Friday, March 2, 2012

Feeding the Beast

It’s been frantic. Clusters of obstructions mushrooming up in front of us every way we turn; multiple friends and business contacts losing loved ones, breakages and breakdowns, and money flowing away from us far too quickly. Panic attacks followed by elation followed by panic attacks, while trying to maintain mature equilibrium, you know, for the kids.

Our ambition is to establish a simple, quiet life. Not to feed the beast. To do more of the Right, less of the Wrong Thing. To contribute healthily, sustainably, with passion and love. But the world around us is cloaked in beast hide, head to foot. All its interfaces demand of us the opposite of what we want to give. The beast is insatiable, only leaves you alone if you do its bidding. It cannot love you, it cannot be happy about what you offer, if can only want more.

Money, its blood, is disappearing. Out there, in that virtual reality we mistake for the world, figures are massaged, slick media outfits pump out their 24/7 monkey music, and the show goes grindingly on. Stepping out has never been easy. Today, the state apparatus (I include The Market in that) is all pervasive, confronts you at every turn, wants its cut, badly wants More because Growth is not happening. Desperate, the organ grinders play any song to Restore Confidence, to bully, to cajole, to get people spending. It isn’t working. The collapse is in full swing, and spring will bring people onto the streets again. Then what?

In a usury system, the economy must grow forever if it is not to collapse. The beast will tell you that there’s plenty of Growth left, but it would say that, wouldn’t it. In fact, everything has to grow; money supply, buying and selling, speed of consumption, amount of consumption, government control, school testing and standards, tax revenues, white goods, restaurants … everything. We are in a Growth paradigm. We have come to associate Growth with health, decay with disease and dilapidation. The momentum of our wisdom as it has accumulated these last millennia retches us on upwards, always towards More, away from Less. The momentum is enormous, global, manic, and impossible to stop by choice. I want less, and I know growing (ha ha) numbers of others do too. But the beast can only offer more, by demanding more. Do more, produce more, give more. Less does not compute. Unstoppable force and immovable object; Growth, meet End of Growth.

Back down to the micro scale of me. The practical necessity of earning money, in Euros, enforces interaction with the beast that is dying, poisoning us all in its death throws. The amount of energy I must expend keeping the beast off my back and out of my life recreates the beast in my rooms, in my heart. In seeking to withdraw, I have drawn it into my house deeper than before. This is quite the paradox, quite the disappointment. I’m sure things will settle, but this early phase of my project is instructive in one brilliant way. Change is difficult, profound change profoundly so. Multiply my small experience by billions, you begin to get a sense of the scale of this.

This question resounds: How do we stop growing on purpose, in a managed way? It’s all we’ve known for thousands of years, with civilisational collapse bringing on unwanted de-growth, followed by resurgence. But this is no mechanically repeating pattern, with a billion or so souls triggering collapse and restart. We are now at seven billion and rising. Doomers predict Armageddon, and so do people like James Lovelock, who knows more than I do about the earth’s carrying capacity. Oil, sanitation, mechanisation and hygiene ballooned us to these numbers; the end of growth, peak oil and peak everything else will burst that balloon. It’s an easy and persuasive argument. Indeed, all I have by way of counter-argument is hope, and a strong sense that as an embedded part of Universe, we are learning, we are organic, we are not a machine. We are learning we are not a machine. There are no machines. We are and therefore Universe is creative. Universe is creative.

I think I have a fairly good intuition about what a steady-state society and economy might look like, but wanting to bring it about in our billions, reaching consensus on that process, is impossible to picture. Too much is invested in its immature form; Growth. The enormous momentum of Growth is too strong, and o, how the mighty fall! This is a theme oft repeated at this blog, and elsewhere of course, yet I feel recording the details like this is important. This is a key period in history, through which the new interconnections of the Internet magnify and elucidate, baffle and overwhelm. Being an optimist, I detect the weak beginnings of new harmonies emerging from the cacophony. Keeping my focus on them, keeping our focus on them, as we dance with the dread beast, is as vital as it is difficult.

17 comments:

Debra said...

Toby, don't be too hard on yourself, it will not help you in the end.
If we just managed to REDUCE our wastefulness, it would already be a big step.
Start using our neurons a little bit. That would help too.
Constantly straining for perfection induces burn out, after a while, and a swing in the opposite direction.
Not a good idea.

Toby said...

Thanks Debbie, but for whatever reasons, I'm ambitious, not in the consumerist way of course, but strongly so nevertheless. I don't think it's perfection I'm straining for (though I can see why you'd say so), but more effective impact, and a life designed to prevent burnout. I consider myself as going through detox, part of which—the emotional part—I'm sharing here. Like a diary in a way. And I suspect more and more people will be doing things like this, wanting to, searching for help, for wisdom, for other people's experience. So, the more we share what we go through, both the ups and downs, the better we'll get at it, over time and generally speaking.

I guess I should share more of my ups. They do happen.

Debra said...

