Goodbye To Normalcy

November 3, 2010 – Some have called 2010 the year of the ant and the grasshopper. The ants among us are busy preparing for the future.

By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond

I’ve been rather quiet of late. One might think that by being funemployed I’d have plenty of time to write, but the truth is that I’m busy from morning to night. Don’t ask me what I do with all that time, but trust me, it must be worthwhile.

What’s “Normal”?

I consider myself exceedingly fortunate to have grown up during what I regard as America’s heyday, the peak of its power, prestige and affluence, which I consider to be the years leading up to the mid-1970s. I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that the tallest skyscrapers in the U.S. were built before the mid-1970s, or that the peak of domestic oil production and the final severing of the link between the U.S. dollar and gold occurred almost simultaneously around 1971, and I believe the latter two events, in particular, marked the peak of U.S. prosperity, from which it’s been downhill ever since. (Interestingly enough, according to some oil geologists, the peak of global oil production occurred during the 2005-2010 time frame, and now we’re witnessing what appears to be a peaking of global prosperity.)

“Normal” to a lad growing up between 1960 and 1975 was a family headed by a stay-at-home mom and a father who worked a nine-to-five job, the salary from which was sufficient to raise a bunch of kids and buy a house and a couple of cars. My family wasn’t wealthy by any means. We saved up money for purchases and economized at every turn and I always considered us to be lower middle class, for many of my classmates’ families were distinctly upper middle class, if not wealthy. While many of my classmates were able to indulge in extracurricular excursions which required the payment of fees, I usually had to forgo such extravagances. Nevertheless, it was a blissfully happy time for me, as well as my peers. My family was not anomalous either, for most of the families in my neighborhood shared the same standard of living. You could knock on the door of any house in the neighborhood during the day and someone’s mom would answer the door. On weekends, fathers would take their kids on outings or perform maintenance on the family car. Honestly, TV shows like Leave It To Beaver and The Brady Bunch never struck me as very far removed from my own reality.

Certainly there was ugliness during that time – high-profile assassinations, deadly political protests and, of course, the Vietnam War – but except for the omnipresent, yet largely hypothetical threat embodied in the Cold War, the rest were by in large shocking, anomalous events marring an otherwise happy era. Contrast that with the banality of today’s eternal, expanding hot wars, politically untouchable genocide, psychopathic “leadership” and pervasive corruption dwarfing anything in human history.

I will confess that there was a single black cloud perpetually hanging over me when I was a kid, and that was the Vietnam War. My earliest memories include footage from the war, which was broadcast nightly on the television. By age ten, my gravest fear was reaching draft age because to my simple, young mind that meant an automatic ticket to Vietnam. Since the war had been raging half my life by then, I had no reason to believe that it would ever end, or that the draft would end. By age fifteen, when the war officially ended, it had been raging for two-thirds of my life. Had the war and draft continued for just three more years, my grave childhood fear might have been realized.

Despite the Cold War, the Vietnam War and a few acute crises, such as the oil embargo, it was still a happy, prosperous time. The prospects for the country and its people were still bright, people were in a good mood, music and television shows were cheerful, the country was still diverse and interesting, small businesses dominated the landscape and government was still somewhat humble. By 1975 the consequences of peak domestic oil and the severing of the dollar-gold link had not yet begun to be felt, although less than five years later those consequences, along with those stemming from the Vietnam War did begin to manifest themselves, primarily in the guise of the dreaded “double-digit inflation,” a time I recall vividly.

Entrusting the double-digit inflation problem to my parents, I spent my time playing with friends, going to the beach or hiking in the nearby canyons. Although I hated school, even school was much better then than today. At least then the teachers were actually well educated, competent and genuinely cared whether or not the students learned something. It was also well within the realm of acceptability for a teacher to treat a student as their own, even to the extent of administering punishment to the student. To this day I recall our math teacher, incensed by the theretofore unprecedented crime of graffiti on the walls of our school, pointing out the misspelled word scrawled by the graffiti artist, who wrote “PENITENTUARY” on the walls of the school’s new addition. The teacher was more upset by the misspelling than the graffiti itself. That a math teacher – he was an excellent math teacher, by the way – would recognize such a spelling error is all the more astonishing today.

Truth be told, the new school addition, comprised of windowless, sterile, bureaucratically-dictated boxes was a violent architectural affront to the rest of the school, what with its 1920s, warm, Spanish styling. The epithet scrawled so inelegantly and incorrectly by the graffiti artist was not wholly misplaced and was, in a way, prescient. The warning conveyed by the misspelled word foretold the future utility of schools for inuring children to the emerging police state, while the misspelling itself anticipated the declining standards of the school system.

