Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Against Nature: Can Our Freedoms Survive Peak Oil?

Many observers in the Peak Oil community are baffled and disgusted by the angry denial of our dire fuel situation and its implications for our future, not only among the general public, but among our well-educated upper-middle class, including many prominent political leaders and intellectuals. The truculence of the general public is usually attributed to stupidity, ignorance, and "selfishness", and the unwillingness to make sacrifices to serve the "common good"; and the consensus among the aware is that we will have to become a more authoritarian and regimented society, perhaps even impose military law, in order to maintain civil order and assure the equitable distribution of remaining resources. "This country needs a good father," one commentator wrote, and commented approvingly on the regimentation and authoritarianism prevalent in the early 30s, remarking that we might have to impose these conditions again to make it through the hardship and upheaval of the massive shift that is upon us. Rationing is already under discussion, and various additional controls and government-imposed rules regulating use and distribution of resources, are also being discussed, some more seriously that others- and every single one, from the CAFE standards that the auto industry has resisted tooth and claw since their inception 30 years ago, to the government-mandated phase-out of incandescent light bulbs in favor of CFL bulbs and LEDs, is bitterly resented by the bulk of the citizenry, who feel the weight of over-reaching authority in every part of their lives.

That the authoritarianism of the environmentalist and peak oil believers, and their open contempt not only  for common 'merikuns' and their wasteful ways,but for the concept of rights and freedom, might be exactly what triggers denial on the part of so many people who ought to know better, doesn't seem to occur to the environmentalist pundits and policy makers.

It also doesn't enter the heads of the authoritarians that the trends of the past 60 years that have made this country the most wasteful consumer of resources in the world, notably the build out of suburbia, and the corresponding total dependence on autos and trucks by our population, owe not so much to "market forces" or to the democratization of auto and suburban home ownership, as to government policies created by people who thought they knew better than we do what is good for us.

And what our leaders thought was good for us in those days was government-subsidized home ownership, taxation policies that incentivized the formation of large families, and lavish incentives for auto ownership, notably  "free" highways to enable car ownership and facilitate the mass movement of the middle-income population out of the old cities to houses purchased with VA and FHA 3% down loans in new auto suburbs. Meanwhile, civic leaders across the country frantically cast about for ways to revitalize their rapidly emptying cities, and eagerly embraced the vision of urban planners and architects who wanted to demolish the unsightly slums around urban cores and warehouse the poor in high rise housing projects.

In short, it was our authoritarian welfare state that gave us the world's most wasteful and unsustainable built landscape next to Dubai, and is now shoveling the last of our wealth into sustaining and expanding it. This massive misinvestment is questioned by only a handful of our citizens, for our population was inducted by the corporatist nanny state into the passivity, consumerist ethos, and sense of entitlement that have made this country into a quagmire of towering debt and built an economy distorted by multiple layers of government subsidies and programs that reinforce the practices we need to discontinue, and disguise their true costs.

Therefore, we beg the question of just what a super-authoritarian, hyper-regimented Big Daddy regime can do for us that will produce any other outcome than further misallocation of resources in massively expensive boondoggles like the misbegotten high speed rail plan, multibillion dollar gifts to failing, obsolete industries like production home building in the far suburbs and our failing, obsolete domestic auto industry, and most of all, further intrusion into our private lives and restrictions on our personal and economic activities? Will erasing what few freedoms we have left to us and moving entire populations around like chessboard pieces according to the wisdom of a bunch of bureaucrats assure us of an orderly and peaceful transition to a lower energy regime and mollify the tens of millions of people whose expectations and hopes will be crushed but who will be expected to acquiesce to arbitrary authority in the most personal matters, with little or no explanation except for the usual crap about the "common good"?

