It’s one of the major ironies of the period that we find ourselves in what people like to call “the information age”, and yet, with a bazillion cable/satellite TV channels, and the endless sea of everything flowing as data stream signals though the conduits of the internet, it’s severely questionable whether or not people in general are more informed. It seems to becoming worse, the problem of too many people just filling their heads with trash, that’s either useless and distracting and pointless, or just plain wrong. What comes along with that is far too many people avoiding facts and understanding of things we really need to know.
In short, people failing to filter out the masses of sheer garbage, but filtering out what really needs their attention.
Sometimes things get severely foolish as people get into really silly distortions of their notions of what’s “positive” versus “negative”, or “optimistic” versus “pessimistic”, and so on. I’ve had a thought recurring frequently for a long time now, which is a strange paradox of some kind. It’s been more and more apparent that for too many Americans, they fail (or even willfully ignore) how many things are so very bad, while, simultaneously, seeming completely oblivious to how good things have been for them. There is a gigantic mine of material to sort out.
Nobody should have to look very hard to find some example of people who carry around the idea that goes something like “well, my life is just grand, so if yours isn’t so great, there must be something wrong with you!“. Matt Taibbi found great comedy recently in the form of a New York Times editorial from Times regular David Brooks writing about the topic of “why can’t men find jobs?”. At the risk of oversimplifying, essentially what Brooks’ thinking comes down to is a notion that unemployment must be down to just a failure of American men to man up sufficiently. I imagine there could be plenty of circumstances where Mr. Brooks could find himself in the presence of American men in difficult circumstances who had an immediate and mighty urge to kick his ass for such idiotic sentiments, except I’m pretty confident in thinking that David Brooks lives a life where he manages to maintain a separation and insulation from the peasants.
In matters of money in general, we have all kinds of reality distortion in play. I saw a note on Facebook yesterday where a European online acquaintance posted a link about the documentary “Inside Job“, a excellent piece of work outlining the massive insanity and egregious misbehavior that brought us what people like to call “the financial crisis”, the massive trainwreck that crashed in late 2008, with his simple one word comment: “wow”. Wow is right. It’s astounding. What’s more astounding is how many people here in the US still have absolutely no idea what happened.
Even more astounding was a different online comment, from a very intelligent fellow, with many things to say about a great many subjects, referring to something online about how bankers have become, let’s say, somewhat unpopular. He introduced this with a comment about “the financial crisis of 2008-2009”. The notable point here, of course, is that, evidently he thinks “the financial crisis” is over, something over a discrete period of the recent past. He certainly isn’t alone in this.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this same guy probably has notions in his head like “The Dow is over 15000, look at the economic recovery, the economy is doing great!…“, with maybe some qualifier statements attached to it, I don’t know what, maybe something like “… although we still have issues, of course, we must adapt and adjust, to the changing New Economy…“, or some such batch of easy platitudes and general bullshit. (Avoiding yet another side road that is a time consuming tangent all its own, albeit totally relevant, one probable set of notions that might come up is the stuff about “…job retraining, new skills for the changing needs of the New Economy…”.) There are, of course, plenty of people who regard the stock market and all the games of Wall Street, and other world banking and trading market centers, as being The Economy. I’ve written I don’t know how many times about how I check out the stream of TV noise from CNBC reporting on all the games of Wall Street and “The Markets” and am almost knocked backwards by an intense almost palpable sense of the sheer intense aggressive unreality of it.
I pause for a second here to make this note. Right now, it’s early afternoon, August 1, 2013, and as I check CNBC for a second, I find these things. The current magic number of “the Dow”, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, is up to 15,611… oops… now 15,612, color coded displays on screen read “record highs”, the crude oil price benchmarks are increasing from what they were over the last week or so, West Texas Intermediate up to almost $108 per barrel and Brent up to a little over $109. This will all no doubt be treated with lots of excited babble as great healthy economic news… stuff is up even more! Oops… DJIA now 15,616. The magnificent awesomeness of it all!
It’s really hard to get across any suggestions to many people that all of this is a gigantic phantasm, “recovery” that’s just house of cards in an increasing ramp of size and complexity in an ugly hybrid of illusions and even outright mass scale accounting fraud. [Oh… DJIA now 16,626… can you feel the awesomeness of prosperity?] Looking back at a screen with CNBC, a banner reads “MARKETS AT ALL-TIME HIGH”, and below that, “NASDAQ AT 13-YEAR HIGH”, below the image of a guy in a suit and neat side-parting chattering and pointing at a graph. Oops… DJIA now 16,637!
I’m not the only one who wonders about how much of this “booming market”, of not just stocks, but commodities, including crude oil, bonds, the works, is a manifestation of various large “investment” entities sucking up massive amounts of money, in near zero-interest debt, and pumping it into every game available to generate pretend “growth” in a time when there really is none, generally, playing some weird hybrid of casino games, exercises in statistical math and high speed computer software algorithms, and shell games or musical chairs.
All this rolls on, at least, for now, as some kind of really large scale lesson in how people will stick absolutely with any pretense, any illusion, because they think it’s all just fine, as long as they figure they can play the game to make something work to their advantage.
People are still vulnerable to the continued barrage of PR propaganda about our situation in the petroleum department, and energy in general. A disturbingly large number of people are prone to happily go along with some passing glimpse of what’s supposed to be “news”, telling them all about some vague notions about “America’s Oil Boom!” or “America poised to be the new Saudi Arabia!“. It sounds nice to them, it’s easy, they get satisfying happy thoughts, without bothering to do a little homework, or even at least take a bit of time to digest the summaries of somebody else doing the homework for them, even if the supposed happy news is complete fucking nonsense.
Writer and teacher Richard Heinberg, whose book The Party’s Over is arguably the best introduction to the petroleum story and where we’re headed, is doing all he can to clarify reality versus all the bullshit flying about the subject. There’s another recent article on the web, a summary of a presentation by a guy named Chris Rhodes, that does a fairly nice job of summarizing the general situation and problematic issues involved. The irony is that the article is rather unfortunately titled What Happens When the Oil Runs Out?, a very ironic title considering that the piece clarifies the basic fundamental point that the issue here is not exactly about oil running out, which is, as I’ve been explaining, a common fundamental point of confusion.
Something that summarized a hell of a lot about the present state of things was a bit of TV talking head political sports chatter, hearing somebody say “the facts just don’t matter here”, talking about a squabble where the facts were, in reality, everything. The point was that among people who were likely voters in future circumstances under discussion, primary election sports games, facts just don’t matter to them. They have lodged in their heads whatever they “think”, with facts of reality really truly being irrelevant to them.
There’s an awful lot of bullshit around, getting deeper by the day, and the effects are not trivial. Too many people seem unable to filter it out and focus on reality. Even worse, many people seem to filter out actual reality and reason, and absorb the bullshit, just because they think “I like that better”.