Who Has the Time and Motivation to Comprehend the Mess We’re In? Almost Nobody


If we don’t understand the problem or the dynamics that are generating the problem, it is impossible to reach a solution or practical plan of action.

When it comes time to assess our grasp of the dynamics of this unprecedented era, how do you reckon historians will grade our collective political “leadership,” intelligentsia, central state, corporate leadership and the “common man/woman” citizen? Did we rise to the occasion or did we falter, not in acting to counter the dissolution of the Status Quo, but in simply making a concerted effort to understand the tangled web of lies, corruption, perverse incentives, unintended consequences, simplistic (and utterly misguided) ideologies, not to mention the real-world limits of a supposedly limitless world, that have become the key dynamics of this era?

I suspect future historians (presuming the funding of such scholarly assessments survives) will grade all categories either F or D-. The reasons are not difficult to discern, and it behooves us to understand why we are collectively so ill-prepared to understand our era, much less fix what’s broken before the whole over-ripe mess collapses in a heap.

1. Intellectual laziness. Very few people are willing to work hard enough to figure things out on their own. It’s so much easier to join Paul Krugman dancing around the fire of the Keynesian Cargo Cult, chanting “aggregate demand! Humba-Humba!” while waving dead chickens than ditch reductionist, naive ideologies and actually work through an independent analysis.

2. Independent thinking is an excellent way to get fired, demoted or sent to Siberia. Though America claims to value independent thinking, this is just another pernicious lie: what America values is the ability to mask failing conventional ideas and systems with a thin gloss of “fresh thinking.”

In other words, what the American state and corporatocracy value is theappearance of independent thinking, not the real thing. Since the real thing will get you fired, everyone who works for government or Corporate America masters the fine arts of producing simulacra, legerdemain and illusion. This only further obscures the real dynamics, making legitimate analysis that much more difficult.

3. Relatively few have any incentive to question authority, the state or the corporatocracy. Humans excel at figuring out which side of the bread is buttered, and who’s lathering on the butter: self-interest is the ultimate human survival trait (we cooperate because it serves our self-interest to do so).

While we cannot hold the pursuit of self-interest against any individual–after all, who among us truly acts selflessly when push comes to shove?–we can monitor the monumentally negative consequences of self-interest and complicity on the systems and Commons we share.

When roughly half of all households are drawing direct cash/benefits from the central state, how many of those people are interested in doing anything that might put their place at the feeding trough at risk? Sure, people will grouse about this or that (usually related to the conviction that they deserve more or have been cheated out of “their fair share”), but as long as the government payments, direct deposits and benefits keep coming, what possible motivation is there for the recipients to devote energy to investigating the potential collapse of the gravy train?

Corporate America is no different. The store may be devoid of customers, but the employees will strive to look busy to keep the paychecks coming until the inevitable lay-off/implosion occurs. How many Corporate America employees will critique their way out of a paycheck? In an environment this difficult for job-seekers, you’d be nuts to bother figuring out why your division is failing, knowing as you do that the truth will result in the “termination with extreme prejudice” of the naive fools who presented the truth as if it would be welcome.

Does anyone seriously imagine that any employee of a bloated bureaucracy will ever voluntarily challenge the squandering of revenues when that might cost them their own paycheck, bonus, contract for their brother-in-law, etc.? A few protected people (professors with tenure, for example) can be “brave,” but their “bravery” is cheap: their protestations cannot trigger termination with extreme prejudice, so the gesture of resistance is just that, a gesture.

4. Those relative few who might have a real motivation to undertake independent analysis have little time to pursue this noble project. They are working absurd hours and enduring absurd commutes. Between getting the bundles of diapers into the elevator and planning what to cook for dinner, there is precious little time or energy left for figuring out the mess we’re in. Just getting to a second or third job can suck up a significant amount of time, money amd energy.

And so the busy employee/sole-proprietor/contract worker listens to NPR or some talk radio program for a few minutes, reinforcing their ideology of choice, and turns on the “news” (laughably bad propaganda churned up with “if it bleeds, it leads”) as background noise and spends whatever personal time they have on Roku, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. seeking distraction or solace from the daily workload.

In a strange irony, there are plenty of citizens who have plenty of time (recall that Americans manage to watch 6-8 hours of TV a day), but their marginalized status and dependence on the state drains them of motivation to do anything but seek amusement and distraction.

If we don’t understand the problem or the dynamics that are generating the problem, it is impossible to reach a solution or practical plan of action. In other words, the four points above doom us just as surely as the dynamics of insolvency, corruption, debt servitude, Tyranny of the Majority, etc. etc. etc.

Choose your metaphor of choice, but rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic has a nice ironic texture in an election year, when the “news” will be focusing on rearranging the political deck chairs on the first class deck–at least when there’s no celebrity ruckus or “if it bleeds, it leads” to crowd out what passes for “hard news” in a regime dedicated to the distractions of bread and circuses.

Charles Hugh Smith – Of Two Minds