Will the same government whose leaders have consistently lied to us for 50 years regarding the costs of the high-entropy economy its policies created and who, while knowing full well what the likely outcome would be, recklessly drove the creation of the worst financial debacle the world has ever seen, be able to lead us to any other end than the complete collapse of every system we depend upon for water, food, transportation, and every other necessity of life? And will these leaders be able to offer any other solution to the predicament of a country of 305 million people left with no resources, no means to make a living, and no way to procure food and housing and heat, but a military dictatorship with the complete cancellation of all our rights, vastly amplified state violence, and the death by mass slaughter or starvation of a substantial chunk of our population?

The coming difficult times of shortages, falling living standards, and failing systems will require all the fortitude, flexibility,skills and virtues individual citizens possess, in order to rebuild our communities into places that can sustain and shelter us and our civilized values. And the cornerstone civilized value is individual freedom, which is inseparable from personal responsibility.

Without the liberties, unprecedented in history, that we have secured at such a cost, we're headed straight back to the filth, brutality, and class tyrannies of the past, complete with the entire population enslaved in a neo-feudal society with draconian restrictions enforced by a brutal military.

And responsibility is the virtue that we have to painfully relearn, and in a large hurry, from the bottom of our society with its vast population of welfare entitlement junkies, prolific breeders, and criminal elements emboldened by our irrational justice system, through our middle classes with their passivity, complacence, sense of entitlement, and refusal to reckon costs and make necessary trade-offs, up to our financial elites that have been granted a license to steal trillions of dollars from the taxpayers, and have permitted to use their power to dictate legislation and policies that favor them, to turn this country into a low-wage cesspool, asset-strip the population by fraud and malfeasance, and sell our country to a nation ruled by a thug government ideologically opposed to the freedoms we have enjoyed and abused here.

After all, there is nothing "natural" about guaranteed personal liberty for every citizen regardless of class, color, ethnicity, or sex. The concepts of liberty and unalienable rights are the products of a highly evolved and literate civilization, which is also unnatural, a civilization with a high level of knowledge and technology, and with a broad and reasonably well-educated commonalty dedicated to preserving as much of it as possible, beginning with the philosophy that justified it and made it possible, that of freedom and rights and personal dignity. Without the will to preserve that, and the knowledge of its importance, we'll lose those values and everything that they made possible, including, most likely, our lives.


consultant said...

"..government policies created by people who thought they knew better than we do what is good for us.."


If there is anything big or bad about government, then it's because government has come to represent mostly the interests of big corporations and wealthy people. In fact, many of the top people running our government in recent decades have come from the highest echelons of the private sector. The two are mostly the same, and that's the problem.

Our form of government has worked best when it represents the "common" interests of our nation. It has fallen apart when the government is used to advance the extremely narrow interests of this or that industry or individual.

For roughly the last 35 years, we've been in one of the latter periods of governance and it has brought us to the ruin we now face.

We've been here before. But now everything is much bigger. Everything.

A culture steeped in narcissism, cynicism, corruption, hypocrisy and immaturity will have to pay for these failings. And we are.

We don't need a bigger or smaller government. We need government that looks after our common interests and is separated from the private and non-profit sectors.

Nudge said...

Laura ~ fantastic post. This is one of your best yet :)

That word “freedom” can have so many meanings, especially to the people living here in the US just now. To name but a few examples, it's the freedom of 13yo kids to have sex without their parents catching them, the freedom of Tea Party adherents to insist on keeping government out of their Medicare, the freedom to own a 2-tonne metal death machine and drive it whenever and wherever desired, the freedom to structure complex toxic asset bundles to sell to rubes and thus earn a 7-figure bonus, and more.

How much freedom belongs in an a hypertechnical age like this, when we all impact each other in so many different and very real ways, ways that were not even a glimmer in the mind's eye of the science fiction author at the time when our ancestors set up such basic social institutions as countries, governments, and the idea of civil society?

