Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pondering the Endgame

After almost a year of regular study and analysis, I have cross referenced various theories and independently performed countless calculations using data from a variety of sources including my own empirical evidence. As they say, "I'm from Missouri".

I have concluded for myself, and to a certain extent by myself, that we are entering an era that involves a change so massive that few people can comprehend it, and perhaps more importantly, fewer still are willing to comprehend it. We are in denial that the present paradigm is not sustainable and no amount of tweaking will fix it. We are on the cusp of the era of a very limited resource budget. This era will likely be long lasting.

I have been labeled a cynic, but I think cynicism has been given a bad rap. Evolutionary theory has shown that self-interest is essential for the survival of any species. I define myself as a realist with experience. But I digress; I am not a Cassandra (yet) although I have few illusions.

The ramifications are wide ranging and profound, almost endless. Rather than dwelling on them, I now am trying to unravel what the endgame will look like.

In order to do this, I think it is important to examine where we are right now. Our starting point will factor largely in our upcoming journey. Making an assessment of our mental and emotional capabilities is no less important than performing an inventory of our physical resources. This applies both to yourself and to those around you, to decide how you choose to interact and with whom.

The reaction to dwindling resources and a radically different paradigm will be determined by a number of factors;

  • The maturity of the individual.
  • The general mindset of the society as a whole and the local community (peer pressure).
  • The mental and physical skill set that each person possesses and the skill sets that exist as a whole.

In a nutshell, this means the ability to accept and adapt. As these abilities will vary widely due to socioeconomics, local climate and political environment, so will the success of adaptation vary widely. While many of our capabilities will be determined by technology, I am looking at our sociological capabilities. Whatever we accomplish will not be done by machines but by people, but most of us are starting out with a serious disadvantage.

Our most pressing problem is the abrogation of parental responsibilities and the tacit usurping of those responsibilities by an entity that is far from benign. This must be acknowledged, examined in detail, and dealt with if we are to overcome it.

Through a sustained and methodical process lasting almost 100 years, our priorities have been hijacked and our values have been perverted. In the truest sense, I believe that the USA is a very sick society. It is less so in Canada, but that doesn't mean it deserves the Gold Star. To be clear, these are not personal value judgments. I am not a religious fundamentalist nor am I a social activist. I make these assertions simply on the basis of common sense and critical thinking. To wit, a result of simple observations of trends and analysis of the observed consequences.

The "American Dream", perhaps better called the "American Folly" is by far the No. 1 export of the USA. It is the foundation of most, if not all of what is produced by the USA and has made many individuals obscenely wealthy. Sadly, the USA now produces very few physical things, as most of its revenue-generating physical output is produced by proxy. Many of the country’s wealthiest people, such as marketers and stock traders produce nothing at all. Sadder still is the fact that this deluded concept has been very effectively propagated throughout the world.

This unbridled growth has been driven by consumerism. I won't rant about consumerism per se although I could easily do so. That said, I will make the following assertions and clarifications:

I differentiate consumerism from the legitimate exchange of goods and services. Consumerism is a process of producing goods for the consumer that is no longer a symbiotic process but a parasitic one, with little regard for the well-being of the host:

  • No products are produced which are expressly for the benefit of the customer. Some products may actually be beneficial, but this is predominantly a pleasant side effect. Most products produce no benefit above tradition methods and cost substantially more. Hand sanitizer is a perfect example, as it is no more effective than soap and water and has been promoted through fear mongering.
  • Products, promotion methods and production methods that are detrimental to the consumer, society or environment are limited only by potential legal liability or loss of reputation. Anything else is an externality.
  • Customer satisfaction is important only to the extent that any lack thereof would impede future sales. This is less of a problem than you might think, as the consumerism contract is often fulfilled simply through the mere possession of the product. To express dissatisfaction is to attack the basic tenets of the delusion.
  • No producer has ever made a product any better than necessary, and succeeded in a mass market.

A far more troubling aspect than consumerism itself is the intentional process of establishing a new mindset and belief system in the collective public mind that is necessary in order for consumerism to succeed. The first step is to break down any existing value system and any cognitive skills which could thwart the marketing effort. This involves:

  • Suppression of the rational mind.
  • Suppression of personal responsibility.
  • Suppression of potential consequences arising from personal actions.
  • Prioritizing the needs and wants of the individual above that of society.

