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    Rescuing Our Future

    A playbook for restoring true wealth to our lives
    by charleshughsmith

    Friday, August 18, 2017, 10:13 PM

Executive Summary

  • The Destructive Practices To Stop Doing
  • The Regenerative Behaviors To Do More Of
  • Getting The Foundational Pieces In Place
  • The Payoff, For Both You & Society

If you have not yet read Part 1: We Need a Social Revolution available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

In Part 1, we compared non-hierarchical, bottoms-up secular social revolutions with hierarchical, top-down political and technological revolutions managed by the state and corporate sector.  Next, we surveyed the erosion of social connectedness and social capital, and asked who benefited from this fraying of the social order.  While certain players derive some benefit from political divisiveness and from the sale of technologies that undermine authentic connectedness, it seems that much of the social-order decay is collateral damage—destruction that wasn’t intentional.

How can we strengthen or repair our own connections and social fabric in such a disintegrative era?

There are two basic approaches: stop participating in destructive dynamics, and assemble the foundational pieces of a connected social life.

The First Step: Stop Consuming Poison

If we use physical health as an analogy for social health, the first step towards improved health is stop consuming poison, i.e. stop destroying one’s health.

In the realm of decaying social relations, the poisons are readily apparent:

  • The mass media, with its dependence on hysteria, fear, group-think and obsession with virtue-signaling as publicly displayed proof of one’s fealty to righteousness.

The mass media and social media both substitute passive watching and clicking for doing things in the real world via active participation.

  • Smartphones, when they cease to be occasional means of communication and become addictive: those who take their phones to bed, interrupt sex to check their phones (yes, studies have found this to be disturbingly common), ignore live conversations to respond to texts, etc., have a monkey on their back.
  • An overly busy life that serves the needs of the workplace and household logistics but leaves no time, energy or awareness for actual intimacy, communication, friendship, sharing or belonging.

The process of limiting these toxins is akin to withdrawal from physically addictive substances; some people may feel a great emptiness once these addictive sources of stimulus are limited.  The emptiness of life stripped of over-stimulus can be painful, and this is a core driver of addiction: if we fill every waking moment with media, texts, social media feeds and so on, we don’t have to experience the pain of an intimacy-connectedness deprived existence.

The analogy of physical health and toxins is useful; those who stop physical addictions (smoking, etc.) and limit their consumption of junk food may experience a very trying period of deprivation. It isn’t easy to construct a healthy world of social connectedness from scratch when exiting a life of junk-food social media and deranging smartphone over-stimulus.

Why is It So Difficult to Make and Maintain Meaningful Social Bonds and Belonging?

Why is it so difficult to make and maintain meaningful social bonds and belonging?  While the long answer could easily fill several volumes, the short answer is something like the structure of modern-day life conspires against making and maintaining authentic social bonds.

By structure, I mean the modes of production and governance, the large-scale financial /built structures of the economy and the large-scale structures of government—the two hierarchies that dominate everyday life.

As I noted in Part 1, I don’t see much compelling evidence that these structures actively benefit from the unraveling of the social order; rather, each will eventually be endangered by the unraveling. I think the dynamic here is very common in history: the single-minded pursuit of self-interest by concentrations of wealth and power leads those at the top to ignore the disintegration the social order and dismiss it as unavoidable collateral damage.

This dynamic is only possible in a hierarchical mode of production/governance.

In decentralized societies that lack autocratic hierarchies and immense concentrations of wealth and power, those who ignore the social good in favor of self-interest have limited means to impose their pathological self-service on everyone else.  The few cannot pursue limitless gain at the expense of the many in decentralized, self-organizing societies with limited centralized authority.

In contrast, autocratic hierarchies such as states and corporations are tailor-made for the exploitation of the many by the few, and there are no compelling reasons for those at the top of the wealth-power pyramid to consider the consequences of their actions on the social fabric.

Those at the top of the mobile telephony industry focus on maximizing the number of hours users spend on their mobile phones and on the number of profitable transactions they make on their phones. That’s their job. If they notice the fraying of the family, or worry about the impact of their relentless marketing of addictive technologies, they are powerless to change the mode of production that has only one goal: maximize profits by any means available. If the best means is addiction, so be it.

