As many of you know, the quadrennial election for the presidency of the USA is on the 6th of November this year. The cynics may rightly point out that the results of this election are largely symbolic, given that both the republican as well as the democratic candidates are beholden to corporations and the super-rich. It is also hard to dispute that both are empty suits who make good props for staged photo-ops while they are not acting on the behalf of the interests who funded their electoral campaigns. But this post is not about whether Obama and Romney are the handmaidens of plutocrats. It is about something else which the conduct of these elections could alter forever. Let me explain..
A disputed election resulting in a Romney-Ryan “win” would fatally undermine any belief in the legitimacy of the electoral process and the “system”.
Now some of you might say that the USA has a long and glorious history of electoral fraud and voter suppression- and that is true. Accounts of outright fraud, ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and suppression have been documented since the dawn of elections (including presidential elections) in the USA. However there are reasons why we cannot use the past as a guide to our future. Here is why-
1. The role, involvement and public expectations from elected officials have changed a lot over the years, especially the last 60-70 years. Electoral scandals from the beginning of the republic to the early 1900s had little effect on the real world as the government was mainly concerned with doing things like fighting a few foreign wars, invading brown/yellow countries and finishing the genocide of native americans. Elections mainly decided who got to steal public money and distribute it to their friends.
Contrast that situation to today when the results of elections determine things like healthcare premiums, laws on taxation, unemployment benefits, educational choices, upkeep of infrastructure, social security checks and a host of other things that have a direct and very significant impact on the average person. Many more people stand to gain or lose based on the results of elections than was the case 200, 150 or even 50 years ago.
2. The proliferation of media, especially the non-controlled type, has a huge impact on how people perceive the world around them. For most of the history of the USA as a republic, the speed and bandwidth of communication was very low and tightly controlled. You had to be someone ‘big’ to control the publication of book and newspapers or radio and TV broadcasts. The vast majority of americans had a very narrow choice of sources of information and channels for public discourse right into the 1980s. The web revolution of the late 1990s has upended that though the older generations are still overtly influenced by traditional media.
It was easy to suppress, minimize or spin away scandals in an era where average people had access to two newspapers, three magazines, four radio stations and three TV channels. It is no longer feasible to suppress damaging information or remove it from the circulation and efforts to do that have the opposite effect on that story. Moreover storing such information and sharing it is far easier than in the past as is the speed of its dispersal. Today it is very easy to find documents and audio or video clips that can permanently damage the image of any politician.
3. The demographic profile of the USA has changed such that the older generation is far whiter than the younger generations who increasingly make up the demographic in and under the working age-group. It does not take a genius to figure out that the attitudes, needs (real or imagined) and perceptions of these self-defined groups are at odds with each other. Old and rapidly decaying whites want to maintain a system that keeps them in “power” but still receive all the goodies from the work of people who don’t look like them. Given that we don’t in the age of slavery anymore, that might be impossible to achieve.
Non-whites in the USA have never seen whites as honest and altruistic human beings- to put it mildly. While they may have kept their opinions to themselves in the past, the leverage that whites used to have is now either gone or on its last arthritic legs. However as the republican parties attempts to suppress non-white voting show, they still believe that they can get away with it and live happily ever after. Then again, it is hard to treat self-delusion.
We also cannot forget the effects of Bush-Vs-Gore in the 2000 election.
Many conservatives think that they can get away with bullshit and scams because of the results of that election. However things have changed during those 12 years. Firstly, the USA is no longer an optimistic country with a booming economy and relatively widespread prosperity as was the case in 1999-2000. At that time, people thought that an uncharismatic guy who seemed very distant (Gore) was not much better of a choice than a Texass blowhard who looked personable (Bush). People did not want to rock the otherwise comfortable boat of the system because they thought the choice was between two otherwise unremarkable people.
While that did appear to be initially true, we saw a rather different side of Bush and his puppet masters after September 2001. Between the bizarro invasion of Iraq, the fueling of the real-estate bubble, enhanced outsourcing of jobs to China, the aftermath of Katrina, the inability to find ‘that’ guy in Afghanistan. Consequently far fewer people now believe that both parties or candidates are “equally bad”. It did not help that the Democratic challenger in the 2004 election, John Kerry, was a disaster and his VP ticket was an obvious conman. In an odd way, Mitt Romney is the republican version of John Kerry.
It is also important to realize that the spread of the internet and social media since 2000 makes any significant suggestion of electoral fraud hard to remove from the public consciousness of people- especially the younger and increasingly less whiter generation. To put it another way, a potential Romney-Ryan presidency is illegitimate even before the votes have been tallied. Now there are countries that have ‘pretend’ elections- like Egypt under Hosni Mubarak until a year ago or Mexico until the mid-1990s. But the results of these elections were widely understood to be scams and the population sees such leaders and the system as illegitimate. We all know how things work, or don’t work, in those countries. We also know how unstable/insecure those places are.
The real question is- Do you want to live in a system where the leaders and the system have no popular legitimacy and it is every man/ woman for himself/herself trying to scam and screw over everyone else?
What do you think? Comments?
One of the more peculiar fetishes of the CONservative mind is it obsession with the world as it used to be. Somehow they believe that things, institutions and mores are good simply because they have ‘stood the test of time’. As some of you might realize, this is a form of circular reasoning whereby people justify something they want based on the belief that it used to always exist.
It is as if the prior existence of something, however undesirable, legitimizes its existence in the CONservative mind.
These disingenuous morons are however oddly selective about labeling something as good based on its prior existence. So according to them rule by assorted kings, nobility and hereditary elite is fine but living in cities without a functional sewage system is not. Given that the rise of greedy assholes and the poor sewage disposal are both consequences of urbanization and agriculture, why celebrate one but reform the other? Surely the best way to enjoy the former is to live in an era where half-starving people crap/piss everywhere and bathe once a month (or less).
But why stop there.. what about trying people for witchcraft and killing them? Since accusations of malicious witchcraft have been a part of human society for a few thousand years and across lines of race or religion, bringing back public trials for witchcraft should provide entertainment while maintaining a long-beloved tradition. Witch trials just fits in so well with slavery and indentured labor- practices which the USA is returning to anyway. While we are at it- What about rehabilitating Pederasty a most beloved institution of the greco-roman world which is supposed to the fountainhead of western ‘civilization’. Why let Afghan warlords have all the fun?
