Straight Talk

Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status Quo Is Unsustainable

Sunday, December 5, 2010, 5:57 PM

"Straight Talk" features thinking from notable minds that the PeakProsperity.com audience has indicated it wants to learn more about.  Readers submit the questions they want addressed and our guests take their best crack at answering. The comments and opinions expressed by our guests are their own.

This week's Straight Talk contributor is Charles Hugh Smith, who has been an independent journalist for 22 years. His weblog, www.oftwominds.com, is a daily compendium of observations and analysis on the global economy and financial markets, as well as notable political, social, and cultural trends. Charles has authored a number of books across several genres, including the recent Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation.


1. Of the many forces at play that you write about within the economy, society, and politics, which ones do you see as the most defining for the future? How do you expect things to unfold?

CHS:  Clearly, demographics and Peak Oil are forces which cannot be massaged away by policy tweaks or financial engineering. I think the exhaustion of Global Neoliberal Capitalism and State Capitalism is apparent, as is the bankruptcy of the two ideologies that more or less define our politics. The reliance on expansion of credit and State power is a dynamic with only unhappy endings.

There are also structural end-games such as Baumol's Disease at work: The inefficient sectors of the economy end up dominating the national income. Services such as health care, education, and the Armed Forces become more productive at much slower rates than the overall economy. Looking ahead, the Empire (the hundreds of overseas military installations, the diplomatic and financial reach into every nook and cranny of the planet, etc.), health care, and other entitlements will require most of the national income. That is an unsustainable trajectory, especially as Peak Oil/peak everything kicks in.

As readers know, I am intensely interested in dynamics that are subtle and not quantifiable. Since they can't be quantified, they are generally ignored. Yet they are very real, even though we may not even be conscious of them.

The reliance on propaganda, for instance, has become so pervasive that the notions of truth and honesty have been hollowed out. Nobody expects the President or Ben Bernanke to speak honestly, as the truth would shatter an increasingly fragile status quo. But this reliance on artifice, half-truths, and propaganda has a cost:  People are losing faith in government, in all levels of authority, and in the Mainstream Media—and for good reason.

The marketing obsession with instant gratification and self-glorification has led to a culture of what I call "permanent adolescence." Politicians who promise a pain-free continuation of the status quo are rewarded by re-election, and those who speak of sacrifice are punished. An unhealthy dependence on the State to organize and fund everything manifests in a peculiar split-personality disorder: People want their entitlement check and their corporate welfare, yet they rail against the State's increasing power. You can't have it both ways, but the adolescent response is to whine and cajole Mom and Dad (or the State) for more allowance and more “freedom.” But freedom without responsibility and accountability is not really freedom; it's simply an extended childhood.

2. You’ve written recently that you expect us to enter deflation because the amount of QE dollars pale in comparison to the amount of bad debt still to be destroyed. How can you be so sure? Why should anyone trust the dollar as a viable long term unit of wealth preservation in an environment where the natural checks & balances of the interest rate mechanism is being subverted?

CHS:  Can I please have a softball question instead?

The words “deflation” and “inflation” are so loaded nowadays that I try to substitute “purchasing power” whenever possible. Conceptually, we tend to lump all sorts of things into words which may or may not actually be related. So we have to separate asset deflation/inflation from resource/currency prices.

One way to understand this is to measure everything in terms of what an hour of work can buy and how much real goods an asset can buy. If you sold your house in 1995, how many barrels of oil could you have bought? How about now?

How many hours of labor did it take in 1975 to buy health insurance? How about now?

This sort of analysis helps us understand that the average household has seen purchasing power stagnate or decline for 35 years, and that capital has seen its purchasing power rise. The Great Housing/Credit Bubble seemed to offer households a chance to “catch up,” and perhaps the lucky few who sold at the top and have been renting since did restore their lost purchasing power. But most households have seen their wealth decline.

There are so many moving parts to value and price that it's very difficult to make sense of deflation and inflation. I start with simple numbers: Americans have collectively seen their assets decline by about $12 trillion since 2007, $6 trillion of which is lost residential home equity. That has effectively destroyed the balance sheet of most homeowners with recent-vintage mortgages. 

As interest rates rise and the stock market rolls over along with corporate profits, then another $10 trillion or so of bond and stock equity will evaporate. Given a decline of $20 trillion, then the Fed's expansion of its balance sheet by $2 trillion doesn't seem so mighty or irresistible.

As for the dollar's long-term viability as a store of wealth, there is precious little evidence right now for its long-term future, but the value of a currency is a political process more than a financial one. A currency is a claim on a nation-state's income stream and viability, so if those are devolving, then so, too, will the currency. 

Sentiment is so negative on the dollar that I expect the opposite to occur. How could this happen? A political change in 2012 might shift priorities and instill some confidence that the U.S. is actually ready to deal with reality.

That said, assets such as income property, productive land, and energy will retain value whether the dollar is destroyed or confounds us all by stabilizing. Wealth held in any currency carries intrinsic risk, but over the next few years, the dollar may surprise us by strengthening considerably. That would give those holding dollars a golden opportunity to transform paper into real assets, which have been depreciated by the global depression.

You make a key point about interest rates being subverted. I suspect that State manipulation can only run so far, and then market forces and asset deflation will kick in.  Again, the high-probability catalyst in my view will be the public and political class' loss of faith in the Federal Reserve's manipulations of the economy. I expect 2012 to be a pivotal year. 

3. Do you think we as a society/world are going to pull back from the brink of collapse that we appear to be teetering on? Or do you think it's more practical to plan for how best to pick up the pieces afterwards?

CHS:  There are numerous feedback loops at work and so things rarely proceed in a straight line. Governments will continue creating credit and money in hopes of overcoming the destruction of assets, and nobody knows how long that charade can continue. It may run longer than seems possible, just as the housing bubble ran for three years past what was already an unprecedented top.

I lean towards a “defense in depth” approach where we have an A, B, and C response. What can we do in present circumstances to increase our resilience and sustainability? That would be A (the simple things like conservation and cutting expenses) and B (harder things, like creating a new income stream or moving closer to your job/source of income). Option C would be a plan of action if things fall apart. Even then, most of us might be better off staying where we are if we have a social network of support and sharing.

4. There is no shortage of criticism for the mess we find ourselves in. Far more scarce but much more important are solutions. How does the world restore fiscal “soundness,” and what needs to be done to set the stage for a rebirth?

CHS:  The reliance on credit rather than on capital will have to end, and that means the demise of the credit-based consumer economy run by the Central State and global cartels.

The State fiefdoms and corporate cartels have every incentive to maintain the status quo, so change will probably come from unconventional innovations. I'd like to see a private, asset-based global currency arise, for instance. Since it would not be a nation-state's currency, it would be relatively free from political intervention.

I tend to see parallel private-sector structures (opt-in, open-source) as solutions rather than counting on the bold revamping of status quo, Financial Power Elite-dominated structures. The incentives in these dominant structures are all to retain the status quo at all costs. So solutions that don't rely on their approval are more likely to occur.