The state, meanwhile, is influenced by private lobbyists to either enable addictive technologies and pharmaceuticals, or actively subsidize their spread. In our mode of governance, state fiefdoms focus on increasing tax revenues to fund their own payrolls and benefits, and the fraying of the social order doesn’t even appear on their radar: it’s not our job to track the decline of social connectedness, much less address it. What sort of policies would impact such an amorphous trend? Is it even in the state’s purview to manage social connectedness?

In effect, a vast experiment is taking place without any controls: a mode of production that focuses exclusively on maximizing profits is fostering 24/7 marketing and addictive technologies while a vast central state expands its reach into every aspect of daily life. Meanwhile, both dominant large-scale hierarchies have little reason to concern themselves with the erosion of the social order: that’s not my job.

Busyness and the Built Environment

Maintaining social bonds requires time and attention. If both are scarce, it’s easy to zone-out via “white-noise” media in what little free time is available.  The demands of work and the logistics of a resume-based childhood (must get Caitlin to piano lessons, math tutoring, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu class, play-date, etc.) leaves many households with near-zero family time and little time for friends.

A built environment of long commutes and scarce public spaces doesn’t help; much of a household’s non-work time may be spent on the road. How many social gatherings can one attend if it takes two hours to get there, and another two hours home?  How many social gatherings can one afford if the gathering place costs a lot of money (upscale bistro, brewpub, etc.)?

Dependence on State and Corporate Structures

One of the most insightful essays I’ve found this year is a report from the Guardian (U.K.) on What Happened When Walmart Left a low-income rural community in America’s Coal Country.

One of the most tragic findings, in my view, was that Walmart was the social hub of the community: Walmart was the place to go to meet friends, people-watch, walk around to pass the time, etc.

The other tragedy in my view was the near-complete lack of any non-state, non-corporate social structures; the general zeitgeist was near-total dependence on the state and corporations not just for income but for the structure of everyday life, to use historian Fernand Braudel’s phrase.

While the reporter found a few households had started gardens, the majority of people with what I term enforced leisure (i.e. little to no paid work available) did not use their leisure to create art (the fantasy of supporters of Universal Basic Income) or invest time and energy in non-state, non-corporate social structures; they spent their time watching TV, surfing the Web, scrolling through social media, etc.

This near-total dependence on state and corporate structures is so ubiquitous that it goes unnoticed and unmentioned. Not only have non-state, non-corporate social structures vanished, people have lost the values, skills and tools needed to assemble and maintain such structures.

We have lost much of the social connectedness that humans need, and we mourn this loss in ways that are not directly connected to our loss of social capital: addiction, loneliness, and early death.

Getting the Foundational Pieces in Place

How do we as individuals and households foster and nurture the social bonds that are fast-eroding in civil society?

The basic strategies are not difficult to understand, though they are extremely difficult to put in place in modern-day America:

  • Strip out busyness to free up enough time and energy for social life and connectedness.
  • Live in a place with short commutes to friends, family and public social spaces.
  • Recognize (and then limit) the addictive nature of media, social media, gaming and mobile telephony.
  • Invest time, energy, cash and social capital in making social connections and gatherings happen.
  • Invest time in belonging to groups that manifest our interests, passions and joys.

Every social gathering starts with an invitation. We can each be the one who extends the invitation.

Healthy food—real, homemade, home-grown—is the core of many social gatherings globally. Preparing real food is time-consuming, and making enough food for groups (or organizing a potluck) is a higher-order skillset. It takes practice to develop it, and practice takes time as well as effort.

The scarce resource in connectedness isn’t money—it’s time.  Many of us feel time-deprived, as if we never have enough of it each day, but as a society, we appear to have plenty of time for our smartphones/screens.

Surveys find many Americans spend much of their day/evening consuming mass media, social media and gaming, texting, etc. on mobile telephony—upwards of 6 hours per day, almost as much time as people spend at work—and this doesn’t count time spent watching older media such as TV. (Source)

Though it is self-evident, it’s important to note that governments and corporations cannot restore social connectedness and balance to our lives.  Only a social revolution that is self-organizing from the bottom-up can do that.