Once this mindset is established, the misguided mind (or perhaps unguided mind) is then ripe for destructive and brilliantly executed messages:

  • Exploitation of existing rational fears.
  • Creation and/or exploitation of irrational fears.
  • Creation of unrealistic expectations.
  • Creation of an unrealistic sense of entitlement, assuming entitlement is not itself unrealistic.
  • Creation of a false sense of abundance, both generally and personally.
  • Creation of false needs and continuously advancing those false needs.
  • Denigration of anything which is old or "obsolete" be they physical items or societal values.
  • Assertion that "standard of living" equates to “quality of life".
  • Intentional avoidance of anything implying restrictions, limits or boundaries.
  • Assertion that consumption equates to living well. Replacement of a possession needs only the most trivial of justifications.

Generally, anything which is "unpleasant", i.e. reality, is ignored or discounted.

In this Alice in Wonderland existence, the oft-used economic term “discretionary spending” is perhaps the most telling. The term now only addresses where the money will be spent, not if it will be spent. Considering that personal savings in the USA are at the lowest level since 1933, and credit card debt is out pacing income growth by over 150%, this assumption seems to have merit. In the world of consumerism, spending involves little or no real discretion, to the extent that the spending is not determined by any available funds after essentials are covered, but by the spender’s available credit. This is a testament to the success of the above campaign.

A byproduct of this barrage, in concert with reduced education standards and poor parenting is the reduction of key skills such as literacy, numeracy and critical thinking. This loss of abilities that are essential to self-direction further advances the decline.

The damage to the quality of life, both for the individual and the society is enormous. This has taken several forms;

  • The goal of consumerism is to reduce an individual, or limit a developing individual to a developmental stage somewhere between infancy and adolescence, thereby limiting or eliminating any opportunity for true self-actualization.
  • In the ongoing, frantic drive for ersatz success, parental responsibilities have been neglected or ignored, and influence from the extended family has been greatly reduced. Through these multi-generational actions we have all but lost any contact with, or access to, key values and knowledge which will be critical to our upcoming survival needs.
  • Further, reduction or elimination of these positive parental influences has severely impaired the very capacity needed to expose and counteract the above fantasy world. Indeed, once the first generation that is in a state of arrested development starts parenting, the process is almost self-sustaining. We have lost our culture of symbiotic mutual self-interest.
  • Once the link between material acquisition and so-called fulfillment is forged, the consumer is placed in a never-ending destructive cycle, resulting in sustained discontent, emotional imbalance, and often depression. As the victim is rarely able to discern the error in the underlying premise, correction of this psychopathy often requires professional treatment.
  • True social interaction, the sense of self-worth and the sense of place that comes from existing in a community has been largely lost.
  • Consumerism has achieved a Nirvana where shopping is now a recreational activity in and of itself, irrespective of any real need or the means to support the purchase.

As damaging as the above is, I feel that the biggest loss of all has been perpetrated by the insidious repackaging and promotion of negative values by presenting them as positive attributes. While many of these labels have some merit in a rational environment, they should not be confused with the doublespeak that has permeated the present skewed society.

  • “Rights”, are foisted upon us with no mention of the accompanying responsibilities (see Entitlement below).
  • "Empowerment", is in reality selfishness.
  • "Liberation", is in reality sanctioned irresponsibility.
  • "Independence", is in reality denial of the individual as a part of the society.
  • "Entitlement", is in reality the disconnection of reward from effort or accomplishment.
  • "Self Worth", is in reality egotism.
  • Obfuscation of the difference between "quality of life" and "standard of living" completely ignores the very real emotional and spiritual needs of a society and the individual.
  • The trivial is exalted as important and anything of depth is ignored or met with vacuous stares. Dysfunctional behaviour is celebrated.

True, healthy values have been palmed and replaced with false, unhealthy ones. This bit of legerdemain puts control in the hands of the magicians and quashes the very attributes that they purport to provide. This is slavery sold as emancipation. I see little difference between this conduct and drug dealers that present their product as a solution to one’s woes.

Psychologists have shown that an individual raised without limits or boundaries becomes a very unhappy and insecure person. Further, I believe that there is an intrinsic drive in a developing child to establish a framework and belief system unconsciously. He or she is akin to a sponge, which through the laws of physics has no choice but to soak up water, regardless of whether it is mountain spring water or sewage.

One could question how responsible the individual is for this situation, but it is largely moot or at least a starting point for another discussion. There is a lot of blame to go around. We are where we are, with a lot of deluded and damaged people on the loose.