Sharing an up...
On Friday, I hitched a ride into town. FOR THE FIRST TIME... somebody picked me up without my having to knock on individual windows, and ask.
A younger man than I. Rather overweight. Who immediately told me how pretty my eyes were, and started caressing my hand.
A little unnerving.
But I decided to be up front. We talked about hitchhiking, and I told him that in over 50 or so times of hitching a ride, I had never been molested by anybody, even though there were a few times that I had been a little nervous.
He asked me if I was afraid, and I said no.
We chit chatted about his job, and his plans. He wants to open a massage parlor, because he has been told he has healing, and relaxing hands.
I told him that I thought he was really lonely, and in need of feminine company...
And when we were almost in town, he turned off into a side road, a little isolated, to smoke a cigarette.
I was somewhat nervous, there.
There was real risk.
But I decided that I had to trust him. And I did, calming my fear.
He gave me his phone number, saying that if ever I needed him, I could call him, and I looked him straight in the eye, and said that I just might do that.
And on parting, when he dropped me off just in front of the place where I wanted to go, I asked him if I could give him the bise. A kiss on both cheeks, and he did the same for me.
End of story.
For me, one of the most important things that we need to do right now is to build trust at an individual level. And that... at my very small level, I can help do...

Toby said...

Beautiful. Your story made my day! Thank you, Debbie. You are an amazing woman.

Debra said...

Thanks, Toby.
You know what ?
I have a hard time getting people to recognize that just a little word, or two sentences of encouragement is really really important, and can make all the difference in OUR DAILY LIVES at this time. (Granted that I don't encourage everybody... ;-) )

Debra said...

Toby, why do we now have to type TWO WORDS to "prove that we are not robots"...
DOES THAT MEAN THAT THE ROBOTS ARE WINNING ??
:-(

Toby said...

The robots are winning!!!?? No, noooooooooOOOOO!!

Actually, I don't think We, Robots are winning. I like to think We, Humans are waking up, even though that Captcha thingie demands two words to prove you're a human. But that optimism I have is what this blog is about. The transformation we go through, as we shed our machine-binary mentality, and enter the spirit of the analog again, renewed, is bumpy though. There will be many casualties, as there always is. And many earth shattering lashes of the beast's tail.

Tao Jonesing said...

Good stuff, as usual.

I am currently developing an historical basis for arguing that usury has been the imperative for cultural change for thousands of years. From Judaism to Christianity to Islam. From Protestantism to Classical Liberalism to Neoliberalism. Fractal parallels.

Usury, the Beast, takes many forms. The corporation is one of them. Planned obsolescence is another. Secondary equity markets are another. Once you realize that all of these things are boiled down to the equivalent of a bond (in terms of valuation), you realize that they are all forms of usury.

This question resounds: How do we stop growing on purpose, in a managed way? It’s all we’ve known for thousands of years, with civilisational collapse bringing on unwanted de-growth, followed by resurgence.

The lie of growth is that everything else is scaling up at the same time (e.g., money supply, etc.). In the U.S., growth is subsidized by growing poverty. Growth as a wealth creator is now and always has been an illusion.

Debra said...

Tao, may I make my rather repetitive suggestion that you read "The Merchant of Venice", by Shakespeare ?
I think that you will find much food for thought in it, if you approach it, as Toby says, from the standpoint of metaphor and analogy.
We are currently reading it analytically as a family adventure with our daughter.
I would have liked to read it with... a rabbi, a Jesuit, an investment banker... just for starters.
But this... venture will never get off the ground.
Too much specialization, and devaluation of the artistic/literary experience has made it almost impossible for these people to imagine stepping outside of THEIR SPECIALTIES..
Too bad, I say. A little humanist, generalist thought would do us good.
As I like to say, I am not sure that usury is the absolute villain that we would like to believe, although it is a big problem.
The work/meat and potatoes game is also a big big problem. Work for money. Exclusively.

Rupert Russell said...

Debra, wallop! I am, I don't know what I feel about your hitch hiker story. All the what ifs' and buts', all my alarm bells firing in unison. I've heard people say that bravery = stupidity + luck, I feel like I'm talking to 'the one that got away'. What place is that, where the ego overrides the survival instinct or compassion for another usurps compassion for the self?
I remember a story about a young man who stepped in when a fight broke out in a city close to where I live. He was killed in the struggle. His parents were interviewed and said that they were very proud of their son, and that was just the kind of bloke he was. Then I think of my boys, how I would hope that they feel the same way about what's right and what's wrong. But life is so precious, so wondrous, I think that it would tear me apart if I lost them. Please understand that I am a great believer in living life to the full, my wife wishes I wasn't so carefree with the kids, but when I see the bites they are taking out of life it fills my heart to bursting. They might have bruises and scraped knees but I tell them 'why do we fall down? So we can learn to get back up.' I just hope they can get back up from all their lessons.

Toby said...

Thanks Tao.

I too believe usury is at the heart of this, but it is not alone there. Growth, which is, in part, what usury is, is in there too, as is the illusion of control, as is psychopathy, as is elitism, as is immature dualism (my working title for that aspect of the puzzle). It's a heady mix, and no dynamic is more important than the other.

