(The) Something is Rank

In the resource depletion soup, one ingredient looms large – social equity. Equality is a function of population, social status aspirations and resources. With a small population, everyone can have reasonable equality. With unlimited resources, the same (although the amplitude generated by law of large numbers will exert outsized social pull from the top). But with large populations AND limits to resources, equity can only be reasonably attained if the activities that generate rank are not resource intensive. Via globalized markets, the cross border pursuit of profits has gradually morphed into a cross border pursuit of goals - money has become a global proxy for power and thus for status and money (profits) is a resource intensive international goal. Tonight's campfire takes yet another look at one of my oft-written about oildrum topics: how we compete for social status while facing limits to growth.

"Wealth - any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year than the income of one's wife's sister's husband."
H. L. Mencken

Between at least Jason and myself, there have been over a dozen posts on TheOilDrum relating to status, resource competition, being happier with less, and changing societal carrot away from Veblen goods and conspicuous consumption. It seems a general theme is that once basic needs are met, relative status matters much more than absolute. I apologize I can't neatly compress all this into a concise post, but here's an update: (and here is a primer on the Psychological Roots of Resource Overconsumption, itself in need of an update).

In a new study on the rank income hypothesis a team led by psychologist Christopher Boyce studied over 80,000 people, their incomes, and overall life satisfaction. The researchers found that the ranked position of an individual’s income predicted life satisfaction, whereas absolute income and reference income had no effect. This should be no surprise to any biologist familiar with the concept of relative fitness or sexual selection, but zero of the 30 references in the paper referenced biology or any of the evolutionary explanations of our neural penchant to compare ourselves to others.

Our study underlines concerns regarding the pursuit of economic growth. There are fixed amounts of rank in society—only one individual can be the highest earner. Thus, pursuing economic growth, although it remains a key political goal, might not make people any happier. The rank-income hypothesis may explain why increasing the incomes of all may not raise the happiness of all, even though wealth and happiness are correlated within a society at a given point in time.

Although general intuition tells us that having a good social standing makes us feel good, the idea that a good reputation is a 'reward' just like money has long been just an assumption. Recent neuro-imaging experiments however have shown that both reputation/rank and monetary rewards are processed in the same brain region - the striatum.

"We found that the brain reacts very strongly to the other players and specifically the status of the other players," Zink says. "We weren't expecting that profound a response," she adds, noting that the subjects seemed to be concerned with the hierarchy within the game even when it was of no consequence to how much money they could make.

These types of economic studies showing that relative vs absolute levels of consumption/wealth are potent drivers have been studied for a long time, since the Easterlin Paradox became a hot topic in the 1970s. One example was economist Robert Franks simple study asking people if they would prefer living in a 4,000 square foot house where all the neighboring houses were 6,000 square feet or a 3,000 square foot house where the surrounding houses were 2,000 square feet – the majority of people chose the latter – smaller absolute but higher relative size. Though high perceived relative fitness is a powerful behavioral carrot for individuals, the inevitable resulting inequality has pernicious effects on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, and excessive consumption. Health steadily worsens as one descends the social ladder, even within the upper and middle classes. These are just some examples of the growing research highlighting not only that we care enormously about our social pecking orders but the wider the variation in rank the worse of we are.

Is it an advantage to live in a light blue state? (GINI in graphic is GINI *100)

The GINI coefficient is a measure of wealth or income equality - a GINI of 1 means one person has all the wealth and everyone else has nothing - a GINI of 0 means everyone has the same wealth. In addition to having an interest in this type of research, I also happen to experiencing it in real time. I make less money now than I have in 20 years (actually I make no money and am drawing down savings and at this pace I estimate I'll go broke in September of 2016). But this would just be broke financially - I'm now surrounded by a social group that cares about non-pecuniary pursuits and accomplishments. Sure - none of us are starving or broke, but the day to day pressure of keeping up with the Joneses by getting on the financial/Veblen good treadmill are absent in my geographic circle. Jones lives in my neighborhood as well, but his signals are absent. (I remember sitting in a cubicle with 10 other guys at Salomon Brothers 11 hours a day cold calling billionaires. The neural correlation between 'rank' and 'money' was about 99% back then. The main lessons I learned then were a) the wealthy were no happier than the clerks processing their trades, b) status and wealth were cumulative but the dopaminergic reward pathways reset every morning and c) those who achieved power and status would not give it up without an intense fight.)

In a society with significant overall surpluses, people who actively lower their own economic and ecological footprint might get by very well, because their relative status - which is typically above average - allows them to make those reductions without reaching limits that compromise their well-being. These people have an opportunity to redefine what sort of ‘capital’ we compete for – as they allocate time and resources away from financial marker capital and towards social, human, built and natural assets. These people above the median in social status can make better choices for their own lives, though in the end the odds are that what we compete for will not change by volition but by circumstances.

And, on the flip side of the 'less-is-more' bandwagon, is the fact that biological organisms, including and especially humans, always consume surplus resources (Maximum Power Principle and all that.) Total equality in resource use is as much of a myth as a benevolent dictator telling us our optimal allocations. We will always seek status and have social hierarchies in human society. And higher ranking males and females, on average, will have higher respect, admiration and as a consequence, higher/more mating opportunities, consistent with the evolved raison d'etre of rank.

In my career as a trader and consultant, I often witnessed that the seemingly most unacceptable solution ended up being the best. Perhaps the fact that 80% of resources are being consumed by 20% of the people would be improved in aggregate if we went towards less equality and had 90% of resources consumed by 10% of people, as long as it killed the aspiration of others towards conspicuous consumption (well, it might not kill the aspiration, but perhaps the means). Although I understand the academic arguments of both sides and the historical importance of equality, I sometimes wonder if pursuing a blanket policy of more equity would be worse for the planet. Certainly it would if economic growth continues as an objective as many more people are joining the party very late in the game. In any case, unless we first understand and then integrate demand side constraints such as the 'rank income hypothesis' into our policies, culture and institutions, sustainability will be another receding horizon.

Finally, the biggest aspect of 'rank' that concerns me now is the large swaths of demographics that are in fear of their social rank vis-a-vis their fellow Americans (or Earthlings) changing due to new political rules, bailouts, regulations etc. I don't agree with what our government is doing right now either, but I wish people that respond to change like Tea-Partiers or health-care rioters, etc. would understand the broader backdrop of our running into exponential growth limitations will require across the board sacrifice and reduction of living standards in aggregate. Unfortunately, without this knowledge of ecological limits, all sacrifice and lower living standards, both within and between nations, are likely to be 'perceived' as relative rank drops for those affected. And we're already seeing hints of the likely responses.

Our government (and others) continue to at least attempt to level the playing field via what can best be described as stealth nationalization. Increasingly the government trough is making up a larger % of the feedlot, both on the wage side and on the debt side. At each new turn however, spreading the social equality safety net wider is taking another hefty chomp out of our currency and sovereign health. What I hadn't realized before but that is taking on increasing relevance, is that the coming debt deflation and currency reforms are likely to automatically lower the GINI, as significant paper wealth will eventually disappear. Instead of viewing currency reform and a reshuffling of claims as either inevitable and/or frightening, perhaps we can come up with a creative, not-too-disruptive plan where financial descent is paired with aspiration descent so that energy descent is more manageable.

I don't know but am open to suggestions.

Campfire Questions

1. How can we use our increasing understanding of status, resources, and the neuroscience of human behavior to influence/create a more benign future?

2. Competition with con-specifics is part of our heritage. But so is cooperation and empathy. What level of wealth disparity would be healthy and/or tolerable for future of US society? Might less equality be a good thing?

3. How might the debt/financial crisis be an opportunity towards making headway on issues of social equity, both within the United States, and between the United States and other, less well off countries?

4. Any good ideas on how to change our status/aspiration metric away from conspicuous consumption?(this has been asked before but is important enough to throw out to this lateral thinking crew, on occasion).

5. Can you think of creative ways to downsize your own aspirations by changing social groups?

Answer any/all you'd like to. I'll kick off the discussion by quoting from one of Herman Daly's guest posts on theoildrum, on this same topic.

Limit the range of inequality in income distribution—a minimum income and a maximum income. Without aggregate growth poverty reduction requires redistribution. Complete equality is unfair; unlimited inequality is unfair. Seek fair limits to the range of inequality. The civil service, the military, and the university manage with a range of inequality of a factor of 15 or 20. Corporate America has a range of 500 or more. Many industrial nations are below 25. Could we not limit the range to, say, 100, and see how it works? People who have reached the limit could either work for nothing at the margin if they enjoy their work, or devote their extra time to hobbies or public service. The demand left unmet by those at the top will be filled by those who are below the maximum. A sense of community necessary for democracy is hard to maintain across the vast income differences current in the US. Rich and poor separated by a factor of 500 become almost different species. The main justification for such differences has been that they stimulate growth, which will one day make everyone rich. This may have had superficial plausibility in an empty world, but in our full world it is a fairy tale.

First Comment from New Zealand! Readers are directed to check out Kurt Vonnegut's classic short story "Harrison Bergeron" for understanding of the down side of creating a society with the leveling principle run amok. In this dystopia, everyone is controlled by a state apparatus run by the "Handicapper General", Diana Moon Glampers. Equality of every sort is enforced. Not just economic equality, but equality of intellect, appearance, and athletic ability is kept at the lowest possible level by requiring the gifted to be burdened by devices to handicap their abilities.

The fact is, that some people have more talents than others, and some people are more industrious than others. Every functional society rewards these people for their disproportionate contributions by gifts of social rank - not necessarily economic. Honorific titles, a bow or curtsy, a warm place by the fire could be enough. In New Zealand, decades of social engineering have destroyed social rank entirely. The firefighter, the doctor, the teacher, receive nothing but disrespect from the army of social beneficiaries. In addition, the discretionary income of people on the dole can exceed the after tax income of professionals. Plus the dole recipients have leisure time and are free from any responsibility.

Small surprise that 1/4th of the people born in New Zealand (the most talented and productive 1/4th) has emigrated. So be careful what you ask for, a society of equals is not such a good thing.

So, is it your contention, MicroHydro, that the existing distribution of wealth in MZ, the USA, and the world accurately reflects and justly rewards the allegedly unequal natural talents you think you see?

Nate isn't proposing absolute income equality, though I think even there, your appeal to fiction is rather cavalier. He's saying that the rich are a major obstacle to achieving economic sustainability, and asking how we can intervene to address that problem.

What should never be equal in any society is R-E-S-P-E-C-T !!! Some people deserve to be shamed. Some people deserve to be honoured. In fact most of us have deserved some of each at different times based on our behaviours. The crazy social engineering idea that everyone should have high self esteem has led to a generation of thugs and bludgers with high self opinions and no respect for those actually doing the hard, thankless productive work of society.

For those who believe income equalization is the road to social utopia:


The full value of payments received by the woman and her family is not known, but based on a current estimate of $500 a week, the full value over the 36 years, when adjusted for inflation, would approach $1 million. It could be higher still, as benefits increase if a parent is caring for more than one child.

What the writer did not investigate is how many of this woman's children are themselves on benefits or in prison.