5. How does the general citizenry take power back from the plutocracy you write about that has amassed a supermajority of wealth and power in the world?

CHS:  I think voting against conventional politicos who are indebted to the status quo Power Elites and voting for any politico who dares to speak honestly about power structures and sacrifice is worth a try, as it is essentially cost-free.

Voting for third-party candidates seems quixotic, but as the public loses faith in the traditional sources of authority, then viable third-parties might arise, at least locally.

“Starving the beast” by eliminating debt and financial churn is also a two-fer: It reduces the income streams of the Plutocracy and accumulates capital for households. A society without mortgages or credit cards would also be a society without “too big to fail” banks. Commercial credit of the sort needed for business does not require global investment banks or shadow banking empires.

6. In your book Survival+, you outline strategies concerned individuals can pursue to prepare for a tumultuous future. Can you summarize the key elements of your guidance for those yet to read the book? 

CHS:  The basic ideas are simple: The political, financial and resource structures of the status quo are unsustainable, and so dependence on the Savior State is not a viable survival strategy. The “new” model is actually an “old” model that has atrophied and been lost: self-reliance, resilience, reciprocity and transparent, opt-in organizations with clear lines of accountability.

I spend 2/3 of the book on the critique because I thought it was essential to explain the powerful yet subtle layers of our social conditioning that resist this sort of fundamental transformation: permanent adolescence, the growth of the Global Empire as part of the national identity, the substitution of consumption for productive work, the surrender of autonomy in favor of over-reliance on the Savior State, and the conquest of our politics of experience by marketing and propaganda.

This sort of “soft” conceptual analysis is alien in a culture that is so reliant on quantifying everything, and that is part of the crisis we face.

To give a real-world example: About one-third of the U.S. citizenry is obese and unfit. Extrapolate these trends even a few years, and we're told fully half the populace will be at risk of diabetes. The consequences of this are horrific for individuals and society alike.

We know these trends are not good for us, but the majority of people find maintaining their weight and fitness to be essentially impossible tasks. While we are culturally conditioned to blame our own weaknesses for any deficiency in our response, I think social conditioning is the key factor. An economy/society dominated by marketing, instant gratification, and a desperate (and highly manufactured) yearning for self-glorification is not a healthy society, and the illness of that society manifests itself in poor mental and physical health.

In effect, our society makes us ill if we “buy into” the marketing and political/financial fantasies.

We can't really fashion self-reliance and a new parallel way of productive living if we're trapped in an interlocking mess of destructive social conditioning.

The “Survival+” approach is an intrinsically hopeful one, because I know it is possible to free ourselves of the social conditioning that leads to ill health and to live on a small percentage of the energy we currently consume. 

For skeptics who say this is “impossible,” then I turn to the developing world for examples. People in productive, stable societies live quite nicely on a fraction of the energy we consume. The American lifestyle is not inevitable.

7. Every period of history feels unique and special to its inhabitants. Looking back through time, the sorry excesses of empire, maintenance of the status quo by the elites, and financial folly are quite commonplace. What, if anything, actually makes this period of time, troubling as it is, unique or different in the human experience?

CHS:  Clearly, Peak Everything and a very fragile system of global supply chains upon which industrial societies are totally dependent are two unique characteristics. All of the efficiencies of these global supply chains are based on cheap, abundant oil and political stability. These two requirements are interconnected, of course; when the U.S. finally stopped shipping oil to Japan in 1940, then the Japanese Empire had no choice but to launch a war of conquest aimed at resources such as Indonesian oil.

As political stability and these long supply chains devolve, then nation-states will increasingly have no choice but to expropriate resources nominally owned by corporations located 6,000 miles away. Once the supply chains are broken, then the dependent structures will have to adapt. Those that can't or won't will collapse.

Information itself is a supply chain which is exquisitely vulnerable to disruption.

The other unique factor is the proliferation of disruptive weapons, not just nuclear but biological and cyber weapons. China has every intention of “winning” any potential conflict with the U.S. by disrupting the U.S. military, society, and economy via cyber-attacks on our infrastructure and communications. That ability to disrupt an entire nation via fiber-optic cables is new.

On the positive side, we as a species have never had such ubiquitous access to information and to a global ability to fashion our own networks of sharing and cooperation. It is easier now than ever before to share what works and how it works in specific situations.

The potential for open-source, transparent, scalable structures that operate in parallel with nation-states and global cartels is new. In the past, only nation-states and global corporations had the resources to establish these sorts of networks, and they were operated for the express benefit of the Elites at the top of the State and corporations.

What's also new is the widespread access to very powerful technologies. Computers and networks were once only accessible to small circles of specialists. Setting up supply chains or manufacturing were so capital-intensive that only a few organizations could afford to do so. This is still true for certain things such as computer processors, but a wide range of other productive work is now available to a much larger pool of humanity.

Innovative, appropriately scaled, and sustainable technologies are not new, but global access to them is new.

8. What formative experiences in your life led you to create a blog like OfTwoMinds.com? What are your goals for the site?

CHS:  Since I'd been writing about housing and real estate as a freelance journalist for 15 years, it was a natural progression to push the sort of analysis I could never get published in the Mainstream Media onto the Web.

Writing for the public is something that I started in high school and it has manifested in various ways over the years.

In 1969-70, my good friend Colbert and I started an underground newspaper in Lanai High School. The administration assumed it was published by teachers, which was quite a compliment to a couple of 16-year olds. We printed it on the ILWU's mimeograph machine.

As an activist in the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and in our political party (a legal third party) in the 1970s, we had to constantly produce newsletters, leaflets, and campaign material, so the process of communicating ideas and defining positions in writing became familiar.

A close friend and I started a print magazine in Berkeley in 1984 called VoltAge, with a focus on technology and culture. It was horrendously expensive to publish a magazine, and I could only fund one issue. But that experience gave me a taste for eclectic media that combines a variety of topics and perspectives under one roof.

Though I wasn't consciously aware of it, I guess those previous experiences gave me the confidence to see oftwominds.com as a platform for a range of ideas and analysis.

Lofty goals can sound awfully pretentious, but alongside that risk is the notion that big goals can inspire us to great things. I have four goals for oftwominds.com:

  • Promote serious journalism on the web by presenting issues which the Mainstream Media sidesteps, dismisses, or whitewashes
  • Encourage an online role for what was once called “public intellectuals,” a category which has atrophied into MSM-approved academic pundits such as Paul Krugman and “entertainer”-type ideologues like Glenn Beck, both of whom parrot simplistic ideologies that are increasingly meaningless.
  • Contribute to the ongoing discussion of practical solutions for the interlocking crises we face,
  • Construct an integrated understanding of the ideas and issues which interest me and my readers.

And when I can't do any of the above, I try to write something mildly interesting.