All of the above is little more than preamble, as the key question is still “How will we behave when we are told no?” As I mentioned, the length and success of the adjustment period is dependent on how we choose to adapt. A deeper question is, how adaptable are we really? This is a question that I do not have the experience or knowledge to answer but it begs some fundamental questions about human development. Allow me to explain.

During the stages of an individual’s development, there are windows of opportunity during which physical, emotional and cognitive attributes are established. Outside these windows, development of a given attribute is more difficult and in some cases impossible. This has been clinically shown for the immune system, sight, speech, spatial orientation and motor skills to name a few.

In practical terms, we are not the same generation or even the same grounded society that was largely agrarian and accustomed to physical labour, which survived the hard scrabble existence of the great depression. We have neither the experience nor a point of reference. Whereas those entering the depression were faced with a new reality, many of us must first confront reality at the same time that reality is in great flux. This does not bode well for the future.

So, will the population that has been kept in a state of dependency and adolescence be physically able to reject these artificial, but nonetheless entrenched beliefs and develop the skills that were denied them during their critical development periods or will those neural pathways be inaccessible?

In simpler terms, will we see petulant children or mature adults face the challenges?

The answer to this question will be the difference between discomfort and not surviving. It will play a big part in how the endgame of peak oil, overpopulation and climate change is played out.

Regardless of what physical solutions may or may not exist, denial, disbelief and ignorance must be conquered before anything else has a hope of succeeding. If this adjustment period is protracted, it will waste valuable time that we can little afford.

It’s time to wake up, and grow up.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Mr. Brannigan. I look forward to your further thoughts.

Betsy said...

Thank you for this honest look at the psyche of our society. I read you post just after listening to Andrew Bacevich on Bill Moyers Journal and the combination has me reeling. We have gotten so good at ignoring reality and the consequences of our decisions. And somehow, the hens haven't come home to roost...superficially we're still able to live the American Dream, not realizing or caring that our children will be picking up the tab.

Bob Brannigan said...

Hi tcw:

Thank you, I encourage you to not only read but to also share your views, here and anywhere else that is appropriate (or perhaps inappropriate) ;-).

Bob Brannigan said...

Hello Betsy:

I am as well, reeling somewhat. I am a regular viewer of Bill Moyers' Journal but, after your comment, I made an extra effort to ensure I saw it. In many ways, I thought I was listening to myself, (with all appolgies to Mr. Bacevich)

I was impressed at the synchonicity, but in the interest of critical thinking, I would ask what makes my views, or Mr. Bacevich's true?

I urge you, and any other readers to challenge and verify anything you read.

This is not a rebuke but an encouragement. Please keep in touch.

alfski said...

Hi Bob - I'm just reading Benjamin Barber's book "Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens", sounds like you'd get something out of it too.

Cheers, Andrew.

Bob Brannigan said...

Thanks Andrew, it's on my list. Mr. Barber and I are definitely on the same page.



Noah Scales said...

Collectively, people act with less critical judgement, and I am no exception. Advertising entrains the personal responses that would naturally occur if I reacted as part of a group. Therefore, removing advertising from my life might improve me as a human being.

In fact, advertising offers me yardsticks with which to measure my life, leaving me wanting more depth.

However, regardless of my (spiritual) depth, I cannot take responsibility for the actions of a group I am part of, and now advertising lets me hand responsibility for my personal decisions over to marketers and the group decisions that they reflect.

That I go hunting for the best marketing messages does not give me back my responsibility, and I cannot escape marketing entirely.

Caught in that crunch, I cannot leave consumerism, and I need marketers to rule me.

And if you turn off the TV and internet, stop buying magazines, and live frugally, you exit the loop, you become an outsider to everyone else still in the loop. Being an outsider would be uncomfortable for me.

Bob Brannigan said...


I understand completely what you are saying. Based on your present mindset, you are right.

What you may be forgetting is that your mindset can change. Every one of us has a narrative within us, for better or worse. You can change that narrative.

As I have written in the sidebar introduction for my blog, independent thinking takes work. You are willing to spend the time here, and elsewhere on the web to learn, and comment, so obviously you are not afraid of work.

There are many yardsticks by which one can measure one's life. I would srongly argue that you can leave consumerism, and not be isolated. There are many people out there that are going through similar changes. As more people realize that they have been lied to in a most shameful way, you will be in good company.

I would not recommend disconnecting yourself. TV and the Internet are like a supermarket. Many things on offer are bad for you but there are many products that are very nourishing.

The solution is not to try to remove advertising from your life (It's practically impossible) but to see it for what it is and make better decisions.

Taking that step may not be as uncomfortable as you might think.