A million dollars over 36 years? So what? In the annals of unearned income (not that I agree that the dole is unearned income, btw), that's a pimple on a flea. What did Donald Trump do to earn his wealth, other than get born to a real estate magnate? As for "the hard, thankless work of society," that sounds like garbage collectors and school teachers to me.

What should never be equal in any society is R-E-S-P-E-C-T !!!

What might work better for us as a species is the Buddhist approach, that all sentient beings deserve respect. This respect comes not from from stance, position or class, but from complete humility. The emergence of special talent and achievement is not isolated or stochastic, but the contribution of countless beings into the deep past. The "lowly" farm worker picking fruit is completely connected to the accomplished doctor, who eats the fruit.


Another related thought is, who the hell respects a doctor making 500 k a year who can't give you the time of day when you go see him or her with a problem. Those doctors who are actually trying to heal with receive my respect regardless of their income or the model of their auto or the size of their house. In order to receive respect, one must give respect.

I like this Buddhist ethic, and would like to believe that this ethic was also bound into
Jewish and Christian practices from time to time. I watch very little television, but I
find one of the most "spiritual" shows to be "Dirty Jobs". I think there is tremendous
real respect during those shoots, and I do believe that many that watch it (including me)
grow in our respect to the laboring that goes on out there - unseen.

I've had a camera assignment from time to time riding with our State Troopers making drinking and driving stops on the Highways, and it's given me a chance to see these guys up close, giving me a great deal more respect for them. Of course, they're on best behavior in front of the camera, but it's really helpful to be right there in the situation with them, approaching car after car with whoever might be inside, and dealing with the public patiently and professionally.

Quite the dirty job. My hat's off to our Troopers.

*(Did some spots with Mike Rowe years back.. before he got dirty)

I guess I missed the bit where Nate talked about social utopia.

I am all for respect but am not aware that there is a very high level of respect for anyone in the U.S.A, regardless of their social status or contribution. I would have like to have received more respect while I was working. Too bad that there is apparently a low level of respect in New Zealand, but not sure what their relative level of equality has to do with it.

The usual argument against intervention in the market to increase equality is that it lowers incentives to produce, usually by the already rich or very rich. At a certain income level, I don't think that is what drives effort. It is the perceived status or the illusion that one is going to get more respect for more income, even if only gross income. For some people, some of that effort may just be a function of neurosis apart from whatever necessity that have to continue working at a life killing pace.

The usual argument against equality may be true. That is precisely one of the reasons that I favor more equality along the lines of what Herman Daly argues above.

We are past needing incentives for people to produce if that production leads to the further deterioration of the service providing environment, reduced resources, and global heating.

Remember. In any event, it is the relative incomes that seem to make a difference. That principle does not require that wall street financial moguls receive literally hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses, especially since their contribution to society seems so negative as of late. Take them off the dole first and then consider looking at what the dole is doing to society and the individuals at the lowest levels of income.

Many prison guards in California receive 6 figures in pension income. Is this fair or necessary? Hell if I know and I have long since given up worrying about it. My main focus at this point is to be appreciative with what I have without be overly concerned with what others have.

There is still so much beauty in the world that I try to focus on that while being sufficiently frugal to have a chance at a livable future.

Respect is earned, not given.

Respect is earned, not given.

...and one must first have respect, before its giving has any meaning.



In the long ago and far away , when I was young and a teacher, a young (white) lady with two cute little children lived directly across from me on a rural side road in a county I won't name near Richmond.

I got to know her very well,and she told me all about her life and her problems-more than I wanted to know actually.

When all her freebies were totaled up, she and her two cute little kids were only a little short of my take home pay-of course I was single at he time and had no deductions, and teachers weren't well paid there even for that time.

She could have had her choice of more than a few decent guys,but she preferred to cuss Reagen and smoke pot and drink beer all day,day after day,except when she was over at the lake watersking or barhopping-she traded babysitting with another girl in the nieghborhood on her days and nights out.

She also did a good little bit of housework for cash, and could be hired if she felt like it to take care of other chores sometimes.All in all , she lead a far more liesurely and relaxed life than I did.Her stress level was pretty close to zero most days.

I post this simply to attest that such things were common in the eighties and early nineties-most of the working class people around knew at least two or three such freeloaders.I have heard some of the less wellinformed sort deny that such a thing was ever even possible, let alone commonplace.

At this very moment I know at least three men on disability who are to be found out thru the community nearly every day doing jobs they are theoritically incapable of doing.

I can't say that I blame them-after all, they are simply doing on a tiny scale what the big boys are doing on the grand scale-screwing everybody else and gaming the system.I feel a good rant coming on for tomorrow about the smug and self satisfied folks wwho are unwilling to share thier good fortune with the millions of poor people who have been bucking a stacked deck forever.

I will sleep on the main topic and may have something useful to say about it tomorrow.

Wendell Berry observed once that one primary and unshakeable goal instilled the mind of modern man is unemployment. Along with that comes contempt for hard work, and for hard workers...anecdotally, I'm sure everyone knows a number of stories of people who've hit the jackpot at Workmen's Comp, or disability, or the stock market, and who consider themselves the sharpest tools in the shed for all the leisure and luxury they have.

On the other hand, I don't sleep well at night if I haven't put in a good day's work and attended to things well. In the long run, I can guess what kind of person will "inherit the earth", so to speak.

Well - some people have contended that this idea of full employment and everyone needing to work is actually the cause of the problem...


The post peak oil era ought to mean more work and less pay as society adapts to new constraints and develop other resources then fossl fuels.

Yes, and I believe the largest noticeable changes will be in agriculture. Adapting to fossil fuel use took us from 50% of the population working in agriculture all the way down to the current 2%, or less. Its hard to imagine that reducing fossil fuel will result in anything other than the reverse...which would make agriculture a fast-growing employer, in an otherwise declining employment picture.

on edit - and, of course, that's some real work. Its hard to look around and see people these days as qualified or willing.

Well, yes, I remember that one vaguely. The trouble is, while people may have sound reasons for wanting to moderate the all-encompassing or Calvinist work tradition, when the chips are down, most also demand the absolute best in at least some items among: ultra super deluxe medical "care", elf'n'safety, other government mandates, housing, transport, and all the rest. Most Western countries - to say nothing of the USA - spend more per capita on medical care alone than a substantial portion of the global population have in total. So I guess it's easy to snipe in a facile way about this until one considers some of the consequences of rebalancing the work tradition.

I agree that a work ethic is a necessary condition of the transition (to where I don't know) from fossil fuels. I believe there are other equally necessary ethics, including a commitment to the sacredness of creation, in itself, and including a commitment to equity. I say this knowing that the very use of tools in our work introduces irresolvable social conflict, because, as Georgescu-Roegen observes, we are unable to apply a single metric to output.

Our toughest decisions are forced upon us when good conflicts with good, when one ethic conflicts with another.

What is the ultra super deluxe medical care of which you speak? What good does it provide?

One sizable chunk seems to be the frequent processing of terminal patients through an extra six months of costly, but low life-quality, medical "care". Is this a 'good', six months life, conflicting with another good, the sacredness of nature. The latter is affected because all use of costly equipment and pharmeticals depletes some resources and pressures sinks.

Or is it a good, a moment of prayerful, opportunity-conserving respect for nature, in conflict with a bad, 6 lousy months of medical processing?

What is the ultra super deluxe medical care of which you speak?

It doesn't matter.

What good does it provide?

It doesn't matter.

In polite company such discussions are verboten. Thus the answers are entirely in the hands of quasi-religious moralizers, often of the far right and far left (which are nearly indistinguishable in practical terms), whose only position seems to be more, more, more, irrespective of whether "more" provides a net good, irrespective even of whether it simply provides a "bad" by prolonging hopeless pain and suffering.

The thing is, in order to decide whether it's providing a "good" or a "bad", someone has to make a "judgment". And the highest of all politically-correct duties is to be "nonjudgmental" no matter the cost in resources or suffering for doing so. In addition, the politics of envy so evident throughout this page comes into play: if a Bill Gates can theoretically afford it, then in order to be "fair", everyone must have it inflicted upon them even when it's a "bad".

If you look at corporate employment and the drive for productivity, within an artificial hierarchy, then I could see how "employment" could be seen as a part of the problem.

Another perspective is that everyone consumes, but not everyone produces. Of course, one measure of humanity is how it cares for those who cannot provide for themselves, but a society where the majority consider it a valid goal to consume as much as possible while insisting on their right to produce nothing...well, maybe in a resource-rich time it could lurch along for awhile, but in every other time it would be replaced, quickly, by another society with better sense.

Big Gav, that was a nice piece thanks for pointing it out. As a Christian I go to a Lutheran Church and found the quote rather amusing.

My dad says that he is a lazy man. He finds the fastest way to do something so he has more time to relax. It is kinda funny to see him only relax when he's put in a 10 hour day fixing things. Now in retirement his idle hours are driving him crazy. Idle in the manner that he still does a lot, but not 10 hours a day.

In my BioWebScape design project I am trying for a food growing method that feeds people and also allows them to have spare time, and reduces the need to slave over your food growing. Having homes built so that you don't need to work very hard to keep them in ship shape, and food growth so that you don't have to do much work but planting a bit, and harvesting a lot, care and maintaince is natures job.

BioWebScape designs for a better future

daxr quotes Wendell Barry "Wendell Berry observed once that one primary and unshakeable goal instilled the mind of modern man is unemployment"

As much as it breaks my heart to have to differ with a fellow Kentuckian, I have always wondered what caused him to come to such an unusual conclusion.

Look at who gets real respect in America and it is the worker, in all its many forms...think of Warren Buffett at 79 years old still working as he always did, and watch the network news feature stories showing folks who are in their 50th year on the same job, etc. Most of the boomers I know do not envision a true retirement (defined as stopping work) but simply see in retirement the possibility of doing what they love (that to me is such a sad commentary on our economic system that there are so many people still looking for rewarding work at 60 years old).

I can tell you from hard experience having been unemployed in my younger years, there is no lower rung on the status ladder in America, which is why unemployment terrifies so many people. Even retired billionaires still engage in charities, arts, sports, ANYTHING to be working on something. The boomers are taught to respect work in a way that no other group ever has in America...when I go to a party or gathering the absolute first thing I am asked after my name is "What is it you do?" :-)


In context you probably don't disagree with him - he wasn't speaking of unemployment as a matter of lacking a job and living on the dole so much as the general thrust of everyone toward avoiding hard work, the sort of work that builds health and character and, on a farm at least, has its return. I wish I had the text on hand to put it better, as it was very well put and on a large scale, but its back at the library...

In another way he was looking back to when farming was done from behind the plow rather than from behind a desk - the mechanization of work being basically unemployment, whether one finds a paying situation in the process or not.

daxr, there was recently a book on working with the hands as well as the mind, about the rewards of "shop" or craft work, work with the hands and not only with the mind and I cannot remember what it was called...but I read some extracts when it came out and it was fascinating!

