I can't sing the praises of Charles Hugh Smith and his "Of Two Minds" blog enough.
Case in point is this piece entitled Bleeding the Patient: Modern Economics and the Symbolic Economy, in which Smith ties together why nothing in our modern world seems to be working anymore, specifically, because our "unifying model," the ersatz "science" of economics, is as wedded to the reality of the actual behavior of economic "bodies" as, say, medical "science" was wedded to the reality of the human body, circa, say, the year 1500 or 1600.
Or, as I heard recently in another context, if you don't know where you even intend to go, no captain on Earth can successfully get the ship there. Modern economics, and, alas, as it infects other human endeavors like politics, law, as well as "understanding" of human behaviors in a variety of contexts... since the hypothetical "rational actor" that is the basis of the supply/demand graphs and econometric voodoo that is supposed to (but never does) predict actual behavior or outcomes bears no relationship to actual humans, who, indeed, are frequently motivated by things other than money and money-grubbing behaviors. Testify, Brother Smith:
We are mired in a similar era of pseudo-science being accepted as actual science, i.e. as reflecting the underlying causal mechanisms of life and the universe, and that pseudo-science is called economics.
As I have noted here many times, we are experiencing not just a standard-issue financial crisis but the failure of the entire pseudo-science edifice of modern conventional economics.
The basis of pseudo-science is to mask unfounded, misguided and potentially disastrously dangerous ideas drawn from superstition and folk beliefs with the external trappings of real science. Thus economics presents itself as a "science" by invoking the symbolic magic of equations and quantification of data gathered from the real world.
In esence, the "understanding" of junk-science is symbolic: the body is plagued with "humors" which can be drawn out via bleeding the patient, etc. The actual workings of the body, far beyond the conceptual reach of the folk/junk symbolic "science," are conceptualized symbolically via analogies: disease is "hot" or "cold," the body functions like a clock, etc.
In the exact same fashion, conventional economics "understands" the workings of the economy symbolically, and its "cures" play out in its artificial construct, the symbolic economy.
The symbolic economy is based on the cargo cult of "animal spirits", the magical "humors" which ignite the economic activity quantified by the pseudo-science. The witch-doctors at the Federal Reserve (the eminent, highly educated "expert" bleeders) have been busy painting radio dials on rocks for the past four years, hoping that their increasingly desperate pleas will magically reach the gods of "animal spirits."
The true nature of conventional economic's symbolic economy is best illuminated by the cargo cult's increasing dependence on managing perceptions as the "tool" to influence financial behavior. In other words, the "physicians" rely on fundamentally symbolic actions to influence the symbolic economy.
Well then. We must understand that policy-makers from Printing Press Ben Bernanke to Timmeh Geithner to Blankfein, Dimon, Pandit and Moynihan themselves... and their subordinates [such as... Obama]... they believe... not only in the cult of themselves... but in the cult of the correctness of their methods. Anyway-- you get the picture. The real reality based approach-- food, water, shelter, personal relationships, how to get around, spiritual fulfillment... those are reality. Everything else-- money, politics and so forth... fictions... which, if we play it right... we can insulate from our realities, so that just maybe we can get through while others elect to drown in a sea of... unreality. Alrightie.
It would probably be this blog, the talking dog, which, while no one was looking, "celebrated" the tenth anniversary of its existence... yesterday, 19 September 2011, when your talking dog himself was engaged in his other past-time, running and finishing his 31st marathon (albeit unofficially, given the brazenly violated official 5-hour limit) the 86th Yonkers Marathon, in this, the month of milestones (where I have also already celebrated a quarter century of legal practice, and in just over a week, 20 years of marital bliss with Mrs. TD.)
Over this blog's course, we've gone from the immediate crisis-ridden post 9-11 America, which feared that its best days might be behind it, to an America (and everyone in it) ten years older and wiser, and now, those of us without our head up our ass are quite certain that America's best days are behind it. The extremist "national security" excesses of right-wing nuts that we have endlessly railed against... have now become what "grown-ups" must do to be "pragmatic"... and ever-so bipartisan. Knowing that we had perhaps 10 years left to remedy global warming if only we would slow down our insatiable industrial appetites, we stepped on the accelerator, and now, can be quite certain that the insane droughts and fires and storms and such we are watching now...are here to stay. And despite the best efforts of many of the courageous souls we've interviewed on this blog [not to mention myself], hundreds of poor bastards remain still trapped in Guantanamo (and its sister gulags at Bagram and elsewhere). And hundreds of thousands of Americans are trapped in hot-wars and occupations in at least Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya... where millions of locals are also trapped in the same death struggle to convince the rubes here that we are securing "their" oil... and that's just what we KNOW about. Of course, we've crashed throught peak oil, although, as hard as it is to believe, I believe as a nation, we still have a ways to go to hit peak dumb-ass-ness, even as hundreds of millions of us are still paying for this geo-political moving Escher painting.