One thing we – that is, we in the middle class – never had to worry about was a shortage of anything. Food, water, energy resources, land, health care, everything was abundant. What’s more, we – our country – produced everything we consumed. Imported goods were rare, exotic, showy and primarily the trappings of wealthy folks, much like air travel was. The rest of us vacationed by station wagon and bought domestically made goods, which while not as inexpensive as today’s “Made In China” counterparts, were made to last, and the slightly higher prices afforded a decent standard of living for the Americans who made the goods. Moreover, people simply didn’t “consume” as much back then. Houses were purchased not as investments, but with the intention of living in them indefinitely, perhaps forever; automobiles were purchased, not leased, and kept for ten years or more; a house typically had a single television that people kept for as long as twenty years; people often didn’t buy new items, but refurbished used items, a practice I was forced by necessity to embrace back than and which I’ve returned to with pleasure in the last few years. With a lower rate of consumption, people could afford to pay higher prices for goods, which benefited the people making the goods, especially in a day and age with a much lower income disparity than today. Back then the income of a typical corporate executive was “only” thirty times that of an average employee; today the ratio is four- or five-hundred times!

The New Normal

Since the peak of U.S. prosperity in the mid-1970s, we’ve managed to live beyond our means through a variety of tricks, starting with merger mania in the 1980s, which extracted previously accumulated wealth from our business infrastructure; various sequential bubbles, the most recent of which to burst being the late housing bubble; and money printing, “sterilized” and disguised, but not entirely concealed from astute observers. Because these tricks have largely run their course and because we’ve failed to restore our means to generate new wealth – quite the opposite; in the quest for quick profits, the exportation of our industrial base and the jobs that go with it has accelerated, especially during the current “great recession”! – we have now reached the breaking point for our economy. People are working desperately, feverishly behind the scenes to plug each new hole that erupts in the economy, but they are running out of fingers with which to plug the holes.

Because we’ve reached the “end of the line,” so to speak, of the good life, the following have become the new normal: permanent unemployment for millions; half the population supported by the other half, the beneficiaries buoyed by a sense of entitlement, the unwilling “donors” steaming with deepening resentment; serial economic crises; interminable wars for resources (as long as the rest of the world continues funding our military); increasingly brazen totalitarianism (which, ironically, the masses will probably clamor for as a solution to the coming chaos); vicious intolerance of other cultures and unpopular opinions, reinforced by willful ignorance; an abysmally uneducated populace incapable of thinking for itself, devoid of critical thinking skills and easily manipulated with inane soundbites and by stoking irrational fears (of laser printer toner cartridges, for instance).

Going forward, things are only going to get worse: increasingly frequent, periodic shortages of vital resources, including water, food and energy, to be followed by the rationing of the said resources; harsher treatment of the “civilians” by the totalitarian, fascist government (or should I call it “govcorp”?); more wars (the U.S. is already single-handedly waging world war against three countries, while contemplating attacking Iran and Yemen, egged on by the corporate, mainstream media); more financial chaos, probably resulting in totalitarian responses, such as limits on withdrawals from bank accounts, control over private retirement funds, capital controls and total government surveillance of all transactions, no matter how small (the “health care reform” bill contains a measure along those lines); a much more rapidly declining standard of living for all but the rich and those willing to sell their soul to the fascist system (it’s literally going to become a struggle for survival for many); increased crime accompanied by a decrease in “protection” from the state (already I’m reading news stories about people committing crimes for food, counterbalanced by stories about police departments not responding to “petty” crimes, such as automobile theft). The “good” people are going to be besieged from both sides: from a growing and increasingly hostile and brazen criminal class on the one, and an increasingly tyrannical government on the other. I have long envisioned a future featuring roving gangs that terrorize the “good” citizens and extract tribute from them, the only difference between the gangs being that some will be wearing badges. If such a scenario comes to pass, it will probably compel the citizens to form their own neighborhood gangs for self defense. It could be an “interesting” future, in a Road Warrior sort of way.

The only way we can avoid the horror show outlined above is to restore our ability to generate real wealth, which means restoring our manufacturing and agricultural bases and becoming producers once again instead of just consumers. Unfortunately, aside from a dearth of political will for such a solution – after all, such a solution is not in the fiscal interests of the elites responsible for our predicament today – it took decades to dismantle and export our productive capacity, so presumably it would take at least as long to restore it, far too long for a nation on the verge of desperation, let alone one that suffers from collective attention deficit disorder.

What Can Be Done?