Then there is the issue of religion based wars. What was so wrong about crusades, jihads and other assorted religion-based wars? Since killing people because they believe in the ‘wrong’ voice in your head was OK for most of the last few thousand years, what is wrong in bringing such things back. We cannot forget mass murder based on race or ethnicity.. wasn’t that stuff very popular right into the last century. Or what about stealing land from other people? For all the talk of “property rights” and “western civilization” it is hard to imagine the world of today without the genocide of indigenous populations in the Americas and Australia.
What do you think? Comments?
I often analyze contemporary events from view points that don’t ignore the obvious, but largely unsaid, factors contributing to said event. As many of you have heard by now, a nanny stabbed two kids of her employer to death before trying to commit suicide. A number of media outlets are trying to demonize the nanny and try to convince you that killing the children of a rich white couple was an especially inhumane. But is that really the case?
Let us first summarize what we know about the ‘killer nanny’ at this time. Firstly, she (Yoselyn Ortega) was originally from the Dominican republic but had lived in the USA for over a decade. It is interesting to note that Yoselyn had worked for the Krim family for over two years and they had no real issues with her until she killed their two kids. To me, this suggests that the nanny was not intrinsically evil or diabolical. We then have to ask the next question- What drives a 50 year old woman who had worked in child care for many years to stab to death the very kids she was supposed to care for?
One of the first clues about what drove her actions comes from reading between the lines of an article about whether financial problems contributed to the murders.
A source told the Post that “Ortega, a Dominican who has been an US citizen for 10 years, complained of money troubles, and her employers, Marina and Kevin Krim, had given her more hours of work. They even hooked her up with a family they knew for a baby-sitting job on the side — but the family turned her down after an interview because she was, ‘a little too grumpy,’ a law-enforcement source said.”
I cannot but help wonder why her employers were so unwilling to give her enough money to live a half-decent life in NYC. What is the harm in paying your employees enough to live a decent life?
However, the person Ortega was renting the apartment from returned and kicked her and her son out, sending them to live with her sister. The Times adds, “Twice, Ms. Ortega asked Ms. Lajara to pray that a woman would pay her for makeup she had given her to sell. The amount, Ms. Lajara said, was about $100, and it was important to her… Ana Bonet, 40, a neighbor, said that besides her nanny job, Ms. Ortega sold inexpensive jewelry and makeup to neighbors. Others said she also earned money by cooking rice and chicken dishes for parties.”
So, she was not paid enough to be able to afford renting an apartment with her presumably adult son. She (and her son) ended up moving in with her sister inspite of caring for the kids of people who had thousands of times more money than her. Her financial situation was so tight that she was concerned about making 100$ more from selling makeup. Did I mention that she also worked catering gigs.
What type of society pays people so badly that even a hard-working person with multiple jobs can barely make ends meet? Does such a society even deserve to exist?
How would you feel if you were struggling for a couple of hundred bucks while the rich assholes who employed you to take care of their kids did precious little to help you. Words of sympathy don’t pay bills or the rent. Does a society which pretends to care about you while screwing you at every turn deserve to exist? How long will people take such abuse before making their tormentors hurt?
Now there are those of you who might agree with me about the systemic mistreatment part but say that killing her employers kids was still not the right thing to do. In my opinion the killing of her employers kids was the most rational response because only something as irreversible as the death of their own children can hurt people to the same extent as a life time of systemic socio-economic abuse. In any case, these kids would have grown up to be consummate parasitic plutocrats just like their parents. We don’t mourn the death of baby parasites, just because they are not adults.
I see her actions as far more rational than most people who keep up taking such abuse without striking back at their oppressors. What is the point in taking abuse if you have no better future to look forward to? What is the point in letting assholes live just because they are well dressed whites? What is the point in letting life long anger and depression at your mistreatment only hurt you?
If systemic abuse, deprivation and depression are the rewards of playing by the rules- why not share these rewards with others? If fucking someone over for years builds the characters of poor people, won’t it do the same for rich people?
What do you think? Comments?
In my previous post in this series, I had mentioned that the next one would be about how the rise of ‘free agents’. Now most of you might be wondering- “how can individuals get anything done?”
Throughout history, humans have primarily relied on collective actions to get things done. Even today most of you think that any ‘real’ change will require mass demonstrations, occupy type protests, wars or revolutions. I however think that we have reached a point where asynchronous individual actions are far more disruptive to the system than collective actions. But that is not my only objection to collective action being an effective agent of change.
The real problem with using collective action to achieve anything is that most human beings are dishonest cowards who will delude themselves into believing that are otherwise.
You might have noticed that mass movements, protests, wars and revolutions often replace one group of assholes with a marginally better versions of them. It is as if mass actions, for all the sacrifices of their members, fall far short of their goals. Conventional explanations for this phenomena talk about betrayal of the cause etc.. conveniently forgetting that all people who want to be leaders are remarkably alike.
You cannot replace one defective structure with another one based on the same basic plan and expect change.
Any real change requires destroying the defective structure without building a replacement. However most people will not do that because they are afraid of an uncertain future and will always choose a recycled shitty world over one that truly breaks from the past. But why do people choose a guaranteed shitty existence over a reasonable chance of change and/or nonexistence? Some of you might say that people are afraid of death, but that is only a partial explanation at best. Pretty much every human understands that they and their creations are mortal and perishable. Furthermore, we have no shortage of people who will indulge in activities and enter professions with a realistic chance of premature death.
So what has stops most people from destroying the system that makes their lives miserable?
To understand what I am going to talk about next, you have to start looking at human history and societies as a real outsider- almost an extraterrestrial alien. One of the most well-known, but often ignored, aspect of human beings is that they are social animals who require others of their kind to exist for reasons beyond basic needs. A lot of the stupid, bizarre and self-destructive behavior of humans only makes sense if you factor in the need to belong to a group.
But is this need to belong to a group independent of the result of previous efforts to do so?
