dancing in the funhouse mirror- part 3

Continuing on here, and I’m finding myself sticking a title on today’s entry that makes this number 3 of a series, that I didn’t actually plan as such a multi-part series. It’s not like I have a whole long term plan outlined for this stuff. Here we are again.

Sometimes maybe it’s best to turn to the words of other people. Quite a lot is summarized pretty well in the commentary Are we moving toward a fact-free future?.

 

A couple of days ago, I had never heard of the term “derecho“. Apparently, there is a name for a weather phenomenon like the band of thunderstorms that swept across a large swath of the eastern United States this past Friday. News reports talk about several million people finding themselves without electrical power service in the aftermath of the storm. Changes in weather that start to make unusual, problematic, fairly weird weather seem less and less unusual and more like normal might be good clues for people.

Raging wildfires in the western US are not a new thing, something that, in general, is a common phenomenon, but this year seems to have brought more intensity to it, while people look at damage caused by pine beetles and the connection to these fires, as large expanses of dead trees aggravate the fire problems. Pair that with the pine beetles and changes in climate. Couple all that with the changes in weather that finds hotter and drier weather than what was normal in the past, making it all worse.

Now, in early July 2012, all across the US we’ve been seeing baking hot weather, setting new records for high temperatures, with relatively dry or full drought conditions.

We have the clues piling up, but there are still people insisting that this whole greenhouse effect causing planet wide warming and climate changes is some “environmental radical hoax”, even while the clues have ceased being subtle and are more like smacking us over the head. Where I am in the Great Lakes region of the United States, this past winter of 2011-2012 saw virtually no snow, only a couple of passing snowfalls, with one snowfall that left maybe a couple of inches of snow that all melted right off of any concrete or asphalt paved area immediately. Calling this unusual would be an understatement. The present (early summer as I write) extremely hot weather had a prelude of sorts back in March, before the actual Spring equinox, technically still winter, when my region that would expect cold and snow and your basic winter weather for a “temperate climate” latitude and geographical area was instead experiencing weather like what we would normally experience around late May.

Check the news, where good true accurate information and reality is still available, and you find things like this story in the Miami Herald, about state government officials taking official positions of deliberate ignorance of reality when it might seem inconvenient to acknowledge it. If that leaves you in sheer blinking dumbfounded inability to comprehend that this is even possible, continue on to another story, about a specific state government action in the Republican party controlled North Carolina state legislature, where official recognition of facts of reality directly affecting the land is banned. Reading these things is a strange and ugly feeling, a kind of combination of finding myself needing to read the articles two or three times to really wrap my head around the idea that this can even be possible, that this can be for real, and not some twisted joke, even while I simultaneously understand that, yes, of course this can be possible, today, because it’s getting to the point where finding this kind of staggering lunacy is not even unusual anymore.

 

Today, as I was about to dive into this, I found a new essay online from Richard Heinberg, titled, perfectly, Peak Denial. Perfect timing. In it, Heinberg takes some time to write about exactly the kind of thing I’ve been mentioning lately. There are people bombarding the public with just about every imaginable way to confuse and mislead people about the petroleum situation, including the kinds of articles I’ve been talking about, where somebody completely misstates what the term “peak oil” actually means. Then they proceed to lay out some argument that only makes sense if you accept their fundamentally confused fake definition of the term and what it describes. Before you know it, hey, presto, no oil problem!

As I said, I have written about this kind of thing before, because it has become pervasive. Instead of explaining to readers the slightly complex explanation of the meaning of the phrase “peak oil”, about the crest of Hubbert’s curve and diminishing returns, with everything involved in those diminishing returns and the repercussions, they tell people that it means “peak oil people say that the oil is almost all gone!”, followed by some statistics that aren’t put into context, and some form of statement saying “look, see, there’s still lots of oil!”.