The contention of the authors was that humans feel unrewarded and not complete if they only work with information and never see or handle any "material" aspect of work. The contention was this is why so many hobbyist do extraordinary work in crafts such as pottery, painting, sculpture, gardening, home, auto and motorcycle restoration, etc. and often for no economic gain, even an economic penelty. It is a fascinating line of thinking because such "hobby work" is now a multi billion dollar industry in most developed countries. There seems to be a thirst on the part of humans to do work with the hands. But as far as "hard" labor, I would think Berry is indeed right...most people strive to get away from repetitive hard tasks if for no other reason than the boredom sets in...I grew up doing farm work and the labor was not to me as unbearable as the mind deadening aspect of it.

My daddy used to say "Hard work is for mules and even they turn their ass to it." :-)


My daddy used to say "Hard work is for mules and even they turn their ass to it." :-)

I have to remember this one!

... Marx discusses the concept of alienation along the same lines... the lack of experiencing the beginning middle and end in the process of creating a beautiful or useful object - was an incredibly destructive aspect of turning us mostly into industrial piece workers who have no control of decisions to make in the process...

An empty existence for 8 hours or more a day... but turn it into a 'hobby' and they can sell you all the equipment and materials back to you.

One thing I have been able to teach myself is to disconnect my hands from my head. Doing hard labor and thinking peacful thoughts, even day dreaming a bit while you work, doing math problems to keep the mind active, thinking of complex designs and just barely keeping your hands or feet from getting hurt at the labor.

Boring jobs don't have to be boring if you aren't thinking about the boredom. Or you can make a game out of it all.

Collecting Data off of Nautical Charts, like soundings (depth markers and their numbing numbers) can get pretty long when you have to collect 5,000 to 12,000 of them on a single chart. It takes several days. If you don't do something to keep yourself sharp you will end up making a lot of errors. That is where making a game out of it comes into play( pun intended ).

Doing hard labor is where you can disconnect from the aches of bordom with the mental creativity. Some of my better stories were created during times like that.

But generally speaking most people grow tried of it fast and morale is always low.

We thought in the ages past that in the futures we'd have leisure time and robots would do everything, and they sold copy on that idea.

Maybe we could match people with thier jobs better, so that those jobs you are bored at, won't bore another person.

BioWebScape designs for a better future, where everyone is happy doing nothing but eating off the land and creating masterpieces of art and music. (okay maybe that is a bit over the top).

OFM, come to the UK, the Government has almost legalised benefit fraud. One of the classics is disability income a way of massaging the unemployment figures.

Official figures show nearly 1 in 5 people aren't working in the UK, article here.

There are over eight million people who are "economically inactive", a record number according to the Office for National Statistics.

These include students, retired, parents staying at home to look after children, long-term sick and those who have simply given up looking for a job – "discouraged" in the euphemistic language of the statisticians.
The 8.05 million economically inactive are on top of the 2.46 million unemployed. Together they represent 21.2 per cent of the adult population.

It would be easy to rant and rave about it, but we're all living on a one off FF(ool) surplus. People interact with this energy surplus in different ways. The present political mindset supports it, as Nate has said before, the Earth has a nougat centre =:-0

As if caring for one's own children isn't useful work for a society. The same can be said of studious students who are truly preparing themselves for the "paid" portion of the economy. How many of the long term sick are in that situation due to the chronic stress of decades of low wage labor? As Nate pointed out being poor leads to long term poor health.

So there will be a certain number that need support - one fifth of the UK?

Disability benefit was a deliberate, tacit political policy to keep people off the unemployed regester. Even before the downturn there was problems with the welfare budget. As this downturn progresses, the UK is going to be one of the countries most likely to default currency wise. The first thing politicians do is cut the benefits when that happens. How does anyone then sift through who really are deserving?

Being poor does not necessarily lead to long term poor health, but in a country where corporations sell crappy food and encourage obesity, smoking, drinking to excess because the lifestyle and culture has become so improverished and target the poorest, yep, you're right, it does lead to poor having health problems.

Should a society care for its sick and frail? Yes.
Should a society support anyone in education who genuinely wants to learn? Yes.
Should a society and politicians invest in an energy infrastructure and policies that support the society for the long term? Yes.
Do I think its right that people feel that they have got to work so hard that they feel they've no time for their children? No.

Maybe someday, it will be illegal for politicians to sell Hopium and deliver something more meaningful than the meaningless rhetoric of economic growth.

Read what you like into it.

Do I think its right that people feel that they have got to work so hard that they feel they've no time for their children? No.

Very well. But before saying that you gave a very long list of very expensive entitlements. What would you like to cut out that would add up to enough to permit a serious reduction of working hours?

Paul, what you’re saying is exactly my point; clearly I'm struggling to articulate it. What is taking place, in my interpretation, is the clash between two perceptions of the world - anthropocentric and ecocentric - personally both views play out when I try to rationalise what's going on.

I've worked in health care and some people are certainly deserving of help and support. Others are only interested in taking everything without a care for neither the environment nor others. But even then my lines for entitlement are arbitrarily drawn from my values, beliefs and opinions.

The psychology of entitlement is what is going to play out. As people like the population institute et al have pointed out, our carrying capacity is dependant on what level of resources and energy we are willing to agree is sufficient. But our sense of entitlement is so great in developed countries, we would rather go to war, deprive others of what we over consume etc rather than deliver equality.

What would I like to cut? All of them. Idealistically I would like to see companies producing stuff that didn't on average have a life span of a year or less, individuals learning to share and community.

Govt agencies in this country are hardly ever interested in getting capable people off the disability rolls-I don't know personally of a single case of it happening around here.


This is obviously a no no of the first order.

There's a good bit of that interest up in my state.

My wife works with a program that helps get employment for people with disabilities, and it does work through the state in a number of ways. It's kind of an invisible world, though. Unless you have it put right in your face, you might not know it's there.

That said, there is a LOT of gray area, and a lot of people who are allowed to fall into those cycles of dependency and self-assured incapacity (like the quote up top, 'Convincing someone of facts that contradict their paychecks...')

Oldfarmermac, a boy I knew as a child started working at the prison when he was in his early twenties. After a few months on the job he was playing basketball with the inmates and hurt his back. He has been on disability since that time. He is an old man now. He was my neighbor for many years. I watched him dig post holes for fencing. Ride his horses. Beat the crap out of another man. I know he wasn’t disabled. I wanted to report him but I was too busy with my life and work to be concerned. My mother told me his uncle did the same thing years earlier. If a person is truly disabled I want them to receive help but to take advantage of everyone else is morally wrong. If society tries to make everyone economically equal it will destroy motivation. If wealth is shared equally why should I work? There must be a reward for work. Even if I do the lowest job (from a status point of view) I should make more than someone on relief. People who have children that they can’t support should receive support only after sterilization. Old folks that can support themselves should not receive money from the government even if they paid into social security all their life. The food stamp program should be eliminated and replaced with governmental food depots for the unemployed or unemployable. People should be rewarded for their work.

Any welfare system is going to be rife with corruption and waste at every level. Actually, that could probably be extended to be "any gov't system". Free money is always going to attract graft and decaying value to the recipient.

Anecdotally, here food stamps are worth $.50 on the dollar. Really food stamps are a gov't scrip with a black-market exchange rate of 50% for cash, and face value for food.

The transition to cards has probably made fraud more complicated (harder to make the exchange), but it's still possible. Another indication that the face value isn't seen by the recipient is that you can shop at convenience stores, where everything is overpriced.

"Any welfare system is going to be rife with corruption and waste at every level."

Fortunately, finance capitalism is completely free of any corruption or waste at any level. We never have to bail out mega-banks for trillions of dollars, everyone in finance, realestate and insurance always is perfectly honest and always works hard for the common good. Military industry never influences national security policy to maximize their profits. Established industries like oil, coal and nukes never get any subsidies or special treatment of any kind...

Oh, wait. Perhaps I (and perhaps some others here) have been asleep for the last ten (or fifty or more) years and have completely missed the major locals of corruption and malfeasance in modern times?

Are you claiming that two wrongs make a right, or that acting against fraud among banksters is fundamentally incompatible with acting against more petty but far more numerous cheats?

I didn't read it that way. I was left with 'all human systems have flaws.'

The two wrongs don't make a right, Paul, but one of those wrongs gets seriously underplayed, inasmuch as the corporate-owned media would have to be attacking itself in order to report fully on the absolutely Heroic level of theft that goes on up there in the stratosphere.

Those are all corporate welfare and hence support the original argument.

Any welfare system is going to be rife with corruption and waste at every level

Civil service[1], not welfare.

[1] And that doesn't necessarily mean manual labour.

I have been out in the garden today, increasing my status/rank among our neighbours.

"Any welfare system is going to be rife with corruption and waste at every level."

But as I look at Wall Street, Enron and Madoff, I have to say that ANY money source is vulnerable to massive corruption and waste. Reagan made a big drama out of the 'Black Welfare Moms in Caddys', as it made a great image of horrible, ironic injustice.. but corporate fraud didn't get spun into such a visceral enemy to berate..

'Steal a little and they put you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king..' Bob Dylan

Bob, I just got through watching Cliffhanger, and the quote was , Kill a few and you are a pyschopath, kill a million and you are a conqueror.

Humans range over a wide breath of sytles and behavoirs. Give some people money and they share it with others, give other people money and they only want more.

I know a few people that I don't think should be getting a free ride, then I know others that need a free ride and are left in the streets under a bridge.

We don't have a system that is prefect, and it does need reform. But who are we going to let make the choices for everyone?

Hoping and praying for a better future.

"Any welfare system is going to be rife with corruption and waste at every level. Actually, that could probably be extended to be "any gov't system". Free money is always going to attract graft and decaying value to the recipient."

...and the power of officers of multinational corporations...that attracts no abusing corrupt greedy useless humans? Sure it does. They just do their dirt at a much higher level and therefore with greater calumny and efficiency.

Concidering the fact many rich people inherit their wealth I dont think talent has much to do with it. A wage cap is not going to affect the consumption habits of that top 1%.

Perhaps we should restore the top marginal tax rate to 90% (I can hear the screams)


"This is a table of the top marginal tax rate faced by married couples for most of the last century in the US.

Note that these are top marginal rates only, not average effective rates. That is,

the rate is not an average rate (total tax paid divided by total income), but a marginal rate (the rate paid on dollars of income over the "top bracket," listed below as "Taxable income over--");
the rate does not take into account all possible exemptions and deductions, so taxes actually paid may have been lower than these nominal rates indicate. "

...the rate does not take into account all possible exemptions and deductions, so taxes actually paid may have been lower than these nominal rates indicate.

Bingo! Which diverts massive amounts of effort from productive activity (or leisure) into tax-fiddling.

Actually, that's NOT what happened when the top tax rate was 91%. The easiest way for a rich person to shield his earnings was to simply re-invest them in his own business, since that meant he never earned it.

Result: the Dow Jones stayed relatively low but in sync with America's economic health, and the people who ran America's businesses kept their money in what they understood.

When the top rate was collapsed by Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, et al, the huge surpluses of the upper class were free to be invested in other people's properties, leading to an escalating series of bubbles based on stocks, venture capital, weird derivatives, commodity plays, default swaps, etc. The rich have given in to every get-richer scheme that even financial experts could not decipher, and lured much of the middle class in with them as used to happen up until the '29 crash.