How many of the freedoms of the pre-hypertechnical age even fit into the here and now? While it was a clear extension of one's right to travel when the means progressed from walking to riding a horse to bicycling to driving a wagon to driving a car, did anyone along the path to the present stop to notice that the consequences arising from the last-named mode would include acres of vehicle idling in gridlocked traffic, spewing tons of carbon into the air, requiring vastly expensive acreages of asphalt to accommodate them all? (complete with Starbucks-OD'ing drivers getting angrier by the minute?) With that freedom-to-drive becoming so commonplace as to give rise to a strange arrangement in which people cannot get anywhere without driving a car, did anyone along the path to the present envision senior citizens mistaking one control pedal for the other, and mowing over dozens of other citizens or driving off the fourth floor of a parking garage?

How does a person traveling home from work transmogrify that right to the pursuit of happiness into the right to threaten the driver in front of them by fallowing ridiculously closely, all in order to get to the destination a few seconds earlier? How does the executive at Gollum Sacks, wanting to send his kids to a better school, transmogrify that fine parental love into something that crashes the economy and renders millions of fellow citizens homeless, jobless and hungry? How have we all misconstrued “freedom” to mean we can and should do whatever we want, whenever and wherever it may be, and that “it's all good” to operate that way?

Either our toys have outgrown our capacity to manage them, or we have culturally forgotten that running a civilization is a task that requires the full participation of all of its citizens (and not just the elites of the government) from when they can first talk until they die. And I'm betting it's the second one, since other civilizations have done far better at it for longer than we have.

/rant off

The North Coast said...

Defining freedom is one of the most important functions of philosophy, and our founders came up with the only definition that works, which is your freedom to make your own choices within your means and without violating anyone else's rights.

A "right" is something that can be taken from you only by force or by fraud, and we've trampled on each other's rights to make it possible for people to engage in the behaviors you named. We wouldn't for example, have millions of miles of roads clogged with cars idling in traffic and burning up irreplaceable resources, for example, were it not for the power of the "majority" to demand the construction of "free" highways that we all have to pay for through our taxes, and that no one can opt out of supporting. Same thing goes for the wars we fight to ensure the safety of our oil supply.

Same thing goes for the 'freedom' of our financiers to plunder the country to line their own pockets. They would not have had this particular 'freedom' were it not for the financial support and backup of the bulk of the taxpayers, it being always implicit, especially since the bailouts of the 80s and 90s, that they could always count on our authorities stepping in for them- a clear cut violation of the rights of the people who are forced to pay taxes for this crap.

A legitimate "right" or "freedom" means that which cannot be taken from you except by force or fraud. It means to that which lies within your own means, or what another gives you voluntarily. You have the right to gamble your own money down, but not mine. You have the right to tear through your own resources, but you don't have the right to put a gun to my head to supply you with ever more of them. And you have the right to succeed or FAIL without involving innocent bystanders.

Without the use of government force and taxing authority, natural "brakes" would have kept the growth of these huge systems in line with sustainability. Natural feedback would have worked to restrict, for example, the horizontal growth of our urban areas, for people would not have been able, for example, to pay the exorbitant tolls required to support our highways in the absence of tax support. Same thing goes for the oil we squander- the price of our gasoline does not begin to reflect the costs of procuring it and assuring an ongoing supply, such as our 60-year involvement, including wars, in the middle east and other oil producing regions. The "war subsidy" alone is a few dollars a gallon, most of which is borne by the taxpayers at large. That's why I'd happily drop income taxes and general sales taxes in favor of fuel taxes.

Nudge said...

Laura, great response. I can't disagree with what you said, but at the same time I can't deny the fact that the “glue” that makes any system work is the integrity of the people running the system and working within it, and right now that glue is worse than spit here in the US. It's practically water, which is to say it has no holding properties at all and merely flows downhill whenever and wherever possible. Look at how many members of Congress have got Gollum Sacks derivative bet pools going. Look at how many people routinely ignore the law. Look at how many politicians openly take contributions from the industries that have usurped the role of government-by-the-people.

