Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Anger mismanagement

Lots of Americans are very unhappy about the state of play. I'm one of them. But I've noticed a new tone recently, at least on line, where people can say what they really think (anonymously, if they want). Of course the mainstream media barely reflect any of that, being primarily purveyors of entertainment and distraction.

The tone lately seems to have shifted in many quarters from griping to anger, even rage. Maybe that's good -- diffuse criticism, especially when it travels along well-worn partisan lines, tends to dry up and blow away.


But do words like the following contribute anything useful?
As the average American continues their epic struggle to stay afloat in these turbulent times it is clear to those with critical thinking skills, like Chris Whalen and Ron Paul, that the game is rigged in favor of those with enormous wealth and power. There is no doubt the levers of government and finance have been seized by a super rich minority of men, willing to use all means necessary to increase their wealth and power at the expense of those they consider lowly expendable peasants. The myth perpetuated by those in control of the system is that everyone in America has ample opportunity to move up the ladder, even as they push the ladders away from the parapet surrounding their castle.
That comes from a battle cry in a blog called The Burning Platform.  The author, whose name I can't find on the site, has written an extended piece using the metaphor of the Clint Eastwood western, Unforgiven. (Actually it's a running series, with each installment based on a different Clint Eastwood western; I haven't read the earlier postings.)

The gathering storm

The entry carries on:
This is how it will play out over the next ten to fifteen years. Cynicism about solutions put forth by corrupt politicians, distrust of government bureaucrats and crooked bankers, and a society wide demoralization, as widespread unemployment and declining living standards for middle class Americans has darkened the landscape like an approaching winter storm. The disillusionment of average Americans is reflected in poll after poll, with only 20% of the population satisfied with the direction of the country versus 70% just prior to 9/11. The mood change in the country since 2005 is palpable.
The gap between the Haves and the Have Nots has never been greater and continues to widen. The middle class has floundered for decades, while bankers, politicians and corporate titans have reaped vast riches through peddling debt and gaming a system rigged in their favor.
Many of the posting's criticisms are valid. But its air of hyperdramatic inevitability is unconvincing, even off-putting.

Our anonymous revolutionary is enamored of a book called The Fourth Turning, which he references several times. Apparently it's based on a predictive model of history moving in cycles. The revolt of the colonies against Britain, the War Between the States, the Depression/World War II are cited as crises evenly spaced about 65 years apart (if, like The Burning Platform, you account "the American Revolution Crisis" as ending in 1794 -- five years after the Constitution was adopted). The next crisis, or "turning," is shaking hands with us now, according to this theory.


I'm skeptical about mass events unfolding in cycles. Why should people go mental at 65-year (more or less) intervals? The idea they represent a certain number of generations whose behavior unconsciously reproduces the behavior of their equivalents in earlier cycles seems lame. Countless factors affect human behavior, and the world changes drastically in the meantime. That a certain number of years has passed probably has a minimal influence, if any.

Sometimes history repeats itself. Sometimes it rhymes. Mostly it's written in blank verse.
As the game approaches its inevitable termination those in control have become increasingly audacious and frantic in their attempts to embezzle what remains of middle class wealth. The anger and disillusionment grows by the day. The mood of the country darkens like the sky before an approaching blizzard. The intensity and violence during a Fourth Turning hastens as events spiral toward a climax. The extreme actions taken by those in power since September 2008 have set in motion a chain of events that will lead to civil war. 
I myself have offered a few posts about the possibility -- possibility -- of another civil war (and argued that the best safeguard against it would be to have a legal means by which states could secede from a bloated, dysfunctional central government). But let's not get drunk on our own rhetoric.

To write, hysterically, things like "the game approaches its inevitable termination" is popular in the blogosphere currently, especially on alternative financial sites like Zero Hedge. Some people seem to get a thrill from telling us there's nowt left but to store up food, water, and ammunition.

After some reasonable points about what the country should have done and didn't to avoid or prepare for our Time of Troubles, the author adds this:
We needed a revival of citizenship over individualism, with a focus on future generations who would be left with the fallout of thirty years of debt induced societal degradation. The government should have shifted its budgetary focus away from the non-needy old to the young people of our once great Republic. The future of the country depends on the young, not the old. 
What a shallow argument. The future of the country depends on everyone, not a single demographic cohort. Almost all traditional societies assumed that the older generations were best fitted, through their experience of life, to shape the future properly. Once again, this rage against the Boomer generation is becoming standard. I agree that many of that cohort have a lot to answer for, having accepted the leftist tripe they were raised on and never bothered to re-think any of it. (As Napoleon's minister Talleyrand said of the former French aristocracy, the Bourbons, "They never forgot anything and they never learned anything.")


