Archive for August, 2007

Daddy, Where Does Money Come From?

August 23, 2007

“The U.S. government is on a ‘burning platform’ of unsustainable policies and practices.”

 

David Walker, U.S. Comptroller General

 

Anyone who hasn’t watched “Money As Debt,” an animated DVD by Paul Grignon, should consider purchasing this extraordinary explanation of money’s origin in an economy totally dependent on debt. Almost everyone has seen footage of federal printing presses cranking out paper money, and some of us have even visited a government mint or two and have observed the process firsthand. But like so many other illusions with which the U.S. economy is replete, money is not created by government printing presses.

During the first few minutes of “Money As Debt” I began feeling my eyes glazing over in anticipation that I would soon begin viewing photo footage instead of animation. I then realized that I, like the masses of Americans who demand that every video experience provide them with entertainment, was unconsciously holding the same expectation. I then promptly hit the rewind button and started over, this time listening and watching attentively.

“Money As Debt” is not entertainment-far from it. The film offers amazingly elementary facts about the creation of money in the United States, narrated by a soothing voice, which could make for a bland presentation, yet the film’s message is anything but vapid. In fact, if it doesn’t leave your blood boiling, it behooves you to check your vital signs.

Beginning with the most fundamental question of all, Grignon asks: Where does money come from? The answer to this question will almost never be found in grammar school-or even college. What we aren’t told in formal education is that money is created by central banks.

Banks create money, not from their own earnings or from the funds deposited by customers, but from the borrowers’ promises to repay loans. Most importantly, borrowers not only promise to repay, but to repay with interest, and the bank writes the amount of money of both into the borrower’s account.

Grignon opens with a story from antiquity. In the days before paper money, goldsmiths produced gold coins and kept them safe for the purchaser in the same way that banks hold deposits today. These goldsmiths soon noticed, however, that purchasers rarely came in for their actual gold and almost never all at the same time. So the gold merchants began issuing claim checks for the gold which made the exchange of gold in the marketplace easier and less cumbersome. Thus, paper money was born which made doing business much more convenient. Eventually, goldsmiths began loaning money to customers and charging interest on the loans, and borrowers began asking for their loans in the form of claim checks. The goldsmith shared interest earnings with depositors, but since no one actually knew how much gold he was holding, he got the idea that he could lend out claim checks on gold that wasn’t actually there and soon started becoming enormously wealthy from the interest paid on gold that didn’t exist.

Thus began the power to create money out of nothing, but it wasn’t long before bank runs began, and banking regulations evolved regarding how much money could be lent out. However, the regulations allowed a ratio of 9 to 1-that is, banks could lend out 9 times the amount of the deposits that were already there. This policy has come to be known as Fractional Reserve Banking. Regulation also arranged for central banks to support local banks with emergency infusions of gold, and only if there were many runs at once would the system crash.

Fast forward to 1913 when that so-called progressive president, Woodrow Wilson, signed into law the Federal Reserve Act which created the banking cartel now in charge of America’s money system. For those who have not seen Aaron Russo’s DVD “From Freedom To Fascism” run don’t walk to see or purchase it. It is required viewing for understanding the Federal Reserve System and the power it has over the U.S economy and over our individual lives. Very few Americans know how money is created and even fewer know how the Fed originated and what it actually does. Does anyone really believe this is an “accident”? As the media guru Marshall McLuhan is reported to have said, “Only the small secrets need to be protected. The big ones are kept secret by public incredulity.”

Whereas U.S. paper currency used to be backed by gold, that is no longer the case, and we have instead a fiat currency backed by nothing except the word of the Federal Reserve that the money is worth its stated value. Moreover, money today is created as debt, that is, money is created whenever anyone takes a loan from a bank. In fact, every deposit becomes a potential for a loan-a process which can be and is repeated many times, ultimately creating infinite amounts of money from debt.

Whereas the 9 to 1 ratio reigned at the beginning of banking regulation, today in some banks, ratios are as high as 20 to 1 or 30 to 1, and frighteningly, some banks have no reserves at all!

The bottom line is that banks can create as much money as we can borrow!

One wonders how individuals, banks, governments, and other entities can all be in debt at the same time, owing astronomical amounts of money. This question is answered when we consider that banks don’t lend actual money; they create it from debt, and since debt is potentially unlimited, so is the supply of money.

But what is so wrong with this scheme? Hasn’t it been working all these years? Actually, there are several things very wrong with it.

The first issue is that the people who produce the real wealth in the society are in debt to those who lend out the money in that society. Moreover, if there were no debt, there would be no money.

Most of us have been taught that paying our debts responsibly is good for ourselves and for the economy. We imagine that if all debts were paid off, the economy would improve. In terms of individual debt, that’s true, but in terms of the overall economy, the exact opposite is true. We are continually dependent on bank credit for money to be in existence-bank credit which supplies loans. Loans and money supply are inextricably connected, and during the Great Depression, the supply of money plummeted as the supply of loans dried up.

Secondly, banks only create the amount of the principal of loan. So where does the money come from to pay the interest? From the general economy’s money supply, most of which has been created in the same way.

A visual image is helpful. Imagine two pools of water-one full and one empty. The pool with water in it represents the amount of the principal of a loan; the empty pool represents principal plus interest. The pool of principal has only a certain amount of water in it, so that it can’t possibly fill up the other pool of principal plus interest. The rest of the water needed to fill the pool doesn’t actually exist and has to be acquired from somewhere.

The problem is that for long-term loans, the interest far exceeds the principal, so unless a lot of money is created to pay the interest, a lot of foreclosures will result. In order to maintain a functional society, the foreclosure rate must be low, so more and more debt must be created which means that more and more interest is created, resulting in a vicious and escalating spiral of indebtedness. Furthermore, it is only the lag time between the time money is created to the time debt is repaid that keeps the overall shortage of money from catching up and bankrupting the entire system. It takes only a few second of reading the headlines of the financial pages during this month, August, 2007, to notice that foreclosure rates and lag time are threatening to meltdown the entire U.S. economy. The preferred method of the Federal Reserve and central banks addressing this calamity is, yes, you guessed it: to create more debt. The lowering of interest rates in recent years, the bombardment of credit card applications we find regularly in our mailboxes, the red ink in which the United States government is drowning are all an attempt to stave off the collapse of the entire system.

Can any sane human being believe that this situation can persist forever? What is the inevitable outcome of a fiduciary game of musical chairs? Monetary historian, Andrew Gause, answered this question:

One thing to realize about our fractional reserve banking system is that, like a child’s game of musical chairs, as long as the music is playing, there are no losers.

 

And finally, a system based on fractional reserve banking is, to say the least, not sustainable because it is predicated on incessant growth. Perpetual growth requires perpetual use of resources and the constant conversion of precious resources into garbage just to keep the system from collapsing.

 

Grignon suggests that in order to begin addressing and resolving the nightmare of money as debt, we must ask four pivotal questions:

 

•1)     Why do governments choose to borrow money from private banks at interest when governments could create all the interest-free money they need themselves?

•2)     Why create money as debt at all? Why not create money that circulates permanently and doesn’t have to be perpetually re-borrowed in interest?

•3)     How can a money system, dependent on perpetual growth, be used to build a sustainable economy? Perpetual growth and sustainability are fundamentally incompatible.

•4)     What is it about our current system that makes it totally dependent on perpetual growth? What needs to be changed to allow the creation of a sustainable economy?