Will you keep on going back to the same people who exploited your desire to belong? While people might continue trying to play nice with shitheads upto a point, everybody has a breaking point beyond which they have no interest in belonging to that group. It does not help that modern neo-liberal societies continuously try to abuse the desire to belong for short-term profits. Today belonging to almost any group or participating in any social institution is an act of stupidity as you will lose far more than you get from such interactions. You might have noticed that almost everything from marrying, buying and living in your own house, working hard to move up in life or belonging to any ‘real life’ social group is a big fucking waste of time with negative gains for the individuals who indulge in such activities.
We live in a ‘stranger’ society where everybody pretends to be friendly but is secretly to stab each other in the back- and we all know it. Social atomization is a rational response to living in a world where even your own kith and kin are almost guaranteed to betray you for negligible gains. We have reached a point where there is no reason for individuals to care about the effect of their actions on other people around them. Throughout most of history, people stopped acting out on their innermost desires for vengeance due to their concern about how society might perceive them. While that was rational in eras where at least a few people cared about you and would stand behind you, that is no longer the case.
The hope that restraint would be rewarded in this life, or the mythical next, is gone.
I would recommend that you read a series of articles (13 to date) tagged Hello from the Underclass at gawker.com about the personal stories of unemployed people in the USA. While that site is famous for tabloid type news and stories, this series about the chronically unemployed is probably one of the better attempts at serious journalism. One of the unspoken but recurring themes in the series is that many people never expected to end up like that or be treated by society and society as worthless pariahs. Almost all of these people are articulated, educated, with decent incomes and lifestyles for many years to decades and still ended up as virtual untouchables with no hope for the future.
A couple of years of chronic instability and utter neglect/abuse from people and institutions they believed in made them see the world in a very different light.
While such chronic instability and material deprivation is not new, its combination with an absence of a social support network is unprecedented. Furthermore, people are not capable of normalizing their condition by believing in the old bullshit.. I mean religion. It certainly does not help that a low birth rate greatly reduces the number of new suckers to use, abuse and exploit. Consequently a rapidly increasing number of people have become ‘free agents’ in that they have no loyalty, obligations or consideration for anybody but themselves. Periodic and recurring stints of unemployment and social ostracization only reinforce this realization.
So why do I find ‘free agents’ so interesting?
Well.. for one they are a rapidly increasing minority in modern societies. However my interest in them is linked to how they act under stress. Historically, societies could defend themselves against disgruntled but still ‘attached agents’ through a variety of means from fake hope to lying and treachery. However the information revolution has made many of these means obsolete as it is much easier for people to see that most humans beings are crap and hope is largely a scam. Social atomization has done the rest by ensuring that people who hate society and humanity in general can do so and easily reach extremely high levels of misanthropy.
To put it another way, we now live in a world with a rapidly increasing minority of people who are highly misanthropic, extremely cynical and devoid of expectations for a better future.
It does not take a genius to figure out that such people might be interested in ways to ‘repay society’ for all the things it had done for them. Given the numbers involved and the organization of modern societies, even a small number of people who ‘repay society’ will destabilize the system- even if such repayments are asynchronous.
But how can asynchronous behaviors by a few individuals destabilize large systems? The answer to that question lies in understanding how the response of society to such behaviors greatly amplifies the effect of the primary events and will be the subject of the next part of this series.
What do you think? Comments?
My previous posts on social atomization focus on its large-scale effects on society. But what about the so-called “elites”? Are they not adversely affected by social atomization? Or does it benefit them to the detriment of others?
I believe that the so-called “elites” do suffer the consequences of social atomization, in more ways than one. However their position in society allows them to temporarily insulate themselves from its worse effects- without changing the final outcome.
Let me start by pointing out two odd and interlinked features of present-day “elites” all around the world. Unlike their predecessors throughout recorded human history, they have very few kids and they work even when doing so is not essential and damaging to their ability to enjoy life. The kings, emperors, warlords, high priests, landowners and rich merchants of previous eras used their ill-gotten resources to eat, drink, fornicate and party till they dropped. Today their equivalents go to great lengths to keep on “working hard” and generally act and look like faceless rich drones. Most of the “elites” today are involved in shitty low-sex marriages and generally under the thumb of one or a series of aging miserable cunts who drain their money and sap their happiness. Few of them have more than a kid or two, who generally turns out to be mediocre at best.
So how do you explain people worth billions of dollars living such pathetic lives, when they have the resources to do have much better lives?
The sophists among you might claim that they choose this pathetic lifestyle because it is morally superior, indicative of ‘high IQ’ or long-term priorities. However “elites” throughout human history have always been opportunistic sociopaths who got lucky, and the same is true today. Nor is it due to the present being a “meritocracy” since merit plays a minor role in determining your “place” in society. Furthermore, humans beings don’t live forever so anything that occurs after your death is inconsequential. In my opinion, the progressively odd behavior of “elites” over the last 200 years cannot be explained by invoking conventional explanations such as the ones given above.
I believe that the direct and indirect effects of social atomization are behind the increasingly peculiar behavior and lifestyle choices of the so-called “elites”.
So how did I come up with this explanation? What drove me to associate social atomization with anhedonic behavior? The answer lies in first being honest about what motivates people as opposed to what makes them happy. While we like to believe that the same factors which motivate people also make them happy- that is often not the case. Fear of status loss, fear of material loss, desire to dominate and hurt others are often the strongest motivators. However going down that road takes you away from any chance at achieving any worthwhile degree of happiness or satisfaction with your life. Some morons might see happiness and satisfaction as the desires of an “inferior” and “unambitious” mind, yet they cannot explain the self-utility of a “hard workers” effort after his death.
Any conscious action which lacks self-utility is well.. stupid. If it does not make you happier, “better off” or keep you alive till the next realistic chance at escape- why are you doing it?
Which brings us the question of why “elites” live increasingly pleasure-less lives. To understand the reasons behind this change one has to first appreciate how “elites” become “elites”. In the past, people became “elites” because they were born to the right parents at the right time. They justified their position in society by claiming that they descended from gods or were chosen by gods- and used religion and greedy priests to support their claims. Those who challenged them were usually murdered- though sometimes the challengers murdered the previous “elites” and replaced them. To put it another way, their position in society could not survive even a marginally literate populace with a basic level of critical thinking. Which is why the enlightenment and the effects of the industrial revolution made it hard for the old “elites” to remain relevant, let alone command power or respect. They were ultimately replaced by the new “elites” who justified their position in society by claiming “merit”. While there was some truth to that claim, it did not justify the level of social inequality that exists and used to exist. However there was another little noticed side effect of this shift- loss of social cohesion among the “elite”.