The values and skills required to form and maintain authentic social connectedness have been eroded by the superficially attractive screen-based forms of interaction.  Connectedness requires time and effort, both resources that have been leached from our social order by a confluence of dynamics.

We understand tangible financial wealth because it is the focus of our economy and indeed, of our society. Collectively, we seem to have lost the ability to understand intangible social wealth—the wealth of friendship, of social gatherings, of belonging. We sense our impoverishment but seem powerless to reverse the drift and the collateral damage wrought by our economic and political system.

Fostering social capital/wealth is difficult for so many reasons, and the payoff is largely internal; having close friends doesn’t elevate one’s status like the corner office, an impressive title or credential, a luxury vehicle, and all the other signifiers of success in our society.

It takes courage and independence to swim against the toxic tides of our economy and society, and “success” in nurturing social wealth is largely invisible to the outside world, while the sacrifices that must be made to free up the necessary time and energy are visible and real-world: moving to a place that’s more conducive to social wealth, quitting a high-pressure job that leaves little time for socializing or the family, enforcing strict limits on addictive technologies, and so on.

The good news is that social wealth is within reach of everyone who is willing to invest time and effort in connecting to others.

~ Charles Hugh Smith

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12 Comments

  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 2:08am

    #1
    edmundjohnson

    edmundjohnson

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    Joined: Nov 21 2011

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    Thank you!

    A fabulous article which knocked me out of the mindset I often end up in, which is "go along with what everyone else is doing".  I'm lucky enough to be part of a strong community, but could definitely be more of an initiator.  I'm happy for most of the Insider content to remain for the Insiders, but I'd like to see this article available to a wider audience.

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 2:28am

    #2

    roosterrancher

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    Right on the mark!

    I am still carrying a flip phone and I have pressure from friends and family to upgrade. You pin point what I have instinctively known. Texting is so impersonal, I would rather hear and connect through voice.
    I do email and I can type much faster than most can text. Is it possible that our overall decline in productivity has been affected by this technology?
    John Prine had it right, "Blow up your TV, plant a little garden, move to the country, build you a home."

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 10:08am

    #3
    edmundjohnson

    edmundjohnson

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    Joined: Nov 21 2011

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    Thank you!

    A fabulous article which knocked me out of the mindset I often end up in, which is "go along with what everyone else is doing".  I'm lucky enough to be part of a strong community, but could definitely be more of an initiator.  I'm happy for most of the Insider content to remain for the Insiders, but I'd like to see this article available to a wider audience.

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 5:09am

    #4
    BeeGee

    BeeGee

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    We've down-valued socializing...

    When I was growing up in the 50s, we were a clubby nation... very homogenous with church (and a plethora of potlucks, ice cream socials, and more) plus Scouts, lodges (Elks, Eagles, VFW, Odd Fellows, Masons) and other socially minded groups -- Lions, Rotary Club, Soroptimists, Jr Chamber of Commerce, garden clubs, and on and on. 
    While many of these groups still exist, back then you had to join at least a couple of them to be a respectable citizen. "Social participation" was part of evaluation for college admission. You might be a Merit Scholar, but if you looked like an introvert, you still might not make the grade. 
    I guess what I'm saying here was that socializing was cool and required for acceptance then and now it's almost out of style.  
    Perhaps if the trend setters signalled virtue by highlighting the importance of true community, that would do something on a broad scale.  Otherwise, as Charles points out, we have to discover and encourage that value on our own.
     
     
     
    I
     
     

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 6:14am

    #5
    drbost

    drbost

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    Development of social capital

    Thank you, Charles.  The Social Revolution you describe is personally valuable as it increases my understanding of Social Capital in the 8 Forms of Capital model. 
    Naomi Klein, in section 4 ("How things could get better") of her new book titled No Is Not Enough​, describes mutual care and social justice that must underlie community development if current social, economic, and environmental crises are to be successfully addressed.  How do you see your description and her values fitting together?

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 9:51am

    #6
    jennifersam07

    jennifersam07

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    We removed ethics and morality from economics.

    What do you expect from the financialization of everything? This Guardian article gives the background and was enlightening, I thought. When too many public and private decisions are made based on blind faith that 'the market' will be fair and just, you get just the opposite because social values and human rights matter, but must be expressed and acted upon deliberately. Social values aren't 'natural'. Individual greed and tribal justice are the default.
     