 

A crucial assumption that must be questioned is the practice of usury or the charging of interest for lending money. Grignon asserts that it is a moral and a practical issue because it necessarily results in lenders ending up with all the money, particularly when foreclosures happen. Not only is debt deplorably profitable for lenders in terms of interest and service charges, but when borrowers cannot pay, as in the case of housing foreclosures, lenders walk away with the proceeds. In a recent article “Panic On Wall St.”, Andrew Leonard explains how obscenely advantageous subprime and liar loans have been for lenders and provides damning evidence to support the long-time assertions by Catherine Austin Fitts that the housing bubble has been engineered by centralized financial systems.

 

In a transformed economy, which I do not anticipate happening in the twenty-first century, banks would exist as non-profit services to society-lending without charging interest at all. But, as Grignon says, if it’s the fundamental nature of the system that’s causing the problem, then tinkering with the system can’t solve the problem. It must be replaced.

 

One solution might be the replacement of paper dollars with precious metals, which of course, could once again become cumbersome and inconvenient, unless the economic system had experienced collapse and digital and paper transactions were no longer possible.

 

Perhaps the best solution offered by “Money As Debt” is the creation of locally-based barter money systems in which debt is repaid by hours of work valued at a dollar figure. Additionally, government spending on infrastructure, not using borrowed money, would also create value locally and nationally.

 

The Federal Reserve banking cartel has been shrouded in secrecy and lack of information among the American people regarding its creation and functioning. One American president appeared to have understood it very well:

Whoever controls the volume of money in our country is absolute master of all industry and commerce…when you realize that the entire system is very easily controlled, one way or another, by a few powerful men at the top, you will not have to be told how periods of inflation and depression originate.

 

                                      ~James Garfield, 20th President Of U.S.

                                         Assassinated, 1881

 

“Money As Debt” is not only a must-see for any American who wants to be politically and economically literate, but is particularly crucial for high school and college students to see in order for them to understand how the money works in the United States. Yet we should not assume that the film’s simplicity of presentation ranks it as less than adult because most adults in this nation are clueless regarding the connection between money and debt.

I personally hold no hope of changing the money/debt system which is truly the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the American economic landscape. What I do envision, and what must happen, in my opinion, is its total collapse, whether gradual or sudden, so that the transformation and relocalization of the nation’s economic system will be possible, which it is not in the current milieu. However, what we are presently witnessing in the bursting housing bubble and credit crisis may well be the beginning of the end of “money as debt.”

Suggested Reading:

The Creature From Jekyll Island, by G. Edward Griffin

                          

Secrets Of The Temple: How The Federal Reserve Runs The Country, by William Greider

 

Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 August 2007 )

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Americans Are In Pain, By Carolyn Baker

August 21, 2007
Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear; the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.
~ M.Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled~

Yesterday’s news brought forth the not-surprising revelation that the use of pain medicine in the United States has nearly doubled in the last ten years. Various rationalizations abound-the baby boomers are aging, and there are more of us, and well-you know the song and dance that basically attributes the use of pain killers to the hoards of graying flower children who wish they were feeling groovy instead of arthritic. Not far behind is the rationalization that whereas physicians two decades ago used to inform patients that pain was part of the healing process, they are no longer doing so and are prescribing pain relievers instead. According to an Associated Press story on August 20, “Hydrocodone use increased 217 percent; morphine distribution went up 180 percent; even meperidine, most commonly sold as Demerol, jumped 20 percent” during the past decade.

And of course, the pain is not just physical. One in ten women takes an antidepressant, and the use of psychiatric drugs among children has soared to unprecedented heights. Juxtaposed with the ever-new potpourri of such drugs available to us, is a decrease in the availability of mental health coverage in employee health benefit packages. If such coverage exists, it is most likely limited to a paltry twelve sessions per year with multiple “engraved invitations” from insurance companies and employers to not use or cease using those benefits.

Viewed from other nations around the world, Americans have no reason to be in pain. We have it all; we are the fat cats of the planet, drowning in “stuff” and feeling no pain whatsoever about the teeming millions of people on the planet who live on two dollars a day and have a life expectancy of forty if they’re lucky. Our whining, entitled sniveling is repugnant to the majority of the planet’s inhabitants, so why don’t we just suck it up and get over it?

For me, the fact that Americans are in pain is not wisely or effectively addressed either by wallowing in our pain or by scoffing at it. Here is where two opposite truths are equally valid. We are in pain-horrible emotional and spiritual angst, AND what is stopping us from looking at what have we done to create the conditions that now torture us and leave us tossing and turning in our Select Comfort air beds? What seductions did we settle for decades ago-or yesterday, that have brought us to the pain we now experience? How are the choices of more recent years that we have blindly condoned because we were so busy being snookered into using our houses as ATM machines that we couldn’t look truthfully at the regime hoodwinking us into the Iraq War-how are those choices impacting our daily lives emotionally, spiritually, and yes, physically as our bodies silently seethe with the horrors of war crimes that our government has perpetrated on the innocent? Just because the carnage is not aired nightly on prime-time TV as it was during the Vietnam Era does not mean that something in the collective unconscious of Americans and all earthlings is not writhing in a kind of mass PTSD, an assertion which Pablo Ouziel brilliantly articulates in “Iraq, The Unavoidable Global Trauma.”

The American dream has become the American nightmare of debt, stolen pensions, the inability to retire securely, the poisoning of food, water, air, energy depletion, inflation, healthcare so poor that doesn’t even deserve to be called by that name, media and educational systems functioning only to dumb-down the masses. Every institution in American society serves one purpose and one purpose only: to protect the wealthy and to numb and sedate everyone else.

Like pre-World War II Germans who refused to investigate what was actually going on within their country and across Europe as a result of Hitler’s atrocities, our “innocence” is killing us-eating away at our insides and our emotional well being. We are in pain.

As Americans find themselves mired in ghastly swamps of debt, foreclosure, unemployment, and the crumbling of every institution in American society-as they tell themselves that this is just a blip on the radar screen and that if they just work harder, get a better job, cut back here and there, move to the Sun Belt, or postpone having a child, everything will be just fine. We are in pain.

As governments rattle sabers, spend unprecedented amounts for weapons of mass destruction, and as our rulers declare with straight faces that we can and must carry out first-strike nuclear attacks on anyone who rattles more loudly than we do, images of mushroom clouds quietly form in places within the psyche that we do not let ourselves know about, and we eat more, drink more, exercise more, fornicate more, work more, gamble more, clean more, smoke more, and shop more. We are in pain.

And of course, American readers of these words would want to know immediately “what to do about it.” But as an historian, I keep repeating that until you understand how you arrived at where you are, you won’t be able to proceed elsewhere. The “doing obsession” is yet another addiction which we would do well to recover from as quickly as possible. As I stated clearly in my article written a few weeks ago entitled “What To Do? What To Do?” the first step in our recovery is being willing to be, yes BE with the pain we are feeling or sense is impairing our health and wellness.

One of the best “prescriptions” I’ve run across is that which Sally Erickson, producer of “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire” states in her blog “Depression Is A White Peoples’ Disease“:

It’s the disease the civilized have learned to contract in the face of feelings we are afraid to feel. So we don’t. We depress the real, legitimate feelings of sadness and grief, anger and outrage, fear and loneliness. And yet, these feelings are natural, healthy responses to our current human and planetary predicament. When we do not identify and express, and instead “depress,” these feelings, the end result is the emotional fog and lethargy that people routinely label “depression.”