9. Many leading econobloggers came to the profession via unorthodox paths, but perhaps none so much as you: philosopher, social activist, freelance writer, musician. What about your idiosyncratic background do your attribute your success?

CHS:  How the site has gathered such a smart, world-wise readership has been a mystery, and I think the key ingredients that attract people are the two complementary threads which run though my apparently random interests and careers: an interest in the structure of problems and a desire for a hands-on, practical grasp of how these structures work in the real world.

In our increasingly specialized world, few people seem to bridge the divide between a conceptual understanding and a practical understanding. All of the things which have deeply interested me—building, urban planning, music, politics, gardening, health, fiction, journalism, and financial analysis— have a conceptual framework that you can learn, but that doesn't mean you can actually build a house, play a chord progression, start a business, write coherently, or make a profitable investment.

As we all know, the real world is messy, contingent, and unpredictable. So actually starting and running a small business that does millions of dollars of business is completely different from a pundit's simplistic view from 30,000 feet. That's one reason why the political class of the U.S. is so divorced from reality; they speak glowingly about “small business” with no appreciation for how difficult it has become to start a real-world enterprise.

Since I know about small business from experience, then it's obvious to me that small business is being strangled and will not be hiring millions of new workers.

We all want a coherent explanation of what's unfolding, and we also want practical suggestions on how to adapt. It's difficult to provide both, and the great thing about having a smart readership is that readers educate me about things I don't have any real-world experience in, such as health care.

So philosophy and hands-on working knowledge act as a sort of yin-yang unity: Both are necessary to understand and navigate the real world.

The basic idea behind philosophy is to think clearly about issues and work from first principles. Even non-linear philosophies such as Taoism have first principles which illuminate and explain the whole. 

So my goal in any subject is to establish the first principles or assumptions, and then try to explain how each link in the thesis leads to various conclusions. Rather than accept ideas that are repeated as if they are true, we ask two questions: Exactly how does this argument work, and cui bono—who benefits if we accept this as true?

That is also the core of good journalism.

But in addition to journalism—explaining, critiquing, asking questions—we all want and need practical solutions or pathways. I guess I have always been drawn to a hands-on understanding of how things work, and that is the thread which informs oftwominds.com. I think my readership appreciates that practical working knowledge only comes from long practice and a lot of mistakes and setbacks. 

Another way of defining these two complementary threads is to look at both as toolboxes. Ideas such as system analysis and evolution are tools which help illuminate the structure beneath the surface, and practical skills—breaking down tasks and gaining mastery one step at a time—give us tools for taking those insights into the real world.

Since I'm very average, and have no connections to wealth or power, I've relied on perseverance and enthusiasm. Maybe that carries over somehow to the blog.

10. What question didn’t we ask, but should have? What’s your answer?

CHS:  One such question might be: What are the foundations of my general optimism about the Great Transformation ahead?

One is the process of evolution has expanded from the genome to culture and technology. All species must adapt or perish, and individuals have to adapt to changing circumstances. At a system level, there are feedback loops, positive and negative, which mean that extrapolating the present into the future is not very accurate. New feedback loops can be added, and the value systems of cultures can also adapt.

Self-criticism and honesty are essential to growth and learning. The American political and financial Elites are committed to maintaining the Status Quo at all costs, even to the point we have now reached that reality is replaced by simulacra.

But other elements of the society are actively questioning the Elites and our social conditioning. They are asking what part their own actions play in supporting and enabling the status quo. 

Honesty includes expressing anger, frustration, whining, and all the rest of human emotions. The idea that maintaining a veil of secrecy and stiff-upper lip “everything's fine, shut up, and keep your head down” will yield positive results is wrong. That leads to discord, distrust, illness, and madness.

The greatest strength of America, or any society, organization, or individual, is open, honest self-criticism, and questioning. We only change when we have no other choice, and to expect the status quo to adapt without fierce resistance is impractical. So rather than waste energy trying to change those structures doomed to collapse or devolution, we're better off establishing our own networks of support, cooperation, and sustainability.

An honest appraisal will lead us to challenge all sorts of assumptions we have made about the nature of work, property, the economy, health care, the Central State and much else.

The choices will not always be clear-cut. I will end with a story about my friend.

Dexter Cate. Dexter was committed to saving dolphins from being slaughtered, and he'd found no official interest in protecting them.

So he swam out alone, at night, in a raging storm, and slashed the nets trapping hundreds of dolphins that were to be killed the next day. He was imprisoned in Japan for destroying “private property,” that is, the nets. 

We all value property rights, but what was more important, the destruction of private property or the lives of the dolphins? The legal system was clear; the dolphins had no standing compared to the nets. Dexter chose otherwise.

What do we really value? Our answers will inform our choices in the transformation ahead.

Thank you for such thoughtful questions, and I hope I haven't put everyone to sleep in answering them.


If you have not yet seen the other articles in this series, you can find them here:

PeakProsperity.com readers can submit their preferences for future Straight Talk participants, as well as questions to ask them, via the Straight Talk forum.

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32 Comments

Nichoman's picture
Nichoman
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

CHS comments are well thought out and superb.  His next to last sentence, in my view, is quite insightful and accurate.

"What do we really value? Our answers will inform our choices in the transformation ahead."

Thanks to CHS and Adam for this post.

Nichoman

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VeganDB12
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Charles

Your writing is from the heart and greatly appreciated.

regards

Denise

Jim H's picture
Jim H
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Thank you Charles  - you are really a wonderful role model.. truly one who walks the walk and thinks deeply about our predicament.  

You said, "The greatest strength of America, or any society, organization or individual, is open, honest self-criticism and questioning. We only change when we have no other choice, and to expect the status quo to adapt without fierce resistance is impractical. So rather than waste energy trying to change those structures doomed to collapse or devolution, we're better off establishing our own networks of support, cooperation and sustainability."    And that is exactly what we are doing here at CM.com !  

PS.. I'm still an inflationista in the sense that I believe all fiat is ultimately cooked.    

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The_Black_Death
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

My goodness, this was a brilliant feature.

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goes211
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Thank you for a great "Straight Talk" interview.  CHS is one of the best!  I highly recommend reading Survival+ to anyone that has not done so already.  It is a must read!

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

My special thanks to CHS for another dose of brilliant content.

I am especially interested in the theme of US culture essentially being at the adolescent stage of development.  As the father of a couple of teens right now, I know that there's very little a parent can do to influence things....the prior raising has to be trusted.  

Adolescence is a period typically marked by intense self-focus and a deeper need to "break away" and become an individual separate from the parents, especially mom.  Given that our culture has some very deep wounds around the female side of things (burning witches and druids connected to 'mother earth' are examples of a very powerful antipathy towards the feminine side of things) it makes the current adolescence particularly ungrounded.  

What, after all, are we trying to break away from if it has already been culturally cleaved from our psyche's?  Worse, I have come to appreciate that deep cultural wounds, such as those caused by the extreme violence of war, ripple and echo through time more than most suspect.  They do not simply die away with the generation that experienced them.  The wounds are there but we have not even begun to acknowledge that this might be the case.