This week I got to talk with a tailgater. I had to run errands before work the other day, took a whole different route to work, got ridiculously tailgated (eg, I slowed to 25mph in one of those marked school zones with blinky yellow lights and signs warning you to keep it down to 20mph, and the person behind me followed at less than 10 feet distance), pulled into the lot at work, the other car followed me in, and it turned out to be one of my coworkers.

I wasn't so much angry as I was curious. I got a chance to ask her later, basically, what was she thinking? It was a marked school zone, she knew that. Police departments everywhere are hungry, and they're throwing the book at anything (especially something as ripe as speeding in a school zone) and she knew that. Accidents are gruesomely messy, she knew that. So when I got to asking about weighing the situation as “should I be a half minute later than I want, or should I get into an accident?” (BTW she was half an hour early for work anyway) her response was that she thought it was a dumb place to put one of those school speeding-zone areas. (it is in fact at the entrance to a school, and such zones are required by law, at least here in Mass)

Back to that glue thing. I disagree with a number of laws here too but am not going to use that disagreement as an excuse to violate said laws ~ particularly when the matter of the violation can not only affect others (running over children in a crosswalk, for example) most grievously but also gives the police a bona fide excuse to throw the book at me.

I can't imagine it being practical to implement “ubiquitous law enforcement” (see Vernor Vinge's excellent book “A Deepness in the Sky” for a treatment of this) so that every violation of every law is logged, with the guilty parties getting their just punishment. The former DDR (East Germany) tried to do just that through purely human means, and in the end a huge portion of the population was employed spying on each other and everyone else ~ and it still did not work. I doubt we can make traffic laws work here even if every stop sign has a hidden camera and radar gun, every vehicle has got a black box reporting the state of the vehicle to the authorities, and so on. A similar example of an “impossible to make work in real life” was just shown in the financial market, where the SEC staffers (who themselves are part of the revolving-door system between the industry and the government agencies tasked with regulating & monitoring said industry) were surfing pr0n instead of enforcing the law.

The point is, no society works when too many of its members have already switched over to “Lord of the Flies” mode, and that is exactly where we are at this sorry juncture in time. Participating in society means having a certain amount of civility toward (if not care for) the other members of society, even if they're people you don't know, haven't met, and likely never will meet. When no one can be bothered to think about anyone but himself, well, you get something that looks an awful lot like here and now.

Apologies for the rant.

consultant said...

We either agree on what our "common interests" are, or we'll die a slow death by a thousand cuts. Which is what's happening now.

Greed is one of the many human vices. The profit motive is, in part, based on greed. How much a part depends on the person(s) in pursuit of this or that "private" interests.

I strongly support the for-profit motive. What I also support is a wall of sorts between the "private" and the "public" realm. That's what's become all meshed together and confused in our country. We are right in the middle of a cultural breakdown where anyone can do anything and everyone is doing nothing (a thousand point drop on the stock exchange and no one knows how or why it happened? A fat finger? Really? BP drills at the edge of science and technology and they have NO PLAN B or C?).

The more nefarious (criminals, gangsters, the stupid, the gullible, the corrupt, etc.) members of our society have been led or deliberately blurred the line between the private and the public. This has gone on for so long that now many people believe the private sector or business should run or even own "public" entities. This is exactly where the hustlers in our midst wanted public opinion to be. This is how we arrived at the current situation of private companies getting the profits while socializing their losses.

The only role for government is to protect and look after our "common" interests. Without going into all the details, it means that government has a completely different role than the private sector. Government will, for example, be somewhat inefficient and costly, because of the implied social contract that binds our common interests in ways that aren't even part of private contracts. Our obligations to each other (our commons) are (or at least they should be) greater and are in many ways different than the obligations of private contracts.

The latter point is what I believe is the fundamental problem we face today. Everyone is concerned about and focused on what's happening with you and me, or maybe just me, but not enough people are worried about what's happening to all of us.

I want balance.