 

Erickson recounts her experience of producing with Tim Bennett their extraordinary documentary and the overload she felt as a result of trying to assimilate voluminous information regarding energy depletion, climate change, population overshoot, and die-off and the depression into which she sometimes slipped-and her discovery that talking with trusted others about her feelings was her best medicine. “Piece by piece,” she says, “Tim and I work our way through the myriad of emotions that come with staring down the world situation. As we dig into ourselves, always beneath what might have been termed ‘depression,’ we find feelings. We discover that when we identify and express those feelings, the emotional grey goo of depression eventually dissipates. And along the way we discover strong and courageous parts of ourselves that have been dormant.”

 

I would not pretend to claim that simply talking about one’s feelings will cure insomnia, depression, or the body’s aches and pains, but I do not hesitate to suggest that some or much of our pain could be alleviated by owning what is so and talking about that with all who will listen and validate us.

 

Perhaps the most predominant emotion Americans experience is fear-fear greatly fostered by our government and its propagandistic obsession with “the war on terror.” Without consciously realizing it, many Americans are walking around terrified of something that may never happen. We live our lives with comforts incomparable with the day-to-day existence of most of the world’s population. For the most part we have clean water to drink, food to eat, and shelter to live in. While violence, assault, rape, and robbery are prevalent in many parts of our nation, they are not institutionalized as they are in some countries. Compared with most societies on earth, we live a relatively safe existence, yet we walk around in terror. Perhaps it really isn’t terrorism that we fear, but rather that some part of us knows that dozens of species have gone extinct while we’ve been reading this article, that all of our cherished institutions along with our infrastructure are crumbling, that polar ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising, that the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terror will never end in our lifetimes, that our children’s futures are fraught with landmines of debt, pollution, violence, and nuclear madness.

 

In my opinion, the most sane and rational act under these circumstances is talking in detail with our friends and loved ones about our feelings and experiencing that while that doesn’t “solve” the problems, it releases enormous energy that we were investing in denial and numbness and empowers us to explore and choose our options. Yes, we all know people who refuse to go where anyone who has read this far must certainly have already gone. We can and do feel compassion for them, yet there are those who will listen. So find them-and talk-and listen because we are all in pain, and deep listening and truth-telling are our best medicine.

 

 

The End Of The World As We Know It: Hope Vs. Mindset

August 17, 2007

A friend for whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration recently challenged me on my incessant hope-bashing stance and gave me some food for thought which has caused me to reframe the concept of “hope” in my own mind in a way that I can live with. What I cannot live with is a definition of “hope” that externalizes it-that fosters denial and a false and naïve anticipation that government, religion, or to quote Lincoln, “the better angels of our nature” will somehow save humanity from slamming with lethal velocity into the brick walls of our own making-climate chaos, global energy catastrophe, planetary economic meltdown, population overshoot, species extinction and die-off–or nuclear holocaust.

The iconoclastic and cynical James Howard Kunstler is fond of mocking people who ask for “hope” and insists that any hope we have in the face of the end of the world as we know it (EOTWAWKI) must come from within. I’m not sure what that means to Kunstler, but I’m getting clearer about what it means to me.

Naïve hope takes myriad forms and from my perspective one example is the hope that impeachment of Cheney and Bush is even possible. And I must add that Bush has not lost his “brain” with the departure of Rove. Who needs a brain when Darth Vader is the real man behind the curtain and has more political and economic power in the United States government than the average American can even imagine? Another example of false hope is faith in the U.S. political system and the possibility that clean elections exist, not to mention the hope that one will even happen in 2008. Other “hopes” include: the hope that the Democrats will finally find their spine, that the economy will improve without the working and middle classes being eviscerated by a financial meltdown as catastrophic or worse than the Great Depression, that technology will solve the energy dilemma, that moving to another country guarantees personal safety and human liberty, that the human race can exist for another century without a nuclear exchange, that a global spiritual awakening will occur in time to transform the human race and avert catastrophe.

As long as we are hoping for any of these, we are assuming a passively reactive position. Conversely, a pro-active mindset is willing to own that the paradigm upon which the empire is based is not only shallow, wanton, mindless, and infantilizing, but ultimately toxic-mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. A truly pro-active mindset comes down to the question that film maker Tim Bennett leaves us with at the end of “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire” which is: “WHO do I want to be as the world as I know it comes to an end?” Do I want to find myself literally or metaphorically like a 2005 New Orleans resident crouched on one tiny dry corner of my rooftop waiting for a government helicopter to rescue me from an inundated house, or do I want to see the hurricane coming and take myself to another location, that is, another mindset? Do I want to assume that somehow citizens of empire can keep a show on the road that should be canceled and run out of town? Do I want to abdicate personal responsibility because I’ve been taught from childhood to be a good citizen and vote in elections because two different political parties exist, and I live in one of the few countries on earth where I have a “real” choice between them? Do I want to kick and scream against the death of the world as I know it, or embrace that death so that something else has a chance to be born-even if I’m not alive to witness the birth?

Specifically, the mindset to which I’m referring is one that understands and feels in the marrow of one’s bones that the life/death/rebirth cycle is as inherent in one’s existence as breath itself. We can talk about collapse-and we must-but we can also re-frame it into the broader concept of life/death/rebirth. No, this does not have to be some airy-fairy, sweet-lemon rationalization that ultimately produces a new form of denial. Perhaps taking a moment to ponder birth will be helpful. Birth is bloody, uncertain, scary, painful, exhausting, and usually requires more courage, stamina, strength, and perseverance than most women ever thought they had. And–I cannot think of a better description of the collapse of empire.

This birth-giving mindset has been stolen from us by empire and replaced with obedience to government; trust in economic, social, and political systems; the perception of ourselves as consumers who are entitled to be comfortable and stress-free with access to the latest technological toys which make our lives fun, exciting, and painless. As I write these words, I recall an email I received earlier today from a woman in South Africa who has to rely on an “if-y” dial-up internet connection and who thanked me for my recent articles on collapse, adding that living among impoverished native South Africans reminds her daily of how Americans will be forced to live during and after collapse.

I strongly recommend an interview with Joanna Gabriel of Ashland, Oregon entitled “Who Am I In A Post-Petroleum World?”, which offers an extraordinary articulation of collapse as opportunity for rebirth or in her words, a crisis “which is forcing us to create the kind of world we wanted all the time anyway.”

A great American poet, William Stafford, wrote a poem that could not be more appropriate for this moment entitled “A Ritual To Be Read To Each Other.” I promise you that if you read and ponder this poem every day for one week, you will find yourself moving farther away from hope and closer to mindset.

          A Ritual To Be Read To Each Other
by William Stafford, from “The Darkness Around Us Is Deep”

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
world
and following the wrong god home we may miss
our star.For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

And as elephants parade holding each
elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the
park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something
shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should
consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the
dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

The poem begins with a warning about what we risk if we do not engage in deep listening and truth-telling with each other: We may follow the pattern that others made and then follow the wrong god home and miss our star. The small (and enormous) betrayals of us by our culture have deeply wounded us, and like elephants in a parade, we need to hold onto each other lest our mutual lives become lost, and the surest way to become lost is to “know what occurs but not recognize the fact.” As Stafford reminds us at the end of the poem, it is important that awake people be awake or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep. We must be constantly vigilant and support each other in remaining vigilant so that we do not fall back into comfortable slumber. The signals must be clear because the darkness around us is deep-so deep in fact, that we dare not settle for anything less than mindset.