Throughout history “elites” have defended their power through collusion with people related to them. Doing so was very easy in previous eras when you could fill all the important posts in your fiefdom with your progeny and relatives. But it is much harder to pull that off today because intense competition and the lack of good extended family protection means that conventional nepotism will almost certainly cause loss of status, money and dimunition of the ability to dominate/hurt others.
Today people have to work hard or put up a convincing appearance of hard work to justify their “elite” status- even if doing so is a losing proposition at multiple levels.
Therefore they cannot do stuff that would actually make them happy. Nor can they allow other “elites”, with whom they don’t share any deep personal bond, to do something that would make them happy. The “elites” now have more in common with a bunch of brain-damaged dogs who hate each other and are constantly fighting each other in a conflict that no one can win. Yet, they would rather prefer to keep on fighting over who is top dog than come to some form of agreement and live in relative peace and enjoy life- because nobody can trust nobody else. Even the “elites” are too atomized to act as a coherent entity.
Consequently they spend all their waking hours on posturing and fighting an unending war, rather than enjoying a relaxing and luxurious life. It does not take a genius to figure out why such people also have few, or often no, kids. On the bright side, social atomization has finally made the lives of the “elites” almost as miserable as the people they dominate and abuse every single day.
What do you think? Comments?
One of the more peculiar aspects of the american movie production system is that it can create very good products at the periphery of mainstream cinema. So while the average well-funded “blockbuster” is usually very formulaic and predictable, a lot of the sleeper hits and cult classics are not. I would argue that the innovativeness of american cinema is largely based on its ability to incorporate the lessons learned from atypical and non-formulaic hits into more mainstream productions. While I can go about which blockbusters were influenced by far more modest precursors- that is a topic best reserved for another post. This post is about how movies or movie series that became unexpected hits often end up telling us far more about the society we live in than they were intended to.
I am sure that almost every one of you has seen at least one movie in the infamous American Pie Series. However many of you might not know that the original American Pie (1999) was a low-budget shot in the dark. Indeed, most people involved in making and acting in that movie thought that it was unlikely to recover its 11 million $ budget let alone make a huge profit, start a series and jump-start the careers of many actors.
So why was the original movie and most of its major sequels so successful?
There are those who attribute the success to gross-out humor and appealing to teenage male sensibilities. However that does not explain why many other movies with similar themes and even raunchier story lines have bombed. I believe that the success of the original movie in that series (and the subsequent major sequels) is largely due to the fact the characters in that movie are far more realistic than many other similarly themed movies. Furthermore, the story lines were far closer to reality than “professional” movie critics realized.
That movie series (major sequels only) is a fairly accurate representation of the behavior, trends and attitudes of the children of white upper-middle class baby boomers over the last 13-odd years. Whether it is girls in high school controlling who gets sex, how teenagers define virginity, how long -distance relationships work or don’t work, how over the hill middle-aged women use sex with much younger guys to feel validated, using pseudo-lesbianism to get attention, awkward hookups and so on. It also showed the main characters going to good universities, working hard, trying to get decent jobs.. in other words- doing what was expected of them as they tried to join the upper-middle class as “functional adults”.
So let us turn our attention to the latest movie in that series- American Pie: Reunion (2012). Once again , it distinguishes itself from the formulaic Hollywood movie sequel by being pretty realistic. For one, neither of the four guys are happy at the beginning of the movie nor are they really happy at the end. The sappy beta ‘Jim’ character is wanking off to internet porn inspite of being married to his dream girl aka ‘band camp’ Michelle who is using a flexible shower head to get off. The intellectual Finch has a dead-end lower-management job at a big box store inspite of his intellect and education. The Kevin character is an unhappy whipped house-husband who hates what he has become. Stifler can only manage a temp job in some investment firm inspite of his family connections. Even Oz who now has the model girlfriend is less than happy with his life.
I believe that the movie accurately depicts what has happened to children of upper-middle class baby boomers. While their parents had opportunities to settle down into an acceptable and reasonably stable existence with some correlation to their ability, their kids just do not have the jobs and careers that they rightfully expected. Note that only ‘Jim’ has a somewhat stable and conventional job and only he has the one child among his four high-school friends- even though they are all in their early 30s. The rest have had some combination of short and long-term relationships with no desire to have kids. Did I mention that the movie does not have an “all problems are solved and everybody is happy” ending.
None of them wants to “grow up”, “man up” or “take one for family”.
I believe that it accurately represents the general outlook and behavior of the male children of affluent baby boomers. Most have no desire to slave away like their fathers, especially given that the previous set of rewards for such behavior are gone. Most have seen divorces and their ugly aftermath and therefore have little interest in marriage or committed long-term relationships. Most can only get jobs that are crappy, unstable or pay significantly less than they had been implicitly promised. Even the most traditional in that age group have significant distrust and cynicism about the women- including those in their lives.
Most men in that age and socio-economic group just don’t see themselves as having a stake in the future and act accordingly.
What do you think? Comments?
As I have written on numerous occasions in the past- we live in a world that is, for the lack of a better word, dystopic. While we can always argue about whether the world was more or less fucked up in previous eras, doing so does not change the basic fact. Having said that, people cope with the general suckiness of a meaningless existence in a number of ways.
One of them involves believing in the possibility of a better future.
Deteriorating socio-economic conditions almost always result in violent uprising, revolts and revolutions because people believe that a better system is possible. Predictions of unrest based on bad socio-economic conditions are therefore based on the unmentioned belief that people believe that a change for the better is possible.
But what happens if people believe that a change for the better is not possible?
While there always have been pessimists, their numbers as a percentage of the population have been relatively small. While there are many reasons for that, the single most important reason for an endless supply of optimists throughout human history has been high birth rates.
Every birth provides the sociopaths in civilization another person whose enthusiasm and naivety can be used to scam, abuse and exploit them.