If this next period of time is to go well, and it could, I think that what has to happen is some sort of a transformation - a maturation - that results in some very profound shifts in  our culture; what it values, and what it prioritizes, and on a very deep level.  And, too, there will have to be some sort of introspection and acknowledgement of (if not atonement for) certain past events.  That is, growing up always involves coming to terms with one's limits and faults.

But as long as we have people mindlessly chanting "We're #1!" when, in fact, there's very solid and easily verified evidence to suggest that perhaps that's not the case in many economic, cultural, educational and political areas, then we know that there's still a ways to go in the process of transformation.

Still, I am optimistic that we can transform ourselves in time, although that time is rapidly slipping away.

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JAG
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Fantastic Interview!

The vocabulary alone is worth the read, but his concepts resonate deeply with me. A hearty thank you to CHS for this deep content and to Adam for making it available in this effective format.

I think I'm going to have to read the interview a few more times to fully comprehend it. Laughing

Best....Jeff

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pinecarr
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

What a great read!!  Like getting to savor a really excellent piece of chocolate!:)

Charles, thank-you so much for sharing your thoughts and  insights with us!

Adam, nice job making this happen!

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kmaher
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Thanks very much for this interview.  I'm reading Survival + right now and highly recommend it!

                                               Kevin

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

CM <<

If this next period of time is to go well, and it could, I think that what has to happen is some sort of a transformation - a maturation - that results in some very profound shifts in  our culture; what it values, and what it prioritizes, and on a very deep level.  And, too, there will have to be some sort of introspection and acknowledgement of (if not atonement for) certain past events.  That is, growing up always involves coming to terms with one's limits and faults. >>

chris,  how do you factor in the 100 million or so "americans" who makeup what jim quinn has termed the "free shit army"  do you think they can somehow become "responsible" individuals somehow?  if so how do you see them coming around?  what event in their lives could possibly set them to "thinking" as opposed to lashing out in anger / fear of losing their free shit?

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EndGamePlayer
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

If this is food for thought - my brain is going to explode. This CHS guy's Straight Talk rocks. . . . how's that for adolecent?

Thanks for this series!   EGP

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charleshughsmith
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Hi everyone:

Thank you very much for the kind words about the interview, and I am grateful to Chris and Adam for the chance to spout off... :-)

Picking up the thread of cultural transformation and those who are unprepared for the Savior State to either stop sending checks (or sending checks with nominal face value that don't buy much)--most of us only change when we have to, when the options of clinging to the status quo all end.  Psychologically this is somewhat akin to a sort of death, and thus Kubler-Ross's stages offer some sort of guidance: first we respond with denial, then anger and blaming others, then making deals with God to save us, and eventually  resignation and acceptance.

I would guess that there will be a long, drawn-out triage process as the Savior State punchbowl is emptied. We are already seeing the very early stages of this as Congress battles over relatively trivial giveaways to the unemployed and larger giveaways via "middle class" tax cuts. 

I suspect that various services will devolve in unexpected ways. For instance, to cut unsustainable costs, Congress is cutting Medicare expenses. Doctors may bear the brunt of these cuts, and despite the general perception that all doctors are millionaires, it's the lowest-paid docs who provide the general care that's the bedrock of Medicare. So they will simply bail out of the system as their share of the pie shrinks below what they need to keep the doors open.

The system will still "exist" but few will be able to find doctors willing to offer them care.  The Savior State will try to force doctors to provide the care but that sort of oppression to "solve" the problem will only make matters worse. people will catch on that cash is what buys them care, not a Medicare card.  This is one possible example of how things may continue to appear "status quo" but  actually they are devolving/falling apart.

I also anticipate rationing and price controls, of the sort we are seeing in China now.  As throughout history, this will create a thriving black market in gasoline ration cards, and so on.  Those who only need 10 gallons a month will be able to sell their surplus to others for a profit.  Those who must buy more will find their disposable income now goes to black market gasoline ration chits.

These are just speculations on how the process of devolution moves from anger to resignation, and how working systems degrade into simulacra that retain a surface resemblance to formerly functioning systems--a resemblance that will be mostly illusory. But as long as medical care and gasoline are still available for cash, and a trickle is fairly distributed via rationing, people will very likely focus on getting by with less.

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thelorax
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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Excellent interview! Thank you!! I so appreciate the quality of this website, and plan to investigage CHS's work more deeply.

 

I agree with the idea that society is in a period of adolescence. It feels true in so many ways.  And it is helpful in that it implies that maturation is possible.

 

However, there is another image which feels true to me about our culture -  that of an abusive addict.  To my mind, the dynamics of our relationship with the natural world are similar in kind to the dynamics of abusive relationships between people. This is kind of a big topic, but briefly: in both relationships, you find in the abuser a willingness to exploit, a lack of empathy for the abused, denial that there is a problem, minimization of the problem, rationalization of the problem, a narcissistic sense entitlement, self-centered focus, manipulative communication, and no authentic self-questioning.  The way we are exploiting nature in this over-populated, industrialized, consumer-based, perpetual growth economy has all these abusive relational dynamics.  What we're doing to nature is going to come back to bite us hard.

 

I don't mean to characterize all of our culture in those terms, for in many ways we have made tremendous strides and accomplishments, for example in human rights, what we've learned about the universe through science, strides in medicine - there is so much I could cite.  It is complicated.  But in terms of our relationship with nature, it's really dysfunctional in ways that seem very similar to an abusive addict at an adolescent stage of personality development.

 

Even in this high-level discussion of how things are unsustainable, nature is hardly mentioned beyond the economic impacts of peak oil/peak everything.

 

I suspect that it is only through the experiencing limits through the unfortunately painful process of collapse (and perhaps overshoot) that the maturation and introspection process will occur. I think the atonement process Chris mentions also needs to include an atonement for what we're doing to the natural environment out of which we evolved and on which we depend. Our understanding and experience of ourselves in relationship to nature has got to be included in this maturation process out of adolescence and addiction.

 

I came across an interesting quote from Derek Jensen. (I know he's controversial - I'm not advocating all his thinking here - but he is definitely thought-provoking.) The quote is:

 

"Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology."

 

I think this quote has truth in it. Our very sense of self in relationship to each other as well as to nature has to transform if we're going to evolve and mature through the coming period.

 

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

CHS...

FWIW...was particularly pleased you brought up a key point...Baumol's Disease.

As a long-time government employee...this is rampant (as many/most) may have surmised.

Aaah yes. "We've met the opponent, it is each of us"

Thanks again.

 

Nichoman

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Thanks CHS!  Big fan of your blog and very pleased to see you throwin' down here at CM.com!

Viva -- Sager

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Thank you CHS.  You have very good insights.  It is obvious you have pondered our situation long and hard and I appreciate your efforts.

Travlin 

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

I like the "starve the beast" comment.