That means voluntarily, intentionally stepping into collapse-physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, not allowing it to be something that “just happens” to us, but an opportunity that we embrace, despite all the suffering it will entail for ourselves and the people around us. As I listen to the various economic pundits discuss the current stock market meltdown, I notice how they consistently speak of “the opportunities” that exist in the midst of the grim financial landscape. Like financial investing, there are no guarantees that our investment in the opportunities of collapse will prove to be advantageous, and like investing, our willingness to step into collapse involves risk. But the choice is ours: Do we invest in mindset, or do we rely on hope? Hope which serves no practical purpose except guaranteeing that collapse will be nothing more momentous for us than the end of the world as we have known it.

In Praise Of “Sicko” But What Happens When The U.S. Healtcare System Dies?

August 13, 2007
It had to happen, but it took so long-indeed, too long, for a courageous filmmaker to rise up and put the abysmal U.S. healthcare system under a microscope in order to reveal how utterly pathological it has become. On one level, Moore repeated a blatant flaw in his craft so obvious in “Bowling For Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 911” in that he almost always fails to fully connect the dots and take his work to the next level, and “Sicko” was no exception. Nevertheless, the film left me laughing, cheering, and crying and particularly gleeful regarding memos sent by management throughout the Blue Cross system warning employees of the possible side-effects of “Sicko” on their company’s image. In the light of Moore’s impressive research and documentation, after listening to the film’s horror stories of patients raped by the “disease-care” system, after witnessing the confessions of former players in that system who have come clean and can only live with themselves by spilling their guts regarding the devious methods they used to keep the system intact and bloat its profits, after hearing the Oval Office conversation between Richard Nixon and John Ehrlichman in which the two salivated over the spoils guaranteed to the industry as a result of creating a sprawling network of HMO’s, after the poignant scenes near the movie’s end of real people-9/11 rescue workers, actually getting extraordinarily humane and completely free healthcare in Cuba, there is little left to say about the American system because one can only hold one’s nose and gasp for fresh air in face of the overpowering, nauseating stench of the most brutal medical industry on earth. I do not hesitate to label it unequivocally, pure evil. 

Not only is the American disease-care industry the biggest rip-off of any healthcare system on earth, but it is being used to prop up an expiring economy because it creates jobs, and without those jobs, the U.S. unemployment rate, already fudged with bogus statistics, would immediately spike. Not only is U.S. healthcare devastating the lives of Americans who use it, but it is being manipulated to give the appearance of economic health in a code-blue economy now in collapse.

Moreover, unlike the healthcare systems of many developed countries, the American system gives much lip service to preventive medicine, but only about 1% of the American healthcare dollar goes to prevention programs and for one simple reason: Sickness is profitable, and prevention is not. 

But once again, Moore does not ask the deeper questions such as: What is inherent in the American capitalist system that propagates and rewards such carnage? In fact, he fails to notice that profit over people is at the core of Western civilization and the culture of empire. Ten thousand years of civilization which include the raping and overpopulating of the earth, the depletion of the planet’s resources, the dizzying pace of global warming, and the extinction of hundreds of species per day, have brought us to exactly this point. How could the inhabitants of the belly of the beast have access to anything better than a disease-purveying medical system that facilitates the elimination of the middle and working classes while guaranteeing that the ruling elite will wax healthier and more affluent? Fortunately,  “Sicko” does not spend much time suggesting that somehow this system can be reformed, improved, or streamlined which would be the proverbial band-aid for cancer. But neither has Moore yet diagnosed the malignancy at the core not only of the American healthcare system but of civilization itself. 

To his credit, perhaps the most important line in “Sicko” was the pivotal question: “What have we become that we have allowed this to happen?” And so I sit with the first four words of that question-what have we become? Until this question is explored, Moore and all other well-intentioned progressives will miss the point. 

Civilization is in an inexorable, cataclysmic downward spiral of collapse. The American disease industry is only one of a plethora of institutions and systems in a process of abject crumbling-education, religion, economic systems, family, political systems, energy, transportation, infrastructure, food production-the list is virtually infinite. The tragic footage of the Minneapolis bridge collapse, now burned by corporate news media into the American mind, is a ghastly metaphor for the failed fiasco of civilization, as well as a ghoulish consequence of a rotting infrastructure that the corporatocracy refuses to attend to in its frantic obsession with global resource wars. 

U.S. healthcare is a nightmare with few options. In order to receive efficient, free care, it is almost necessary to move to another country. Unfortunately, “Sicko” implies that moving to Canada is a viable option, but in reality, emigrating to any country is not easy and usually requires a long, mind-numbing process of bureaucratic red tape-especially for Americans whose investments and government checks are welcome in foreign banks, but whose quest for jobs is not. Furthermore, Canada will soon be inundated with immigrants as Americans move there in droves and as 4000 people per week leave the U.K. for destinations like Canada, South Africa, and Australia. 

It behooves every American who takes collapse seriously and is consciously preparing for it, to learn healthcare skills. An individual can enroll in or audit almost any basic emergency lifesaving or first aid course at local community colleges or hospitals around the country. Health care professionals who are preparing for collapse can take their preparation to the next level by offering informal workshops on various aspects of healthcare for non-professionals. Moreover, a basic knowledge of herbal remedies and a generous inventory of them is essential, not only as access to traditional healthcare diminishes but as herbal remedies themselves become more difficult to acquire in terms of prices and the likelihood of government control or elimination of them. 

In addition, the Hesperian Foundation offers a treasure-trove of books and DVD’s for non-professionals such as “Where There Is No Doctor”, “Where There Is No Dentist”, “Where Women Have No Doctor”, a “Handbook For Midwives”, “Helping Health Workers Learn”, and a variety of related topics. People with access to medical supplies may want to consider amassing a cache of them for times when they may not have access to healthcare at all, even if they have health insurance. Those who require specific medications for survival may want to work with their physician or experts in chemistry to stockpile medication or chemical ingredients necessary for the medicines they need. A series of articles by Dan Bednarz such as Peak Oil and Healthcare posted at the Energy Bulletin, offers detailed explanations of the impact of Peak Oil and collapse on the American healthcare system which is so energy and technology-dependent. 

As I have written innumerable times, federal, state, and local governments are not going to be able to provide basic services in the throes of collapse-even if they want to. Katrina was nothing if not a glaring example of this reality. 

I for one am not interested in making American systems better but instead, telling the truth about their irreversible demise. If I’m not honest about that, then I will do silly and meaningless things like vote in elections and believe that buying a Prius and converting to non-incandescent light bulbs or the development of magic-bullet technology will avert a catastrophic global energy crisis. In fact, if I don’t tell the truth about civilization’s collapse I will become seduced into the lie that we can keep the entire house of cards intact and worse, that doing so is a really good idea. 

I want not only Michael Moore but the entire progressive movement to tell us the truth about what comes after the death of the American healthcare system.  I want all of them to break the indelicate news that humanity is murdering the earth and all life forms on it-themselves and the rest of the planet. I want them to stop tenaciously, naively, delusionally hanging on to “hope” and other soporifics of consumerism and the American way of life, or more truthfully, the American way of death. I want them to stop calling me “dismal” because I say what is so and refuse to ignore the flatulent neon elephant in the very small room of planet earth which is growing smaller and more diseased by the moment. I want the so-called physicians of socio/political/ecological/and cultural well being to stop telling us terminal patients that there are solutions, elixirs and potions of political choice, actions to take, movements to marshal, candidates who will save us. I want them to tell the truth about their own and earth’s prognosis and the sinking of the Titanic and focus instead on creating lifeboats and look at the really, really big picture beyond myopic, truly terminal optimism. 