It's clear we've transcended democracy, and are now all in the Green Party (or, technically, given how rapidly quantitative easing and the like are decimating purchasing power just as wage earners and pensioners find even their nominal incomes flat or declining, perhaps the "them-what-has-gets party").
I don't know: Hope Dies. Just a little gallows humor there-- Dolores Hope, widow of the late Bob Hope, who himself kicked off at 100, just passed away at 102. No, as my friend Candace always reminds me, Hope. Dies. LAST. And I'm telling you: there is hope for us all, though more likely, individually rather than collectively. Ignore the macro (such as this country, which is pretty much irremediable) and look out for what really matters. Starting with... your food supply, and that of your family. And look for eventual places to escape, say urban violence, or maybe localized environmental catastrophe. And make friends you can call on in any circumstances (preferably face to face, and not through a telecom system likely not to be functioning). Really-- invest in relationships... There is no more satisfying investment... or safer one in a pinch. What profiteth a man if his gated community is overrun by the hordes and his good shit gets looted? That "invest in relationships" thing was the direction we were going right after 9-11, when it seemed we were finally spiritually in sync... until money made sure we weren't (and certainly haven't been since).
But I'd like to go all the way back to the concept we started with from the get-go here at this blog, back when I was "the left-leaning dog" (in a point-counterpoint format, with "the rabid dog," who left not too long into the blog's run to go be the Raving Atheist, as if dogmatic non-belief was in any way superior to the dogmatic belief he railed against... but I digress.) At this point, there is no more left or right in American politics-- only a simulacrum of that, with the real "battle" between... hard right, and psycho-cracker. And even "left-wing journalism"... isn't. In other words... the "left-wing" concept needs some careful examining.
I'm going to put this out there from the Cultural Reference section at Dictionary.com:
A descriptive term for liberal, radical, or revolutionary political views, particularly the view that there are unacceptable social inequalities in the present order of society. Communists and socialists, as well as moderate liberals, come under the term left-wing . Left-wing groups are sometimes known collectively as the Left. ( Compare right-wing.)
Even with the absurdity of including "moderate liberals" in there... does this definition, by any stretch of the imagination, include my college classmate Barack Obama? Does he seem remotely "left-wing," in that "dictionary" sense? How about "National Public Radio," "The New York Times" or "the Democratic Party"? Not to me either. DO ANY OF THOSE SUPPOSEDLY "LEFT-WING" INSTITUTIONS ACKNOWLEDGE, LET ALONE ADDRESS IN A MEANINGFUL WAY THAT THERE ARE UNACCEPTABLE SOCIAL INEQUALITIES IN THE PRESENT ORDER OF SOCIETY, even as those inequality reach absurd levels (such as, oh, the top 400 wealthiest people in the USA holding more wealth than the bottom 150 million? Are they going to continue telling you what MONEY doesn't want you to know? Of course, that would involve them starting to do that, wouldn't it? Thing is-- all of those institutions are hopelessly dependent on MONEY's money themselves. Same with "professional bloggers," think-tanks and so forth.
I'm not. For me... this is strictly an amateur venture. And money's never really been my raison d'etre. You can elect to trust me, or not to trust me... but either way, nobody's paying me to say anything.
And so, that, I suppose, is my promise to you, for the next ten years (assuming we still have an internet... or electricity... and btw... I'll probably take the "under") and perhaps beyond... I will at least try to bring you a genuinely left-wing perspective-- which often, if not usually, means calling the purported standard-bearers of "the left" on their bullshit... which is invariably just another surrogate for "what money wants" anyway. Because the thing with "money" is that its a construct... a mere stand-in for what it buys (even if we buy the semiotics in lieu of the actual)... and even though we have given this fiction the power over our individual life and death, and of late, over the continued existence of our species on this planet... it doesn't mean money isn't, at its core, bullshit. Bullshit... like the President's proposed "jobs bill" which, of course, is designed to protect one job... or the rest of his kabuki show meant to invoke "class warfare"... even as his own government is responsible for preventing any accountability (let alone prosecutions and jail) for the criminals in the financial sector (or "national security state") who have brought this country to what will prove to be its permanent decline.