Expecting govcorp to repair the problems it has created is wishful thinking, even if we do indulge in the infantile, meaningless, feel-good ritual of “throwing the bums out” every few years, sending them back through the revolving door to their erstwhile and future corporate jobs. I’ve got some sad news for people who think that voting matters (I have not voted for the last two decades): it doesn’t matter who is elected to office; what matters is the people funding their political campaigns, and those people remain “in office” regardless of who is elected figurehead for a few years. Besides, the vast majority of people who run for office do so for “numero uno.” They are avaricious psychopaths who couldn’t care less about the nation or its people, but only about what they can grab for themselves. The poor, naive voters have evidently failed to notice that the majority of politicians are lawyers and/or multimillionaires. People should ask themselves why someone would spend a hundred-million dollars of their own money to get elected to an office that pays the equivalent of pocket lint in comparison. Perhaps the extravagant campaign expenditure is merely an investment in connections and insider access that will eventually pay returns many times the size of the investment.

All the “little people” can do in this environment is look after themselves (govcorp certainly isn’t going to look after them), try to stay out of harm’s way and pray that “this sucker goes down,” for the only way we’re ever going to be “free” again is if govcorp collapses under its own weight, which it shows signs of doing. Unfortunately, it could take decades more before govcorp finally keels over and dies.

Such has been my way of thinking and living since 2003, when I went into “survival mode.” Given my perceptive nature, which often causes me to act prematurely, I figured the housing bubble would pop by 2004 and bring down the economy shortly thereafter, but I was premature by a few years on both counts. I’m now in my second round of survival preparations, the first having been erased by the liquidation of my previous existence in a never-realized plan to leave the country for a better locale. I reluctantly decided that I’m too damned tired to go somewhere else and besides, many places are worse off than here, perhaps not quite yet, but give it a few years. Besides, I’m the kind of person who feels safer in the belly of the beast.

Despite “starting over,” I’m still better prepared than 90% of people, for whom ignorance is bliss. Many a time I have wished I could bury my head in the sand and have faith that everything will be okay, but as troubling as the truth often is, I’d rather know the truth than not. I’d rather see my future coming than have it hit me upside the head by surprise, even if being informed does earn me the nickname of “Mr. Negative.” Ironically, my knowledge, foresight and preparations may not necessarily improve my chances for survival, partly because I don’t have a strong will to survive, especially if life as we’ve known it – as I’ve known it – is replaced by hell on earth, and partly because people who tend to live hand-to-mouth often do have a strong will to survive and the cunning to pull it off. I’ve oft been amazed by people who go through life wholly unprepared, with nary a plan for the future, and yet manage, by hook or by crook, to eek out an existence.

If life becomes too unpleasant, rather than put up a struggle, I think I’m more likely to simply hike up into the mountains or take a boat out to sea, find a quiet place and put a bullet through my head. (The thought of being fish food or wolf food is much more appealing to me than forever occupying a patch of earth.) I’ve always favored quality over quantity, and the same holds for my own existence. I’ve lived a rich and enjoyable life and have little desire to perpetuate my existence for its own sake, although I hope I don’t have to reckon with this dilemma anytime soon…

For the time being, life is still very pleasant, at least for me, and so I go on making modest preparations, but with the gnawing subconscious sense that “this is it.” I urged people to man the lifeboats a couple of years ago, while things were still stable. After all, the time to man the lifeboats is before the ship is underwater, along with the lifeboats. From where I sit, it looks as though the stern of the ship that is our country is about to follow the bow beneath the waves. The more I prepare, addressing each new contingency that comes to mind, the more I realize how difficult life could become should the financial, energy and food infrastructures collapse, all of which are looking increasingly likely, especially given the fragile, domino-like structure of our economy.

The ice storm I experienced in 2009 was a little taste of the “austerity” rushing towards us, imposed today not by mother nature, but by greedy humans seeking to maintain their own regal lifestyles at the expense of everyone and everything else. Frankly, not even I am fully prepared for a lifestyle of austerity, and yet the powers that be are doing everything they can to prevent us from being prepared, with heinous instruments such as S 510, which effectively criminalizes backyard food production for the sake of corporate profits. Why do people continue to think in terms of the false dichotomies of right and left, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, gay or straight, Christian or Muslim? When will the people wake up and recognize that the true division is between the elites and the masses, and that government and its lauded “troops” work for the elites?

Nevertheless, my will to survive still limping along, yesterday I bought a kerosene heater and fuel to supply emergency heat for a few days should all else fail. Fortunately, my small house seems easy to heat. As I sit here this morning, looking at the frosty, white rooftops around me, I’m thinking about buying an electric generator to go along with my kerosene heater, if only to keep the refrigerator operating for a few days.