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 11:36am

    charleshughsmith

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    shared efforts for the common good

    Excellent topic, drbost--clearly, Naomi Klein is keenly aware that sayijng 'no' to financialization isn't enough--there must be positive dynamics at work to provide an alternative to "the market fixes everything" ( double meaning intended).
    To respond to your question--maybe this is overly simple, but I think the basic answer revolves around shared efforts to benefit the common good, as opposed to everyone seeking to maximize their own narrow self-interest.
    Opinions will vary widely on what most benefits the common good, but the local community is best placed to make those assessments and decisions. These processes are often messy, as direct democracy is inherently messy and time-consuming. But that's the only way to reach consensus, and to give everyone a chance to explain their POV.

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 12:15pm

    #8
    Chris Martenson

    Chris Martenson

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    The New Future (Getting There)

    We all know that the current paradigm is scroomed.  Not that it has to end in complete disaster for everyone, but simply that it cannot continue "as is."
    Of course, it may well end in disaster for a lot of folks, or it may not, but none of us make it out of here alive anyway so what really matters is how we comport ourselves, find honor and purpose in our actions, and derive meaning from our time here on earth.
    I've written about how we need to have a shift in consciousness.  While this is often a very loosey-goosey New Age sort of expression, mine is rooted in a lot of psychology, neuroendocrinology, and (yes) spirituality.
    Here's a relevant bit (made even more relevant by recent insanity in the US within the fringe groups):

    One feature of the ego is that it is always, and forever, in a state of wanting.  It needs more and more and MORE all the time.  The ego sets goals and attains them, but is rarely if ever satisfied by reaching a goal.  If it obtains one, it immediately sets a new one. Therefore it remains in a perpetual state of wanting as it strives towards each new goal.
    Our egos want more recognition. More money. A bigger house. Our life partners to be 'better'.
    I’ve personally met billionaires who are fixated on becoming multi-billionaires.  Millionaires who need to be multi-millionaires.  People with ten rare cars who only have their sights on the next ten. 
    The ego is never satisfied.  It wants and wants more, and so it lives in a perpetual state of wanting.  Boy, does it get it, too. The wanting, that is.  If you want to want, you’ll always be surrounded by plenty of wanting.  But not very much by joy or satisfaction.
    Because the ego has half of itself buried in the shadows of our unconscious minds, it's also eminently controllable by marketers, opinion shapers and propagandists.
    While we're always tempted to think of ourselves as having free will and control of our own thoughts, a simple and honest self-assessment will prove this to be largely false for most people.  Our emotional centers make our decisions, not cold hard logic from the cortex.  It's usually only after we make a decision that our brains go looking for a rationalization to make sense of it, or even to make it appear moral and righteous in our minds.
    (Source - How To Be

    So to Charles's point, acting in the common good is ... well... not very common.  At least when the ego is involved.  It doesn't really like (or have much use for) the common good.  It wants what it wants.  Then it wants the next thing.  Always wanting, and always wanting more.  Or maybe wanting what it doesn't have.
    Either way the ego is in  perpetual state of scarcity, even during the most abundant times ever seen for humans ...ever!
    So here's the challenge for you.  Can you get to a place of awareness that it is your state of being-ness that shifts the people (and therefore the world) around you?
    Can you reduce your ego to the point that you can have present-moment gratitude for what you have in this moment?
    One of my greatest achievements in life has come at the confluence of these two realizations.  I now know that it is my full-attention presence that impacts and most shifts the people around me.    Listening well, and really seeing someone, is a full body experience.  Try it sometime.  Just drop your chattering ego (it can always come back, and will, trust me) and really absorb the person you are listening to.  It changes the both of you.  
    At any rate, until and unless we can tame the ego and get away from this perpetual state of wanting that never has enough, then I think the human experiment is doomed.   At least from the perspective of holding onto and building past our current state of technical achievements.
    Maybe losing those won't be such a bad thing (cue the Atlantic Smartphones Have Ruined A Generation story) but I'd like to think we can both keep the wisdom while releasing the parts that have not worked and do not serve.