The very small percentage of people who benefit from the scam known as civilization have used this fact and historically poor means of interpersonal communication to keep things going. While betrayal of the young has often caused extremely destructive revolutions, wars and uprisings- the underlying scam has not been destroyed.
However the last 40 years have seen two changes that fundamentally change the situation in ways never seen before in the history of human civilization. Effective and widely available contraception has caused birth rates to plummet all over the world. Even conservative Muslim countries (such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran) now have fertility rates that are close to western countries. The world just doesn’t produce any surplus boiler fuel anymore. Then there is the effect of the internet on patterns of human communication, belief and association.
So how does all of that affect the nature of public reaction to deteriorating socio-economic conditions?
I believe that low fertility rates combined with vastly improved and accessible communication technology creates a far more cynical society. It changes the general tone of society from one of optimism and belief in a better future to widespread cynicism and misanthropism. People increasingly have no interest in the stability or future of a system that is obviously deceiving and exploiting them. While they many not come out and openly revolt against a system, they so something far worse.
They disconnect from the system in non-obvious ways.
Such behavior takes many forms such as people not interested in marrying and having kids or working hard for an employer. People increasingly, and rightfully, distrust various social and economic institutions- from schools, universities, the health-care system to democratically elected governments. While the “elites” in such societies might see that as evidence of their control it is anything but that.
What they see as subjugation is actually disengagement to an extent without any precedent in human history.
Unlike violent revolutions, it appears benign and seldom creates headlines. Disengagement manifests itself as decay and progressive breakdowns that make the system increasingly fragile and susceptible to small disruptions. In the end one or a series of otherwise unremarkable disruptions will take it down and almost nobody will care.
After things fall apart, even fewer will have the optimism or belief necessary to rebuild it.
What do you think? Comments?
The last two years have seen a flurry of posts about why ‘Gen Y’ is not that interested in cars. In a previous post, I had summarized my views on that topic as-
The lack of interest in cars (and automobiles in general) by Gen-Yers is the rational result of a combination of long-term trends and the profit hungry short-sighted mindset which characterizes the later stages of capitalism.
While that post listed and briefly explained the main long-term trends that make autos less desirable, it did not really go into the other part of the problem (short-sighted capitalism) in any worthwhile detail. So let us fix that..
Evangelists of capitalism and its numerous minor flavors such as free-market capitalism, libertarianism, fascism, corporatism etc keep on telling us that capitalism is self-correcting. But what does such “self-correction” lead to? Do social or economic systems really have a stable equilibrium? While we can certainly engage in sophistic arguments about what capitalism is or isn’t; such talk is no different from trying to say that soviet- and mao-style communism wasn’t “real” communism.
I am going to use the response of contemporary society and its institutions to the “new car owner crisis” to demonstrate that capitalism-based systems are not self-correcting. Indeed, they have a very strong tendency to destroy themselves and damage the underlying social fabric.
The responses of car companies to this emerging crisis comes in two forms-
a1. Trying to find new car owners in emerging markets such as China, Brazil, Russia and India. They hope that they can get enough new customers to make up for the stagnation and decline in western countries. While the idea is not without merit, it assumes that whatever is causing the crisis in developed countries won’t occur in these emerging markets. While that assumption might have had some merit a few decades ago, that is no longer the case and trends from female fertility, rates of marital discord and other socio-economic trends spread much faster today than they used to. But let us ignore that for a moment and move on to the next response.
a2. They are hiring “trend consultants” and “designers” to create “hip” and “quirky” cars that will hopefully appeal to ‘Gen Y’. While doing so will make a few consultants wealthy, it does not address why things have gone downhill. Designing “hip” cars is about giving the appearance of action. It is similar to putting a colorful band-aid on a cut artery or giving aspirin to a person suffering from a serious infection. In both cases, it allows people to shield themselves from accusations of inaction.
The auto-makers response seems to be a combination of abandoning ship and casting spells to entice new car buyers. What about the government? Are they any better?
Now you might think that people in the government would be interested in keeping the status quo, if only to ensure the continuity of their scams. While they are aware of the potentially disastrous effects of declining rates of car ownership and use on their bottom line, it is apparent that they cannot get their shit together and act rationally. But why not?
b1. A government is a ever-morphing collection of scamsters and vested interests- just like any corporation. While the older version of this institution (from 1935 to say 1985) had some interest in ensuring their future through keeping the underlying society healthy, the newer version is full of rent-seekers. The governments of developed countries are now largely made up of factions and groups that have absolutely no interest in solving problems or building a better future. Indeed, they try hard to create more problems and opportunities to use legal coercion to collect rent. Consequently they spend most of their time trying to collect more and ever larger traffic tickets, build toll roads in preference to public access roads, and write rules and regulations to makes car ownership more expensive and onerous.
b2. Another factor that affects the government’s ability to respond meaningfully is that they employ an ever-increasing number of people to regulate and micromanage rather than do something useful. While this trend was a response to decreasing opportunities for employment in the private sector due to capitalism, it has created lobbies and cliques that want to justify their jobs, expand their domains and abuse others. While doing that is equivalent to killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, most people are too short-sighted to think (let alone act) otherwise.
OK, so the government is solidly into rent-seeking and kicking the can down the road. But what about society in general? How are people trying to address the problem?
c1. The first and most predictable response is denial as most humans believe that reality requires their explicit consent to manifest itself. The strategies to deny this particular problem range from seeing it as good for the environment, a sign of the end of suburbia to seeing it as a reversion to the mean of ‘impoverished’ existence. While I have hate suburbs, I can see that they were about reestablishing racial and economic segregation. Cars just made the process a whole lot easier. The aggregate sum of the pollution caused by cars pales in comparison to that put out by coal powered electric generation in China. Furthermore, comparing our age with any previous one in human history is as meaningless as comparing a fish to a rat.
c2. Then there are those who hope and pray for a second coming of job based prosperity. But is that possible in a world where automation and machines increasingly do most important jobs? Face it, most jobs today are about scamming, bullshitting, zero-sum competition to do tasks that have a net negative utility to society. We can pretend that jobs in education, law, medicine, management, human resources, sales and other sectors are about creating a better world. But is it true? It is also important to understand that automation, technology and machines are increasingly replacing human labor in even these areas.
c3. We cannot also forget the CONservative, and often older, subhumans who try to convince everyone that they are lucky to alive as slaves. These are often the same asswipes who never try of telling others how they bought and worked on their first beater in the 1960s and 70s. They conveniently miss out the part about relatively stable jobs, low (or no) student debt and living under a less predatory version of capitalism. Some of you see such behavior and beliefs as an example of a simple misunderstanding, but I do not. Many of the morons who exposure such beliefs are just greedy cynics who believe that they are ageless and immortal.