So thank you Michael Moore for your gutsy, funny, but very poignant expose of the U.S. disease-care empire.  Yet as much as I loved “Sicko”, I want a deeper diagnosis, one that will truly assess the vital signs of a crumbling culture and a civilization that the progressive community insists on keeping on life-support when the kindest and most scrupulous act any of us can perform is to simply, swiftly pull the plug and record time of death. 

THE JOYRIDE THAT WAS THE AMERICAN EMPIRE, A Book Review

August 9, 2007
A review of Financial Armageddon: Protecting Your Future From Four Impending Catastrophes, By Michael J. Panzner 

Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences. –Robert Louis Stevenson–

A few days ago a friend called me just after hearing Michael Panzner on the Thom Hartmann show on Air America. My friend wanted me to read Panzer’s book, Financial Armageddon and see what I thought. Apparently, Panzer’s radio interview remarks were filled with passion and a sense of urgency, and upon reading the book, I experienced the same intensity in the author’s writing which pleasantly surprised me. Here was a financial guru with 25 years’ experience in the stock, bond, and currency markets and a faculty member of the New York Institute of Finance, who unlike Ben Bernanke and the silver-lining pundits of the financial pages, was not telling us that everything is going to be fine or that things will “bounce back in 2010”.

Anyone familiar with my writings knows that I have never claimed to be a fiduciary wizard, but in recent years I have written more on topics related to economics than at any time in my life. I do not believe that all social issues can be resolved if only we change how money works in the United States or the world, but I am profoundly aware of the role of economic issues-perhaps more than militarism, healthcare, education, politics, or any other institution, in the dead-ahead demise of empire. I also notice that few in the left-liberal end of the political spectrum have a firm grasp on economic issues which I suspect comes from a fundamental polarization between activism and financial intelligence-a reality which motivated me a few years ago to write an article entitled “Activists And Accountants: Absolute Allies.”

Michael Panzner is definitely not from the left end of the political spectrum, which makes the contents of Financial Armageddon all the more fascinating and momentous. I came away from the book with both remarkable reinforcement of my position that the United States has entered economic collapse, but also perplexed regarding the myriad blind spots that the author seemed to have regarding the causes of the current economic meltdown. I am not aware of how Panzner may have altered his views since the publication of his book earlier this year, but at the time of writing, Panzner did not mention or was not aware of a number of glaring realities regarding the gluttonous greed-fest that has characterized the United States since the end of World War II. I will address those inconsistencies first, then highlight the places where I think Financial Armageddon is absolutely on-target.

What is most disturbing to me about the book is what appears to be a total lack of perception regarding the role of fraud, theft, and malicious intent in the American and global financial train wreck which has been exacerbating over recent decades. Panzner seems to conclude that all of this is just one huge accident attributable to incompetence or the American consumer being lulled by creature comforts. The book begins with a chapter on debt-personal and governmental-a factor so pivotal in economic catastrophe, but little attention is given to the intentional engineering, for example, of consumer debt by centralized financial systems and how monstrously profitable it is.

In the recent documentary “Maxed Out“, Harvard law professor and author of several books on consumer debt, Elizabeth Warren, states that the middle class is near extinction not only because of a lack of financial information, but specifically because debt is, in her words, “obscenely profitable” for lenders. Panzner says little about this in the book, but he does say that “Ever-growing investment returns, an endless housing boom, and the Federal Reserve had conditioned Americans to believe that, inevitable good fortune would eventually bail them out-should it even prove necessary.” (4) The current debt nightmare, however, is not merely about “conditioning” but is, in my opinion, based on hard evidence, calculated and contrived. Both “Maxed Out” and “In Debt We Trust” make this exceedingly clear. Furthermore, in examining the history of the financial train wreck now in the making, one must grasp the history of America’s aristocracy, not only in the days of the Robber Barons, but within the past thirty years. Catherine Austin Fitts’ website subtitled, “The Aristocracy Of Stock Profits” provides an excellent historical account of this.

Nowhere in the book does Panzner mention the $1.3 trillion missing from the Pentagon or the $59 billion missing from the Department Of Housing And Urban Development and a plethora of other instances where money is “missing” as documented, again, by Catherine Austin Fitts. Nowhere does he address the issue of fraudulent inducement, also noted by Fitts in her audio CD on the housing bubble, which simply means, enticing people to borrow when it is obvious that it will be impossible or near impossible for them to repay.

It is crucial to understand that the current economic meltdown is a transfer of wealth from the middle and lower classes to the ruling elite. Wealth transfers do not just happen, nor are they the products of incompetency. They are intentional and well-planned. Central to wealth transfer is corruption at the highest levels of the economic and political systems. In hindsight, we look back upon the Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s, at that time, the largest theft in the history of the world, yet today, our minds cannot begin to wrap around the wealth that has been stolen from the American people, making the S&L scam look like piggy bank pilfering–and to my knowledge, Catherine Austin Fitts at her Solari and Dunwalke sites, is the only person to have documented this so impeccably.

In fact, I recently received an email notice from Fitts stating:

Recently, we have seen numerous press accounts of bank and hedge fund losses from sub-prime mortgages. Remarkably, these reports imply that the losses are the result of a market downturn or contracting credit cycle. But there has been no mention of the extraordinary profits that were generated or who reaped them. There is no mention of who is poised to make a fortune on the bubble collapse. Even the most sophisticated commentators of our day are describing this financial coup d’etat as the unintentional consequence of “market forces.”

Coup d’ etat? How’s that for blowing the “incompetency theory” out of the water?  Panzner alludes to corruption in his book but overall tends to place it in the future. Locating it in the context of a chaotic society during and after collapse, he says that “Corruption will likely become endemic…”, but, I protest, corruption is now and has been and is the principal reason for our financial predicament. In fact, in the opening of the chapter “The Retirement System”, he states that it is the leaders of the public and private sectors who put off an accurate assessment of what the future held, “even though they knew a day of reckoning would come.” (15) Yes, they knew a day of reckoning would come, and their intention was to feed as voraciously as they could off their current situations and be long gone before the reckoning. Just as the culprits of the Savings and Loan caper profited on the way up, they also profited on the way down, as will a few predators in the current subprime catastrophe.

In fact, an article this week in Forbes Magazine, “Profiting From The Meltdown” opens with: “A consortium of the nation’s leading investment banks have quietly created an index that is not only protecting them against the recent market meltdown but also promising to make them bundles of money in the process.”

Panzner does not mention the role of the Federal Reserve in engineering Financial Armageddon and the fact that it is neither “federal” nor has any kind of reserve. No expose of the Fed’s money policy, fractional reserve banking, or printing money out of thin air backed by nothing is offered. Nor does he illumine the reader about the Fed’s ultimate ulterior game plan. It appears that he is unaware of the global ruling elite, sometimes are referred to as the New World Order, who have engineered Financial Armageddon and will be safely ensconsed in their solar-powered bunkers, calculating their profits while surrounded with an abundance of food, water, and private security forces when all hell breaks loose.

