The World is Going to Hell And I Feel Fine
The public mood, always a strange critter to spot in the wild, operates much like the sail of a boat: tuck in an edge here, pull in a corner there, and you've cupped the wind a different way, and are heading in a different direction -- or into the drink, if you resist the trend.
Public figures advance only the most basic ideas for fear of losing control of the sail. Modern people become neurotic and paranoid trying to avoid changes in the wind blowing, because even though these attitudes aren't factual, they control how others will react to anything offered them. Currently the wind blows hot air with undertones of future fear.
Oil prices rose and shoved the truth of modern lifestyles in our faces: they depend on cheap energy. The political instability we banished with liberal democracy reared up stronger than before. The economy, drugged on internet hype and marketing, fibrilated with each negative news item. People threw up their hands and screamed apocalyptic worries.
Realists find themselves upbeat. The inevitable failure of illusions should be a cause for celebration, because it means we can get over the bad behavior and start working toward something better instead. Like addicts finally throwing away needles, or fat people facing the simple obvious truth of less eating and more exercising, we are kicking a bad mental meme and replacing it with a greater dose of reality. Why not celebrate?
Our civilization runs on hot air. If you have patience, pick apart the process by which it exists. We sell each other stuff, living off the inventions, conquests and wealth of the past. Like a watch spring, this momentum is running down because we have done nothing to increase it. We've been too busy bickering over equality of wealth and who's on the cover of People magazine.
Our history forked with the advent of the modern age. New technology brought new growth, and smart corrupt people figured out that they could manipulate the masses with pleasant illusion, and so defeat those who insisted in sensible plans. These corrupt people gained wealth and left behind a mess. While the wealth lasted, we could ignore it.
The result was a class of problems that increase gradually, are easily denied, and because they inconvenience the individual, ignored -- a fact that our leaders have used to manipulate us. They serve up a show of social importance, popularity, fond visions of wish fulfillment like patriotism and moralism, ignoring that at the end of the day, we actually need to do something important to be important.
Our people, like smaller versions of our government, behave like drama queens. They don't focus on making themselves better within because that requires effort no one else can see, and concentrate instead on marketing themselves to others. See how unique I am! See how important I am! I, I, I; me, me, me. With drama like this, no one has time to perceive reality. But now that drama seems of secondary importance to reality, and a new group rises to predominance.
While the dramatic people moan about a cataclysm, smart people realize that scenario is unlikely. Civilizations decay slowly into third world ethics, leaving behind a sea of grey people with a moronic culture and total internal disorganization. The civilization did not fail because it was made of such people, but because it failed, produced them.
People -- caught in the illusion that their personal preferences are more important than the interacting forces of reality that make a situation they can't control through wishing it so -- want to believe in a cataclysm because they believe everything is personal. If it were, they could at least sell it something, but instead it's impersonal forces of nature acting predictably.
In fact, we're at greater risk of not having a cataclysm than having one. Life doesn't tell you when you're screwing up. You screw up, and screw up and screw up, and suddenly, as if unrelated, a consequence appears. You can shoot heroin for years before noticing your life is a wreck, or walk through an empty field and not notice it's sewn with mines until an explosion removes your leg. We can sell each other junk and walk in illusion until one day, suddenly, we're a third world wreck.
As the illusion proves itself again to be false, the realist increases in importance. Where previously conning people into thinking your marketing job was important, now the ability to completely take over a function becomes valuable. Fluff jobs like entertainment, paper-pushing, government bureaucracy and the like are now expensive, but having a few really competent people isn't.
Even more, as we move away from our solipsistic nightmare, character again becomes important. In a city where everyone is a hypocritical self-promoter, you can reinvent yourself and people accept it because everything is insincere. Now people are looking for quality not quantity, and that means values derived by good people throughout the ages are more important, because they're realistic: fidelity, selectivity, pride in being honorable, intelligence, dedication, creativity.
What we're seeing now is what the ancient Greeks called tisis, or a re-balancing of history that replaces the useless with a new space for growth. As our sail turns to catch this raging storm, we know we're in for a ride that may shake the clueless and oblivious off the boat, but when the sun rises tomorrow and the wreckage of the past has been washed away, it's going to be a beautiful day.
July 13, 2008