Did you notice something common to every major point in this article? Institutions and people are letting boundless greed, delusional beliefs and absolute self-interest rule their very existence. Some many say that doing so is human nature, but is it just human nature? Isn’t that how capitalism really works?
What do you think? Comments?
In the past, I had written a series of posts (1, 2, 3, 4) on how technological changes which alter the pattern and ease of information spread have a large impact on the underlying socio-economic system. The last 2-3 weeks have provided us with two more examples of this phenomena.
1. A sarcastically named 13 minute YouTube clip ‘The Innocence of Muslims‘ has caused quite a stir in many Muslim countries, resulting in the death of the US ambassador to Libya. While many think of the reactions to this film as just another example of Muslim intolerance (which is kinda true), ask yourself- would this have been possible in a world before YouTube, inexpensive digital cameras and desktop video editing software?
While people always had the desire to make such intentionally inflammatory material, the ability to make them and distribute it required far deeper pockets than today. Now any guy with a few thousand bucks, the e-mail addresses of a few dozen extras, a half-decent digital camera and inexpensive video-editing software can have an impact that would have been unthinkable to most people even a decade ago. Also note that the countries in which this clip caused problems used to have rather poor computer and internet penetration.
However, that was the past! Today it is now both easy to create such content and distribute it to where it would have the maximum impact. Also consider the disproportionately amount of money and resources spent by governments to stop or attenuate the problems caused by this clip.
2. Moving on the secretly recorded performance of Mitt Romney at the 50,000 $/plate campaign fundraiser. Even 10 years ago, recording and disseminating such material would have taken a lot of resources. Today any person (or server) at such an event with an “unchecked” smartphone can record material that can upset the carefully obfuscated image created by spending billions of dollars on image management. Furthermore, organisations with a fraction of Romney’s campaign budget can spread it on the internet and derail an organisation that is far bigger than them. Something like this would, once again, have been barely thinkable even a decade ago.
Whether those YouTube clips or their fallout will doom the Romney-Ryan ticket remains to be seen. However it is hard to ignore that an entity of limited resources (the recording guy/girl) was able to make the much bigger entity (the Romney campaign machine) stumble, trip and bleed. As in the previous example, far more resources were used to counter the damage than to create it. I would not be surprised if more incriminating video clips of him at other fundraisers were in existence.
What do you think? comments?
I had once written a post suggesting that the real reason behind the lack of communication with extra-terrestrial beings has a lot to do with the fact that humans are primitive and unstable scum who revel in zeros-sum contests of no particular significance. It is unlikely that any sane trans-human intelligence would reveal its presence to humans, let alone interact with them.
The sad reality is that humans, especially the “civilized” type, are too delusional and fucked up to transcend their pathetic existence.
Every large-scale attempt by human beings to transcend their sad existence is either based on outright delusions and lies (traditional religions) or clever rationalizations (capitalism, communism.. any -ism) of their zeros-sum mentalities. It seems that humans in large groups are incapable of being anything other than psychotic apes. There are those who believe that human beings can change for the better. My observations of human beings suggest otherwise. Furthermore, it is simply far easier to get rid of all human beings than try to reform them.
Achieving human extinction is easy since people throughout human history have spent most of their ingenuity at finding better ways to con, steal from, abuse and kill each other. However, for most of that history people also lacked the means and opportunity to do so. Today we have much better technology to kill each other and a far more fragile socio-economic system. Of course, I am not suggesting that one could openly recruit people to kill each other till the last human is dead. Most people would not participate in something so upfront.
The trick is to give humans very useful tools and technologies that will cause their downfall.
You have to understand that most human beings are driven by ego, greed, status seeking and sadism. They have no interest in uplifting themselves in a manner that does not involve screwing over someone else. You just have to give people the means to engage in intractable and continuously evolving conflict.
Give people the means to destabilize the lives of others in a milieu of social atomization, and make sure that every group and individual can screw over every other group individual.
Such enabling technologies and behaviors can be disguised with appeals to ego, “profit” and vanity. While a minority of non-delusional people will see through such traps, human history suggest that most will not. Indeed, the majority will create new ideologies, belief systems and hierarchies that celebrate their own downfall. Even serious setbacks and damage will not stop them for destroying themselves as each shrinking group of survivors will think they are that much closer to claiming the “grand prize”.
Some of you might wonder if the not-totally nuts minority might spoil such a scheme. However human history suggests that human ego, greed, status seeking and sadism will always win over rationality. The dominance crazed majority will most likely persecute and kill those who points out the flaws in their designs, because most people have fragile egos and tons of insecurities.
What do you think? Comments?
In my previous post about the negative effects of ideological and other mental filters on the accuracy of predictions, I said the following-
Of course, all predictions are also based on the continued existence of human beings in a familiar biological and social form.
Almost every single person who makes a prediction or hears about one makes the implicit and largely subconscious assumption that human beings and civilization will continue to exist in a form not too different from the one around us right now. I call this assumption the ‘hidden precondition of continuity’.
It might seem rational to assume that people similar to us will exist in the near, if not the distant, future. However this belief is based on what occurred in the past. If we go back even further in the past, it is apparent that many now extinct creatures were around for far longer than us. Even Neanderthals were around for atleast half a million years, before they became extinct or were assimilated by anatomically modern humans. Trilobites thrived and diversified for around 300 million years before disappearing within a very short time, right down to the last sub-species. Megalodon, a very successful species of shark big enough to make the one depicted in ‘Jaws’ look puny in comparison survived for almost 28 million years. Then there is the case of theropod dinosaurs which dominated the terrestrial world for over 200 million years, constantly adapting to changing conditions and filling new ecological niches until something happened and caused their extinction.
A history of success and positive trends is no guarantee to continued existence in the future, let alone success.