Even in that, as I’ve previously written, these kinds of nonsense propaganda pieces will often cite some number that, with no background understanding, looks to the average person like a very large quantity, but a few seconds of simple arithmetic with a calculator reveals that some “huge new oil find” might be enough to supply the demands of the United States, or the world as a whole, for some shockingly short period, if you could actually extract it as fast as you wanted to use it. That ignores the whole separate issue of possible extraction rates, which will mean that the “new find” might actually have oil being extracted for some years, but at a limited flow rate that means it will fill only a tiny sliver of total demands.

But that bullshit sells, and it’s pretty easy to understand why. First, too many people just don’t want to be bothered to spend a little bit of time to read something and understand things. Second, too many people want to have some easy answer waved in front of them, or better yet, be told a problem is already solved, or there never was a problem, so they can forget it and pretend everything will just carry on as status quo.

Too many people don’t want to hear, just don’t want to know, that anything might be other than what they wish it to be, that they might have to change something, that they themselves might have to change something. It’s easier, in their minds anyway, to pretend, better yet if they can reinforce something with a shared pretense with other people. Maybe they like to think and say that if there is a problem in some area, it’s just this, or that, or the other thing, some nonsense not based in reality, including the belief that the only problems and faults lie with some group of Others who are members of the wrong political club, unlike themselves.

People don’t want to read and think about things like this, a new blog piece from Dmitri Orlov.

 

 

Getting a handle on all of what we collectively label “the economy” is a tough job these days. How’s that for a grasp of the obvious? What’s funny, or not so funny, is watching the supposed economic experts completely failing to grasp what’s going on. Listen to somebody say that right now, in the dysfunctional mess we have, the economy is “growing”, but it needs to be “growing faster“, and it starts to give off an aroma of a hint of a clue that something might be amiss.

Look around, and there is all sorts of work that should be done, needs to be done, but not getting done. Meanwhile, masses of people are wondering how to keep going as they can’t find a functional arrangement of being paid for work.

I’m no economic expert, but it seems apparent that an awful lot of present era economic problems come down to too many people thinking “I want as much money and as much stuff as possible for me“, paired up, a beat or two later, with “I don’t want to pay for anything”.

People chatter and thrash around furiously for some way to revive and push forward all the kinds of practices that wrecked things to begin with, as “the path to economic recovery”; all the giant corporate business practices of overly large corporations, run by people disconnected from whatever the original purpose of the company was and the kind of work involved, with loads of sycophantic layers of management; all the games of banking and finance and assorted trading markets, in increasing overcomplexity and furious shuffling of transactions without really doing anything, and constant pushing of people to play their roles of consumers, consuming.

You can see the madness in action just by turning on a TV with cable service and turning to CNBC for a while. Watch the buzzing frenzy of people thrashing through statistical analysis games, looking for ways to slice money from loads of transactions back and forth. They’re not stopping to talk about some business enterprise as an investment in terms of doing good work, doing something useful and doing it well, and trading value for value for mutual benefit of the parties involved, helping human life along and making things better. A whole culture of people are entirely wrapped up in wanting to find some way of money just magically turning into a larger pile of money, and barely giving a thought to what any of it’s about.

It doesn’t take an economics degree and genius to look around and see how much is now down to just playing games of interwoven debts and exchanges and trading of debts, and everything is supposed to be magically and perpetually generating interest payments for everybody. Then when that implodes on itself, people freak, thrash around demanding that it somehow keep working like it did for a while, just the way that led to it all imploding. It’s like some creature that was eventually living on no food, just a steady diet of coke and amphetamines, and when it finally fell flat on the floor, zapping the thing repeatedly with a defribulator hoping to jolt the beast into reanimation like some twitching zombie walking dead corpse.

Then the people responsible for this shit dance around saying “look at me! look at me! I’m a job creator!”.

Meanwhile, the people who really are qualified to be called “job creators”, the people who started and built and run a business doing good useful work, who understand the idea of getting good people to do good work and paying them for it, for an actual purpose, are struggling, largely due to all of the above.