One cannot adequately comprehend the perfect economic storm that is brewing worldwide without understanding the role of the Fed as one of the pivotal entities necessary for the construction of what financial analyst, Bill Bonner, calls the “Empire of Debt“. Curiously, Panzner does not address the reality of empire nor its historical ascension to global economic superintendent a la the Federal Reserve.

Mike Whitney states in his most recent article “Stock Market Meltdown” that:

Economic policy is not ‘accidental.’ The Fed’s policies were designed to create a crisis, and that crisis was intended to coincide with the activation of a nationwide police state…. The Federal Reserve is a central player in a carefully considered plan to shift the nation’s wealth from one class to another. And they have succeeded. Nearly 4 million American jobs have been sent overseas, the country has increased the national debt by $3 trillion dollars, and foreign investors own $4.5 trillion in US dollar-backed assets. While the Fed has been carrying out its economic strategy; the Bush administration has deployed the military around the world to conduct a global resource war. These are two wheels on the same axel. The goal is to maintain control of the global economic system by seizing the remaining energy resources in Eurasia and the Middle East and by integrating potential rivals into the American-led economic model under the direction of the Central Bank. All of the leading candidates-Democrat and Republican—belong to secretive organizations which ascribe to the same basic principles of global rule (new world order) and permanent US hegemony. There’s no quantifiable difference between any of them.

Whitney, of course, is talking about organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and the Bilderberg Group. It is within these entities that the ruling elite have been planted and cultivated.

Additionally, Financial Armageddon does not mention energy depletion or climate change as precipitous factors converging with global economic meltdown, exacerbating it and creating what I have frequently referred to as the Terminal Triangle as we “cook on the road to collapse”. These are factors that will only intensify the grim post-collapse world that Panzner does acknowledge later in the book. However, to fail to mention the current and future juxtaposition of these three for the first time in human history is a glaring omission.  

To his credit, however, Panzner does steer his writing into future scenarios which sound remarkably like those posited by Dmitry Orlov in his series on collapse entitled “Post-Soviet Lessons For A Post-American Century“. Echoing James Howard Kunstler’s adage that “suburbs are the slums of the future”, he states that “In the wake of the early 21st-century housing boom, the migratory landing points may well be the millions of condominiums and boarded-up new homes left empty or mired in foreclosure in what were once the hottest real estate markets.” (107) Reminiscent of Orlov he writes:

Meanwhile, newfound transparency in the wake of the unfolding financial crisis will expose a scale of fraud, corruption, and self-dealing that many will find almost impossible to comprehend. Day in and day out, reports will surface about hidden losses, false accounting, inflated appraisals, sizable off-balance-sheet obligations, valuation discrepancies, unregulated offshore entities, phantom, profits, insider trading, and businesses bled dry to enrich a few individuals at the expense of employees, investors, bankers, and bondholders.(116)

Sorry to say, but all of this sound a whole lot like the current moment, and certainly everything enumerated here will only worsen, and Panzner admits as much in the final chapters as he presents a world of chaos, lawlessness, hunger, thirst, homelessness, inveterate wandering, and people with nothing to lose doing whatever it takes, in order to survive.

I was getting worried early-on in the book that the author would not mention martial law and “vast detention camps”, but he does when explaining the extent of lawlessness, troublemakers, and immigrants “who will increasingly be seen as an unacceptable threat to national security.” (127) Additionally, “Americans will be confronted by an unfamiliar and frightening array of legal, financial, and security restrictions, including lockdowns, curfews, internments, capital and exchange controls, and even [oh yes especially] martial law.” (185) It will be a world where the dark and seamy side of life are apt to be predominant with addictions, vices, and suicide prevailing everywhere. There will be much thievery, scamming, and violent crime and as Panzner says, “People who underestimate the severity of the dangers ahead and fail to take the necessary steps at the outset risk being left penniless.” (142)

When all is said and done, Financial Armageddon offers some sound advice and strategies, which some readers may be aware of, for navigating the crumbling empire . The author insists that having access to information, especially alternative news, will be crucial. Not knowing or predicting how long the internet will exist or remain uncontrolled, he strongly recommends that people familiarize themselves now with alternative news sites and continue to do so as long as they can. In addition, he emphasizes hyperinflation and the risks it will entail in terms of using cash. Precious metals will be a strong hedge, and barter will become a basic, commonplace form of exchange.  Practical knowledge of fundamental skills, healing with herbs and other alternative remedies, and personal disaster planning will be essential-as will be the ability to navigate a rotting infrastructure which, and I’m sure Panzner would concur, that in August, 2007, we are just beginning to witness the tragic consequences of.

Panzer also adds the spiritual factor in the equation:

Coping when many people are trapped beneath the rubble of an irresponsible or impetuous past will call for considerable courage, stamina, and resolve, which must come from within. Constant turmoil and heightened uncertainty about the future will require ‘what if?’ thinking and the ability to anticipate situations that used to be rare or non-existent. (143-144)

In addition, Panzner states unequivocally that:

For most Americans, the period ahead will be a time to scrimp and scrape and shy away from a natural sense of optimism that says tomorrow will be better than today. Instead of looking for handouts and loans, people will increasingly have to draw upon their own creative inner spirit to satisfy whatever needs they might have and uncover alternatives to spending money, without necessarily expending a great deal of valuable time and energy in the process. (179)

Gee, do I hear Panzner saying what I have been saying for years– that we must “kill hope an enliven options“? Yes, indeed I do, and I also hear in his chapter on Relationships, that brains, wit, physical fitness, and the best laid plans of mice and men without human connection and skills that enable people to sustain it, will come to nought.

I look forward to Panzner’s next book and trust that it will hit harder than Financial Armageddon. Nevertheless, I enthusiastically recommend this book as well as the Financial Armageddon website.

In summary, the joyride is over, and if you are reading these words, you are probably one of the few people in America or in the world who really understands what that means.

 

When Collapse Is No Longer Science Fiction: Choosing Hospice Work Instead Of Hope

August 8, 2007

Within the past month, America has witnessed two dramatic events which have illumined the devastating demise of its infrastructure-the New York City steam explosion in mid-July and the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis, on August 1. And in the same span of one month, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court “collapses” with a seizure. Now, in neon lights, we have the word “collapse” writ large across empire even as the overwhelming majority of Americans refuse to face the collapse of every institution in the nation: the economy, healthcare, education, religion, transportation, energy, political systems, and so much more. In fact, the word “collapse” is now being used in American journalism with increasing frequency to describe the ubiquitous crumbling of nearly all facets of our society. Yet as most progressives with the exception of Oprah, along with middle America, avoid talking about the ghastly plot of the recent novel “The Road” or steer clear of discussing information such as that contained in the documentary “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire“, they have only to turn on CNN and see that collapse is no longer something imagined by Stephen King or wild-eyed, doom-and-gloom “conspiracy theorists”. Collapse is here, it’s now, and it’s going to exacerbate, and Minneapolis is a metaphor as well as another gruesome literal example of civilization’s grotesque self-annihilation.