Result: even the right-wing magazine The Economist has had to recently admit that America now has less social mobility and less of a small business economy than European countries like France.

It may not matter, since there may be no energy future in trying to grow businesses, but not all perverse incentives favor the Right.

This is a table of the top marginal tax rate faced by married couples for most of the last century in the US.

This is a gross oversimplification. What about Alternative Minimum Tax? What about the phase-out of deductions with increasing income? What about Social Security and Medicare taxes? What about self-employment tax?

These marginal tax rates do apply to those with very high incomes, beyond the point where phase-out stops, past where Alternative Minimum Tax kicks in, and past the limit for Social Security and Medicare taxes. But for middle class earned income, the tax rates listed are simply not those payable.

Currently, a married couple, self-employed, with both husband and wife earning $105,000 each, will have a marginal income tax rate of 33%, and a self-employment tax rate of 15.3%, for a total tax on the last dollar earned of 48.3%.

The tax code is so complex that figuring out alternative minimum tax and phase-out of deductions has no unique solution. I won't try.

Having lived in both countries where Canada and the U.S. appear polar opposites in this regard, I can see the benefits and damage caused by both social systems. I agree with MicroHydro completely! We see the same behaviours in Canada because self improvement and industry are NOT rewarded. Whether on the "dole" (we call it UI here) or working for a government organization, the tendency is to propagate the mediocre.

For anyone with a shred of evolutionary DNA left in their loins, this seems completely insane. What were we taught? Go to school, improve yourself and you'll get ahead. Then you hit the real world and find 9/10's of the working population is trying to pull you down. If you are a nail sticking out, it must be nailed down and one can envision a multitude of hands on the hammer. The school competitive process may generate the brightest and the most able, but does it prepare one for the real world?

What did Woody Allen say (to paraphrase) "9/10's of success is just showing up". Or, everyone gets a ribbon for competing. This general national attitude, more than any, is what has driven many a Canadian across the border to the U.S. - myself included.

Then you get to the south side of the border and get to see the other half. One travels from the dysfunctional egalitarian nation to the serf nation. You could sum up the MO for the U.S. in the everyday operation of Disney World. Hidden within the infrastructure of apparent never ending joy and pleasure is a supporting working class smiling and taking tickets, serving the food and beverages, teaming in the subterranean passageways moving the food and energy, and the waste about. Meanwhile the customers - the privileged class - go about their pursuit of happiness while the serfs look to the day they may aspire to do the same.

Getting back to the central question, what can be done? In my very limited opinion and observation, I have found that if the sense of competition, or the threat is removed, the group or society will create the competition within. They will eat their young, or cannibalize their own social structure to create competition. Deep down we are still wired to be one village competing against another - and there you have the dysfunction of Africa summed up.

In the face of depleting resources we will most likely see a continuation of retention of wealth and status at decreasing geographical sizes. I see the mindset already in western N. America where we are more alike along north-south lines than east-west. Given our long history of animosity towards the Eastern Masters, (where B.C. stands for "beyond Canada"), and the same goes for western States, there will likely be the big F-you and Cascadia will work towards a more sovereign status. Cascadia is the region formed by the western provinces of Canada and the western states of the U.S. I have more in common with people in Washington or Oregon than I do with people in Quebec or New Brunswick - save hockey. Cascadia has the natural resources, the East does not and we could care less.

Of course, we have seen the cautionary tale "A Brave New World" instruct us on the hazards of constructing and maintaining a more or less egalitarian society where the GINI is approximately 0.30. Even with Soma, there were still natural Alphas, Betas, Gamas, and Epsilons. But, they needed Soma and continuous propaganda to keep in going.

New Zealand and Canada can attest to the negative impacts of the social experiment attempted too soon. That is, as a species we are not nearly close enough to accept equanimity at our stage of evolutionary development. We are still just clever monkeys... (I know, apes, but monkey sounds better).

What has been known for countless generations is that creation and life are born out of chaos and violence in the universe, not central planning. In this neighborhood we call The Universe, not everyone gets a ribbon...

We see the same behaviours in Canada because self improvement and industry are NOT rewarded.

As a 68 year old relatively well-off Canadian, I say this is nonsense. My hard work was certainly rewarded. So was that of most of my colleagues. Grotesquely so in some cases. The essential problem in Canada is the same as in the US: fantastically excessive respect for the principal that contribution should be rewarded in proportion to its effect. A greatly compressed schedule of rewards for endeavor would produce much better outcomes for everyone, Canadians and Americans, even in a growth oriented economy, while permitting a useful degree of inequality. I think a ratio of 30 or 40 to 1 would be about right in a growth oriented economy, for the ratio of income to be kept after taxes -- captain of industry to unskilled worker.

In an economy that cannot allow growth, the ratio would have to be much smaller, but would still have to be substantial in order to channel and control creative and dominance drives in useful directions: say 8 to 1. There would be plenty of hooks to justify such inequality. Far from objecting to people enjoying themselves not working while others worked, copious enjoyable leisure among non-workers would be a necessary objective of the whole system: productivity in any sustainable high tech civilization would have to be limited far below that which would be possible with full employment.

Go to school, improve yourself and you'll get ahead. Then you hit the real world and find 9/10's of the working population is trying to pull you down. If you are a nail sticking out, it must be nailed down and one can envision a multitude of hands on the hammer.

You must be in a far different school system. In school is where I learned of the nail that stands out must be pounded down.

The Dole was big issue in the US a while ago, Back in Clinton's term in office. The Welfare Mom's will become the Millionaires Meme was everywhere in the MSM, pushing for reform to cut this waste.

What was not said in all that was that the few con-artists that bilked the system were fewer in number than the Media and talking head were telling us. Cutting out the Dole, sent a lot of the barely managing people into a tail spin.

It is sad that people don't respect your EMTs, Doctors, Nurses, Firepeople. But the blaim might not be because people are on the dole, but another hidden reason, that gets masked by the noise of Dole is Bad.(pardon the thought about Dole the fruit or Dole the senator).

Talent shipping off is a problem, but is it the result of what you think it is?

BioWebScape designs for a better future.

Good questions, but this is not an adequate statement: "Equality is a function of population, social status aspirations and resources."

Equality/inequality is also a function of institutional design and established past results, a.k.a. class structure.

Whatever role there might be for manipulating/discussing values as a way of altering our world's extreme patterns of inequality, the sheer fact is that nobody in charge of any major institution is going to let this topic be addressed in a substantial way in front of a substantial audience. The rich are fantastically rich, and are thoroughly convinced they deserve it all as the just and proper outcome of a rational, optimal, Panglossian social order (it's certainly been Panglossian for them). Take a look at the polling data on this (which you can access via Sam Pizzigati's website). And the vested interests are utterly intent on staying where they are in society and in relationship to the distribution of comforts and pains.

And the fact also remains that, whatever people's values are, capitalism is a system that is ruthlessly and competitively dedicated to promoting the culture of acquisition and possession and the endless expansion of trivial (and ecocidal) creature comforts.

So, I submit that this is not a matter of technical adjustments. It's a matter of politics.

P.S. Speaking of Veblen, you might take a look at his more substantial work, which came after The Theory of the Leisure Class, which was itself his first book. He got way deeper thereafter, but nobody bothers to look. Gee, I wonder why...

which book? It looks like he has like 20. The only one I have is Theory of Leisure class - Im copasetic with everything Ive read so far. Kinda cool to find people 100 years ago thinking the same thoughts as ones own. Makes me think the ideas are robust...;-)

1. _The Instinct of Workmanship_, which takes a deeper look at the culture issue

2. _Absentee Ownership_, which was the first (and perhaps still the best) book about the meaning of the triumph of the giant corporations within capitalism

Nate Hagens said, " Kinda cool to find people 100 years ago thinking the same thoughts as ones own. Makes me think the ideas are robust...;-)"

Or it tells you how little things have really changed at the heart of it all, despite all the "post modern" rhetoric! :-) (brief aside, I am astounded that after 40 years I awoke one morning to find myself back in the 1970's!)


No Guff! In a related theme, I am reading a historical biography of FDR leading up to the Presidency. All the financial, industry and labor issues we face today were addressed by Teddy Roosevelt around 1908. 100 years later and we're in the same pickle.

1) We can't. We won't. Any "knowledge" gained in the "neurosciences" will be used to dominate people. It is in our genes, and that is a force of nature you/we can't stop. Like trying to stop a hurricane. Know thyself.

2) There will be no "future US society". We will fracture (along bioregional boundaries with any luck) and we will be lucky to avoid a prolonged, violent civil war - just lucky not smart. If anything "neuroscience" will make things worse in unpredictable ways.

3) The debt/financial "crisis" is more one of perception than reality. The "crisis" is currently being use to increase social inequity and concentration of wealth into the hands of a few. We have a longage of critters problem here, not a shortage of resources/"finances"

4) Change "our" status? No. Whats this "we"?

5) are you serious? Who is your audience? "Aspirations"???? You know - for alot of us all we want to do is die in peace and without much pain.

Good luck, man.

We have a longage of critters problem here, not a shortage of resources/"finances"

No peak oil problem? Fresh water problem? Fish stocks problem? Thank goodness. I was starting to get worried.

I agree with PDV's responses to questions 1 and 2.

As for question 4, it will happen naturally. As we become poorer, our aspirations will equilibrate to a new, lower level (only for that level to fall once again, as the descent down Hubbert's curve cannot be stopped).

Cultural dislocations don't have to be engineered - they will happen spontaneously, from the ground up. Take hybrid or compact vehicles as one example. In the coming world, I expect use of these vehicles to increase, and to serve as a sort of group symbol. Already many upper middle class people buy Priuses instead of Mercedes or BMWs. I know that, personally, I now look down upon people who I see driving pickups and SUVs everywhere - and I will defend that belief. If a vehicle with an ultra high mpg is available in the future and I own one, I will brag about it to my peers every chance I get. People who are already biking or taking mass transit do the same.

Just one more crash in the stock market - which is inevitable at this point, even if it is drawn out - will change the financial dynamic as well. Many brokers and mutual funds will disappear, and people will invest more money in bonds and precious metals. Stability and capital preservation will be the new goals of the moneyed classes - speculation will be seen as a low rent, barbaric thing to do.

It's kind of like racism - accepted and even standard in the 50's and before, but all of a sudden, after Civil Rights, shunned and avoided after that, sometimes to an opposite extreme. As we all become poorer, and as knowledge about peak oil and global warming spread (as well as the undeniable fact of high and volatile gas prices), then the culture will change, and so to will aspirations and symbols of rank or class.

Racism is just as strong now as it was in the 1950s. It is hard to believe that the lilly white Tea Partiers are upset that blacks and other minorities will have access to health care is at the heart of their opposition. That a black man (who was raised by a white mother and white grandmother) has succeeded really gets under their pale flesh.

I'm as vociferous as anyone you've ever met in arguing that white supremacy is the most militarily dangerous ideology in the modern world, because small bands of white crackpots in the Old South, Rhodesia, Germany, etc have held majorities and even the world hostage to their combat prowess.