While extraneous forces and events could always human extinction, either directly or indirectly, there is another class of scenarios. Humans might willingly or unwittingly evolve into something else, even something that is not quite biological in nature. Would a human derived entity or “species” that could exist in a multitude of forms, biological, augmented or otherwise, be anything like us? Would they care about jobs, work ethic, a suburban house, an ivy league education or even sex in the manner we do? Would a society of such entities be driven by anything even close to the social dynamics that drives contemporary human societies? Would they even have a society as we understand it?
But why go that far.. how many of the 20-30 something guys today are similar to their contemporaries a generation ago? Can you really say that exposure to a diversity of views on the internet, very negative experience with corporatism and feminism, the availability of ubiquitous HQ porn and social atomization has not changed them?
Once we agree that they are different, the next question is- how much? While I am not suggesting that Gen-Y men are a new species, it is quite clear that a significant and growing minority of them cannot be modeled by extrapolating existing assumptions about human behavior and society. While we could wish away the impact of such a change if the population was growing at a faster rate or the world was still a happy and optimistic place, that is not the case.
However all social systems depend on the type of human beings they are optimized for being and remaining the absolute majority.
While societies go to great lengths to maintain the status quo and create or bully people into becoming the type of human being that system is optimized for, they are powerless against large-scale changes. Nor are they willing to accept those changes and adapt to them. Indeed, a retreat into orthodoxy and tradition is the most common and consistent reaction to systemic changes which threaten the status quo.
What do you think? Comments?
It seems that we can hardly go a week without some quiet, lonely and otherwise law-abiding guy shooting up a few people. Such mass shootings have created an outcry among morons who think that guns kill people. There is however considerable evidence that killing lots of people without guns is actually quite easy, if the persons doing it is so determined. Moreover there are excellent contemporary examples, such as the ongoing drug wars in Mexico, that show the inefficacy of legal gun control in preventing people from acquiring guns.
Now I don’t know whether these weekly mass-shootings will become more frequent (likely) or deadlier (somewhat less likely), but that discussion is best saved for another post. But there is another and far more interesting trend that I predict will emerge regardless of whether lawmakers try to pass more restrictive laws about gun ownership. I have partially tackled this issue in a previous post.
People who are unhappy with the system, and see no viable future, will increasingly kill others through means that are not gun or explosive linked.
If you think about it, guns are actually a pretty inefficient means for killing lots of people. There is a whole series of logistic issues starting with how many people you can reliably kill until your guns jam or other armed people intervene. The medical treatment of gunshot wounds has improved considerably and almost all those who don’t die until they receive medical care will survive. Under most conditions you can expect anywhere from 5-40 deaths per incident and maybe double the number of wounded people. In my opinion, it is not too efficient and lacks plausible deniability.
Many other methods are far more efficient and have the advantage of plausible deniability. For example: it is hard to ascertain whether a low level health-care worker who administered the wrong drug, forgot to prevent cross-contamination or acted in any other manner which results in the death of many patients is malicious or just incompetent. Similarly a worker in a meat processing plant whose actions allows millions of tons of highly contaminated meat from entering the food supply killing dozens of kids in a horribly painful way can always plead incompetence or poor training. A low-level guy in a company that makes or packages medicines whose actions cause entire batches of medicines to be contaminated or poisonous can always plead incompetence and bad direction from superiors. The same goes for underpaid and unhappy people running machines and systems whose malfunction can directly and indirectly kill scores of people and cause billions, if not trillions, in secondary and tertiary damage.
Ultimately all complex human systems depend on the non-human components to be well maintained and run by people who do a good job and are proactive. But you cannot motivate people to do that (beyond a few years) by putting a gun to their head or otherwise constantly threatening them with poverty and hunger. This is especially true in an age when even poor people do not have enough extra kids to play against each other or use as fuel or disposable for capitalism. Furthermore the complexity and inter-connectedness of our systems is so great, and redundancy so low, that seemingly small incidents of bad faith could easily amplify and destabilize the whole system.
It is far easier to stop a guy with a gun, than one who is using his trusted position and knowledge of a system to destabilize it in a lethal way.
The current levels of unemployment and underemployment in youth combined with social atomization and the general loss of faith in the ability of society to fulfill its end of the deal make the widespread emergence of such behavior a matter of when, not if.
What do you think? Comments?
In the last year, or so, many news outlets have come out with stories that say something along the lines of- “Gen-Y is not into buying cars”. The purported reasons range from the proliferation of smartphones, hipsterism, generational shifts in attitudes or because they are socially or environmentally conscious. In my opinion, these explanations are full of bullshit.
I believe the real reason behind the lack of enthusiasm by Gen-Yers is a combination of three long-term trends, which have now passed a critical point.
1. Cars are no longer a good proxy for status. Even 20-30 years ago cars were an extension of your make-believe personality. People aspired to own a car that reflected what they wanted others to believe about themselves. Today that is no longer the case, as cars have become more like each other. It is hard to project a distinct image when different car brands and models look like they were designed by the same guy.
Furthermore cars are no longer a signal for wealth or ability to attract for beta chumps to attract hot women. It is now common knowledge among the younger generations that a guy playing in some local band gets far more and much better pussy that your “responsible” and anal retentive physician or engineer can ever aspire. Even the physician or engineer who marries a still attractive cum-rag is likely to end up getting dumped, divorced and paying child support rather than living unhappily ever after in some vaguely dysfunctional marriage. Cars just don’t help you get and keep OK looking pussy like they used to.
2. The next part of our cost-benefit analysis concerns the cost of buying and keeping reliable cars. The price of cars used to be quite low, especially when compared to the median wages for 20-somethings. Furthermore 20-somethings from previous generations did not have crushing and nondischargeable student debt, prolonged low paying jobs and unstable career paths. It was once possible to easily get a decent job in some part of the country, move there and start a new life with a high probability of success. Even failures or setbacks were not as catastrophic in previous eras, as they are now- thanks to our dysfunctional and financialized ‘society’.