Among the preparations people ought to be entertaining right now, food storage is perhaps the most pressing. By all accounts, food prices are set to explode and I expect to see actual food shortages in the not too distant future. In any event, food price inflation continues apace, as it has for years. It seems like every time I go to the store the price of at least one item is 10-20% higher than it was on my previous visit, or the package size is reduced, as if they’re fooling anyone. I have two cans of tuna on my shelf, a six ounce can, which was the standard size for many years, and beside it a five ounce can, the standard size nowadays. That represents a 17% reduction in size, but the price is still higher. Or consider a favorite breakfast cereal of mine. A couple of years ago the “family size” box contained twenty-five ounces of cereal, then it dropped to nineteen ounces and now it’s eighteen ounces, 28% less, yet the price is slightly higher. I might be tempted to conclude that families are 28% smaller today than a couple of years ago, were it not for my knowledge that 85% of college students are moving back in with their parents after college because they are burdened by debt and cannot find a job.

When I started college back in the late 1970s, tuition at a first class university cost about $1,500 per year and student loans did not exist. Some good students – those unlike me – got scholarships, but everyone else paid their own way out of pocket. Since the invention of student loans, the cost of college has skyrocketed, not unlike what happened to the cost of houses during the late debt-fueled housing bubble. Our economy, once based on real wealth production, has substituted debt for money in order to keep the party going, much to the delight of the lending bankers. It’s time for people to give serious consideration to shunning all debt, which will not only help restore a sound ethic to the concept of money, but will help kill the beast more speedily, for it feeds on money, especially the interest incurred by debt.

The Future May Not Be Totally Bleak

I overheard something encouraging the other day while browsing around a gun shop. Actually, I lingered in the store much longer than I otherwise would have in order to eavesdrop on this pair of old gents who were having a conversation in a quiet corner of the store. Frankly, I don’t know what they were doing in the store to begin with, because they weren’t shopping for guns. It seemed as if they were using the gun shop as a comfortable place in which to hang out and talk. Anyway, this one guy, who was in his sixties was regaling his buddy on the evils of the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Government “Corporation” and admiralty law. Quite honestly, he seemed to know a hell of a lot more about all that stuff than me. His buddy, who was perhaps in his seventies, was wide-eyed with interest and amazement, as if being shown for the first time the gnarly little man behind the curtain, pretending to be a wizard. It was heartening to know that there are attentive, knowledgeable people here in “backward” Kentucky, not to mention the awe of witnessing a formerly happily ignorant individual being shaken out of his comfort zone.

The guy speaking wasn’t some kind of radical either, but looked like a regular guy – a farmer, perhaps – interested in preserving his individual liberty. Judging from the tone of the conversation I overheard, I’d say he was a lot like me, interested in freedom for himself and others, unconcerned with what other people do with their freedom as long as they don’t tread on his rights.

Standing there, listening to the teacher instruct his pupil, I couldn’t help thinking that it must have been people like these that participated in the American Revolution all those years ago, people fed up with government tyranny, people willing to expend the effort to learn the truth for themselves instead of absorbing the mainstream propaganda, and yes, people who eventually felt pushed, reluctantly, to take up arms (this conversation took place in a gun shop, after all). I only wish some of the intelligent, “learned” people I know, people proud to admit that they don’t pay attention to the news because it’s too troubling, were as informed as this gentleman. Is there anywhere else in the world where people are as proud of their ignorance as in America?

How many people like this fellow exist in the U.S. today? I have no idea. However, a lot of the people around here seem to unassumingly share his attitude. Unfortunately, this degree of enlightenment seems to be found mostly in rural areas, oddly enough. Urbanites seem markedly less informed and attentive and they outnumber rural people by an order of magnitude. It seems as if rural living compels and allows people to better think for themselves, while urban living promotes statism, authoritarianism and politically correct thinking, not to mention that it’s far easier to pollute the water supplies of cities with fluoride, which I believe is intended to render the populace complacent and docile. I scoff at the many blog comments I read alluding to a coming rebellion by the people. I seriously doubt that’s going to happen, for the reasons cited above. If anything, what I expect is that the people who live in cities will submit indefinitely to the will of an increasingly tyrannical government (until it implodes), while people in rural areas will gradually set up their own ad hoc governments, based on individual liberty and “old fashioned” moral values. Perhaps another key difference between urbanites and ruralites is religion, the former being less devoted to it than the latter. Although I’m not the least bit religious – OK, I’ll admit it, I’m an atheist – I heartily encourage people to partake of religion if it reinforces their moral values.

Conclusion

What we’re facing in this country, if not the world is truly unprecedented. I get the sense that people are remaining calm for the time being in the hope that the economy will miraculously cure itself, and I wonder how they will react when their dream fails to materialize. Will they lose all hope, all respect for law and order and social graces and resort to any and all means to survive, or will they curl up and die? I see stories of people patiently searching for years for a job and wonder at what point will they give up and how they will behave after they do give up. It seems to me that our entire society is playing a waiting game...

The End