However, racism changes justifications and support bases over time. Racism is not the same as in the '50s; its support base can become smaller and more dangerous at the same time. It takes a very different group to win routine elections than it does to wage guerrilla war.

For instance, in the 1920s, lynchings of blacks were mass public occasions, ritual rallies of joy by the entire white population to demonstrate to blacks the utter futility of resistance. By the 1940s, lynchings were far less common, and were organized as clandestine terror attacks in the middle of the night. What had changed?

A great many white conservatives may consciously believe that they are defending legitimate cultural tradition, not understanding that their sacred culture was a cynical manufacture by the plantation owners of the 1600s fearing rebellions by their Scotch-Irish indentured servants. Blacks were brought in not just as replacement labor, but as ritual scapegoats for all the injustices that profited the rich. If they now ethnically cleansed all the blacks out of the South, the culture would still fail because then poor whites would have no narrative to explain their position other than class conflict.

However, the actual demise of white majorities in the Sunbelt states means that the issue now is no longer that of preserving a caste system, but of staving off the sharing of power and resources. That can actually be a more violent crisis, seen in the breakup of Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda. The justifications of the past will be altered to serve a new agenda.

Racism is not even a shadow of the problem it once was in this country-although I do readily admit and confirm that it is still a problem of considerable importance.

Whoever thinks it is as bad AS IT ONCE WAS IS EITHER SOME SORT OF PURIST THAT CANNOT BE SATISFIED OR SIMPLY DOES NOT KNOW what things were like when I was a kid.

I can remember eating in restaurants where signs hung that said no blacks would be served-and the owners meant it.I remember living in places blacks simply would not go-even in the daytime.Those old nieghborhoods are nowadays patrolled by cops who are as apt as not to be black.

If one really wants to understand just how much things have changed, let me just say that alhough I carry and have always been pretty much ready to go anywhere, qnd patronize the roughest businesses and bars as a matter of course,there are lots of nieghborhoods I won't go near after dark nowadays, and some I won't enter even with a friend -unless he is a tough black friend(I still have one or two from the old days in the city)even inthe middle of the morning-which is the best time, as a lot of really tough trouble makers are prone to keep late hours and sleep late too.At five pm you run into one , he may be up and around with a bad hangover to fuel his attitude problem.

Awww, PDV, your just trying to cheer us up! :-) I have to admit though, I love the sentence "We have a longage of critters problem here, not a shortage of resources/"finances". That made me smile :-)


I haven't studied this subject the way Nate has, but my impression that rank within a profession really isn't as important for women as men (or at least married women with children).

There are a whole host of things women can excel at:

1. Highest paid in their profession.
2. Best in their profession (best teacher, best nurse, best piano teacher, best analyst).
3. Best behaved children.
4. Having children who "turn out" well.
5. Highest paid husband.
6. Best cook.
7. Cleanest house.
8. Outstanding volunteer at school or church.
9. Most nicely decorated house.
10. Most organized.
11. Best at a sport.
12. Most successful garden.

Since there are a lot of things married women with children can excel at, they don't have to choose to compete in every arena. I know as an actuary I purposely chose what many would consider the "mommy track''--working fewer hours, spending more time with my family, turning down moves around the country or overseas that would have gotten me more money or rank. I might have been best in some ways, but not the highest paid. We never wanted the biggest house, or fanciest car, so we always had plenty of money for charity, and to put in the bank.

I think as we go forward, the world will change, and more people will find diverse ways to compete, instead of always worrying about who has the most money. Maybe they can compete at having the nicest garden, or the best seed saved for next year. Also, remember my post about Gift Economies. In such economies, people compete for how much they can give away, rather than how much they have.

Hi Gail,

my impression that rank within a profession really isn't as important for women as men

In my working career, I was involved in contract negotiations with many high ranking corporate executives - I never noticed that women were any less ruthless and driven than men to get the best possible deal regardless of the implications for other humans or any other aspect of the common good. My impression was that they cherished their rank and, generally speaking, would push their mothers down a flight of stairs to elevate their rank (just like the men). I don't know if these were women with or without children, but they sure did not appear to be interested in a flower garden.

Hi Dave,

Sure, women can be as ruthless as men. No doubt about that.

But Gail was saying that women can choose which arena to compete in. Men don't seem to have that choice. And that's their loss, and the reason that so many men die soon after retirement.

Hi gregvp,

You make a good point. But, I have to relate the story of a close friend: his wife is a very aggressive lobbyist with lots of high paying clients. He is a tax CPA. He decided to do the maternity leave bit so his wife could stay on track with her high-powered career. He works the tax season but otherwise runs the house and takes care of the kids. Kids are grown now so he spends 2/3 of the year biking and hiking about the country while his wife works her 12 hour days throughout the year. He is one happy dude.

Hey, a real Nate campfire post! Cool!

I'll throw an initial 2 cents in, though I'll warn in advance that this has been an insomniac week for me - not that unusual - so it'll take the form of a first-person ramble.

I find that visualizing a screaming capuchin monkey hurling his food because it thinks another monkey got a better deal, is a fun and apt way to characterize much of the core human socio-political dynamic. Indeed, to a good first approximation it might be considered the whole story.

Brosnan said the response to the unequal treatment was astonishing: Capuchins who witnessed unfair treatment and failed to benefit from it often refused to conduct future exchanges with human researchers, would not eat the cucumbers they received for their labors, and in some cases, hurled food rewards at human researchers.

Once one recognizes this within oneself (and it ain't subtle), it is entirely possible to just mentally disengage from it as a silly, even insane, way to see the world. Whenever one feels it trying to creep into one's worldview again, laughter is called for. The exception (IMO) can be utilizing it to temporarily bring rogue brain modules inline with one another for a project which requires coordinated focus across several different sorts of thinking.

It is clearly absolute, and not relative, wealth which directly bears on our security and well-being. This "duh-level" realization freed me long ago to detach myself from concerns over relative wealth & status and live on a pittance (by USA standards) over the decades, while employing any money or status which fell my way to get larger projects done, often semi-anonymously. It's a sort of freedom hiding in plain sight, available to anyone.

Ironically and unexpectedly, this detachment brought me into frequent contact with many considered ultra-wealthy or ultra-high-status; and it was generally them approaching me and not the other way around. (Indeed, in some cases this status inversion reached bizarro-world levels of surreality, but it was all consistent with the initial realization and resulting worldview).

It's a little like going through life with a vision problem - as I did until 7th grade - and then suddenly getting glasses. A whole range of handicaps you'd been unaware of drops away. Run, Forrest, run.

Those who've seen my posts here - fringy even for an eclectic group like TOD readers - may also recall that I can shift in and out of "human" perspective a bit, and at least half the time I think of humans as an alien would - as just another species, albeit a problematic one I have some fondness for.

To those who'd like to test the view from that perspective, just imagine the question seriously posed as to whether or not nuts are distributed fairly for the squirrels of the world. I think a common response might well be "WTF cares except the squirrels?" And the answer is, indeed, that pretty much nobody but the squirrels care, and they're stuck with the real world.

And from the point view of life on earth now and into the future, the answer is the same for humans. It's grossly incongruous to imagine that such matters as the wealth distribution - particularly the relative wealth distribution, and most particularly the abstract relative wealth distribution - are important in any way at all, much less comparable in importance to the ongoing health of the world's life-systems. Yet that is the way we tacitly treat them. Good thing the squirrels don't have nuclear weapons, (though I suppose a reasonable case could be made for transferring the launch codes to them instead of humans).

But let's not imagine that squirrels, or any species ever, haven't had unequal wealth. The very nature of evolution assures that some are phenotypically wealthier, and thus usually absolutely wealthier, in any given context than others; the strong will tend to defend the best nut trees. Luck outside the phenotype also plays a large role. And the nut trees themselves have unequal wealth, some growing strong in deep soil with abundant water, and others in worse areas. Unequal wealth is one dimension of the oft-fractal character of life. It isn't broken and we can't fix it for long.

This is not offered as a rationale for selfishness; I have given my wealth and status away and will continue to when it falls to me. Rather, I suggest it as one way a hypothetical mature intelligent race might possibly look at things.

Since this is a bit of a ramble, I'll note that at this moment I'm recalling a bit from the intro to Goldman's The Princess Bride: And I remember once we were having iced tea on the Neisser porch and talking and just outside the porch was their badminton court and I was watching some kids play badminton and Ed had just shellacked me, and as I left the court for the porch, he said, "Don't worry, it'll all work out, you'll get me next time" and I nodded, and then Ed said, "And if you don't, you'll beat me at something else."

I went to the porch and sipped iced tea and Edith was reading this book and she didn't put it down when she said, "That's not necessarily true, you know."

I said, "How do you mean?"

And that's when she put her book down. And looked at me. And said it: "Life isn't fair, Bill. We tell our children that it is, but it's a terrible thing to do. It's not only a lie, it's a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it's never going to be." Would you believe that for me right then it was like one of those comic books where the light bulb goes on over Mandrake the Magician's head?

"It isn't!" I said, so loud I really startled her. "You're right! It's not fair." I was so happy if I'd known how to dance, I'd have started dancing. "Isn't that great, isn't it terrific?" I think along here Edith must have thought I was well on my way to being bonkers.

But it meant so much to me to have it said and out and free and flying - that was the discontent I had endured the night my father stopped reading, I realized right then. That was the reconciliation I was trying to make and couldn't.

And that's what I think this book's about. All those Columbia experts can spiel all they want about the delicious satire; they're crazy. This book says, "life's not fair" and I'm telling you, one and all, you better believe it.

One of the biggest impediments I have often seen to effective advocacy for the planet is the unquestioned, even unconscious egalitarian imperative. The belief that perfect fairness for individual humans now existing is not only the chief imperative, but a prerequiste and absolute limiting condition for any sort of mitigation or adaptation goals which might be sought by humans. This, of course, drastically shrinks the list of acceptable goals; and the list shrinks still further when one adds that only egalitarian methods are acceptable ways of attaining them. We are attempting to run a world based on an unconscious knee-jerk heuristic evolved for efficient life in a small tribe, and we're running it into the ground.

As individuals, we can "just say no" to this trenchant inborn idiosyncracy, opt out of an idiot game and become citizens of the planet. There's no reason to think this will spontaneously catch on in a big way, though, because it feels good to be righteously pissed off about inequality. It is the all-purpose human motivation, the rationalization of a thousand uses. Look inside and get to know it, it's enjoyable and we thrive on it. Powerful, the dark side is. Learn to see it all around you. Control it, and you can use it to focus your mind; submit to it, and it controls you. And others, variously motivated, will use that fact to call your dance tune without your ever realizing you have no tune of your own.

So the moral is, eat the damn cucumber and keep a sense of humor even when the other monkeys are getting grapes. Embrace unfairness and inequality as an aspect of reality, because it certainly isn't going away. And be kind to those around you, while bearing in mind that we are just one species out of many and in overshoot to boot.

so there's a saturday-afternoon ramble; cheers.