Over the 40 years or so, the socio/economic/political shift has moved way over to the side of the rich individual and the mega corporation. The prevalence and success of blogs is in a weird way an example of individuals trying to reclaim individuality and relevance from corporations while at the same time building community around "common" themes.

Nudge said...

Consultant, you and Laura will please forgive me for harping on this issue. I am living out in the automobile-dependent burbs, among the essentially-uneducated and largely-unthinking Yeast People. With few specific exceptions, they're not interested in thinking/talking about issues. On the roads and in other places where people's interests collide, they act essentially like animals to each other. It's not pretty.

That being said, I can thank the designers of my underpowered (relative to everything else, that is) little car, because driving it sedately (and legally) for fuel-efficiency purposes has shown me that the angry tailgating yahoos will continue to menace my life until I either get rid of cars entirely (and live someplace where it's not necessary to drive) or until fuel gets so pricey that a huge percentage of people out there simply cannot afford to drive. The latter will probably take a long time to arrive, but the former can be implemented in reasonable time.

If you or Laura live in better places, where people can talk in ideas and where they don't act like animals or treat each other like animals, kudos to you. Living here is really wearing down my faith in people in general.

The North Coast said...

I never have had much faith in people to do the right thing without the ultimate motivator- it must be tied to their well-being, and we should not be able to impose our costs on each other.

I live in an area with a sizable pocket of welfare poverty and its attendant social diseases, such as a high rate of out-of-wedlock childbirth among underage girls, criminal misbehavior, and general incivility; and I submit that our society would not have so much of this type of behavior did we not have the costs involved imposed on us by a government that we have permitted to steal from us to reward the perpetrators and enable them in more of the same.

Same with the suburban morons you're stranded among, Nudge. Believe me, these people couldn't finance their overpowered cars and reckless driving strictly out of their own pockets. What if they had had to pay the tolls on the highways that reflect the true cost of building those things, and the true cost of the gasoline they squander so heedlessly? The true cost of that fuel includes the price of our military involvement in the Middle East as well as our covert involvement in other oil producing countries, such as our role in supporting the ruthless criminal regimes that ruled so many oil-producing South American countries for so long. If oil producers had been left to deal on their own with these countries, the cost of gasoline would be more like $9 a gallon, and we would have never built such a fuel intensive infrastructure.

Freedom does not mean the freedom to steal from others, endanger their lives, or subject them to costs that they did not incur, and it means taking responsibility for your own choices and costs, which we don't currently make people do. Instead, we impose the costs of the guilty on the innocent- granting license to the guilty at the cost of the basic freedoms of the innocent.

Nudge said...

Laura, if I may toss this out, it would seem that one of the major difficulties these days would be that of getting people to reconsider, in the terms discussed here, exactly what their rights and freedoms and responsibilities are.

That being said, I have no idea what could motivate people to think about things they've seldom or never thought about. How many automobile users here in the US are hip about the true costs of our roads and all the fuel that gets burned up here, often for the most trivial of uses? How many people possess the mental vocabulary necessary to figure out that much of what they're told on television is at best misguided lies, and is at worst utter propaganda designed to keep them angry, dumb, and forever in debt?

It almost seems as if little other than personally-experienced trauma (for example, job loss which leads to homelessness and carlessness) might suffice to snap people out of the happy consensus trance. For sure, the people presently living under bridges and in abandoned shopping space have got a rather different take on the viability of the American Dream, and what's keeping it afloat, than do any of the Joe6P homemoaners worrying about their loan-to-value ratios, or the greater fools still trying to cash in on these low, low rates.

The only recent instance I can recall, where people got shocked enough to put aside their differences temporarily and talk more openly with each other than before, was 9/11.

consultant said...

We've been here before.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, "Americans can be counted on to do the right thing after they've exhausted all other options."

Or to update it a bit, we'll continue to do what we're doing until we can't.

That's what happens when a society becomes too successful for some people. They get satisfied and the satisfaction leads to laziness and that leads to sloppiness and the next thing you know, George Bush is "elected" President-twice!