Something we can do at the individual level that will have an effect, and is right for ourselves too.

 

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CHS is quoted approvingly by Marc Faber on p.3 in the latest issue of his Gloom, Boom and Doom Report.  While stating he might not go quite so far as to say that 

Every level of the status quo would immediately implode were fraud and complicity suddenly withdrawn from the system.

as CHS does, Faber implies that he is broadly in agreement.

Evidently the readership of Of Two Minds extends beyond the great unwashed.

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

I'm cautious of following any advice from Charles Hugh Smith.  While he does make some good points and I wholeheartedly agree with alot of what he wrote here, I've read some disturbing articles from him in the past.  He mixes his ideology many times with conflicting strategies.  I have quite a few good things to say about him as well, but since everyone here has had nothing but good things to say, let me post some of the things I've found which make me cautious of listening to him:

1.The organization he is affiliated with, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), is one of those organizations that promote "Social Justice"...  which is another way of saying Marxism.  Warning bells should go off any time you hear the term.  The AFSC is an extremely left-wing progressive organization.

2. While Charles speaks alot on the economy, he is a beleiver in a "tiered tax system" in which the "rich" pay more than people with less money. (Again, a "Collectivist" view)  He spoke about it in a article he wrote about a National Sales Tax.  Seeing as how Charles attended Berkeley, I'd expect this kind of wacky ideology.

3. He considers the Cato Institute an advesary.  The Cato Institute's mission statement is to advance "individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace".  (In other words, they are Individualists and are in direct conflict with anyone that is friendly to Marxism or any mix of it in society.)

4. Apparently he considers Glenn Beck someone who "parrots simplistic ideologies" and would rather see "Public Intuectuals"...  So far I've seen Glenn Beck do a fantastic job of seperating his opinion from fact and backing up both with facts while admitting to his mistakes when he makes them.  What is so simplistic about backing up what you say with facts?  What the hell are "Public Intuectuals" anyway and who would he consider one of them??  If anyone should hold the title, Glenn Beck is much deserving.

5. While Charles claims he walks the center line between the left and right ideologies, philosophy doesn't work that way because eventually, you have to pick a side or your logic will crumble.  In the 15 or so articles I've just read from Charles in the past, it seems he takes the shotgun approach to many topics.  While he hits the bullseye, he also says things in the same article that are completely way off.  Reading his summation of what Liberals and Conservatives beleive make me think that he truly doesn't understand either.  Maybe he should read Aristotle's Law of Identity... "A is A".

6. Charles has also blamed much of the current economic crisis on Capitalism... but he sneakily calls it "Neoliberal Global State Capitalism, a.k.a. predatory Capitalism" so he can weasle out of being held to a concrete definition because none of those terms have any actual definition.  He honestly beleives that is Capitalism!!  Capitalism, a.k.a. the Free Market ceases being free once you introduce Marxist regulations and policies into it.  Either you have a Free Market or you don't.  But Charles has seen fit to quote Karl Marx quite often and claim Marx was correct while pointing to the Frankenstein's monster of a Socialist economy which Charles labels as a "Neoliberal Global State Capitalism".  The more I read from past articles from Charles Hugh Smith on his website and others, the more I'm convinced that he doesn't understand Capitalism at all and has bought into the fictionalized incorrect stereotypes of what most liberals brand as Capitalism.  here is a link to one of the more disturbing articles Charles wrote: http://www.businessinsider.com/systemic-crisis-in-neoliberal-global-capitalism-2010-9

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Hi Tommy:

It's good to debate the issues, but there are a number of inaccuracies in your characterization of my history and views.

1. AFSC is not a "Marxist" organization, it is a faith-based group with a long history (Quakers) of aiding people in crisis. Yes, it is anti-war.  Given Ron Paul's (for example) disavowal of our current wars, labeling Quakers as "Marxist" because they are anti-war is quite a stretch. 

2. As I have mentioned on several occasions I attended the University of Hawaii. One again, it isn't adding much to the discussion to broad-brush someone for attending UC Berkeley (even if he didn't).

3. I don't recall setting up the Cato Institute as the "enemy."  That is your characterization, not mine. I have probably linked to some of their papers. On tax issues, I might have disagreed, or agreed, depending on their specific stance.  The top 1/10 of 1% have seen their tax burdens drop below "middle class" tax rates. Do you think that is "fair"? On what basis? Why do you think the tax rates for those (the top 1%) who own 60% of the financial wealth of the nation have dropped? Could the buying of political influence have something to do with it? I am in favor of those who make $10 M a year paying the same rate as I do making $45K a year. Do you disagree with this? On what basis? Please research tax rates actually paid (not nominal rates) over the past 50 years, with an eye on the rates paid by the top 1% and by those in the upper-middle tax brackets. You will find the super-wealthy are paying lower rates than the "middle class." If you support this, what is your basis for doing so?

4. If you consider Glenn Beck a public intellectual, then it's OK with me. He is certainly raising important issues and perhaps I have misjudged his ideas. 

5. I am routinely accused of being liberal and conservative in the same week. This refusal to accept various dogmas really bothers some people and it's easy to see why. If you buy into one ideology or another, then the "correct answers" flow from that belief system. I see very little actual difference in policies under the two ideologies currently on the menu. Both support a global Empire, various active wars, a welfare state (the only disagreements are over who gets more or less Savior State largesse) and corporate cartels.  Neither one offers any recognition that demographics have already doomed their entitlement "solutions." Neither one has any response to Peak Everything except to borrow more money and hope it all goes away.  That is hardly a strategy or ideology that offers anything positive.

6.  I think you have misread my writing on Capitalism. I have repeatedly drawn the distinction between "real capitalism" which requires investment of capital and the taking on of risk, and Crony Capitalism which relies on State contracts and management of the economy, and which transfers risk to the taxpayers. (See 'too big to fail" etc.)  Marx failed to offer a workable alternative but  his critique of capitalism remain insightful if we read his work in the context of when it was written, the late 19th century.

For example, he noted capitalism's tropism toward monopoly and cartels. Most of the mainstream media in the US is now controlled by 5 or 6 corporations.  This is effectively a cartel. Most of the "healthcare" system is owned or controlled by a handful of large companies.  Smaller firms who try to compete in that space find that they are up against a state-supported series of cartels.

I have built businesses from scratch, done millions of dollars in revenues and created jobs for dozens of people. I think that qualifies me for a "working" knowledge of capitalism.

My critique is simple: BOTH State capitalism (the Chinese model) and the Neoliberal (profits are private, losses are for taxpayers, etc.) model of global capitalism have failed on fundamental levels. That this is not yet apparent--well, let's give it 4 years and see how either model is doing.

I am in favor of "real capitalism" (accumulating capital, investing it, taking a risk for a future gain) and against crony/cartel capitalism. There is a difference.

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

As someone who is devoutly apolitical in nature, I found nothing political in the article Politics Can't Fix A Systemic Crisis In Neoliberal Global Capitalism referred to in Tommy's post. Though I'm sure those who identify with the various political parties would each walk away with a different understanding of that article. It's funny how our personal and/or collective identities focus our perception.