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 12:46pm

    richcabot

    richcabot

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    Ego

    I don't think the people's ego is inherently in a state of wanting.  I think Western society indoctrinates that from an early age.  
    Jared Diamond profiles some societies in his books which are largely egalitarian and whose social structure instills a sense of community and sharing.  
    I think it was Howard Zinn who wrote that many early settler communities had to make leaving to go live with Indians a capital crime since so many found the non-competitive, less rule bound life there preferable.

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 5:57pm

    #10
    drbost

    drbost

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    Active listening in effective communities

    Thank you Charles and Chris, for your thoughts and perspectives (see #6 and #7, above).  The changes we seek must indeed begin with us.  The more compassionate and caring communities we dream about must begin with our own.
    May I suggest a discipline that I believe to be the foundation for these qualities of effective communities?  What is it?  It’s called Active Listening.  And how does it work?  I’d like to suggest a framework for it.
    Contemporary forms of active listening involve paying close attention when someone else is talking; or, in Chris’ words, to “absorb” them.  It is paying attention not only to what someone says, but more important, how they say it.  That is, attempt to understand the emotion that accompanies what is said.  Accept what is said non-judgmentally. And (when it’s time) respond genuinely.
    In focusing on the emotion when someone talks, it helps to silently guess what each momentary feeling might be.  Use one-word descriptions of feelings (e.g., happy, sad, frustrated, excited, etc.) to help you focus.
    Pay attention to their behaviors as you listen to their words.  For example, does the other person make appropriate eye contact with you as s/he is talking, or do they avert their eyes?  Does s/he face you directly and lean in slightly toward you, or away from you?  If sitting, does s/he cross their arms or sit with them at their side?  (Research has shown that behaviors such as these are responsible for about 90% of any communication; the verbal content constitutes only 10 %.)
    Further, “listening with your body” can add richness to your perceptions of someone else.  For example, a tightening in your muscles or uneasiness in your abdomen (a “gut feeling”) may suggest to you that there’s a contradiction between what someone is saying and how s/he is saying it.  On the other hand, your feelings of relaxation may suggest that their words and behavior match up, increasing your confidence that they are being genuine with you.
    Acceptance of doesn’t mean agreement with.  Acceptance just means listening and understanding without evaluation or judgment.  Avoid evaluating what they’re saying or thinking about your response; they will come later after the foundation of understanding has been laid.
    Now, it’s your turn.  After they have finished talking, paraphrase what you’ve heard them say.  Include an explicit mention of the feeling with which it’s been said.  (Continue to postpone evaluative comments.)
    When your paraphrase matches what they said and how they said it, they are likely to feel understood.  When they feel understood, they are more likely to relax and become less defensive.  That is, they become more trusting of you.  They are then more likely to be open to new information.  You’ve now laid the foundation for further dialog. 
    Learning any new skill such as active listening requires disciplined practice.  That is, repeated practice and sustained effort are necessary.  I recommend that you practice frequently with a sympathetic partner.  The more you practice, the more likely you are to apply it successfully in new situations.  
    Mutual understanding is at the core of caring communities, and effective listening is the basis of this understanding.
    Good luck and happy listening!

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 6:01pm

    #11
    drbost

    drbost

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    Diamond book

    Richcabot, is the book by Jared Diamond that you mentioned (see #8, above) titled "The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?  Thanks.

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  • Sat, Aug 19, 2017 - 10:42pm

    #12

    charleshughsmith

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    Not that long ago...

    To BeeGee's point (#3): not that long ago, the social fabric was made up of numerous social connections formed by groups. Many were narrow-based (veterans groups, for example), but within these groups there was a diversity of views.  Many were organized to serve the community in some fashion. People overlooked the fact that other members had different views; this sort of social structure nurtures tolerance rather than contempt.
    There are a few shreds of this society left, but not much; AA, church-based groups, Rotary, farmers markets, PTA, Boys and Girls Scouts--but  relatively few people contribute time and energy to groups that don't demand ideological purity or constant virtue-signaling/conformity/displays of moral superiority.
    I think this erosion is a complex process with a variety of inputs. It will take a broad change of social values to encourage participation in groups that don't demand ideological conformity as the price of membership.

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