And so. You can't win through this system. A "get-out-the-vote" effort will only put in your flavor of Coke or Pepsi in the "hard-right" vs. "psycho-cracker" battle. Which is why I don't play the "left-right" thing anymore: money likes that game-- it keeps us off-balance... by pretending that "progressive taxation" is "class warfare," the hope is that an obese and anti-depressant-addicted American won't actually discover what REAL class-warfare is (the kind Louis XVI discovered kind of the hard way).
Alrightie then. Here's to the next ten years.
I'm hopeful that they'll be more pleasant than the last ten years, but realistic enough to acknowledge that the realities of nature don't make that all that likely. Adjust your expectations... the one "freedom" you really do have. Limitless material consumption on a finite planet wasn't really making you any happier, now was it? Of course it wasn't. So think to eternity-- and devote yourself to how to make life better for your grandchildren, and for their grandchildren. Because that's the only way we'll make life better for ourselves.
It's been ten years since that date in September offered by assholes as a stand-in for the sort of mindset that represented a principled (albeit flawed) nation that wasn't, at least affirmatively, richly deserving of the title "World's Biggest Asshole Nation." We're that now, of course. Regular readers know that this blog, which sprang into existence itself a week after the events of 9-11, when I personally witnessed events from 100 yards North of the WTC, is almost wholly devoted to "September 10th Thinking." My coverage of matters GTMO (that includes my dozens of exclusive interviews with lawyers, soldiers, detainees, journalists, activists and other relevant players as well as assisting an attorney for detainees) is a part of that "September 10th thinking"... but by no means all of it. This WaPo editorial is the kind of Establishment Horseshit that pretty much sums up why we have gone from a nation in pretty good shape (economically, militarily/diplomatically and so forth) to one that is now, quite literally, in its death-throes (to anyone who's paying attention).
I have no idea if I'm even going to post tomorrow-- my 9-11 posts over the years have spanned the emotions, from the angry to the sentimental to the downright maudlin... occasionally noting the ultimate heroes (naturally unsung)... people like Rick Rescorla or Richie Pearlman, civilians who gave their lives saving others. But at ten years on... I've just about had it. And yet, the bloody shirt is still waved... and the emotional manipulation still has resonance.
This Sept. 11th date (best known previously as the date of the coup in Chile that removed elected President Salvator Allende in 1973) has now become a national chest-thumping exercise used by the Establishment to keep the populace emotionally off balance, and actually incapable of soberly assessing facts (starting, of course, with the dubious "official story" itself-- that OBL and company concocted this all by themselves from caves in one of the poorest countries in the world without any governmental help save perhaps the Afghan Taliban)... and that the response to a terrorist assault brought about as a response to our military presence just about everywhere... was to double down and increase that very same military presence!
It seems obvious that we've "lost something" somewhere along the line. I suppose it falls to me to tell you what that is. I keep saying that "the truth" is like a solar eclipse-- you can only see it indirectly, as staring at it will cause blindness. And so "the truth" is in some sense hinted at in the famous book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where author Robert Pirsig's focus comes back to one word: quality.
Quality. Quality. America was once about that: we were about being the best.... the gold standard in a legal system devoted to "fairness." A top flight educational infrastructure that out consistently put the best-educated students in the world. A top flight industrial sector that was a world beater. An agricultural sector that could feed the world. A military and diplomatic apparatus that was both feared and respected.
Alas, somewhere along the line, things became about "quantity." As virtually everything in the prior paragraph devolved to a parody of itself (including our mighty military which now finds itself being bogged down everywhere by rag-tag irregulars and a minivan of al Qaeda second stringers), we note that terms of everything are now expressed in "quantity". This, of course, is the super-size nation: the food is not nutritious and not particularly appealing, but by God is it cheap and is there a lot of it! And so while huge portions of the world face starvation, our nation is going to collapse from the inability to pay for the health problems largely caused by obesity. Because we eat-- just as we consume everything else, including an insane portion of the world's natural resources-- to fill an unfillable void in our soul, thinking that "more" is the answer... when it's actually the problem! We fill the body because the spirit is empty.
