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We’re Not Doing Very Well, Are We?

Politics / Social Issues May 09, 2014 - 04:58 PM GMT

By: Raul_I_Meijer


We’re not doing very well overall, are we? We’re always busy chasing something, but we don’t know what it is we’re chasing, and we don’t even know why we’re doing it. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you what they really want is to be happy, but you just know they don’t know how to get there. So they all grab onto stuff, material things, which are much easier to handle than some non-tangible idea or ideal, but exactly because material things are so much easier, they don’t make them happy. One wooden toy under a Christmas tree 100 years ago made a kid then happier than 25 plastic toys do today, and it’s no wonder, and we all sort of understand why that is, but we don’t stop to reflect on it.

We all have dozens of shirts and pants and shoes in our closets, but we still keep on buying more because of that happiness thing we can’t figure out. We’re all fully invested in placebo’s. Which is why it shouldn’t be a surprise that we cling to an economic model based on eternal growth, because that’s the same principle: chasing something that you can’t name or define or attain. All we need to do then is to invent the right storyline, much of it subliminal. We’ve built our lives around advertisements that tell our subconsciousness that buying X,Y and Z will make us happy. Works like a charm, except that it doesn’t work. We do the buying, but it leaves us wanting to come back for more. Never satisfied, never happy. The sytem would collapse if we ever were.

In that sense, maybe it’s not such a bad idea that the present crisis will leave most of us a lot poorer off. The problem with that, though, is the system is built on us buying X,Y and Z, so if we don’t, we won’t get the things we really need either anymore, like health care and schooling. It’ll all fall apart unless we keep buying things, lots of things, that we don’t need, things that can’t make us happy. We’re all sort of smart enough to see how it works, but we don’t seem to be smart enough to change it around. Which of course has to do with the fact that those of us who are in positions of power stand to lose more than those who don’t, and therefore the first ideas and actions that do come through will always focus on changing it all from within, no matter how rotten to the core ‘within’ has become.

But even that we can understand. What’s much harder is to not blame others, but ourselves. That’s where our intelligence seems to fail us, every time and every step of the way. The National Journal writes “Americans Actually Think They Can Do Something About the Environment“, and the author gives an example: “Of course, acting to protect the environment could be as simple as recycling a plastic bottle.” Look, if you really think that, then whatever else happens, it’s not going to be simple. Because you don’t understand. And perhaps you should wonder why you don’t.

Everyone can understand that driving your car wherever you go, and picking up groceries which have come from thousands of miles away and which are chockfull of preservatives and wrapped in triple layers of plastic, and so on, and so on, is not a smart idea down the line. And it makes it absurd to think you’re protecting the environment by recycling a plastic bottle. That’s plain and simply lying to yourself. However dense you are, not using plastic bottles to begin with seems an obvious choice. But even better would be to examine your propensity to lie to yourself. If there’s one quality that makes us human it’s lying. If we would make that realization part of what we see when we look in mirror – as most of us do every morning – we would make a huge step ahead.

Yes, we’re surrounded by ads that promise our animal brains happiness and make us buy things that don’t make us happy even for a fleeting moment, and we’re ruled by a political class that’s turned lying into an art form, but the reason we fall for all that is that we lie to ourselves as much as they lie to us. It’s what disables our BS detector. Telling ourselves that we protect the environment by recycling a plastic bottle is no different from buying things just like that bottle because some ad has promised our subconscious that it’ll make us happy. It’s the exact same BS. It’s us refusing to use our brains because doing so might make us feel less happy in the short term. It’s not so much like we don’t have the brains, but that we either don’t know how to use them, or refuse to.

In our societies, whatever makes the most money is most admired. When someone invents and markets a new gadget or service that people never knew they needed, we call that progress. When stock exchanges rise, that’s “good”. When they fall, it’s “bad”. No matter what such a rise or fall implies, what it means to our happiness, our environment, our children. Up is good and down is bad. If the stocks of a company rise that is highly polluting, or that takes a lot of jobs away from a community, that is still considered good in the greater scheme of things. Whereas perhaps labels such as ‘good’ and ‘progress’ should be reserved for things that enhance our happiness, not the 25 plastic toys under a plastic Christmas tree placebo we have substituted for it.