Cliff Klingenhagen had me in to dine
With him one day; and after soup and meat,
And all the other things there were to eat,
Cliff took two glasses and filled one with wine
And one with wormwood. Then, without a sign
For me to choose at all, he took the draught
Of bitterness himself, and lightly quaffed
It off, and said the other one was mine.

And when I asked him what the deuce he meant
By doing that, he only looked at me
And smiled, and said it was a way of his.
And though I know the fellow, I have spent
Long time a-wondering when I shall be
As happy as Cliff Klingenhagen is.

- Edwin Arlington Robinson


You are really cool......

That's a great philosophical essay. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, we've got lives to lead and most of us have attachments and some sense of compassion and can not walk the road of total nihilism. Morality is a human construct to be sure, but I don't think there's any shame in holding onto it. Think of Viggo in The Road, holding onto his flame. Does it matter? To HIM it does. That's his prerogative, as it is for anybody else.

Philosophical essay? It was free-association, just a riff on the general theme, letting my forebrain browse the field off-leash. I had no idea what was going into it until I saw it appear on my screen.

And I've done a poor job at even clearing that low bar if you can take the post as nihilistic. I'd rank among the most ardent anti-nihilists posting here; I have a number of times here and elsewhere railed about what I call a "nihilism heuristic" which allows people to justify conflating all futures past an arbitrary level of bummerosity, and so justify utter inaction. In my case, I'm a career activist who has been very active indeed.

I think you err greatly if you think morality and compassion have anything to do with the emotion which makes monkeys hurl food. Mindless reactive outrage over perceived non-advantageous inequity is the antithesis of any morality or compassion worthy of the name.

My flame is fine; best of luck with yours. And I don't mean that in a snarky way, I have simply vowed on general principles never to do a smiley-face icon. That way lies madness.

Yes, greenish, thank you for the "riff on the general theme".

If one views that riff as a box, I'll admit to just discovering the limitations of said box recently. As a senior citizen I am scrambling to get out of it and into a larger box - there is always a larger box - and the challenges are substantial at this personal point.

Also thanks for replying to the 'nihilistic' comment of 'ms6507', as it is instructive to note his characterization in light of the box metaphor. Some don't/can't/won't realize there is a bigger box. If such an individual even looks outside their chosen box, one possible perception is to see no purpose. Oh, well.

Good luck and better health to you.

I think the bigger issue is that you may be slightly misjudging most people's reason for endorsing at least some level of social equity, or at least the appearance of it, when you say
"As individuals, we can "just say no" to this trenchant inborn idiosyncracy, opt out of an idiot game and become citizens of the planet. There's no reason to think this will spontaneously catch on in a big way, though, because it feels good to be righteously pissed off about inequality. It is the all-purpose human motivation, the rationalization of a thousand uses. Look inside and get to know it, it's enjoyable and we thrive on it."

I think most people endorse social equity out of self preservation, i.e., they really don't want another French Revolution on their hands if they have anything at all. The theory is that the well off (even if only marginally so) benefit by small sacrifices to keep the pontentially discontented as contented as possible. The two greatest periods of reforms aimed at social equity in the U.S. came after two threatening periods, the 1930's when there was a real danger of labor violence spreading into the larger class of unemployed (and recall that was roughly 25% of the able working class, a dangerous number if they became truly radicalized) and the late 1960's, after the racial unrest in the south, the burning of Watts and Detroit and in particular the violence at the 1968 Democratic convention...and the middle class American bourgeois began to fear their middle class home could end up in ashes. Then suddenly everyone (even the normally moderate and even conservatives) began making at least token gestures to the cause of "equality".

In relation to the health of the planet overall, social equity and aspirations for equity (and even superiority) are critical because we still have at least 4 billion people dreaming to live only as well as the average Walmart greeter...but if it is possible for them to attain that (and we don't know that yet) they will then want to live as well as your local banker and then as well as Donald Trump or Britney Spears. There must be some limit to the social climbing, or as many here on TOD point out, nature will find the limit for us all, bankers, hookers, real estate barons and starlets alike...which brings us back to why everyone cares about at least the appearance of equality...let's be honest, what we don't want is the aspirations of the poor sucking it all down the tubes, meaning neither they nor us can achieve any kind of social climbing. The call for equality is much more about keeping than it is about giving.


g'morning RC.

I think the bigger issue is that you may be slightly misjudging most people's reason for endorsing at least some level of social equity, or at least the appearance of it

I take your point, and it's an interesting one. I don't disagree, but am up again early so I'll continue playing around...

Of course, the whole business of "reasons we do things" is suspect. As Nate and others have pointed out, our neocortices function mainly after-the-fact to come up with plausibly self-consistent rationalizations for the decisions pre-made in our (relatively) inaccessible subconscious. Deceiving ourselves makes us more efficient at deceiving others, and thus can something as seemingly counterproductive as self-deception evolve. So just at the moment while we're sitting around the campfire this sunday, I'll take the position that most people have no real idea why they actually decide to do anything.

Still, if you're saying that they wish to obscure the inequities that others perceive, or to appear to abnigate any benefits which have fallen their way due to perceived inequity, that would be entirely consistent with what has been observed in capuchin monkeys and thus consonant with my previous ramble.

I think most people endorse social equity out of self preservation, i.e., they really don't want another French Revolution on their hands if they have anything at all. The theory is that the well off (even if only marginally so) benefit by small sacrifices to keep the pontentially discontented as contented as possible. ...and the middle class American bourgeois began to fear their middle class home could end up in ashes. Then suddenly everyone (even the normally moderate and even conservatives) began making at least token gestures to the cause of "equality".

Yup. Or such motives might be imputed to them by those rationalizing antipathy towards them. Really it's all going on at once; an elaborate social fabric of deception and posturing with intricate feedback loops reaching far deeper than our conscious minds. Monkey stew. Not even the participants can allow themselves to acknowledge their core selfish-machiavellian goals lest they become less effective at achieving them under the close scrutiny of similar beings.

In relation to the health of the planet overall, social equity and aspirations for equity (and even superiority) are critical because we still have at least 4 billion people dreaming to live only as well as the average Walmart greeter...but if it is possible for them to attain that (and we don't know that yet) they will then want to live as well as your local banker and then as well as Donald Trump or Britney Spears. There must be some limit to the social climbing, or as many here on TOD point out, nature will find the limit for us all, bankers, hookers, real estate barons and starlets alike...which brings us back to why everyone cares about at least the appearance of equality...let's be honest, what we don't want is the aspirations of the poor sucking it all down the tubes, meaning neither they nor us can achieve any kind of social climbing.

Again, it may be helpful to pretend we're talking about squirrels to put things in the perspective I advanced. Concepts like "the poor" and "the rich" within a given species are useful in some kinds of social narrative, but really just describe different parts of what is a pretty common distribution pattern in nature. If squirrels were in vast overshoot, it might be arguable that "which squirrel has what" is rather beside the point. Trying to divide the nuts fairly in the now would exacerbate the dieoff; and if any squirrels remained afterwards their wealth inequity would quickly reassert itself.

It's a funny irony that our tribal-monkey id-imperatives have extended themselves to being pissed off at the scale-invariant self-similarity inherent to wealth distribution over any large populations, which itself is emergent solely from the fact that our local interactions are qualitatively identical across many scales of magnitude. "The poor" interact with others essentially the same as "the rich" do, or the power law distribution would disappear. So just by becoming aware of so many other individuals in the world, we have managed to become constantly annoyed at the inevitable result of them all acting the same way we do. This awareness of "others" seems to derange us more than a little.

I'm reminded of the propaganda in the old USSR, whose main theme was that other nations were worse off. To the extent it was believed, this probably fostered actual happiness and contentment. It's also achieved by religion; the nutsy lady several doors down thinks that only 2000 or so people get to go to heaven and she's one of them, which delights her. She acts very serious when she talks of hell and damnation of sinners, but ah the sparkle in her eyes. And that's fine by me, because if she didn't think that she might climb onto her roof and start shooting people, for she is a petty sadist with entitlement issues and sore feet, and crazy to boot. (This isn't a slam on religion, if anything it's my conditional endorsement of it).

The call for equality is much more about keeping than it is about giving.

Yep, generally so.

Think of Viggo in The Road, holding onto his flame. Does it matter? To HIM it does. That's his prerogative, as it is for anybody else.

Well, in the book (I don't know about the movie) the landscape the man and the boy move through, the world, has been destroyed by consuming fire. The man expresses his admiration for humanity and its works, as well as his sense of a responsibility to carry on, by the slogan, "We are the keepers of the fire". We suspect that the boy is not as deaf as the man to the brutal irony in the slogan.

thats the second great post I've read from you this week. Maybe insomnia is not as bad as its cracked up to be... at least not in your case.

thanks for your kind comment. the insomnia is quite nasty, it makes me stupid and useless. On the other hand, on days I don't feel stupid and useless I don't let myself blog. So "greenish" is a semi-lobotomized persona properly consigned to anonymity, the equivalent of a receptionist who works weekends to take messages and recite boilerplate while the actual workers and executives are gone.

People who have never experienced insomnia or "nocturnalism" (the inability to sleep at night) don't know how nasty it can be. I have been having some running bouts of it, going for up to 30 plus hours and then crashing...

The inability to sleep in any normal pattern at night is just as bad...Marcel Proust who was Jewish, gay, and "nocturnal" (could not sleep at nights) said that of the three, the nocturnalism could be the most socially isolating. I can somewhat vouch for that...being a late day worker, all of my social contacts are at work and most at night...good luck on getting the sleep thing worked out...but on the other hand we don't want to sleep our life away. :-)


Regarding the rich, I don't see them as much of a problem in the real physical world. Most of their wealth is a fantasy which exists only in cyberspace. Their carbon footprints are probably only slightly higher than the middle class of the developed world. They probably eat less than average people in developed counties and have fewer children. Their imaginary wealth (digits in computers) might still be harnessed to fund building a post carbon infrastructure.

On the other hand, the social welfare/criminal class of New Zealand is a rapidly growing population, and they all drive cars, as do their teenaged children, licensed or not. They have no interest in pursuing (free!) education to learn careers that would contribute to building a post carbon infrastructure. In the real world, they contribute to crowding in the housing market, on the motorways, and have made public places and schools unsafe.

The minister said 345,000 New Zealanders currently receive a benefit, costing taxpayers $4.8 billion a year.

This in a tiny nation of 4 million!

MicroHydro, you are certainly paranoid and elitist, but you are simply uninformed about footprints and wealth. Solipsism isn't going to save the world.

P.S. What is the comparative _energy_ footprint of the wealthy?

P.P.S. Capitalism primarily benefits the rich, and it is utterly incompatible with sustainable human society.

If you can't see this, one wonders what you think you're doing reading TOD...

Michael Dawson, you said,

"P.P.S. Capitalism primarily benefits the rich, and it is utterly incompatible with sustainable human society.

If you can't see this, one wonders what you think you're doing reading TOD..."

Is agreement with the above statement now the litmus test for being an acceptable TOD reader? Just want to check, don't want to break any rules...