Concepts of investment and finance have been warped and perverted until a whole culture of humans involved in it seem to have completely lost the plot of what it was supposed to be about, in supporting useful human activity, and turned it into a world unto itself, until it all became some incomprehensibly huge and complex game of illusions.

In ancient days of yore, usury was severely frowned upon or even forbidden. Then it became a normal practice. Then it became a necessity, as a replacement for what is probably best summarized simply as a real economy. Now, as a whole world of this has crumpled in on itself, people thrash around trying to figure out how to not just keep it going, but increase it, because that’s their whole enterprise.

Anytime I think about writing something to comment on this whole clusterfuck, I’m a little hesitant just for the simple reason that I can’t sit here and pretend to understand all of it and explain it all in detail, but then that’s part of the basic point. Who does? It’s not just me, or you, or people we know who don’t deal with the games involved, and are puzzled and unclear about a lot of the insane complexity of all sorts of contrived “financial innovations” of “derivatives” and all that. It’s that it is apparent that even the people responsible for the stuff don’t have a grip on it. They created monsters they clearly didn’t even fully understand, never mind being able to control them and all the repercussions. But they did gather money for themselves out of it, and they only give a rat’s ass about that.

While the consequences of that turned into the massive train wreck that it became, a lot of people still thinking in terms of “investment” the way that they thought it worked found that their investments were not working out at all like they thought, or the way they thought they understood from the people who handled things for them, and many turned out to have had their “investments” not fueling some enterprise doing good work, but mainly funding a lot of new gold and marble bathrooms in the Hamptons.

As this knotted mess continues, there are people who, apparently seriously, suggest that the solution to unemployment problems is “well, get a job!“. Arguments in the US Congress over the past few years involving the matter of extended benefits of unemployment insurance have brought political critters standing up and making presumably dead serious statements that such aid to American citizens was somehow morally and practically wrong, because it removed incentives for unemployed people to get off their lazy asses and go out and work, as if that is the problem. There really are people in the United States at present who, judging by the available evidence, really are truly that completely fucking detached from reality.

From there you can go into related themes, like people talking about “job retraining” as the solution to problems of unemployment, which might extend into public political statements about “job retraining for the jobs of the new economy” or something. This is specious bullshit tapdancing around that ignores the reality of masses of people who actually are useful and capable of doing good, useful work, who have education and training and experience and knowledge and skills, related to work that needs to be done, and they can do.

All this is not really a political issue, but as with damned near anything in the world of confusion and reality evasion we have going, everything somehow becomes a political issue, and then massively confused and detached from facts of reality and reason.

At some point some of this does become a political issue as it becomes a pervasive public problem. And as I just said, grasp of reality and reason has a hard time getting a little light and air in that environment.

Despite the monumental avalanches of bullshit about Barack Obama as president supposedly being some sort of “leftist radical commie socialist with an agenda to destroy our freedoms and prosperity and our Free Enterprise System”, the criticisms deserved by Obama as president, in reality-based world, are a much different matter. In reality, Obama as president has gone along with the whole program of indulging the entire zombie economy world of the large mega-banksters and Wall Street, an entire complex and ugly saga of its own, with virtually everything in the recent political sports arena being about tap dancing around that whole world as being “the economy”.

Talk about that, or try, anyway, and some vacuous dumbass trained like Pavlov’s dog by a diet of deluded nonsense and fiction from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and some collection of “Conservative news” website swill will most likely say “oh, so you want some Big Gummint communist Soviet central planned economy, then?” because this fits their training to see everything in binary switch-flip absurdities.

