Home Culture and Society This Is What Worries Me – Charles Hugh Smith (11/05/2019)

This Is What Worries Me – Charles Hugh Smith (11/05/2019)

In this disintegrative phase, people are increasingly indignant if their magical-thinking “solution” is challenged.

It’s practically un-American to confess you’re worried. Can-do self-help and cheerfulness are expected, promoted and rewarded. So to say I’m profoundly worried about the state of the nation is to swim against the optimistic zeitgeist. Nonetheless, I’m worried, because I sense the long-wave/cycle disintegrative phase is gathering momentum. Though the timing and outcome are unknown, these phases end badly when people lose their ability to learn new ideas, experiment, cooperate and adapt.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, economic decline manifests as social and political decay. People are angry, easily inflamed, seeking scapegoats, hardening their own views, all of which manifest economic decline and insecurity. People are increasingly demanding that everyone agree with them, rather than seek solutions and common ground. People aren’t really seeking solutions or common ground, they seek confirmation that you concur 100% with their views, and if you don’t, they are indignant: how dare you disagree with me!

This is not a healthy development. People are increasingly prone to repeat their positions dogmatically, and your refusal to agree 100% increases their dogmatism and their agitation. After three or four such outbursts–we cannot call them exchanges, because nothing is being exchanged–there’s nothing to say. It’s extremely dangerous when people stop being interested in solutions and finding common ground, and are only interested in confirming that everyone agrees with them. This is psychologically akin to seeking scapegoats to blame for all our troubles or projecting our Monster Id onto some “other.” As the social fabric unravels, extremes quickly become normalized: another giant homeless encampment springs up and our ability to consider this extraordinarily troubling dissipates in a haze of normalization.

When everything is unraveling, our herd instinct kicks in, and we become increasingly skittish and uneasy. One manifestation of this group anxiety is conflicts suddenly break out over nothing: riots at ball games, demonstrations that become free-for-alls, family gatherings that suddenly dissolve in extreme acrimony over some trivial event. I’m witnessing these behaviors in comments and correspondence. The Oftwominds audience has always been genteel. People disagree or correct me with civility, and I respond in kind. One of the motives behind the title “of two minds” is that there are generally several perspectives and I can change my mind as new information or experiences are presented. But this is not what I’m seeing: I’m seeing once reasonable people harden their views into a seething dogmatism, and expressing indignation or anger if I don’t agree with them 100%. I’m afraid these readers never bothered to understand my work, which is admittedly outside the mainstream; they found something they didn’t like and keyed off of that. The turmoil over “facts” and “fake news” is another manifestation. 

As financial commentator Ben Hunt recently put it, the “tells” are all being manipulated to support a dominant narrative. So the unemployment rate, consumer inflation and the stock market are all manipulated to support the illusion that all is going swimmingly. As the distance between these fantasy “facts” and experiential reality widen, trust in these “tells” (i.e. trustworthy indicators) declines. As trust in these “facts” and the “experts” who gin them up declines, the corporate media and authorities double-down in support of their fictitious “facts”: any doubters are “conspiracy theorists,” purveyors of “fake news,” or dastardly Russian stooges repeating “Kremlin talking points.”

There is no middle ground left in such a state, and indeed, no desire for middle ground, as the mere existence of middle ground would mean whomever demands 100% agreement with their position is not going to get it. In this disintegrative phase, people are increasingly indignant if their magical-thinking “solution” is challenged. Technology, to take a common example, will magically solve all our problems. Challenging this as unrealistic or impossible triggers a great indignation in the true believer: again, how dare you doubt tech innovation will save us!

Or Universal Basic Income, Medicare For All, and so on. As a small-time trader in financial markets, I’m accustomed to contemplating several conflicting points of view: some are bullish, some are bearish, some are neutral. Everyone makes their case, and if you decide to make a trade, you’re going to be right or wrong. Once you realize you’re wrong about the direction of the market, you can either change your mind and exit the trade, or you can double-down and absorb losses in the belief/hope that the market will eventually do what you’re betting it will do. This doubling-down is a dangerous strategy, because we tend to harden our convictions as the market turns against our bet. This leads us to suffer catastrophic losses, when we could have exited the trade with modest losses early on. In other words, to reduce our anxiety and uncertainty, we harden our views and become dogmatic, blocking out all evidence that our position is untenable / not a solution.

This is what I fear is taking hold in the U.S. Rather than reinforce the traits of successful adaptation and problem-solving–flexibility, experimentation, developing an appetite for numerous small failures as the necessary foundation of advancement, keeping an open mind–we’re embracing the Dark Side of the herd instinct, doubling down on rigid, dogmatic, inflexible, untenable positions, a strategy that leads to catastrophic losses and collapse. This is why I wrote my book Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic, to explain why the traits of successful adaptation are essential to surviving disintegrative phases. Once we lose interest in actual solutions, with all the sacrifices, experimentation, uncertainties and failures that real solutions require, solutions become impossible.

My recent books:Will You Be Richer or Poorer? Profit, Power and A.I. in a Traumatized World (15% discount in October, Kindle $5.95, print $10.95) Read the first section for free (PDF).Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($6.95 (Kindle), $12 (print), $13.08 ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).

If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.