What's better, a Hobbesian society where everyone fends for themselves and might, luck and fortitude determine winners, or this flawed system of democracy we have?

The former is how most societies have been organized for centuries, the latter is a relatively new form of governance that's only been on the scene in its present form for about 2 1/2 centuries.

What's the best approach for creating definable freedoms for the most people within in given society?

Nudge said...

Consultant wrote: “.. what happens when a society becomes too successful for some people. They get satisfied and the satisfaction leads to laziness ..”

Bingo. Let's not forget that for the majority of the population, the idea of “being happy with enough” is pretty much hardwired into our psyche. People who grew up in substandard conditions generally do a good job imbuing the “you've got to work harder” ethic into their children, and they generally do better in terms of not falling for “get something for nothing” schemes.

However, once said descendants have got “enough”, a lot of that push to succeed just evaporates and is replaced by a push to do no more than tread water. In this country, it seems to have been decided as of (just guessing) 1956 that American life was perfect as is, so we could all put our brains on happy autopilot thereafter because we'd achieved consumer nirvana. Tailfins, curb cuts, zoning the same everywhere from coast to coast, shopping centers that all look alike, houses that all look alike, the same franchise roadside fry shacks, etc.

The present is what happens when not enough people think about how they can do better, both personally and for their country.

consultant said...

"The present is what happens when not enough people think about how they can do better, both personally and for their country."

True. Very true.

With some new additions and a few deletions, I'd like to have most of the regulations from the New Deal reinstated. I'd also like to personally vaporize the concept called "franchise ownership" and have many more local, independently owned businesses.

I'd like to get rid of all interest bearing credit cards and only allow cards that you have to pay off at the end of the month (like the traditional American Express card).

We'd be a richer country with better leadership at all levels.

Last, I'd like to ban all Microsoft system software. That alone would make us a happier, less stressed and more productive society.

The North Coast said...

Trouble is, Americans have been thinking of "doing better", but they tend to think of "doing better" as more of whatever it is they think they want.

Better and bigger cars, better and bigger houses, ever snazzier gadgets and ever more clothes, vacations, and whatever other consumer goodies the advertisers induce a hankering for.

We need to redefine "good" and "better". Better might mean more savings, more skills, less dependence, more resilience, lower resource consumption,not to mention less crime and violence, more civility, more voluntary co-operation.

When your values are skewed, doing better usually only means doing more of what got you into trouble to begin with.

consultant said...

"When your values are skewed, doing better usually only means doing more of what got you into trouble to begin with."

Here's a quote from Kunstler's book, The Long Emergency:

"Methane hydrate is also hazardous. Attempted underwater "mining" operations so far have led to explosions, including the destruction of drilling platforms and ships." p. 139.

This book was published in 2005. Kunstler has said he wrote most of it in 2002-2003. If I have my facts correct, Kunstler isn't a scientist, geologist, oil miner or a super rich S.O.B. who could hire an army of researchers to find this information.

Kunstler's an independent writer, who with a little research, was able to find and state plainly that deep water drilling of the type done by BP and others in the industry is a very risky, dangerous activity.

So here we are now with Senators and oil executives and the press all running around talking about how did this happen? How could this happen? Who's responsible?

Who's responsible? Just today in the Senate hearings, all three responsible parties pointed their fingers at each other.

There is no honor among thieves, or common sense among The Three Stooges.

I've said it before, but few want to acknowledge it. We've become a Latin American style country. A banana republic. A ship of craven, cynical, narcissistic fools.

We no longer have the human capital and the supporting culture to resolve a disaster of the magnitude of this spill.

We might somehow stop the oil spill, but with a failed culture we can't stop the ongoing disaster that is modern America.

Nudge said...

Laura wrote: “Better and bigger cars, better and bigger houses, ever snazzier gadgets and ever more clothes, vacations, and whatever other consumer goodies the advertisers induce a hankering for.”