I don't know what our author means by "shifting the budgetary focus," but it sounds like he wants to confiscate whatever our "non-needy" elders have squirreled away and redistribute it to the poor victimized younger generations. However you feel about the Boomers, most of them earned what they have honestly and through working hard. They paid their taxes and had an ever-increasing portion of their paychecks snipped off for Social Security. It's wrong in principle to double-cross them now because they lived through economically better times.

The posting contradicts its own argument for generational warfare. It says, "There are 310 million Americans and ... only 1.5 million would be classified as very rich or extremely rich." Where are all the "non-needy old"? It also says, "As the middle class has been impoverished, 30 million people are unemployed or underemployed, senior citizens have been sacrificed at the altar of Wall Street and 45 million people are forced to use food stamps, the top 1% has done fabulously." And, "Savers and seniors have been thrown under the wheels of a Lamborghini driven by the profligate Wall Street gamblers." Our seniors have been sacrificed at the altar of Wall Street, thrown under the Lamborghini, but still, "the Boomer generation will be scorned for their reckless disregard for future generations and stripped of their entitlements."


It goes on to quote another blogger, a certain Jesse from Jesse's Café Americain:
“Not all sociopaths wield knives and knotted cords. Some wear suits, and are exceptionally intelligent and articulate, obsessively driven, and are able to use and undermine the law and the rules for their advantage, like weapons.  It is never about the win, never about the money.  It is about the kill, the expression of their hatred, about elevating themselves with the suffering of others. Bind, torture, kill.  Not only with ropes and knives, but also with power and money, and the subversion of law.  Lawlessness is their addiction, their will to power.

When societies become lax and complacent, these sociopaths can possess great political power through great amounts of unprincipled money.  And over time they become almost anti-human, destroyers of all that is good, all that is life, all that offends their insatiable sickness with its goodness.  They twist the public against itself, and turn a broad sweep of society into their killing grounds. This is the undeniable lesson of the last century.  There are monsters, and they walk among us.”

Oh, please. We do have structural problems aplenty; a Red-diaper baby president; an overgrown federal bureaucracy; regulations up the wazoo; something approaching state capitalism, where the government decides who is too big to fail and what businesses are welcome to fail, rewards GM unions while stiffing people who invested in the company's bonds; and a poisonous ideology of social engineering.We won't fix the looming disaster without drawing lines, taking stands, and thinking hard. 

But horror-film clichés about sociopaths and monsters walking among us draw no lines, take no real stands, and urge us to think with our blood. The Burning Platform and Jesse only make resistance to exploitation sound crazy.



Scott H. said...

His name is James Quinn.

I've read his stuff on Financial Sense for awhile now. He seems to blame the financial trouble on the Boomers and my impression is that alot of his commentators want us to die painfully. Not that some Boomers aren't to blame, but to blame a whole generation that spanned '45-64? I was toward the tailend of that era and I don't have much in common, really, with the earlier ones...

Rick Darby said...

Scott H.,

Thanks for the information. I read Financial Sense sometimes; the quality of the postings varies from important analysis to thinly disguised sales pitches for the writers' newsletters.

Scott H. said...

Rick, I agree. I've found that to be true of most of the finance-orientated websites. There is quite a bit of "the sky is falling! We all gonna die! Except those that buy gold from this website..."
I like your analysis of the article.

Dennis Mangan said...

Rick: great post. I've found this type of shrill, unreasoned stuff on any number of financial sites these days, with their talk of inevitability and sociopathy.

Sam said...

I think you're wrong on this one. I've read the Turning books and with certain facts taken into effect agree with them. They don't seem to take into account technological changes which have powerful ripples in history. I also believe one individual can change history but it's difficult and not likely.
There's an even more important set of books that do take into account technology but also talk about cycles. The trilogy By Sir Rees-Mogg and James D. Davidson, "Blood in the Streets","The Great Reckoning", and "The Sovereign Individual". They were splendidly wrong on their timing but every large trend they said would appear is or has happened.
You also ignore the hazard of sociopaths. Ever heard of Alcibiades? Clearly a sociopath.

Alcibiades can reasonably be credited with the destruction of Athens. Anyways enough. Look at the books by Mogg and Davidson. They will greatly help you understand the World.