Best...Jeff

 

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...
charleshughsmith wrote:

I am routinely accused of being liberal and conservative in the same week. This refusal to accept various dogmas really bothers some people and it's easy to see why. If you buy into one ideology or another, then the "correct answers" flow from that belief system. I see very little actual difference in policies under the two ideologies currently on the menu. 

When I made this video, I received many comments that I was bashing Bush, and many that I was bashing Obama. The truth is that my composition uses an equal number of pictures from both political parties. 

The eye of the beholder....

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

CHS

I imagine that if aliens traveled to our planet to observe human society and culture, they would have a difficult time distinguishing fascism, communism, and whatever you call the system we have today.  In each system, the wealth and control of resources are concentrated in the hands of a few people or entities.  In each system personal freedom is severely constrained.  The US used to be a much more egalitarian society (not marxist) and in fact a much more capitalistic system.  I am a fervent believer in capitalism, but a believer in  "real capitalism" as you suggest, where there is a level playing field.  In our current system, big corporations buy off the politicians, who in turn write laws in their favor, which in turn crushes the corporations'  smaller compettiors.  Really sounds like Adam Smith's invisible hand, doesn't it.  I believe that all the name calling,  "liberal vs conservative, Republican vs Democrat, or whatever" serves to divide and dsitract the populace. 

Brian

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...
charleshughsmith wrote:

...

5. I am routinely accused of being liberal and conservative in the same week. This refusal to accept various dogmas really bothers some people and it's easy to see why. If you buy into one ideology or another, then the "correct answers" flow from that belief system. I see very little actual difference in policies under the two ideologies currently on the menu. Both support a global Empire, various active wars, a welfare state (the only disagreements are over who gets more or less Savior State largesse) and corporate cartels.  Neither one offers any recognition that demographics have already doomed their entitlement "solutions." Neither one has any response to Peak Everything except to borrow more money and hope it all goes away.  That is hardly a strategy or ideology that offers anything positive.

Charles,

Thanks for clarifying these issues.  The only thing I would challenge you on is that just because the current "Republicans" call themselves "Conservatives" doesn't mean they are.  The politicians you describe in your above paragraph aren't true Conservatives in my book.

Richard

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...
charleshughsmith wrote:

Hi Tommy:

It's good to debate the issues, but there are a number of inaccuracies in your characterization of my history and views.

1. AFSC is not a "Marxist" organization, it is a faith-based group with a long history (Quakers) of aiding people in crisis. Yes, it is anti-war.  Given Ron Paul's (for example) disavowal of our current wars, labeling Quakers as "Marxist" because they are anti-war is quite a stretch. 

2. As I have mentioned on several occasions I attended the University of Hawaii. One again, it isn't adding much to the discussion to broad-brush someone for attending UC Berkeley (even if he didn't).

3. I don't recall setting up the Cato Institute as the "enemy."  That is your characterization, not mine. I have probably linked to some of their papers. On tax issues, I might have disagreed, or agreed, depending on their specific stance.  The top 1/10 of 1% have seen their tax burdens drop below "middle class" tax rates. Do you think that is "fair"? On what basis? Why do you think the tax rates for those (the top 1%) who own 60% of the financial wealth of the nation have dropped? Could the buying of political influence have something to do with it? I am in favor of those who make $10 M a year paying the same rate as I do making $45K a year. Do you disagree with this? On what basis? Please research tax rates actually paid (not nominal rates) over the past 50 years, with an eye on the rates paid by the top 1% and by those in the upper-middle tax brackets. You will find the super-wealthy are paying lower rates than the "middle class." If you support this, what is your basis for doing so?

4. If you consider Glenn Beck a public intellectual, then it's OK with me. He is certainly raising important issues and perhaps I have misjudged his ideas. 

5. I am routinely accused of being liberal and conservative in the same week. This refusal to accept various dogmas really bothers some people and it's easy to see why. If you buy into one ideology or another, then the "correct answers" flow from that belief system. I see very little actual difference in policies under the two ideologies currently on the menu. Both support a global Empire, various active wars, a welfare state (the only disagreements are over who gets more or less Savior State largesse) and corporate cartels.  Neither one offers any recognition that demographics have already doomed their entitlement "solutions." Neither one has any response to Peak Everything except to borrow more money and hope it all goes away.  That is hardly a strategy or ideology that offers anything positive.

6.  I think you have misread my writing on Capitalism. I have repeatedly drawn the distinction between "real capitalism" which requires investment of capital and the taking on of risk, and Crony Capitalism which relies on State contracts and management of the economy, and which transfers risk to the taxpayers. (See 'too big to fail" etc.)  Marx failed to offer a workable alternative but  his critique of capitalism remain insightful if we read his work in the context of when it was written, the late 19th century.

For example, he noted capitalism's tropism toward monopoly and cartels. Most of the mainstream media in the US is now controlled by 5 or 6 corporations.  This is effectively a cartel. Most of the "healthcare" system is owned or controlled by a handful of large companies.  Smaller firms who try to compete in that space find that they are up against a state-supported series of cartels.

I have built businesses from scratch, done millions of dollars in revenues and created jobs for dozens of people. I think that qualifies me for a "working" knowledge of capitalism.

My critique is simple: BOTH State capitalism (the Chinese model) and the Neoliberal (profits are private, losses are for taxpayers, etc.) model of global capitalism have failed on fundamental levels. That this is not yet apparent--well, let's give it 4 years and see how either model is doing.

I am in favor of "real capitalism" (accumulating capital, investing it, taking a risk for a future gain) and against crony/cartel capitalism. There is a difference.

1. I never said AFSC was Marxist because they were Anti-War.  In fact, I never mentioned they were Anti-War at all?  I clearly said they were a left-wing organization that promotes "Social Justice".  Social Justice is most definately a main part of the Marxist ideology.  Just because they label themselves as Quaker or were once simply a Christian activist group does not negate that fact.  The AFSC has strong ties with extreme Marxist groups like the ACLU and are funded in part by people like George Soros.  While the intentions of the group are honorable, and many people involved with the AFSC have joined simply for good faith or Quaker based reasons, the organizastion itself has morphed into Communist friendly left-wing propoganda tool over the last 30 years without most members even realizing it.

2. Sorry.  An article said you attended UC Berkeley and I incorrectly repeated it.  Go "Vili the warrior"!!  Go Hawaii!!  =)

3. No, I'm sorry, I saw it on your website.  Here is the quote: "One of the best studies of corporate welfare in the United States is published by my old enemies at the Cato Institute" http://www.oftwominds.com/blognov08/depression-spengler11-08.html  You mentioned similar comments in other articles as well?

