Thursday, April 23, 2009

my two-cents on economic apocalypse

first of all, let me remind the class that the word 'apocalypse' is from the greek word that translates to "lifting of the veil" or "revelation." as we've come to use the term today, it also means the mother of all conflicts, discord, the ultimate battle between good and evil, god and the devil, etc. etc. let me, therefore, try and marry the two, and say that we are indeed in a sort of econimic apocalypse; the tumultuous meltdown that is occuring, and the revelation which will occur when it is all over.

the cause of the current apocalyspe is three-fold:

1. this nation is hindered by its refusal to let go of the ‘fearless pioneer,’ ‘john wayne cowboy,’ ‘self-made-man’ image which began with the founding fathers and flourished under the government-sanctioned ‘manifest destiny’ movement: the idea that anyone can come from nothing and rise to greater-than-great success, and that it is our god-given right (nay, *duty*) to push farther and possess more (land, cattle, whatever.)

2. this nation was founded on, and continues to be driven by, commercialism. the founding fathers were *all* businessmen who, in the interest of profit, wanted to eliminate british restrictions. the boston tea party wasn’t about freedom, it was about taxes and the desire not to pay them (hence, retaining more money for oneself and/or one’s business.) i realize that’s a pretty cold way to look at history, but there you are.

3. this society rewards the sociopath (or psychopath, or the more politically-correct ‘antisocial personality disorder-affected individual’.) those people who can rise to ‘riches, fame and glory’ above and beyond the norm are given celebrity status, news media buzz, and almost god-like reverence. the problem is how these people get to their positions. for some pretty good details of a sociopath, check these sites: - OR -

once upon a time, in pre-wwII america, success meant having a home of one’s own, a good job with benefits, food on the table, and a car. that was ‘enough.’ but if people are satisfied with ‘enough,’ then companies who rely on a steady stream of production to make a profit will suffer (if people are satisfied with what they have, they will be less likely to consume more.) so the only way for corporations to insure they have a constant demand for their supply (and hence, constant income) is to convince the consumer that what he has isn’t enough or as good as what he *could* have (hence the infamous ‘ad-men’ of the 50’s.) additionally, not only is the consumer convinced that he should buy more, but that if he doesn’t have the money to buy it, he can buy it on credit (even if he can’t really afford to do so – hence the shady mortgage brokers and credit card companies of the 80’s and 90’s.) the only people who are going to make money this way are the cold-hearted, machiavellian individuals who will do whatever it takes to make the most.

i realize that i'm leaving out several factors, such as cheap goods flooding the import market, the unholy cost of healthcare (one cannot argue that if gm and chrysler didn't have to pay for their employees healthcare they'd save millions of dollars per year,) our 'disposable goods' mentality, etc. but i think this is what’s *really* at the foundation of the economy’s collapse: people convinced that they can have more, that they *should* have more, and corporations staffed by megalomaniacal sociopaths making it possible for those people to obtain more, even if they can’t sustain it.

the late freddie mac c.f.o. david kellerman may have been one of those sociopaths who suddenly found himself up an amazon-sized shit creek without a paddle, but i doubt it. i don’t know the guy from adam, and so i can only speculate on his motives (and that speculation is colored by my belief that all people are really decent at heart.) i think he was just a poor schmo that took over a money-grubbing corporation, guilty of the aforementioned crimes, that was bleeding profit like a gunshot victim, and who, himself, was living at the top of his means (check the house and the neighborhood he was living in…) he was susceptible to society’s insistence to consume more, just like the rest of us, and yet he saw firsthand the repercussions of this consumerism. he had to balance his company’s impending collapse and it’s pr with his family’s accustomed style of living. i cannot imagine the strain he was under. he undoubtedly felt that there was no way out, no light at the end of the tunnel.

so here's the moral of the story, kids: change sucks. facing reality, tightening the belt, shouldering responsibility, and paying the piper sucks. it's hard and it feels like the fires of hell. there will be casualties along the way, some regrettable and tragic, and some for the better. however, there is still hope. we are all learning (again) the lessons of gluttony and excess; we will, as a society, survive, and we may even be better humans for it.

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