One of my favorite characters in ancient history is Socrates, the Greek philosopher whom that society could not tolerate and who courageously drank the poisonous hemlock rather than compromise his convictions. Socrates drove his countrymen to distraction with questions-in fact he rarely provided answers and instead engaged listeners in inveterate interrogation. It was through those questions, he insisted, that people actually learn-that their eyes open and light breaks into sealed and darkened places. Although he was popular for a time, Socrates never sought to create a mass movement. He appeared on the scene at a pivotal time in Greek history but had no illusions about inciting mass consciousness. If his listeners heeded his message, he was content; if they didn’t, he was also content. He almost never offered “solutions” but perpetually needled his listeners with provocative questions. In other words, he refused to tell people how to help themselves but rather challenged them to go within themselves and critically think about how the solutions lay within each individual.

Not surprisingly, many individuals who label themselves progressive and read my website and books tell me that I should be doing more to spread the word and inspire mass consciousness. I’m not unlike some of my colleagues who also receive the same lament: “You should find ways to spread your message far and wide. If you don’t, you’re just preaching to the choir.” When I respond that I don’t give a rat’s ass about mass consciousness, these folks are aghast, shake their heads, and comfort themselves by reading Michael Moore’s website. Now there’s someone who’s inciting mass consciousness! Or is he? The big question is: Where does so-called mass consciousness go-if anywhere? Has anything in the past seven years in America significantly changed because of “mass consciousness”? What could be a better example of this fallacy than public opinion about the Iraq War? The reality is that the ruling elite have become even more intransigent in spite of mass opposition to the war and have cunningly and very successfully shredded the Constitution and our civil liberties in order to render any meaningful protest virtually impossible. In a fascist empire-and yes Virginia, we are living in one-mass consciousness is about as effectual in the face of tyranny as meditating on Goldilocks and the three bears.

I repeat: I’m not worried about preaching to the choir because there is no choir. Furthermore, individuals are either awake, in a process of awakening, or comatose and unwilling to wake up. My work is directed toward the first two groups.

Therefore, in sympathy with Socrates, my role as I see it, is to ask the right questions-evoke discomfort among the comfortable, announce the elephant in the room to everyone’s embarrassment including mine, and connect the dots to see what shapes appear. My audience is not the neocons but people who call themselves progressive and libertarian. So why can’t I just tell them what they want to hear and make them happy?

Well, because I care little about mass movements and mass consciousness which are manifestations of the capitalist, consumeristic paradigm of narcissistic privilege and entitlement. It is a theme touted by people who are still running around manically and frantically driven by the soporific of hope and who are sometimes frequent fliers to conferences on energy conservation, technofixes and global warming in search of solutions that will require no changes whatsoever in their lifestyles. Just get your new idea into mass media-get Susan Sarandon or Leonardo DiCaprio to endorse your gig, and everything will change-except the nuts and bolts of the paradigm that created Western civilization.
A plethora of ideas abound about where civilization is headed and how we arrived at where we are. My ideas are generally rejected as “conspiratorial”, “angry”, and “depressing” by the so-called “choir” that people assume agrees with me. Yet I empathize with those individuals and their perceptions of me. Who would prefer embracing the notion that the world as we have known it is ending and that humans are likely to annihilate every life form on earth within the course of the twenty-first century and perhaps within the next decade or two? As a corporately-owned presidential candidate whose message is “The Audacity Of Hope” dazzles the progressive community with possibilities that do not exist, why would anyone choose to go down the opposite road into the despair of a very dark and daunting future? Why would anyone want to turn over rocks, dive deeper into the sea of incontrovertible evidence of humanity’s and the planet’s demise, and risk being sucked under by the appalling vacuousness of all “solutions” thus far proposed? It’s enough to send one screaming into the night-unless one has totally rejected the dominant paradigm.

And then there are those like Thomas Homer-Dixon in The Upside Of Down who insist that:

The good news — and there is some — is that the collapse doesn’t need to be total and catastrophic. We needn’t follow Rome into the dustbin. Rather, once the crisis is recognized, a new cycle can begin, if we’re willing to go back to the drawing board. The Fire of 1906 led to a better, more resilient banking system in the U.S. — not to mention better fire protection in San Francisco! — and the Great Depression led to a more resilient economy in the U.S. The problems of the 21st century can be faced in one of two ways: we can keep trying to add complexity until the world is one giant, possibly horribly Orwellian, system of command and control (and still too brittle to cope with the problems of the 22nd century!), or we can recognize the crisis for what it is and start from scratch.

What planet is Homer-Dixon living on? Certainly not this one. When more than 90% of Americans are clueless about collapse even in the face of global warming, a plummeting Dow, their own catastrophic financial plight, and the gargantuan loss of their civil liberties-when the majority of passengers on the Titanic have no idea that it’s sinking, how can any rational human being expect that they will “recognize the crisis for what it is and start from scratch”?

So now we enter new territory because the moment I demand confronting one’s hopelessness, I am also inviting us into deeper layers of the psyche which is the Greek word for soul. At that point we are under the radar of theories, facts, and even paradigms. We are brushing against our deepest terror, our most excruciating grief, and our billowing, frothing, fulminating rage. Suddenly, we are confronting our human limits, and in fact, our very own death. Yet until we can affirm that the planet is in a death struggle both literally and metaphorically, and until we can adopt the attitude that we are doing nothing less than inhabiting our days and hours in a funeral procession, we will kick and scream for hopeful solutions.

But the question remains, why would anyone choose to do this? Certainly not because they want to but only because it is the truest truth and because by owning the truth and all of its agonizing emotions, we empower ourselves beyond our wildest dreams. All of the energy required for our denial, positive thinking, making nice, appearing rational and therefore behaving like good little Stepford Citizens of empire, is now freed up to, as Andre Gide said,  “let go of the shore” and swim into new waters of falling in love with the earth all over again-or perhaps for the first time, preparing ourselves for collapse, and doing so with the community and support of other earthlings who have let go of the shore and are swimming or sailing in lifeboats with us. Suddenly, options appear that could not have otherwise penetrated our addiction to optimism. Every moment, every plant, tree, animal, bite of food, drink of clean water-every star-filled night, every soaking rain, every sunset becomes precious because we have it now, and someday we won’t.

This is conscious preparation for death, and I and all those who are willing to embrace the reality of collapse are hospice workers for ourselves and the world. There isn’t much time left, and every moment is a gift to be savored, smelled, tasted, touched, and caressed. Why then would I worry about preaching to the choir? There is no choir– only those who are passionately committed to truth-telling and those who aren’t.

Someone has said that death is a place in the middle between birth and rebirth. In terms of literal death in this lifetime, we only experience it once, and whether it is our own death or the death of planet earth, it is as sacred as the moment of our birth. It is everyone’s right and privilege to defend against death and in so doing, opt for disempowerment. But I choose to continue savoring the empowerment that I have personally experienced in opening to utter hopelessness, and I’d like it very much if you would join me. Together we can let go of the shore and discover our deepest layers of humanity in life or in death.

When Collapse Is No Longer Science Fiction: Choosing Hospice Work Instead Of Hope

August 8, 2007

Within the past month, America has witnessed two dramatic events which have illumined the devastating demise of its infrastructure-the New York City steam explosion in mid-July and the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis, on August 1. And in the same span of one month, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court “collapses” with a seizure. Now, in neon lights, we have the word “collapse” writ large across empire even as the overwhelming majority of Americans refuse to face the collapse of every institution in the nation: the economy, healthcare, education, religion, transportation, energy, political systems, and so much more. In fact, the word “collapse” is now being used in American journalism with increasing frequency to describe the ubiquitous crumbling of nearly all facets of our society. Yet as most progressives with the exception of Oprah, along with middle America, avoid talking about the ghastly plot of the recent novel “The Road” or steer clear of discussing information such as that contained in the documentary “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire“, they have only to turn on CNN and see that collapse is no longer something imagined by Stephen King or wild-eyed, doom-and-gloom “conspiracy theorists”. Collapse is here, it’s now, and it’s going to exacerbate, and Minneapolis is a metaphor as well as another gruesome literal example of civilization’s grotesque self-annihilation.