3a. The tax rates that have been paid is based on an unfair system in which politicians have used to wage class warfare.  Some of the most wealthy have also been given tax loopholes and ways to avoid paying almost any tax at all.  I do not support any group having an advantage over the other.  I agree with you that people making 10M a year should pay the same rate as those making 45K.  Also, I agree with you saying that one of the only ways to accomplish this is by switching to a consumption based system like the National Sales Tax (NST), or something like the Fair Tax or Flat Tax.  What I'm concerned about is that you suggested that the rich should pay a higher rate.  It's the same issue I'm concerned with the Fair Tax.  While attempting to help the truly disadvantaged to pay taxes, giving breaks. (a coupon system like in the Fair tax) or having a tiered tax rate system leaves the door open for politicians to wage class warfare once again and the system can quickly spiral out of control. 

5. Yeah, I thought it was funny reading various comments in which people would call you BOTH a Liberal and a Conservative in the same thread?? LOL!  I thought you were right down the middle in every case.  I think the main source of the confusion when I see conflicting statements from you is when you said above "I see very little actual difference in policies under the two ideologies currently on the menu."  (With emphasis on the "currently on the menu" part.)  Both political parties support all of the things you mentioned but political parties are very different from the ideology in which they claim to follow.  In fact, Chris Martenson's guest G. Edward Griffin, (author of "The creature from Jeckyll Island") interviewed right before you talked about that.  The vast majority of politicians who currently hold office are followers of some form of "Collectivism".  What is typically argued about is "how much" Socialism is acceptable?  Have you ever heard the term "All bourbons are whiskey but not all whiskeys are burbons"?  As G. Edward Griffin pointed out, not all Republicans are Individualists or even true conservatives and in fact, many are progressives.  Individualism is a philosophy that offers an ideology very different than what is being offered by elected officials today and more along the lines of what the Founding Fathers initiated... Things like personal liberty, accountability, as little interference by the Government as possible, no welfare state, no empire, and no cartels of any kind to name a few.  I think if you seperated the political parties' ideas from the ideology in which they claim to follow, it would make a lot more sense and clear up any confusion in the future. 

6. Thank you for the clarification.  I think you do understand Capitalism and I offer my apology saying you did not.  Most of the confusion was from what I mentioned in the previous point.  Again, I agree with most of what you said in the main article anyway and I appreciate you attempting to clear up any confusion.

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Charles,

I just wanted to comment that you are one of my favorite writers, and I really like the way you think.

I'm interested to hear more from you in the future about alternatives to the current system. I'm particularly curious about what you wrote regarding people going outside the system to create new and better systems. One of the issues I have with the "prepper" movement is that it seems too focused on preparing for the worst without focusing on how to create a better society.

I feel that there is opportunity here for building something from the ashes, and I would like more writers like you to share positive visions so that we can start to look towards something...rather than hunkering down in fear in our proverbial bunkers. Not all econobloggers need to be writing about that, but you seem to have a unique perspective and an underlying optimism, and so I just wanted to say I'm eager to hear more.

PS Note to TommyLee...I think you've been indoctrinated too much on the far right side of the thought spectrum. "Social Justice" certainly has liberal connotations, but it doesn't mean Marxism. It could simply mean, "let's try to get together and help poor communities become more empowered" - and this can be done through non-governmental means, such as, hmmm, a Quaker organization.

Additionally, while I am primarily a libertarian and feel we should have limited government, I also believe that people who want to get together and create private, voluntary communes should do so. I also support worker-owned companies...once again, these can be voluntary, and not pushed on you by a government. We need to make a distinction between voluntary, intentional communities and government-forced communities. I am all for co-ops. I just don't want the government to force me to be in one. See the difference? So an interest in social justice does not necessarily equate with wanting America to become a communist country.

 

 

 

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...
soulsurfersteph wrote:

PS Note to TommyLee...I think you've been indoctrinated too much on the far right side of the thought spectrum. "Social Justice" certainly has liberal connotations, but it doesn't mean Marxism. It could simply mean, "let's try to get together and help poor communities become more empowered" - and this can be done through non-governmental means, such as, hmmm, a Quaker organization.

Additionally, while I am primarily a libertarian and feel we should have limited government, I also believe that people who want to get together and create private, voluntary communes should do so. I also support worker-owned companies...once again, these can be voluntary, and not pushed on you by a government. We need to make a distinction between voluntary, intentional communities and government-forced communities. I am all for co-ops. I just don't want the government to force me to be in one. See the difference? So an interest in social justice does not necessarily equate with wanting America to become a communist country.

I fully agree that it is someone's perogative to form a co-op or anything they want to as long it's not forced upon me.  I understand that it seems like I may sound like a Marxism alarmist who has been indoctrinated and sees the Reds hiding under my bed... LOL!  Social Justice is a concept that has been talked about going back all the way to the days of the Philosopher Plato.  While the term Marxism is fairly recent, Social Justice is a key tenet of it, whatever name that ideology formally went by.  Looking up different definitions online, you'll find Marxism as the common theme. 

 

P.S. and TommyLee Rocks!! =)

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

+1, This thread is better than a soap opera, and there's no commercials! Thanks all, and keep it coming.

       Now back to our previous programming.Wink

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Hi everyone, and it is a pleasure to discuss issues without being called a moron or "phony intellectual" (a commenter's taunt on Zero Hedge)--to which I reply, isn't that a redundancy? :-)  Thank you, Tommy for your clarifications and comments on Fair Tax ideas.  We are in a real pickle here re: the increasing concentration fo wealth and thus political power in this country. The Founding Fathers were concerned about this--the possibility of a quasi-Nobility--but they could not have foreseen how elections now cost millions of dollars and this is the "opening" that enables special interests to dominate the political sphere and divert State-controlled income streams to themselves.

Since I've written several thousand entries in 5 years I can't recall what I said about the Cato Institute, but perhaps I was trying to be amusing in that jibe.... I readily confess to shifting my views as I learn more, and I am swayed by readers' arguments against my positions.

I think the idea is correct about voluntary organizations (and perhaps especially faith-based ones) playing a major part in the future.  Perhaps we can clarify one part of "social justice"--when it is a code-phrase for lobbying the Savior State for more money, I am against it because it's just another form of unhealthy dependency on the Central State.  When it means *restraining* the State's oppressive powers, or promoting self-help, or providing charity to those in need then I am in favor of it.

I think we may have to rely more on charity and volunteerism in the years ahead.  I have this fantasy in which I can sign up to fill potholes in my city. One city employee would bring the hot asphalt and a few volunteers would do the work.  It's a fantasy because public-union employees would not allow it now, nor would the city attorney--too risky. I suspect those concerns will go by the wayside within 5 years.

I titled one recent post Oversupply of Old Failed Ideas, Undersupply of New Pragmatic Ideas (July 16, 2010) because that's what I see in general: old failed ideas being floated daily (Keynesian borrowing, the masking of crony Capitalism behind phony "reforms" such as Obamacare, etc.) and very very few new pragmatic ideas.  Clearly, we need to completely remake education and healthcare--they are simply unaffordable in their current states, and little tweaks here and there will not fix them. Ditto energy, food, etc. etc.  Parallel, transparent, non-State, opt-in structures seem to offer the best hope.

