After posting my first note here of 2013, I sat back and thought to myself about the length of the thing. It was something that I actually started up sometime maybe a couple of weeks ago, intending to write a bit now and then, topic by topic, and finish it up over a few days. It ended up taking much longer than I thought, just because I kept going through and cutting, writing more, cutting, and even starting over a few times.
It still ended up being a little over ten pages in print format, and that was with a lot left out. In particular, several bits of quoted text from other people were tossed, that really stated some important things about exactly where we are. It really ended up short for what the subject was, but a lot of people might call that “long winded”.
We are definitely in interesting times, and many people just don’t want to know. Sometimes they might pretend that they do, or might even genuinely think to themselves that they do. Then, they want “the short version“. “Just get to the point“. “Cut to the chase“. They want simple answers and “solutions”, without the story and background and perspective to actually understand.
We still have the wreckage and repercussions of all the casino games and swindles of people pretending that you can have perpetual exponential growth, and, lacking that, that you can get something for nothing. Instead of cleaning up and overhauling the mess and resetting, we continue to have people maintaining illusions with accounting trickery.
We still have, all around us, people carrying on with nonstop delusions about our circumstances with petroleum and natural gas.
Just today I read another piece of shiny nothings, complete fucking nonsense, from former political speechwriter David Frum, selling a combination of yet another example of telling people that the term “peak oil” means something radically different from its actual meaning, and delusions of shale oil and shale natural gas deposits being a new boom era of energy independence. That deceptive junk piece seems appropriate to be coming from a man whose previous work evidently included helping President G.W. Bush convince the American people, and a lot of the rest of the world, that invading Iraq was necessary because Saddam Hussein had what were actually entirely non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”.
Those kinds of grossly misleading PR propaganda fluff pieces form such a bombardment I seriously think it could be an almost full time occupation, just chasing them all down and picking them apart. They continue, and continue to terribly mislead and confuse people.
People need to review David Hughs’ report on shale deposits of petroleum and natural gas for some reference to reality.
John Michael Greer’s recent note online does a very good job of thinking through the problems of the wishful thinking delusions of shale formation hydrocarbons leading to another round of “bubble and bust” behavior.
This is something that’s already happening. What appears to be happening, combines the wishful thinking delusions of avoiding getting a clear focus on the reality of remaining underground hydrocarbon deposit resources, along with a mad scramble to play financial games with diminishing returns, and, as I think Greer identifies exactly right, this compounds our problems, by sucking working capital into some kind of void, wasted, away from investing in the work we urgently need to address.
The fog of unreality in Washington DC just seems to get thicker. The present astonishing farce of what’s basically “endless crisis” in government budget and financial matters is almost beyond any description of the level of absurdity and complete detachment from reality from all parties, some only being more or less detached and delusional than others.
All over the place, a lot can be summarized, whole arrays of lunacy, by simply describing people as being stuck, in wishes and absurd attempts to sustain the unsustainable, status quo, at any cost, even if that happens to be tossing away any sense of what’s real and actually makes sense, lost in assorted forms of pretense and delusions.
I know that at this point, I’ve probably mentioned the old children’s story of The Emperor’s New Clothes enough times that if I had a buck for each time, I could probably treat myself to going out for a good lunch. That short little morality tale for children is just perfect for the time we’re in. It’s too bad that the people who are the kinds of problem children being the most problematic would, I figure, be likely, almost certain, to laugh that off, or just sneer at the notion of referring to a children’s story, because they never got the basic point from it when they were kids.
The moral of the story is so simple. It’s that people sharing some agreement of consensus to pretend something is true, because they think that will make things better, and easier, doesn’t make it true, and it doesn’t make things better, or easier. It makes things worse, and way more complicated, and difficult and awkward. The End.
In my last note, I said that the US is suffering from a massive and pervasive cognitive dissonance. There’s nothing good that can come of that, and it’s showing up in all kinds of nasty repercussions.
A lot of people just don’t even want to know.
There’s clearly a whole significant subject to consider in the matter of the strange deterioration of American television, now spread over dozens and dozens of cable/satellite network channels, and the increasingly unhealthy effects on state of consciousness of much of the American public. It might be interesting to see what the late writer Neil Postman might make of a follow-up book to his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985), considering the changes since that time.
Television has certainly changed profoundly since then; the sheer amount of it, for one thing. I wonder what Postman would have made of things like, for just one example, a cable network that now seems to devote entire days of programming to shows about jewelry encrusted plastic surgery victims spending all their time in $200 per meal restaurants having continuous petulant idiotic arguments. I mean, putting aside the grotesque parodies of human beings shown in all that; the bigger question might be who watches that shit?