One of my favorite characters in ancient history is Socrates, the Greek philosopher whom that society could not tolerate and who courageously drank the poisonous hemlock rather than compromise his convictions. Socrates drove his countrymen to distraction with questions-in fact he rarely provided answers and instead engaged listeners in inveterate interrogation. It was through those questions, he insisted, that people actually learn-that their eyes open and light breaks into sealed and darkened places. Although he was popular for a time, Socrates never sought to create a mass movement. He appeared on the scene at a pivotal time in Greek history but had no illusions about inciting mass consciousness. If his listeners heeded his message, he was content; if they didn’t, he was also content. He almost never offered “solutions” but perpetually needled his listeners with provocative questions. In other words, he refused to tell people how to help themselves but rather challenged them to go within themselves and critically think about how the solutions lay within each individual.

Not surprisingly, many individuals who label themselves progressive and read my website and books tell me that I should be doing more to spread the word and inspire mass consciousness. I’m not unlike some of my colleagues who also receive the same lament: “You should find ways to spread your message far and wide. If you don’t, you’re just preaching to the choir.” When I respond that I don’t give a rat’s ass about mass consciousness, these folks are aghast, shake their heads, and comfort themselves by reading Michael Moore’s website. Now there’s someone who’s inciting mass consciousness! Or is he? The big question is: Where does so-called mass consciousness go-if anywhere? Has anything in the past seven years in America significantly changed because of “mass consciousness”? What could be a better example of this fallacy than public opinion about the Iraq War? The reality is that the ruling elite have become even more intransigent in spite of mass opposition to the war and have cunningly and very successfully shredded the Constitution and our civil liberties in order to render any meaningful protest virtually impossible. In a fascist empire-and yes Virginia, we are living in one-mass consciousness is about as effectual in the face of tyranny as meditating on Goldilocks and the three bears.

I repeat: I’m not worried about preaching to the choir because there is no choir. Furthermore, individuals are either awake, in a process of awakening, or comatose and unwilling to wake up. My work is directed toward the first two groups.

Therefore, in sympathy with Socrates, my role as I see it, is to ask the right questions-evoke discomfort among the comfortable, announce the elephant in the room to everyone’s embarrassment including mine, and connect the dots to see what shapes appear. My audience is not the neocons but people who call themselves progressive and libertarian. So why can’t I just tell them what they want to hear and make them happy?

Well, because I care little about mass movements and mass consciousness which are manifestations of the capitalist, consumeristic paradigm of narcissistic privilege and entitlement. It is a theme touted by people who are still running around manically and frantically driven by the soporific of hope and who are sometimes frequent fliers to conferences on energy conservation, technofixes and global warming in search of solutions that will require no changes whatsoever in their lifestyles. Just get your new idea into mass media-get Susan Sarandon or Leonardo DiCaprio to endorse your gig, and everything will change-except the nuts and bolts of the paradigm that created Western civilization.
A plethora of ideas abound about where civilization is headed and how we arrived at where we are. My ideas are generally rejected as “conspiratorial”, “angry”, and “depressing” by the so-called “choir” that people assume agrees with me. Yet I empathize with those individuals and their perceptions of me. Who would prefer embracing the notion that the world as we have known it is ending and that humans are likely to annihilate every life form on earth within the course of the twenty-first century and perhaps within the next decade or two? As a corporately-owned presidential candidate whose message is “The Audacity Of Hope” dazzles the progressive community with possibilities that do not exist, why would anyone choose to go down the opposite road into the despair of a very dark and daunting future? Why would anyone want to turn over rocks, dive deeper into the sea of incontrovertible evidence of humanity’s and the planet’s demise, and risk being sucked under by the appalling vacuousness of all “solutions” thus far proposed? It’s enough to send one screaming into the night-unless one has totally rejected the dominant paradigm.

And then there are those like Thomas Homer-Dixon in The Upside Of Down who insist that:

The good news — and there is some — is that the collapse doesn’t need to be total and catastrophic. We needn’t follow Rome into the dustbin. Rather, once the crisis is recognized, a new cycle can begin, if we’re willing to go back to the drawing board. The Fire of 1906 led to a better, more resilient banking system in the U.S. — not to mention better fire protection in San Francisco! — and the Great Depression led to a more resilient economy in the U.S. The problems of the 21st century can be faced in one of two ways: we can keep trying to add complexity until the world is one giant, possibly horribly Orwellian, system of command and control (and still too brittle to cope with the problems of the 22nd century!), or we can recognize the crisis for what it is and start from scratch.

What planet is Homer-Dixon living on? Certainly not this one. When more than 90% of Americans are clueless about collapse even in the face of global warming, a plummeting Dow, their own catastrophic financial plight, and the gargantuan loss of their civil liberties-when the majority of passengers on the Titanic have no idea that it’s sinking, how can any rational human being expect that they will “recognize the crisis for what it is and start from scratch”?

So now we enter new territory because the moment I demand confronting one’s hopelessness, I am also inviting us into deeper layers of the psyche which is the Greek word for soul. At that point we are under the radar of theories, facts, and even paradigms. We are brushing against our deepest terror, our most excruciating grief, and our billowing, frothing, fulminating rage. Suddenly, we are confronting our human limits, and in fact, our very own death. Yet until we can affirm that the planet is in a death struggle both literally and metaphorically, and until we can adopt the attitude that we are doing nothing less than inhabiting our days and hours in a funeral procession, we will kick and scream for hopeful solutions.

But the question remains, why would anyone choose to do this? Certainly not because they want to but only because it is the truest truth and because by owning the truth and all of its agonizing emotions, we empower ourselves beyond our wildest dreams. All of the energy required for our denial, positive thinking, making nice, appearing rational and therefore behaving like good little Stepford Citizens of empire, is now freed up to, as Andre Gide said,  “let go of the shore” and swim into new waters of falling in love with the earth all over again-or perhaps for the first time, preparing ourselves for collapse, and doing so with the community and support of other earthlings who have let go of the shore and are swimming or sailing in lifeboats with us. Suddenly, options appear that could not have otherwise penetrated our addiction to optimism. Every moment, every plant, tree, animal, bite of food, drink of clean water-every star-filled night, every soaking rain, every sunset becomes precious because we have it now, and someday we won’t.

This is conscious preparation for death, and I and all those who are willing to embrace the reality of collapse are hospice workers for ourselves and the world. There isn’t much time left, and every moment is a gift to be savored, smelled, tasted, touched, and caressed. Why then would I worry about preaching to the choir? There is no choir– only those who are passionately committed to truth-telling and those who aren’t.

Someone has said that death is a place in the middle between birth and rebirth. In terms of literal death in this lifetime, we only experience it once, and whether it is our own death or the death of planet earth, it is as sacred as the moment of our birth. It is everyone’s right and privilege to defend against death and in so doing, opt for disempowerment. But I choose to continue savoring the empowerment that I have personally experienced in opening to utter hopelessness, and I’d like it very much if you would join me. Together we can let go of the shore and discover our deepest layers of humanity in life or in death.