Another fantasy of mine is to volunteer at a free university. Some fee would be required to rent and heat the space, but the staff would be mostly volunteers. The cost would be nominal, no loans allowed, cash only. Much of the curriculum would be online, but interaction is also necessary for learning. That model is "impossible" now and the gatekeepers of the current system would of course reject it, but between having no university that is affordable to non-Elites and one that is opt-in, voluntary, very low cost, transparent and self-organizing within a core heirarchy, which one would you rather have for your community and child?

That's the value of forums such as this one on CM.com. We need to share radically pragmatic ideas, which tend not have ideological spins.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment.

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Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Charles, I agree with you on the volunteerism. It's funny how some people are very much against it though - I got into real trouble once on Facebook on a thread about library closures when I suggested that people who want libraries need to band together and create a volunteer, non-profit library without expecting the government to do it (because governments are going broke!) Boy, I got a lot of hate directed at me over that simple logic. 

There does seem to be some sort of infestation of leftist thought with the notion that the government should do everything. I'm all for many leftist causes (heck I was a Democrat for most of my life up until recently; now I support neither major party), but I just don't get so many Democrats are so gung-ho over the government doing everything. I thought the hippies were supposed to be anti-establishment?

Quite a few of the Democrats I know rail against the greedy Republicans, but when you ask them what specifically they are doing to make the world a better place, they don't have an answer. A good number of the angriest Democrats I know don't volunteer, don't donate their money, and ironically, don't even canvas for their Democratic candidates! They just get angry and complain about the government not fixing everything.

I feel the right and left could come together if we realized that "we the people" extends beyond the government and that we can get together to make a difference now. We don't have to wait for Congress to fund something - if you want some improvements in your neighborhood, then go do it. What are you waiting for?

This all ties back in to your comments about Americans being stuck in adolescence. We're entitled but not willing to step up and take responsibility. 

earthwise's picture
earthwise
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 10 2009
Posts: 848
Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

Thank you Charles Hugh Smith.

I would just like to add my thanks to the heap of well deserved appreciative comments, not only for the original contribution but also for taking the time out for continued participation. Your presence here is a great asset and quite enriching.

And thanks again Adam for the brilliant series.

Daniel Hromyko's picture
Daniel Hromyko
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 6 2010
Posts: 9
Re: Straight Talk with Charles Hugh Smith: Why The Status ...

I've been a regular visitor of Smith's website since I discovered it a couple months ago, and appreciate the caliber of his intellect, however I find multiple faults in his reasoning in this article. One of which is maintaining the interconnectedness as a problem solver in the future he optimistically assigns a high value to. Another is that like everyone he is a product of his environment, and though his ability to think outside the box is exceptional, he views reality through the environment that surrounds him and his personal nature. He is obviously a hardworking, industrious, intelligent man, and probably a good man too, and will have the subjective tendency to view life from that (“his”) reality. We all view the world from our own eyes, and tend to project our nature and personality in our perceptions of the world around us. In short, he is optimism is due to his projecting his character traits, though laudable, to his fellow citizens.
People in the US have been trained from adolescence to have faith, ie., magical thinking. Our evolutionary biological programing is to be social animals. This human trait has been ceaselessly been exploited by our leaders which makes independent critical thinking in matters concerning the herd exponentially more difficult. Like a group of chimps, or baboons we all via for status within the group, but when the alpha chimp or baboon leads the way across a dangerous territory to obtain food or some other need, all follow automatically. It is the reason we accept was is obviously not real. Faith in gods, country, that we are special, ideology are all sacrosanct and heavily promoted. This includes our leaders. We Americans are gods chosen. God likes us more than them. Faith, in the fundamentalist fashion of religion, economics, government, or some ideological doctrine held as sacred, has to be one of the most pernicious influences still facing humanity. Faith is a rejection of reason. Faith is not only tolerated without scorn, but holds a place of esteem in our culture. Faith is what permits bigotry, racism, and fascism. Faith permits the horrors of war. Faith promotes intellectual apathy and cowardice. The cultural permissibility of faith removes individual accountability to ones own conscious by replacing morality achieved with reason and logic with the chaos and intellectual anarchy derived from emotions associated with misplaced fear. Faith in our governments, in our economic ideology, and our system of laws, has permitted and even encouraged the squandering of the earths resources. Add to that the consequences of our faith in technology, faith which will overcome the near term, exponential depletion in production of multiple resources that support the nearly 7G people on the planet, the price for our faith is, and will be the depletion of our species by billions in number.
Mr. Smith fails to realize how selfish, ignorant, and brainwashed the public is. When the shit hits the fan they won't suddenly wake up and spontaneously reason everything out. The won't know why, or what to do then either. They will be just as gullible to charlatans as they are now. They won't listen to reason from someone like him that can explain everything because they have to be told the what and why by authority figures. We are talking about millions of people that have no integrity, as proven by their acceptance of torture.
Our economy is a Ponzi scheme true? Our leaders are all criminals true? Let's not pull punches. Congress supports war crimes, torture, murder, systemic fraud true? Our institutions are corrupted with voodoo math. There is no rule of law because there is no accountability. Our entire government is fraud, lies, and secrecy. Ponzi schemes always run until they crash true? Can anyone explain why the Ponzi scheme that is our economy will not end in a crash? Won't the fraud continue until every trick and delay have run out? Our banks and government are insolvent true? Not only the Federal government, but many states and municipalities can't service their debt true? With the massive growth of “state” security and the laws that have been passed recently, as well as there being no rule of law, isn't a police state already in place? With a collapse in the banking system that must come, won't commerce cease without digital dollars to pay for virtually every tractor trailer, and train load of merchandise? Does anyone believe that there is anyway that America can support it self? There is no amount of factories that could be built in the US to service the debt. Even if they were already here and built. Why do we have military installations all over the planet if not to use them? Will the elite let the various states and municipalities fail that are doomed to bankruptcy in 2011? Is there any way to stop financial failure without collapse or war? I don't see it.
Anyone that thinks concentration camps here in America are not possible is a fool. Don't think so? Just think about the million or so Iraq's that are now dead and all the horrors that were showing up at the Bagdad Morgue our government is responsible for and lets not forget M. Albrights response that she thought 500,000 Iraqi children under 5 dieing due to US santions was "a price we're willing to pay." Our leaders are ruthless sociopaths. Don't let there nice suits smooth talk fool you. Our controllers don't give a shit about us, our soldiers, or excess people, or anyone anywhere that threatens their control. The citizenry, including our armed forces already accept mass murder and torture. Does anybody really believe there is any difference to killing “them” as us, when as simply as the government just declaring that us are now them we wouldn't herded up? What does everybody think all these people (from Washington Post) are going to do when the shit hits the fan? Go home? Join the unemployed?

Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space.

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