Dr. House: "I see you got some scars there, tried to cut the old wrists huh?"
Nurse: "We don't talk about that at this meeting."
Dr. House: "Oh, I'm sorry, is talking about suicide forbidden? Because if I were to break any rules on my first meeting I would JUST KILL MYSELF!"


MicroHydro seems part of the white (Anglo) class that invaded New Zealand in the early 19th Century - with their advanced technology and germs they won a long and brutal war against the Maori people, and also armed certain Maori tribes to wage war with other tribes. Meanwhile the white (Pakeha) class stole every decent acre of land over the whole country, and most Maori people were marginalised and excluded from the mainstream wealth of the country, for generations.

Now this same class of well-off whites (such as MicroHydro) get the screaming sh*ts because some of those groups have rebounded, revived, and re-constituted themselves, after being on the mat for decades. As part of that there has been migration from other South Pacific islands as well.

At last the dominant Anglo/Pakeha class is feeling a bit nervous and threatened ... and a good thing too.

"On the other hand, the social welfare/criminal class of New Zealand is a rapidly growing population ..." - well, so what? The Anglo/Pakeha class have been criminal in so many ways for 170 years ... how do you expect the Indigenous underclass to react and respond. And $4.8billion among four million people - a very cheap price, for what the invaders have done to Aotearoa (New Zealand) and its peoples.

Oh no.
Not us nasty colonials again!

We really are a race apart.
Do you think it is genetic?

So sorry to be rude, but what did the Maori do to the Moriori?

That's so terribly predictable ... what one group of Maori did on the Chatham Islands (with Pakeha weapons) was not pretty, but it doesn't excuse, explain, or condone what Pakeha have done to almost all Maori people for a very long time. Actually, I quite like watching modern-day Pakeha squirming over the "racial problems" they have now ... and especially their complete disconnect from how they might have wound up in such a position.

While I agree it is a fantasy, many of them know that, and so have hedged, if you have 500lbs of wheat and they've socked away 50,000lbs, along with six thousand gallons of diesel, 20kw of solar panel, 50 troy oz's of gold, and 50,000 rounds of ammo, they might just be as differentiated in teotwaki as they are now.

Take a look at the recent political wrangling related to how to pay for health care and who gets health care and who does not.
Sorry to quote favorite songs so much, but here is a line from one of Leonard Cohen's songs.

"Everybody knows."

and a bit more....

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows.....

Yes, something is rank indeed. We define ourselves and our situation in terms that are not tools by which we can bring about peace and equity.

We use conventions -- freedom, free market, socialist, communist, democracy, terrorist, freedom fighter, AntiChrist, Christ, Satan -- and so forth. These words are made to elicit "fight or flight" emotions of raw, wordless rage and fear.

The notion of equity is a quaint relic of the past and now is only used to manipulate people into compliance with the agenda of keeping the rabble in line for as long as the rabble is a useful pool of resources.

Our leaders make a big deal -- often believing it themselves -- that we are good and are helping others --from the poor in this countrey to the poor around the world. We (USA) spend far, far more on weapons and we sell more weapons around the world than we do anything else.

If famine, drought, and disease does not get rid of enough people, we are arming the world so that "you and him" can fight. When many are dead and those left are too short of resources to survive it is easier to manage people as a throw away resource.

Status is gained -- whether we like it or not -- by being the most calculating, rapacious, and cruel member of any given society. William Catton calls ours "the pick pocket culture." That is, most of us try to sneak around geting more of the goodies than is good for us. Those who are "successful" are those at the top of the heap of grasping humans. We've actually set up our political systems and our business laws to hold down the poor and to enable the wealthy and powerful to draw more wealth and power from others.

This does not end well. We destroy that which gives us life in the process of competing for domination.

There are other songs about this....

But Nate -- you have lots of status here for contributing so well and so often to the stimulating discussion. Thanks for doing this rather than trying to become a clone of Rupert Murdoch or Madoff.

Hi Begger,

I can relate well to your comment. But I wonder about this:

The notion of equity is a quaint relic of the past and now is only used to manipulate people into compliance with the agenda of keeping the rabble in line for as long as the rabble is a useful pool of resources.

It kind of sounds like you are describing a conspiracy by an elite group of people with the most money and power. I don't subscribe to most conspiracy theories because it gives the conspirators too much credit. But, I do suspect a kind of conspiracy by the notion of "memes" as postulated by the British scientist Richard Dawkins.

There is the viral idea that humans are "special" among all other species because we have a supernatural dimension (for many, a "soul") that is only possessed by humans. This concept, that is passed on as a meme (mostly by parental religious indoctrination) cripples us from understanding that we are simply one component of the earth's biosphere.

Given this basic orientation, most of us fail to understand the value of cooperation vs competition. Most of us are taught that some god has given man dominance over the planet and the act of "dominating" is a good thing.

IMHO, the idea of "equality" needs to be considered in context. Nate opened his essay with:

Equality is a function of population

This should not be glossed over. If we go back 50K years and think about tribal life, we can reasonably speculate about how cooperation and equality worked for the survival of the group. Today, we humans live in a totally "un-natural" world (based upon cheap FF) with a population level that has little hope of being perpetuated for many more decades. Equality at this time does seem to be the "quaint relic" you mention. It is really hard to understand what set of dynamics could result in some sort of global equality for 7B humans in an era of diminishing resources and deteriorating biosphere.

And, Nate asked:

Any good ideas on how to change our status/aspiration metric away from conspicuous consumption?

In the movie "Alien" the guy is lying on the table with this creature attached to his face with a tentacle into his body. The worldview of most people is like this creature. The grip of thinking that humans are special, part supernatural beings, makes it nearly impossible to understand that consumption of earth's physical resources needs to be constrained by the laws of nature.

The popularity of the movie "Avatar" was a bit hopeful - but, probably not.

"There is the viral idea that humans are "special" among all other species because we have a supernatural dimension (for many, a "soul") that is only possessed by humans. This concept, that is passed on as a meme (mostly by parental religious indoctrination) cripples us from understanding that we are simply one component of the earth's biosphere."

Hi Dave,
I dont think this is something we are necessarily indoctrinated with by our parents or society. Its quite possible for us as individuals to look around and see that the level at which humans can adapt their environment to suit their needs (at the expense of other species in most cases) is far greater than that of other lifeforms.

Grautr writes: "There is the viral idea that humans are "special" among all other species because....".

IMO it is the (most of all) Christen religion that implanted that in us. When I was in grade 1, we had Religion as a subject in class and the priest told us that the difference between animals and us is that we have a soul and thus can believe in God. The Church tried to hold on to the elevated status of man by adopting the cosmological theory of Ptolemy and Aristotle where the earth is the center of the universe. With the advent of the Copernican view the Church was quick to see the extreme danger of losing the status and this is why Gordano Bruno and Galileo suffered harsh consequences.

In Genesis: “Make you the world subdue”. And we are at it with a vengeance!

But then of course to be fair you have to mention the exceptions in the other direction among the "soul" indoctrinated...Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi (with his well known concern for the treatment of beasts as well as fellow humans), Albert Schweitzer with his anti colonial doctrine and life of service to the poorest of the poor...just for the most notable ones...by the way, is there any indication that supposedly official "atheistic" cultures such as Marxist Russia and China or Hitler's Germany were kinder to either other humans or the planet?


Hi RC,

Much has been written about good deeds vs bad deeds of Christianity - I conclude that the bad far out weighs the good. But, that is a very long argument. To imply that the Marxist or Chinese somehow illustrate the notion that atheists can be unkind to other humans or the planet is another twisted argument that is far more complicated than you are suggesting.

But, the Hitler issue is interesting (1) as he was raised a catholic - although it appears his father was somewhat of a skeptic and Adolf also drifted from the faith. However, the more important point is how Hitler used Christianity

In public statements, especially at the beginning of his rule, Hitler frequently spoke positively about the Christian heritage of German culture, and his belief in the "Aryan" Christ. In a proclamation to the German Nation February 1, 1933 Hitler stated, "The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life."[7]

Historian Joachim Fest wrote, "Hitler knew, through the constant invocation of the God the Lord (German: Herrgott) or of providence (German: Vorsehung), to make the impression of a godly way of thought."[8] He used his "ability to simulate, even to potentially critical Church leaders, an image of a leader keen to uphold and protect Christianity," according to biographer Ian Kershaw. Kershaw adds that Hitler's ability also succeeded in appeasing possible Church resistance to anti-Christian Nazi Party radicals.[9] For example, on March 23, 1933, he addressed the Reichstag: "The National Government regards the two Christian confessions (i.e. Catholicism and Protestantism) as factors essential to the soul of the German people. ... We hold the spiritual forces of Christianity to be indispensable elements in the moral uplift of most of the German people.[10]

According to Hitler's chief architect Albert Speer, Hitler remained a formal member of the Catholic Church until his death. Although it was Speer's opinion that "he had no real attachment to it."[11] According to biographer John Toland, Hitler was still "a member in good standing of the Church of Rome despite detestation of its hierarchy, he carried within him its teaching that the Jew was the killer of God. The extermination, therefore, could be done without a twinge of conscience since he was merely acting as the avenging hand of God—so long as it was done impersonally, without cruelty."

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler's_religious_views

bicycle dave,

Yes, your points are well taken. And it absolutely cannot be denied that Hitler played on a long tradition of anti-Semitism in Europe, a tradition long present in European Christianity.

Which brings up another whole fascinating discussion of how religion can easily be used as a tool by those good at orchestrated propaganda, as can, by the way, race and gender issues. I think many here on TOD are very perceptive to this, that many so called "religious" or "philosopical" disputes are at the core disputes about resources.

I want to stress that I was not trying to argue the "good deed vs. bad deed" point as much as I was stressing the fascinating (to me anyway) point that some of the greatest thinkers in the history of Christianity, the Jewish faith and Islam (among the occidental faiths, the eastern faiths have as great a tradition of exceptional visionaries) have came down on what we would today consider social justice, international fairness and some have been ahead of their time in seeing the need for ecological responsibility, and some of these folks were ahead of their own congregations on this, suffering some social isolation from their own group...the exceptions fascinate us because they are exceptional...what is it that made these visionary thinkers (and activists) find what they felt to be the core kernal of wisdom in the faith that had been so easily used as a tool for oppression by many? Books could be written on the subject (and have been), but it seems that belief in things like "soul" and an afterlife, and atonement and forgiveness, etc.,do not in themselves prevent a person from being very enlightened on issues of sustainability, ecology, social justice etc. They do not assure it, but they certainly don't seem to prevent it.


Hi RC,

It probably makes sense that "visionary thinkers" were related to religious faiths - a few hundred years ago, these were probably among the few people who could both spend the time in this kind of discourse and also have any chance of it being recorded.

it seems that belief in things like "soul" and an afterlife, and atonement and forgiveness, etc.,do not in themselves prevent a person from being very enlightened on issues of sustainability, ecology, social justice etc. They do not assure it, but they certainly don't seem to prevent it.