 

It’s a sign of the severe and widespread detachment from facts of reality to see the circus following the recent Supreme Court decision handed down about the act of Congress called the Affordable Care Act. This has become almost invariably referred to with the stupid replacement name of calling it “Obamacare”, with that name coming from people talking about it derisively, even though the actual final legislation had barely a shadow of similarity to the health insurance reform plan offered by Barack Obama as a candidate for president in 2008. The infamous “mandate” to purchase insurance (from existing for-profit health insurance, most probably) was something Obama did not want, he specifically argued against that idea, which was a past Republican policy suggestion, obviously helping their corporate masters in the insurance business sector to gather more paying customers. Just one aspect of this mess. But the actual reality and all the chattering noise flying around are more often than not two different realms.

 

This is a pattern that plays out in virtually anything now, and this is trouble. We’ve become a society badly detached from reality, replacing it with an endless array of all kinds of substitutes that, we will eventually realize, one way or another, were really not substitutes.

One little specific item comes to mind. Spend some time watching Fox News and reading or listening to people who fit in with the same program, and you’ll be sure to occasionally encounter somebody yammering about “political correctness”. The astonishing thing about this, that, unsurprisingly, seems to go completely unnoticed by their audience, is that what you witness from these people is an unending version of their own particular set of what’s “politically correct”, to be obediently absorbed and regurgitated verbatim, and you’re expected to toe the line and get with the program and get in line. If not, you’ll be labeled “left wing radical”, or something similar, and ostracized from the tribe. It’s astonishing, and severely disturbing, to see how willingly and completely people conform to all this.

For anybody who isn’t aware of it, it’s worth taking time to read something, outlining what was summarized by Laurence W. Britt outlining 14 characteristics of Fascism. This is no joke. Being in an era where people are regularly bombarded by hyperbolic bullshit, it might be a little too easy to dismiss such a thing immediately. Read through the thing, and it’s not so much a case of trying to find ways it matches up with anything in our place and time, it’s pretty clear that there is nothing in there that does not fit recent history and events of the United States.

It’s a real bucket of icewater over the head. The sickest twist to this is that the people who push things into making the present circumstances and attitudes fit these characteristics so closely tend to be the ones (probably Fox News audience) who are most noisy about flapping the flag around and squawking about “freedom and liberty” and the US constitution and “the founding fathers”. Take a look at these people, and some things should become apparent. Among these, is the realization that a large portion of these people aren’t really interested in freedom and liberty at all, and what they really want is for everything to be, everyone to live, exactly as they think things should be. Take a look at how people of this sort shout about “big government” and “tyranny” and “keeping government out of our lives”, until something or somebody doesn’t fit their plan about how things should be, and then suddenly their principles of “freedom” have no objection to the government ruling people’s lives in the most personal ways.

 

At this point, it points us back to the drama of Germany, roughly circa 1920 or so through 1945, with the problems I addressed earlier. That history stands to serve as one of the most stark and clear warning lessons of history of how badly and massively humanity can go wrong, a cautionary tale from history about as clear and large as it can be. Do we learn from it? These days, between people who fail completely to learn and understand history, compounded in many cases by substituting babbling idiocy from somebody like Glenn Beck in lieu of actual knowledge, and people making some sort of a joke of any mention of the saga, the answer might be predominantly “no”.

There’s all kinds of ugly and crazy down that road of subject material. Back in my youth, the John Birch Society was, very accurately, dismissed by the vast majority of people as the group of malevolent lunatics they were. Now, thanks in no small part to the kind of usual suspect creatures I’ve talked about influencing people, via obnoxious bloviators on AM radio and Fox News and assorted web-borne crazy, the present day Republican party has basically been taken over by that crowd, with the additional phenomenon of people moving to fringe parties like the Conservative Party and Constitution Party, where the Republican party is rejected as “left wing liberals”.

(And I have to mention that the Constitution Party has some very questionable “interpretations” of the US constitution. I’m trying to be charitable by describing them as “questionable”.)

I hate even getting into more talk about the madness that American politics has become, complete with the blatant propaganda operations of Fox News and the like, but it is part of the theme of the problem at hand. A large, dominant portion of all that is just part of the scene; a severe disassociation from reality, and a fierce insistence of many people on sustaining the unsustainable, in an array of different ways.