An arising item pops up as I write this, as news reports indicate that the Dow Jones Industrial Average magic number from the New York Stock Exchange has hit a record high. That was immediately followed by a report that average selling prices of houses increased in January, and that report then quoted somebody as saying that this was a great thing that would “kick start the economy”.
These news items flew by, all of what was said about both items combined to last, I’m estimating from memory, maybe 45 seconds.
Both news items were probably digested as “good economic news”, and not given any more thought, by many people. In their minds, it’s just quickly filed away as simple “good economic news”, not because it’s good economic news, but they’re just thinking that they’re expected to think it’s “good economic news”. Just nod and agree with everybody around you nodding and agreeing with everybody around them nodding and agreeing with… you get the idea.
Ask around among the people around you, and among most people, those chattering excitedly about how “the Dow is at (insert number)” probably have no idea what that means. Ask that question, and you might get a lot of people saying “well, it means the stock market is doing great, of course!”, and not actually understanding the question. There’s that magic number. What does that number actually mean?
The news item reporting that house prices are going up again avoids an obvious issue. Many people wonder if, with overinflated house prices going up again, they will ever be able to buy a house they can afford.
I just cannot fathom the minds of people who would honestly think that this news is an indicator of something that’s going to “kick-start the economy going again”. But, then, there are people who think that is good economic news and also think that from where they sit, “economic improvement” involves paying fewer and fewer people less and less money for their work.
There’s a different big problem for other people, who have some house with mortgage that was bought at some massively overinflated “housing bubble” high price, and now find themselves wanting to sell a house that they can’t sell for anything near the price they paid, possibly in the circumstance of finding themselves with one of these infamous “underwater mortgage” traps.
All this is a real dilemma for a lot of people, and among other things, a perfect example of the very real and terribly serious consequences, for real live human beings and their lives, from “bubble and bust” behavior.
All that nudges things toward the topic of the way people regard statistics about “new housing starts” in construction as a sign of economic health. All of that is almost taken for granted as being some outer fringe zone former farmland suburban subdivision development, which takes us right back to the problems of all that, especially petroleum depletion, overconsumption, and costs.
Here in the United States, I think it’s a pretty reasonable thing to say that since the end of the second world war in 1945, a lot has happened that counts as pretty impressive. What’s harder for most Americans to get their heads around and accept is the ways we’ve gotten some things very badly wrong. When I say that, I mean, like, understanding and accepting how seriously we’ve really fucked up.
Since around the beginning of 1942, the United States of America has maintained what essentially amounts to a “world war” stance, although the second world war ended in 1945. We’re now at over 70 years and counting in this state of affairs, with no sign of anyone ratcheting this back to a policy of the United States military and Department of Defense existing for the purpose of maintaining a protective defense of the nation, and the consequences and repercussions of this are clear, stark, and obvious, and have been for a long, long time. This has thoroughly bankrupted the government of the United States.
After the end of the second world war, probably really getting going in earnest around maybe 1950 or so, the United States charged fully into outward expansion of cities into suburbia. Over about 50 to 60 years massive amounts of the nation’s money and resources have been plowed into constant development projects of suburban sprawl, a whole complex giant enterprise of sinking the wealth and resources of business, government, and individuals and families into suburban places, arrangements, and systems fundamentally based on assumptions of perpetually unlimitied and cheap petroleum.
Now, a little over a decade into the 21st century, and around four decades past the peak of oil extraction rates in US territory, all this faces the reality of being well into the diminishing returns of the oil age. We find ourselves here in America with rotted, hollowed out city centers, abandoned in the outward project of suburban buildup, and vast expanses of suburban zones, a dominating set of places, arrangements, and systems that are completely dependent on unlimited and cheap petroleum fuel to function. Even worse, it’s basically an entrenched system of petroleum gluttony.
Here we are in early 2013, and, unbelievably, we still find ourselves in the same exact circumstances of seized up malfunction from madness, hubris, and outright fraud in banking and finance, and barely anyone in our government, our government, is even asking questions about how and when we might have some rational action dealing with it. Instead, we continue to have government paralyzed and corrupted by people mainly acting as sycophantic servants of a ruling plutocracy. In a note on that very subject, linked above, on the Jesse’s Café American blog, it was summarized about as simply and clearly as this can be:
It is doubtful that the mainstream Republicans and Democrats will ever bring anyone to account, because they are as, or even more, complicit in this web of corruption, having been given enormous amounts of money by the Banks in speaking fees and campaign contributions, with the promise of greater amounts for consulting after their terms in office.