Today the cost of the median new car is equal to, more than, the median yearly income of 20-somethings- before taxes and deductions. Even a reliable 5-10 year car old costs between 10-5 k. Then there is the whole issue of car repairs- whose cost and timing can be unpredictable and disastrous for people who are barely solvent. You can add things like the spiraling costs of traffic tickets and all sorts of fines which make car driving a money drain of dubious value, rather than a source of enjoyment and freedom. Did I mention that many have to pay to park their cars at or around the places they work? and who can forget the effect of harsh and useless anti-drunk driving laws, which are used to extract money from and abuse drivers. Buying a car has just became too much trouble for the ever decreasing utility it supposedly provides.
3. Getting married and having kids was THE main reasons behind the growth of housing, suburbs and automobiles in the 20th century. Men bought cars to attract chicks, then bought bigger cars when they got married, then bought houses in ever distant suburbs, and more cars once they had kids or wife got a job just so that they could drive to ever distant jobs , schools and after-school activities. But marriage and having kids steadily became ever shittier propositions. Between no fault divorce, child custody battles, child support payments, post-divorce division of property; the whole marriage and having kids routine became a sucker’s game.
Gen-Y men have seen what happened to the generations before them and have increasingly chosen to not play this rigged game and Gen-Y women are too busy chasing after a small percentage of men. Few men want to bust their ass at some unstable job for a disloyal employer trying to make more money and buy a new car or remodel their house for a capricious status-obsessed wife who can destroy their life with a phone call. It is just not worth it! Furthermore, the older generations still seem to be living in a fool’s paradise and believe that this change is temporary and things will come back- eventually. They also believe that abusing and pauperizing Gen-Yers even further has no effect on their own future.
To summarize: the lack of interest in cars (and automobiles in general) by Gen-Yers is the rational result of a combination of long-term trends and the profit hungry short-sighted mindset which characterizes the later stages of capitalism.
What do you think? Comments?
In the previous part of this series, I wrote about how the so-called intelligent and long-term thinking elite are neither. Their modus operandi and attitudes are far closer to parasites, tumors and cancers than anything that is vaguely beneficial to the society in which they exist. While the previous part highlighted the role of randomness and human gullibility in the rise of “elites”, this post will concentrate on another how their short-term world view guarantees their long-term fall. As I have noted in many previous posts, people who become “elites” through some combination of luck and scam are very status conscious.
They are obsessed with maintaining and increasing their relative status to the point that every action and event in their lives is seen through the lens of status.
This is the reason “elite’ patronize art that they are not enthusiastic about, attend the “right” schools and universities, read books they have no particular liking for or buy yachts and airplanes they seldom enjoy. The same obsession explains why they buy, sell and remodel luxurious houses they seldom live in. It is not about enjoying money, but about showing others you have it- overtly or discreetly.
The need to secure as much status as possible (with the minimum effort) also leads them to devote the majority of their mental energy to making other people poorer and more miserable than themselves. That is why billionaires complain about “high” corporate taxes and regulations while trying to pay their workers as little as they can get away with. The same applies to “millionaires” who abuse their employees and domestic staff even though doing so does not increase their ability to enjoy life. Even relatively average people who make good money such as physicians, professors, middle-level managers, HR shysters etc exhibit the same behavioral patterns.
Such an eternal status-seeking mindset does however have a non-obvious but uniformly fatal flaw. The flaw I am going to talk about is usually ignored because most people, including the “high IQ elite”cannot think beyond a few steps. Furthermore, the “elite” mindset is built around and shaped to ignore such ego-deflating flaws.
The status seeking mindset of “elite” will always amplify the destabilizing effects of external shock to the system.
To understand this problem, let us start with a society in some sort of dynamic equilibrium. Whether they are experiencing growth or simple stagnation, most societies can maintain functional integrity even if they are very unequal and shitty places to live in. Therefore a society will remain reasonably stable and predictable even if most people in it are barely scraping out a mediocre living. The problem I am referring to arises when such a society experiences an external challenge- be it natural events like drought, floods, earthquakes and epidemics to man-made events such as wars, invasions or economic problems caused by external actors. It is important to note that the size of the initial external challenge is not important, as otherwise unremarkable events have a way of magnifying themselves.
Societies usually depend on its “elite” to formulate and coordinate a response to external threat or disruption. They do so because the “elite” portray themselves as especially intelligent and competent. However their hard-wired motivations, mental filters and mindset are geared towards increasing their status- both with respect to the people under them and their peers. Therefore almost all their actions and responses are consciously and unconscionably guided by whether a given path of action, plan or strategy increases their status. This obsession with maintaining and increasing status overrides all other such considerations such as the survival of the society they pretend to lead or their eventual fate.
Therefore almost all of their choices and actions end up making things worse for everybody else in that particular society. Whether this happens on the conscious, or unconscious, level is irrelevant to the effect of such actions which causes a further deterioration in the condition of people in that society. The worsening of conditions for average people in any society damages whatever is left of social cohesion which then feeds back into a further worsening of the overall situation resulting in even more status-driven bad decision by the “elite”. At some stage the forces which hold the stressed society together are overwhelmed by those caused by cascading events caused by the unnecessary suffering of the average people in the system. The people abruptly lose their faith in the “elite” and all institutions associated with them or their apologists, creating a power vacuum that is inevitably filled by some other faction or group.
While those who fill such a power vacuum might not be much better than the old “elite”, they do represent a change from the disastrous policies and institutions which drove that society to implode in the first place. However such large-scale changes cannot occur through democratic elections, as another political party or faction is essentially identical to the one it replaced. It is about the system and institutions, not the party or leaders.
What do you think? Comments?
OK, here is an open question to the readers. Why was the practice of making loans with interest rates so unpopular in antiquity. Most of you might think that usury was about excessive interest rates, however historical evidence suggests that usury was about charging any interest on loans. But why?
Some of the earliest known condemnations of usury come from the Vedic texts of India. Similar condemnations are found in religious texts from Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. At times many nations from ancient China to ancient Greece to ancient Rome have outlawed loans with any interest. Though the Roman Empire eventually allowed loans with carefully restricted interest rates, in medieval Europe, the Christian church banned the charging of interest at any rate (as well as charging a fee for the use of money, such as at a bureau de change).
How can the idea of charging interest on loans simultaneously offend religions as diverse as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. What makes usury so repulsive that even “god-less” pagans such as the Romans and Chinese had to often explicitly ban it?
What do you think? Comments?