In the political arena, for example, not only is there a contest between incumbent President Barack Obama and Willard Romney about who can “grow the economy faster”, but under the heading of “energy policy”, the general public and political delusions, confusion, and oblivion about the reality of remaining hydrocarbon fuel resources and our consumption has the two roped into arguing the point of who will increase rates of extraction of these resources faster. Which is the worst possible goal we could have in that department.

Many people would read that last statement and immediately think in terms of what we’re doing to the planet’s atmosphere by burning hydrocarbons, which is another crucial matter. I’m talking just in terms of the resources and how much depends on them, while we fail to make other arrangements.

Neither of these gentlemen seem to be getting the point about the “finite” character involved, as in, the more you use up the finite resource, the less there is remaining, and increasing the rate you use the finite resource gets you toward the state of having less and less faster and faster. It’s a fool’s race.

But I’ve already written about all that before, and frankly, I’m not sure if I’m getting the message through to anybody. It’s questionable how much is getting through to anybody on a whole assortment of subjects. I’m not just talking about how many people might be reading this stuff (and it’s not like I have any illusions about the world waiting with bated breath for a new entry here).

It’s a tricky subject, trying to address all the ways people avoid a grasp of reality. One great place on the web to actually get a reasonable grip on understanding things as they are is the ongoing blog Do The Math, periodic writings from physics professor Tom Murphy, where, as you may have guessed, he literally does the math. What a concept, eh? Reality based observation and reasoned thinking with actual facts and calculations and conceptual explanations! Looking at our present circumstances, how we got here, and where things might be heading, one piece from Murphy is especially interesting, Ruthless Extrapolation. It helps to clarify a lot of human behavior and notions rattling around the heads of many people, enough people that it forms a pretty normal consensus of the sort we sometimes call “conventional wisdom”.

The problem with “conventional wisdom”, of course, and a thought that can be hard to get across to many people, is that “conventional wisdom” is something that might be shared as a notion among a great many people, and that is the basic definition of the meaning of the phrase, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the “conventional wisdom” notion of the moment is actually right. In actual fact, especially depending on who you might be talking to, some bit of “conventional wisdom” can be not wisdom at all, but a packet of complete fucking nonsense.

You can do your own observations about the combination of conventional wisdom and ruthless extrapolation, and find plenty. Maybe in your own bad self.

I just heard some burst of complaint from somebody about how much value their house had lost in the past year, which wasn’t explained (but that’s a story in itself you don’t need), that I’m guessing probably came from getting a new tax assessment in the mail.

Back in 2006, as the housing bubble was at a high about to implode as was inevitable, someone else I know was buying a new house, in outer edge former farmland exurbia, and talking about their plans. The plans included doing a bunch of work on what was about to become “the old house”, a place that had been thoroughly renovated over a period of many years already, with the notion that this was going to increase the value (of the place that had, already, been completely overhauled once) and appeal and selling price, and the suggested price they said they wanted and expected to get from the house was, to my thinking, probably around one and a half times what would seem like a reasonable price for the place at the time. The “at the time” part is important, of course.

Now, it’s almost exactly six years since their move. The house sat unoccupied for a long time, as the owner kept continually working on never ending “improvements” projects with the purpose of increasing the selling price fetched for the place, and finally, they rented the place to someone, after several years like this, which is still the present situation. I haven’t talked with them about the specifics of the matter for a long time, but I suspect that there is still some notion there about waiting “for house prices to bounce back up”, when I’m guessing that a reasonable selling price for the place, now, might be something like half of what they expected to get for the house six years ago.

What has been “conventional wisdom” for a long time is “house and property value will just go up and up and up”, which obviously ties into things like the little burst of an era of “house flipping”, complete with cable network TV shows, or people playing games of second mortgage refinancing equity sucking to treat their house like an ATM cash cow of sorts.