Without turning this into a cultural-nostalgia “when I was little, things were different” type rant, it used to be that getting /out/ of debt was an occasion worth celebrating. As someone said so accurately over on the Housing Bubble Blog, the one thing a modern banker fears most is a fully-paid off home where the owner has no plans to “liberate that equity” because it's “just sitting there doing nothing”.

The social programming here has been utterly effective. Much of society here has been [effectively] atomized, with many people replacing their non-work face-to-face time with canned broadcast content. The average person now gets bombarded with advertising coming in through every pore or crevice or exposed sensor, and the average result is that the person doesn't quite feel happy unless s/he is buying something or making payments on something. This is of course a paradise for the marketers, and nirvana for them who can get the marketers to sell stuff for them.

What's not glamorous here, doesn't bring any schmuck any great profits, and this isn't advertised on television? Lots of things. To name but a few: enjoying one's fully-paid-off residence, and paying only taxes, utilities, insurance, upkeep, etc; continuing to drive one's fully-paid-off, no-longer-fashionable 10 year old car that's reliable and well-maintained; driving sedately and responsibly, obeying the rules of the road; shopping at the goodwill and thrift stores instead of buying new at China*Mart; sewing one's own clothing; walking or bicycling to work (or riding the bus/train) instead of driving an expensive, polluting, space-hogging, dangerous automobile; living without television; having 2+ generations living under the same roof; growing food in your backyard, and gifting your friends with the extra produce; and much more.

Every single one of these things is at least practical, or resourceful, or thrifty, or reflective of an awareness that our lives have impacts on many others. However, if you're the sort of person who thinks of these things as good ideas, then you're probably also the sort of person on whom mass-media marketing hasn't have much effect. Conversely, if these things make you cringe, then the marketing establishment has succeeded in making you think you can't be happy unless you're forever counting the next couple paycheques ahead so you can buy whatever shiny new thing they just introduced ~ or, even better, going deep into debt to quench this imaginary “need” for new stuff.

My short answer for improvements? Make marketing & lobbying illegal. Without some curtailment of the powers of the marketers, I'm very much afraid the deleterious effects will continue.

consultant said...

When was the last time a talking head on tv called the American people citizens?

We've been branded consumers.

Nudge, all of this has worked to undermine the framework of liberty and freedom in our country.

As I've said before, Reagan said he was going to get govt. off our back. What he didn't tell people was that he'd replace it with the corporation.

Meet the new boss. Worst than the old boss.

Nudge said...

Consultant, I try to use that word “citizen” explicitly to denote a) membership in a larger community of people we'll mostly never meet or know, and b) certain responsibilities that go with the rights thereto. That term “consumer” is pretty degrading .. may as well say “shopper” or “TV watcher” or “compulsive potato chip eater” or “trough-feeder”. We are not what we buy or how much we spend, but instead are what we do.

The net effects of people coming to think of themselves as consumers, and not as citizens, are pretty much as has been covered in this thread already.

One of those citizen responsibilities is to be cognizant of fraud. Common examples of fraud might be an email from some stranger in Nigeria, claiming you'll get your share of some huge sum if you give him your ID, signature, bank account numbers, and some money up front; or a room in some condotel, where the builders are trying to “share this investment opportunity” with you. The latter example is the sort of thing much discussed on the HBB. A thinking adult might ask, hmm, if this is such a hot investment opportunity, why is someone trying to pawn it off onto me? What motivation has a total stranger got to enrich me?

Reagan was another kind of fraud, where he basically increased spending and reduced taxation. You can replicate this experiment yourself by switching down to about 3/5 of your present income, then going hog-wild on spending. Pretty soon you'll be broke, though if you had a printing press in your basement (as the government does) you could make it look as if you've got plenty of money.

A few years ago I was saddened to hear the news that more people vote online for American Idle than vote in elections. It's quite the comment on our priorities. Bread & circuses, hmm?