If anyone raises the matter of reducing the amount of money the US federal government shovels into the Department of Defense and anything else stuck under the heading of “national security”, and the reactions among the political actors will be so obviously predictable that it feels silly to even mention it. People instantly wig out, and all kinds of theatrics will follow. The details may vary, anything from “weakening our national security” to platitudes about “support our troops defending our freedom and democracy”, regardless of actual reality about any of that.
It’s almost impossible to raise a question and expect any serious, rational, and realistic discussion about why “defense” involves basically covering the entire planet with US military people, equipment, and bases and installations. It’s a pretty basic and obvious thought to ask how it helps to maintain a defense of the nation to have most of the US military out there in the world somewhere, scattered all around the planet, rather than in positions around the United States to defend it. It’s really a stupid rhetorical question once you listen to all the assorted posturing and platitudes offered up by people in power and positions of influence talking in phrases like “defending American interests around the world”, rather than “defending America”.
It also becomes apparent what things really are in this realm when you see and hear all the angry dramas that ensue, especially from elected representatives in the US Congress, following anything suggesting reducing the astronomical kinds of numbers involved in “defense spending” that involves cutting massively expensive contracts for weapons and systems that do little or nothing to actually help maintain a national defense, but certainly shovel gigantic qualtities of money into “defense industries” that are located in their political domain. The same thing occurs if anyone breathes a hint of reducing or eliminating any kind of military base or installation inside the US that sucks enormous amounts of money from the federal government into the general area of a facility that just happens to fall within that elected representative’s territory.
We have similar problems in terms of a massive case of public cognitive dissonance in avoiding facing how we’ve wasted money and resources, and locked ourselves into systematic problems, in the realm of the project of suburban expansion over basically the second half of the 20th century, and in a case of perfect timing, a guest post appeared on Chris Martenson’s website by James Howard Kunstler, Why Our Current Way of Living Has No Future, with a subtitle header “Rampant malinvestment is creating scarcity of capital, energy & justice”. That sums up things very well, and saves me a lot of typing.
An excerpt from Kunstler:
Far from being a mere matter of esthetics, Suburbia represents a compound economic catastrophe, ecological debacle, political nightmare, and spiritual crisis for a nation of people conditioned to spend their lives in places not worth caring about.
Suburbia is also largely behind our current state of political paralysis because it represents a gigantic legacy of sunk costs, investments that have transformed themselves into liabilities. The unwillingness to acknowledge that transition makes it impossible for us to construct a coherent consensus about what is happening and what we might do about it. We ought to know, for instance, that we face a daunting predicament regarding our oil supply. It’s no longer cheap. Alas, our drive-in Utopia was designed to run on cheap oil. Hence the clear implication is that Suburbia has rather poor prospects going forward. I would actually go further and state categorically that it is a living arrangement with no future.
It is in the nature of sunk costs to provoke in people a psychology of previous investment. Having sunk much of our accumulated collective wealth (our capital) in this living arrangement with no future, we are afraid to let go of it, or even reform it substantially. Instead, The Fear of facing our gigantic losses prompts a retreat into denial and wishful thinking.
The higher the price of oil goes, the more the economy contracts, the more frightened people get – and the more determined to seek solace in magical rescue remedies. Thus, the recent cavalcade of nonsense and propaganda telling the public that shale oil and “drill, baby, drill” will soon turn America into “the next Saudi Arabia,” that we are about to become “energy independent,” that we have “a hundred years of shale gas.” These dishonest memes may be floated by mendacious PR spin doctors in the pay of oil and gas companies, but they wouldn’t be effective if the public itself wasn’t so desperate to hear the “good news” that we can continue living exactly the way we do. The mainstream media falls for it, too, not because they are necessarily paid stooges of the energy companies, but because The Fear affects them as well.
The Fear, of course, especially affects American homeowners, most of whose homes exist in Suburbia, and who have already been battered by five years of lost equity, lost incomes, calls from collection agents, the scary visitations of re-po men, and all the other now-familiar manifestations of everyday financial terror.
I’ll leave you with some more reading from this past week, as John Michael Greer wrote another note that’s both timely and saves me a lot more typing. As he says, we have difficult times ahead, and as I’ve been saying, and am saying today, the biggest overriding problem is beyond these problems, in the avoidance of most of Americans, nearly all, it seems, of getting our heads around it.
For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
– Richard Feynman