People extrapolate, they have expectations; a curve on a graph is going like this over time, so therefore it will just keep trending like that, forever… until it doesn’t. Then all kinds of “what happened?!” puzzling and chattering ensues, with people yapping about all kinds of presumed reasons to explain the surprising turn of things, anything except understanding what actually happened.

A couple of years or so ago I found myself explaining (trying, at least) a kind of thumbnail sketch summary of the oil situation, including explaining the idea of the patterns of Hubbert’s curve, including the fact that US crude oil extraction rates peaked around 1970. The subject was raised by me in light of a couple of things. One was the outer exurbia house where they lived, the other being the matter of driving large heavy fuel guzzling behemoths for personal transportation.

It was a frustrating and depressing conversation. In short form, it was utterly futile. I might as well have been saying that the area was in imminent danger of being attacked by flying monkeys. That’s about how seriously it was taken. For one thing, after that apparently useless chat, I was almost sure that the explanation of the pattern of Hubbert’s curve, how it occurs, and what it means and implies for the future, didn’t even register.

In short, they didn’t have a fucking clue, and couldn’t stop talking long enough to take the information on board that might actually get them to understand some things they ought to know. Instead, I kept finding myself being interrupted, by assorted chatter ignoring and dismissing what I was explaining (without even registering and understanding what it was) and countering it with random assorted “explanations” of what was happening in the world of petroleum, and refined fuel prices, that were just random fucking nonsense. It was exactly the kind of thing you might get in the way of pseudo-information from a bunch of people in some social gathering making small talk or “the guys at work” bullshitting, where people chatter basically just to chatter, when none of them actually know what they’re talking about.

This isn’t an unusual story. I suspect that among any other people who find themselves trying to explain the things I was there, they find themselves encountering the same kind of stuff.

 

As we pass the Independence Day holiday of July 4th here in the United States of American, some attention has to be given to the characteristic of how running through damned near anything now is a pervasive problem that reflects a kind of serious national attitude problem. An article on the CNN website discusses this, something that’s a fairly old news obvious topic in my mind. You can find it in people blabbering about “American Exceptionalism”, you can watch it in action in a crowd somewhere chanting “U! S! A!… U! S! A!”. We have way too many people who confuse the idea of patriotism with a really problematic kind of simplistic narcissistic hubris, mixed with a militaristic nationalism, and generally thinking, speaking, and acting as if we’re the center of the universe.

And, in this sort of realm, even talking about this will get the kind of crowd I’m talking about screeching that you hate America and our freedoms and liberty and prosperity and free enterprise and God and Jesus and everything. How dare you?

As we pass this holiday, it’s a good time to reflect on the founding of the United States of America, not just have picnics and blow shit up for fun. It’s a good time to reflect on the ideas contained in that act, as the Declaration of Independence was signed by the men who had both the vision and the sheer balls to do it, knowing that King George was sure to be sending the armed guys in the funny clothes after them.

It’s a good time to reflect on the ideas that were laid out; a nation where the fundamental concept was, live your own life, let other people live theirs, and the government only has a right to exist by the will of the people and its only purpose being to serve the people, and not the other way around.

That, and it’s just really quite a place, not only the land itself, but what came of people coming here from a variety of cultures around the world, wanting to be part of the ideas above.

That said, it’s also a good time to step back and look carefully at a lot of things, and not be patting ourselves on the back, including that very tendency to pat ourselves on the back. There are way too many people who have just gone completely deranged about their country. There’s the really dangerous trap of getting into this whole idea of “American Exceptionalism”, and the kind of gross narcissistic hubris it produces.

We have become far too much of a nation of people way too engrossed in lying to ourselves, and each other, about a lot of things.

I’ve already been writing about these things. There they are. They’re very real, and real trouble, if we don’t pull our heads out of our collective asses and get a grip on reality, instead of falling all over ourselves convincing ourselves of how inherently wonderful we think we are, even with evidence to the contrary.

Step away from the funhouse mirrors and get a good look at what’s real.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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