Still, we all know stocks can’t rise forever, but we let the ‘good’ label cheer us up when we see it. In that same vein, we have a financial system that’s long since gone under, but we’re not doing anything to resuscitate it. We’re keeping it undead by plunging our future income into the vaults of institutions that should have been forced to default and restructure, just so their highrises can keep their lights on at night and we can feel comforted. We let money enter our political systems, and our representatives be bought by it, and the only possible outcome is a one dollar one vote system which inevitably leads to the most important decisions being taken by those we vote for, to be violating our interests. Because our interests are not the same as those of our representatives, let alone the campaign financiers they serve.

And it’s not like we don’t have the brains, or at least I think we do, it’s that we don’t want to be critical of ourselves when we look in the mirror in the morning. Which would seem such an easy thing to do. Well, unless we’re really already quite unhappy with ourselves, that would maybe make it harder. But if we don’t, here’s how things will go. Bloomberg reports today that Wall Street and Big Oil are hell-bent on using more energy, not less. That’s the eternal growth model, that’s makes makes rising markets ‘good’. The part about it that is supposed to make us ‘happier’ is that it’s a different form of energy:”Cleanest Fossil Fuel is Wall Street Bet on Climate Change“. So when climate change sets in for real: “The potential for hotter summers and colder winters will raise energy demand, and that suggests higher gas prices. [..] “Weather extremes are good for the energy business. More energy use, better for the earnings.”. Our economic system in a nutshell.

In other words, energy companies have an strong incentive to burn more energy and increase CO2 levels: it’ll increase the demand for energy that will then increase CO2 levels more. Rinse and repeat. If we accept, subliminally or fully awake, that rising stock markets are ‘good’, then we accept that energy companies, which are a big part of those markets, keep their business going by burning ever more energy. Not the same, but more, or they can’t grow, and if they can’t grow, they die. The Red Queen is the perfect metaphor for how we’ve organized our entire economies and indeed our societies. Our societies have been reduced to economies, and we have been reduced to consumers. Who run to stand still. Hey, keeps us fit, right?

To keep the notions alive that all growth is good, and more is better all the time every time, we need to both lie to ourselves – because we know that just ain’t so – and to accept that in our name our – children’s – habitats are strangled to and beyond the point of suffocation. At some moment, maybe if the sun shines bright though our bathroom windows at dawn and we’ve slept what felt like the sleep of the just, and we are somewhat at ease with our mirror image, perhaps we should ask our reflection: are we happier than our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents? If not, given the amount of anti-depressants we take, they would have had to be very unhappy people, and really, where’s the proof of that? Be careful with your answer, you’re talking about your own blood.

We like to pride ourselves on our ability to adapt, but how far does that go? Adapt to the destruction we ourselves wrought? There are plenty of ‘techno-happies’ who think we are so superior that we can invent our way out of any trouble we’ve created, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence for that. Yes, we went to the moon, but not being able to go there was never a problem. And if you take the tech faith far enough, you’re talking about a world so full of pollution and so void of the species we used to share our planet with that most of that supposed superiority would have to go into cleaning up what we ourselves polluted, and rebuilding what we destroyed. How would that be considered progress though? It’s not like we’ve ever built anything anywhere close to an elephant or even a sunflower.

So why justify destroying them by claiming without proof that you can rebuild them? Or is the idea that we can live without all those millions of species that were here long before we were and that we condemned to annihilation? Just personally, I happen to like both sunflowers and elephants, but aside from that, without them we would likely never have developed the way we have – man didn’t appear from a vacuum, or a vacuum tube, though certain religious fanatics have an answer for that too. Creation. That makes me think of something quite on topic: if God made us in his own – mirror – image, does that mean he was/is as good at lying to himself as we are? And if that is so, what does that say about us, and what hopes do we have? All we are is what he is, right? Or did we maybe surpass God after he made us? Wait, that would be blasphemy, right?

I think we have the brain, or I should say the intelligence, but our brain consists of many more parts than just that intelligence, most of it is what we share with bacteria and amoeba and mice and sheep and elephants, the parts located more towards the back or our skulls. And it’s those shared parts of our brain that decide what we do and don’t, they react faster than intelligence or “reason” does. Our intelligence is therefore necessarily always late to the game, and we can use it only to justify our acts after the fact. That is, we lie. We’re smart enough to invent and do lots of things, but not how to be happy, because we’re not smart enough to understand who we are.

I think we can do better, but I don’t think we will.

By Raul Ilargi Meijer
Website: (provides unique analysis of economics, finance, politics and social dynamics in the context of Complexity Theory)

© 2014 Copyright Raul I Meijer - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.
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