As intimated above, "I was there". Actually, I was here ("here" being my home in Brooklyn and my work place in Manhattan, respectively a mile downwind and a hundred yards from, the WTC site), but that perspective is also relevant. I mean to take you back to the New York of the latter 2/3 of September and early part of October, 2001. I had actually lost my job as a law firm associate, because the office was in 100 Church Street, in the heart of "the frozen zone." New Yorkers were desperate to help each other in some way... be it giving blood (the Red Cross turned people away... there was no capacity to even draw and store that much blood!), going to firehouses with little gifts and tributes, or candlelight vigils (I recall one on behalf of the local Arab Community, perhaps the only one I went to, as they of all people needed reassurance of their welcome standing in the community.) And people were nice to each other-- everyone on Earth, it seemed, had nothing but good-wishes for the people of New York and Washington, D.C. Indeed, it took a full month before I even observed someone behaving in a crazed way on the NYC Subway (an event marked with a muted laughter, and in my case, I mouthed the words "Thank God"... because I was glad something of normality was coming back.)
But the gestalt of the moment persisted-- even as the anthrax scare resumed the nation's fear level, and the sober realization that a war would be launched in Afghanistan.
But then George W. Bush committed what to me might be the greatest of his numerous crimes against humanity-- possibly worse than the genocide, the torture, the mockery of what we used to think of as our Constitutional principles. That, of course, is when he told us that what we could best do to serve our nation was... to go shopping. (Technically, he said to "go about your normal economic activity", but for my purposes, the sentiment is the same.) Whether Bush told the American people to eat cake, or brioche, the point was that he did not encourage Americans to look to their best selves-- which have nothing to do with "the economy" and everything to do with family, with community, with their very souls-- and he did say to look crassly to how we can keep running the machine pumping out almighty bucks. Because while Bush committed numerous crimes against the human body... this one was a crime against the human spirit-- a spirit that after the dormancy of the Me-Decade, the Ra-Ra Reagan Greed-is-Good Years and the Internet Bubble, was finally unleashed in the form of a national outpouring of the lightbulb realization that there are things far more important to the sustenance of the human soul than money and what it can buy.
The message was promptly lost. Our national wake-up call was given, and we hung up, and then the alarm went off and we hit the snooze button. America's imperfect but nonetheless abiding sense of fairness is what enabled us to become the world's wealthy nation... but that's been flushed now, and we are watching as the wealth leeches away with it. We all know "something is dramatically wrong." But my college classmate President Barack Obama has not shown even remotely that he understands the human spirit... like Bush, he too has continued the overt crimes against humanity (albeit changing their nomenclature and rhetorical tone, while maintaining the bombings, extraordinary renditions, and the legal posture that includes "state secrets," abandonment of habeas corpus and war criminals beyond accountability). But like Bush, he seems to think that the answer to every question is an economic or material one.
And now, we continue to ask the same question even as we hit Peak Oil, Global Warming, droughts. tsunamis, hurricanes and other crazy effects resulting from hundreds of years of industrializing where we didn't have the connection to human spirit to realize that we were not merely consuming the life-sustaining ability of the planet itself, but our very souls... and we will have to face these crises at a time when the world's economy is in the doldrums thanks to the crazy financial machinations of the last decade or two that have made a few richer than anyone in the history of the universe, while most people are no better off, if not actually worse off, than they were decades ago. And there are more of us with less water and arable land (and other crises hitting at the same time that I haven't even mentioned.)
We have an opportunity, of course, to come out of this with our heads, and hopefully, our loved ones... but probably not with most of our "stuff," and certainly not with our vaunted lifestyles. We can take a flight to... quality. The sentiment and feelings immediately after Sept. 11, 2001: community, solidarity, a need to contribute, not out of "altruism," but because it was an internal need OF OUR OWN SOULS. Every "ism" and ideology has failed us, and we know it, from capitalism to democracy to you name it. We know it. And, individually and collectively, we have a choice: we can devote our lives to the betterment of our own souls, to our families, to our communities, to our SMALL N NATION (not the patriotic chest-thumping simulacrum that our politicians and media provide for us)... or we can devote our existences to the cult of quantity. Our physical survival is probably dependent on us focusing on our spirit rather than our physical well-being. I do fear this realization is lost to us, and the powerful will convince the powerless that their interests are in being played against each other, and not in seeking the advancement of our better selves (let alone in challenging the powerful). But as my friend Candace always reminds me, Hope Dies Last. And that's what I got.
This has been... "Flight to quality."
