge stage...

Like Gandhi once said, "no matter what you do, it will be insignificant, however, it is very important that you do it"

Spastica Rex's picture

I always get the e and a wrong.  I even have a degree in English. :(

Ghordius's picture

I advocate for regional food self-sufficiency. that "regional" can be a continent if really necessary, but not further

the one scariest thing for me is food that can only be brought by gas-driven trucks over roads - maximum oil dependency - followed by ship-lanes

otherwise the rest does not really scare me that much - we humans are a sturdy plague. followed by rats. though in a pinch, we eat the rats, so...

El Vaquero's picture

Continent level is too big if you want real resilience.  Continent level still requires too much oil. 

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

Genghis Khan did it without oil.

pods's picture

I don't think there is a solution at the macro level. Macro level solutions imply control at the macro level. 

I am against all forms of coersion, and nothing macro is going to work anyways.

So my thinking is going to be me.  Not what the state might do to volutarily reduce their power.

Cause they ain't gonna do that.


Spastica Rex's picture

I mentioned Indians a ways up. They certainly represented an example of anarchist principles in practice. the Indian nations were far from perfect (or perfectly anarchist), but they did live in harmony with the world for countless generations.

pods's picture

That is very true. Of course it was brutal and "savage" in many ways, especially through today's lens.

The big problem is that organized groups can decimate small groups.  

So it becomes a big power struggle and arms race.


Harbanger's picture

That's the history of mankind.  Organized groups have always decimate small unorganized groups, no matter what their race.

-I would add that current "disorganized" groups, political or otherwise, will inevitably be decimated by the organized ones.

tvdog's picture

Don't over-romanticize the Indians. They affected their environment heavily by burning and hunted many species to extinction. Some tribes were warlike, constantly attacking their neighbors. (Those tribes, the Sioux and Apaches, ended up giving the whites the most trouble.)

Spastica Rex's picture

Don't over-romanticize the Indians.

I don't think I did.

Harbanger's picture

The fact that you believe they actually lived in "harmony" tells me you're romanticizing something, maybe your'e confusing the Indians with the American hippies of the 60's.  It must have been fun to be an "anarchist" in a still safe and free country back then.

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

1 positive macro-level change: fire the central controllers & do not permit new ones to take their place.
Just saying it's needed, not likely.

Harbanger's picture

@ PODS, I agree with what you said, except I would clarify something by saying that one should avoid being "in debt", as in being in the red, or living beyond means.  There's no reason to use cash to buy something today when interest rates are low or even nonexistent, as in some car loans for example.  Yesterday I was going over some bills with my partner and we talked about a $450,000,15year loan that we have a few months left to pay on.  Sure, we paid back almost twice as much as we borrowed, but we both agreed that if we hadn't borrowed that money, we would not have been able to build the projects we now own together which are worth over 4 Mil.  Interestingly the same bank won't refinance us and give us the same 450k loan again today.

pods's picture

Well loans for capital improvement are a valid reason to go into debt.

The vast majority go into debt to consume.  Small debt, as in CC debt feeds the beast just as big debt does too.

If aggregate credit rolls over, shit gets bad (for debt money). That is all we have to do.



Harbanger's picture

I traveled to Argentina after the 2001 financial collapse.  No one had any credit cards, all cash, people had taken a big loss in their wealth, banks also stopped giving loans, but they functioned.  That collapse however didn't keep them from electing a Peronist (a leftist politcal party who's battle cry has always been social redistribition).  Point is that their gov became even more totalitarian and even more controlling than before.  The result now is capital controls, trabsactions in all currency except theirs is illegal, and they are suffering even worse economic conditions than during the 2001 collapse.

Dr. Engali's picture

There is a special place in hell for 99% of the politicians who have sold their souls in order to make a buck. 

As far as solutions inside the system, there are zero. The corruption runs far to deep, and the people of this country are far more concerned about how they are going to purchase the next iGadget or their next pair of $350 Air Jordans. As long as the dollar reigns  supreme the unfettered consumption will continue, and the corruption will get progressively worse. 

The best thing that could happen is to lose the reserve currency status and this idea that we can have everything..unlimited consumption, never ending free stuff without working, a military second to none... all of these issues will take care of themselves once the debt based dollar dies. 

Once the reserve currency is lost and an actual reset has set in,then we can start rebuilding. 

Spastica Rex's picture

I'm not arguing with you, but rebuild what?

New strip malls? New 6 lane freeways? New sports stadiums? New home improvement centers?

Dr. Engali's picture

Cripes I hope not. I'd rather see us take a longer term view on the world. Personally I would be happy if we could adopt a life where more stuff isn't the end all, be all. But human nature being what it is, I don't hold out much hope for that.