But Debbie is right too. It is not growth per se, just as it is not any single thing per se which is the Idolized Beast we should slay. Positive interest bearing debt as the only possible money type within the broader cluster of other core issues is one of the problems. Just as there is no silver bullet, there is no single beast to fell. I suspect you know this already, but wanted to expand on that area where your and Debbie's points intersect.


Hi Rupert,

fear is necessary, but so is acceptance of risk. As you well know, if we take no chance, we learn no lessons and are offered no chance to be creative. Skin and blood healing wounds is a creative act, an amazingly beautiful act of wisdom impossible without aeons of ongoing threat to life and limb. It is threat to life and limb we have to thank for this creativity.

Rupert Russell said...

Toby, the greater good is this uniquely human thing isn't it. We have words like 'hero' and 'bravery' and 'sacrifice'. I understand these behaviours to be perception based, but isn't everything? I think what Debra did is astonishing; I was completely humbled, shaken. If we all behaved like this the world would be all the better for it. The question I ponder is would I be happier knowing that those that I loved will outlive me. Or do I continue to encourage Elliot and James to show the love that our race so desperately needs in the knowledge that in our messed up society this could put them in harm’s way. I want to protect my kids but the world needs them more than I do.

Tao Jonesing said...

@Toby and Debra,

I fully understand what your are saying, but you need to understand the position from which I speak. Where you both seem to postulate that the division of intellectual labor has created blind spots that make it impossible for some to recognize the harm they do, I personally know people who don't have such blind spots and intentionally create and take advantage of them. I have been an officer in a publicly traded US company.

I can tell you from my vantage point that there are those among us who clearly know the beast we ride and control (if we are lucky). To be fair, we are a clear and distinct minority. I'd argue that management on average is far more ignorant of reality than board members.

Debra said...

Tao, I don't understand your last comment at all.
Maybe you could try again in different words, or flesh out the situation ?
Responding to what I MIGHT be hearing, I say...
that my husband and I have very different attitudes towards approaching psychosis, and psychotics.
He has developed the idea that a diagnosis of psychosis (and he has an extremely fine, differential diagnosis for psychosis that he uses, it is NOT the DSM... molasses that is floating around at this time) will determine the way he listens to his patients, and the way he will intervene with them.
To me, he is still under the influence of Lacanian concepts that present psychosis as an invariable structure, and focalize thus, more on the structure than on the individual person.
I do not agree with this.
To me, the therapy situation must remain a place where anything is possible, and where the therapist trusts.. in his patient's capacity to.. grow ? find his own "bricolages", we say, his way of weaving together the disparate elements of his life in such a way as to go on.
I happen to feel... that we are ALL doing this..
Not just psychotics. All men and women.
My position is more.. egalitarian ? democratic ? than his ?
Rupert, I don't know what to say to your comments.
My daughter in law thinks that I am a loony.
Jesus was a loony, you know ?
But I happen to believe that there need to be some people who are loony this way, and I have elected myself (? lol) to this position. Is it ego ? WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM FOR US, this constant harping on being.. DISINTERESTED that makes us sneer whenever we catch a whiff of SOMETHING, ANYTHING that could be construed as.. INTEREST ?? (Take a look at our Judeo Christian heritage for that problem...)
So far... there is no martyrdom in sight.
Whew...
I don't want to die any more than Jesus did, probably...
And I am a very selfish person, by the way, with occasional gestures, that's all...

Debra said...

One last thing, Tao.
I happen to believe that the fact that we have forsaken our LITERATURE as a means of understanding the motivations of men and women, the fact that we sneer at fiction, poetry, and metaphor, preferring to INVEST OUR FAITH in abstract, dusty SOCIAL SCIENCE THEORIES OF MAN, is a significant handicap to understanding our neighbor.
This disastrous modern tendancy has given us reductionist perspectives on human nature, and why we do what we do.
It has contributed to turning us into cardboard caricatures of mature, sensitive, and complex human beings.
Not good, she says.
Those people may BOAST that they know what they are doing... but... do they really KNOW their motivations ?
In "King Lear", Shakespeare has Regan say of the old Lear "'tis the infirmity of age ; yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself".
Lucidity is the biggest illusion of all...
Even the King... was never... "the King"...

Toby said...

"I personally know people who don't have such blind spots and intentionally create and take advantage of them."

That sounds like a definition of a sociopath, or of a psychopath, which I put in my list of core issues. Not that we can 'do' anything about people of those types, but rather because a survival-of-the-fittest economics which assumes 'matter' has primacy above 'spirit', and that the most evil people doing the most evil things will generate By Magic most social good (to paraphrase Keynes), is great breeding ground for the success of such empathy- and morality-free persons. And such feeds directly into the infamous 99:1 ratio we've heard so much of lately.

Debra said...

I do not believe in evil people.
I believe that evil, like good... is BETWEEN US, and arises out of relation between people.