I think at a personal level, I rather like Professor Krugman, and this piece, called "The Fatal Distraction," kind of shows why: it's witty, it is chockful of useful facts presented in appropriate context, and really advances the "left/right" thing in useful context. The only problem, of course, is that in seeing the world as a macro-economic nail in need of a Keynesian hammer, it makes something of a category error. I'm beginning to think that maybe FDR shouldn't have bothered saving capitalism back in the day...
Because, of course, capitalism was ultimately doomed by the simple limitations of nature. The insane pursuit of a capitalist profit motive that maximizes the degradation of nature and the reduction in human dignity -- has troubling consequences. And at this point, you'd have to say that profit maximization is a goal largely achieved: income/wealth disparities are at early 20th century/pre-New Deal levels again, and corporate profits, largely driven by the governmentally-subsidized/franchised financial sector, not to mention energy, "health care" and defense, are approaching record levels of nearly 10% of GDP. Those who love their profit motive should realize this has happened even as (actually, BECAUSE) domestic unemployment keeps rising inexorably [to Depression era levels by some measures], and more American children are in poverty, and for the future, our nation's "educational attainment" continues to plummet, while we, as a people, have never been less healthy (btw, no people, anywhere ever have been in a state where something like our situation, where such a huge portion of adults are hooked on prescription meds, including 9 in 10 older Americans consuming at least one prescription drug every day)...
Where in God's name was I going, before my own "fatal distraction"? Oh yes... Professor Krugman is missing the point: the President can bloviate all he wants, as can his fellow Republicans... none of them are seriously talking about, oh, growth, or innovation, or really, anything besides some nonsensical ideology (and right-wing ideology at that). The US of A simply ain't creating any more jobs, because we're not going to do what it takes to create them (here is pretty much a blueprint of how we could do it... but won't, because no special interest constituency will benefit from doing so.)
So... Professor Krugman distracts us by proposing that the almighty state "do something": spend money to "stimulate demand." Of course, this involves yet more debt-creation on top of already unsustainable levels of debt caused by dumping the real estate bubble era speculations on the taxpayer... admittedly, more debt for some social spending (as proposed by Krugman) would be minor by comparison, but is politically untenable.
The better course for us, this "Labor Day," in an era where both corporate profits are reaching historical highs and wage labor is reaching historical lows as a percentage of GDP, is simply to question the whole model, and its underlying premises, and realize that "ideology" is probably bad in general, and we should try to just make observations of the world as we see it. We can note things such as "Hmmm... my expenses keep rising as my income has been flat for years... what's with that?" Or... hmmm... "I don't feel so good after consuming that insanely salty and processed albeit seemingly inexpensive "food product"... etc. What is it you or I can do at an individual level... that doesn't involve spending too much money [or ideally, any], to improve things in our own lives... be it, take a walk, smell the flowers, plant some vegetables, hug the kids, start reading the classics... just generally living a more "loving" life [hint: the best things in life are largely free, or at least, don't involve i-phones, apps., luxury boxes, prescription meds, etc., etc.] In short-- I suggest you don't obsess too much about the crap that's being pumped into you-- especially the basis of political blogging as we know it-- the left/right game (or as played in non-laboratory American politics, the hard right/VERY hard right game), because the Nanny/Saviour/Santa Claus State is only a construct designed by the powerful to advance their interests... you participate in it of course... to pay for it. [Yes, state and local governments remain somewhat more responsive to their constituents than the finance/energy/"health care"/"defense" driven feds... but they are in financially desperate times, and have to cut services that will make real differences in people's lives.]
It's amazing that we have reached the overall of era of "general austerity for all lest those few most easily able to pay taxes actually have to actually do so"... but we have. And so... how to deal with this? The easiest answer is to just go about your business, and not think too much about such questions. Try to "secure" your supply of food (have some extra food lying around the house, "just in case") say, several weeks or months worth... you know.... it couldn't hurt. Because, like the former USSR, and like our friends all over North Africa... like all corrupt systems everywhere... it's only a matter of time until even the cheap ersatz "food" we consume here will, one day, be unavailble... and you want to be prepared for such event. Of course, just as happened here back in the Depression era, that sort of thing will inexorably lead to "civil unrest". I would guess that, this time, we won't have an FDR around to "save capitalism from itself." Those expecting the Nanny/Saviour/Santa Claus State to save them... will be unpleasantly disappointed, when they realize that such an expectation is, to quote Professor Krugman, "The Fatal Distraction."