Spastica Rex's picture

Buckminster Fuller, who I have such a deep emotional connection to that he feels like he was my own crazy grandpa, talked about ephemeralization. I always thought that this was one of his greatest conceptual failures. However, I've recently come to believe that I (and everyone else) misunderstood what he meant. Ephemeralization is not forever doing more with more. An "increasing standard of living" is an abstraction, defined however one wishes to define it. We must rebuild ourselves.

Is this possible? YES.

When I say possible, I mean possible in the sense that there is a conceivable world where humanity grows up. I doubt that this is that world.

Calmyourself's picture

If that currecny cliff is really lurking out there and can brush aside carrier task groups and the will to use them then the folks who think strip malls and Air Jordans are important will be naturally curtailed in numbers.

El Vaquero's picture

Something new that involves resiliant local economies. 

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

I suppose but the others still get a corner of hell somewhere else.

deerhunter's picture

I went from over 100K a year in a 20 year position to scrambling for odd jobs.  It is amazing what little you can live on if you haven't buried yourself in debt.  I have through a company BK stepped way back in income.  I feel good about not paying over 20k a year in to feeding the beast.  I have been awake and thinking my whole life.  I sure didn't plan on being out on the street looking for work at the tender age of 58 but I am ok.  Most troubling thing to happen to me lately was my 149.00 kitchen faucet from a well known quality manufacturer has a plastic sink plate.  Not even chromed metal.  149 dollars for part plastic parts.  What can you do?  Starve the beast.  I am traveling to Ohio to break,  cut and wrap four grass fed steers.  For my efforts I come home with a quarter of freezer beef.  Barter,  it's whats for dinner.  

Dewey Cheatum Howe's picture

Exactly being out of debt is the key. If you are resilient you can make due quite well with less. Lean and quick on your feet (mind) in this type of environment is going to be the important survival skills. Fat, bloated and resistant to change are going to get picked clean when they have nowhere to hide. That is another problem people are just not that resilient anymore. They either can't or don't want to learn and adapt to what the environment is giving to get from here to there. There is going to be a big trial by fire for alot of these squishy idealists when the supply lines break and there are no life lines to grab onto. That is when the jawboning stops being pie in the sky idealistic and becomes more pragmatic and realistic. You'll know it when you see the change.

Oldwood's picture

Removing ourselves from debt is what kills what ails us. Unfortunately, they will fight back. We must invest in ourselves, not bank accounts, mutual funds or even currency.

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

What, nature doesn't just love the slowest animals?

therevolutionwas's picture

necessity, the mother of invention

NeoLuddite's picture

On the other hand invention is the mother of necessity

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

I would either take it back or be more careful to inspect, even search online for videos of complaints about a product before buying it. Plumbing is too important to get screwed like that and pay more in the long run.
Sorry you got sniped like that. Congrats on literally bringin' the beef home.

ISEEIT's picture

We're already off the cliff...................Impact will be epic.

Kobe Beef's picture

No question, we are going down. The question is, what will arise.

Oldwood's picture

If it goes all the way to the bottom, nothing good. Our only hope is to stop it before then, while there is something that still resembles a society.

Kobe Beef's picture

I think whatever societies come after collapse will be by necessity more adaptive and resilient than what came before-- if not, an economic, political, and social collapse is merely the prelude to our extinction as a species.

Whether this will be "good" in a moral sense, I do not know. Nor do I expect to live to see it. There will be blood, rivers of it.

I share your idea that small, capable, breakaway societies may escape the bottom. And those who wish to have a future will be building it now, wherever they may be. Godspeed.

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

blood? There will be tumors. Whatever society follows next better be highly resistant to radiation.

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

Is there a bottom for a black hole?

YHC-FTSE's picture

"Debt servitude" is one of those understated phrases that has the weight of human history behind it, the depth and breadth of injustice, terror, and suffering which was all too real to those who participated in slavery merely a few generations ago. To the slavers and slaves, it was all too apparent that DEBT IS SLAVERY. That fact was as real and obvious to them as Sun in the sky. Modern life may have taken the sting out of living in debt, or as we ironically say, living on credit, with all the accompanying consumer credit and bankruptcy laws, but step into the grey world of loan sharks, or even worse,  payday loan companies that charge 2000%+ APR, and the weight of history will fall on your shoulders like a ton of bricks into hell and despair.  

That,  obviously is precisely what money lenders of all sizes do to make a living, the biggest profits invariably from human misery, bread and butter from success. What happens when the medium of exchange, the store of value, when money itself is based on debt? Debts that are so large,  generations yet unborn must be factored in to service it? We're all about to find out for real. 

Oldwood's picture

I agree, but could you loan me a few bucks? I need to buy a few lottos as I really think my luck is about to change!