We are probably getting a little off topic here, but I would argue that these beliefs DO prevent enlightenment on the issues you mention. If a person absolutely believes as a "truth" that they have a soul that will experience a life after death, then it is clear that this person has no concept of "truth". If a person is unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood, then I submit that this person has a very real handicap in terms of making rational decisions regarding the welfare of future generations of humans - including their own offspring.

This handicap can lead to issues like not understanding the value curtailing population growth (birth control, abortion, morning after drugs, etc); or the practice of raising livestock in confinement (we have dominion over the earth which is here to support our needs); or discrimination based upon sex or race (god has chosen certain men to be dominant). But, most important is the idea that earth is just a temporary place where we are tested to determine our reward or punishment in the next world. Salvation is far more important than preservation of the biosphere. This whole concept of "salvation" is a meme that is probably worse than cancer.

bicycle dave,

Yet I am not prone to dismissing the work of great minds on the basis of their believe in religion or supernatural forces or I would essentially have to eclare Issaac Newton (who was even prone to apocolyptic end of the world prophecy) or Blaise Pascal (who claimed mystic conversion himself, believed absolutely in miracles, and wrote essays in the dispute between Jansenist and Janist orders of the church for the remainder of his life) as deficient minds. I am not sure that kind of "deficient" for reasons of faith would be any different than the reverse, which was the deficient for reasons of lack of faith used in the Inquisition against heretics.

Would we essentially be declaring any scientist who expressed faith as deficient and therefore not able to practice science? Would it be retroactive to the work of Newton or Pascal or the many other scientists who have been openly (or sometimes not so openly) religious? The astronomer Johannes Kepler, in danger of being accused of heresy, was quoted as having said that faith was a very personal thing to him, not to be treated as trifle or a toy. I still think that is the safest path.


Hi RC,

I feel a little guilty sucking up bandwidth on this, But...

Certainly I know people of faith who have a lot more brain power than I have - they can solve math problems faster, great debaters, have wonderful specialized skills, etc. If I need heart surgery I want to know the surgeon's qualifications - not his religious faith.

But, I've also read great authors who are non-believers. I generally find that people who are both very talented in some specialized area and also devout Christians generally have very closed minds on the big issues facing the planet - most just assume that technology will solve all of our problems.

But, aside from my personal observations, my reading of great figures in science leads me to believe that people like Newton and Einstein often have their religious beliefs distorted by the faithful. Lets look at Newton (1):

According to most scholars, Newton was Arian, not holding to Trinitarianism.[7][19] 'In Newton's eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin'.[22] As well as being antitrinitarian, Newton also rejected the orthodox doctrines of the immortal soul,[citation needed] a personal devil and literal demons.[7] Although he was not a Socinian he shared many similar beliefs with them.[7] A manuscript he sent to John Locke in which he disputed the existence of the Trinity was never published.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that Newton - like many contemporaries - would have faced severe punishment if he would have been open about his religious beliefs, as harmlessly heretic as they appear to us today. Heresy was a crime that could have been punishable by the loss of all property and status or even death[23], although given Newton's stature it is unlikely that such a sentence would have been carried out. Despite his numerous statements to the contrary, his body of work as a whole actually leans towards a great deal of skepticism; it is tempting to read between the lines, especially given that his so-called piousness often reads off as somewhat sardonic or even forced. For example, he begins his text on the prophecies of Daniel with an attack on witchcraft[24], which reads off as an attempt to quell possible suspicions, given his interest in alchemy. These political realities make it very difficult to understand what Newton actually believed, regardless of what he was indirectly coerced to say and write[25]. No label other than "deist" can be applied with much certainty.

To be a "deist" in his time was probably more dangerous than being an atheist today.

As for Einstein (2):

What were Albert Einstein's religious beliefs? .... When that question was put to him, Einstein once responded, "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony in what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."

Spinoza was a Dutch philosopher in the 1600's(?) who used the word "God" to denote some mystical cosmic unity,.... Einstein. He wrote an article for the _New York Times... expounding his religious beliefs ...He spoke of himself as having a "cosmic religious sense," which knows "no dogmas and no God made in man's image," which he said was shared with the great mystics; he compared himself with the likes of Democritus, St. Francis, and Spinoza. He also commented that one must have a poor moral sense if the only way one could act virtuously is if one expect rewards and punishments after death....stated that the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent being runs afoul of the Problem of Evil. He also stated that the dominant religions of our part of the world could do without this particular concept. He seemed to feel that one could not conclusively _disprove_ the existence of such a being, but felt that there was no positive reason to believe that one exists, so he did not believe in the existence of any such being.

It seems to me that many great scientist of previous times took a great risk in revealing themselves as "deists". This is also true of many of the US founding fathers. The belief systems of deists bear little resemblance to the christian ideas of personal god, soul, afterlife, etc. I don't consider deists to have any similarity with the organized religions that dominate today.

The astronomer Johannes Kepler, in danger of being accused of heresy, was quoted as having said that faith was a very personal thing to him, not to treated as trifle or a toy. I still think that is the safest path.

I think this was the prudent wisdom of the day - back then. Now, we should move forward and, IMHO, support organizations like the Council for Secular Humanism (3):

The mission of the Council for Secular Humanism is to advocate and defend a nonreligious lifestance rooted in science, naturalistic philosophy, and humanist ethics and to serve and support adherents of that lifestance.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton's_religious_views
(2) http://www.skepticfiles.org/atheist/eindoc.htm
(3) http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=about

bicycle dave,

Like you, I don't want to belabor the issue too far either...but several points you make were of interest, first, tha Einstein referred to " Democritus, St. Francis, and Spinoza" as intellectual companions...all I can say is what company to keep! :-)

What you point to strikes me as demonstrating the incredible variety of thought on what can be called spiritual/religious issues. It is a very personal thing. On the "deist" label, I am well familiar with it being in most respects somewhat Unitarian in my own leanings, but I still can't exactly define it! I am not sure anyone can, and among the thinkers of history it would be even harder to get a handle on given their independence of mind, which brings me to my final and what I consider central point...

It seems that now days so much of life is now public property...everything has to be labeled, talked about, put on TV, etc. Religious belief, sexual preference, political leanings, tastes in everything seems to now be public property. I am going to agree with you, if a doctor is working on my heart, I am most concerned that he knows what he is doing, which leads me to an example...

A friend of mine was recovering from cancer and being treated by a Pakistani doctor right after 9-11-01. The doctor told her "I am Muslim so if you don't want me to treat you I can recommend someone else." She said "look, if you were going to try to kill me, you have already had plenty of chances." The lady survived lung cancer (recall, this was 9 years ago!) and is at work to this day...:-)

I will leave it at that.


Hi Grautr,

Its quite possible for us as individuals to look around and see that the level at which humans can adapt their environment to suit their needs (at the expense of other species in most cases) is far greater than that of other lifeforms.

I'm sure this is a major factor, but it does not seem to account for our callous regard for other species as really intelligent adaptation would recognize our dependency on the rest of the biosphere.

I caught some of Sarah Palin's speech on CNN - she was bragging about how she believes in "American Exceptional-ism", our god given right to natural resources (drill, drill, drill), and several utterances about god blessing Americans and America. Every time someone says "god bless America" you can see brainwashing at work.

There is an old saying that goes something like: "its easy to get bad people to do bad things; but to get good people to do bad things, you need religion"

"she was bragging about how she believes in "American Exceptional-ism", our god given right to natural resources (drill, drill, drill)"

It's telling how these people believe in protecting unborn life, the "right to life", yet don't believe in conserving resources and the planet so that the "yet to be born" will have a viable place to live, and the resources they need to live in it.

I'm no fan of the extreme Fundy movement, but I'll say it again..

Blind Faith, Blind Hope, Blind Fear and Blind Rage all deserve to be challenged and defeated.. at least they do have a common denominator which should give a decent clue on how to proceed.

Nice to see you writing again, Nate. Hope your thesis is going well.

I have little empathy with the issues you discuss. Of course status seeking and making money is common currency. But it's never been very important to me. In fact, it is basically undetectable among just about everyone I know. You appear to have emerged from that very unhappy world only recently. Well, better late than never. I've never lived in it. Lots of people have never lived in it, probably always a relatively small minority. But still, lots of people. Does that make us something other than human? I don't think so.

Your questions are too tough for me. I don't have any idea how to "come up with a creative, not-too-disruptive plan where energy descent is paired with aspiration descent?" Conspicuous consumption goes away when the money goes away, doesn't it?

oldchuck said,
"Conspicuous consumption goes away when the money goes away, doesn't it?"

Fascinating statement, and one would think so...but there has never been a historical case of it being true...in fact the opposite seems true. Let me explain briefly (for me anyway)

From the first moment of any surplus whatsoever, humans began spending thier version of wealth on what we call "luxury" items...self adornment by way of tattoos and jewelry, adornment of personal possessions, decorated shields, masks, and weapons (this still has appeal, you should see some of adorned weapons among the gangs and criminal element) decorated saddles...and then it just kept moving up the line. But the fascinating thing is that humans will spend money on status items even bofore so called "necessities" such as adaquete food,shelter or insurance.

In the early days, there was of course a real reason for this...the wealth a person had was carried with them or even better on them because there were no safe places to put it such as banks, vaults, etc., and no way to insure it. Thus the long fascination by women with valuable jewelry that can be sold quickly ("diamonds are a girls best friend"). The carrying of weapons was part of the same deal, to assure the protection of wealth carried on the person (look again at street gangs with their fascination with gold, and pistols to protect the wealth they cannot place in banks, given that is often ill gotten and not taxable income so to speak.

Thus this becomes the social status of the group, including the females, who adorn themselves with jewelry, piercings, tattoos, elaborately decorated fingernails and other personal adornment that is always with them.

I have personally seen working class young women take out "pay day" loans at fantastic interest rates to get a tattoo, piercing or expensive nail job...even as they were in danger of being evicted from their apartment...is it totally non-sensical unless one understands the anthropology at work.

Of course the level soon moves upward to cars, furnishings and homes, where people buy extravagent household items, vehicles, and houses far above their ability to pay for them...again, no indication that lack of money prevents at least the effort to social climb by way of what would be called conspicuous consumption. It is as human as thumbs.

Amazingly, it is the wealthy, the truly wealthy, who do not need this type of validation...for example Warren Buffett lives in a relatively modest middle class home he has had for over 30 years and drives a well worn Lincoln Continental. I have a friend who I graduated high school with, the daughter of a banker, one of the richest families in our state, and she drove first a Ford Elite and then a Cadillac Eldorado to over 200,000 miles each, and could easily discuss the sales that were on at K-Mart (which the middle class women who know her find absolutely adorable...a type of social status in being "down to earth" and frugal!

The retired racecar driver Bobby Rahal was once asked about his fondness for BMW's in his younger years. Now able to afford any car he wanted, he replied that he had switched to Volkswagen Golf's because the BMW's had simply gotten too expensive! We should remember that it was the prosperous who engaged in "reverse snobbery" in buying many of the Volkswagen Beetles sold in the U.S. and made them something of a status items. As someone pointed out in this string above, it has been the prosperous who have been good customers for the Prius Hybrids, and who have been able to build solar and PV homes. Mercedes Benz now sells a hybrid, and Porsche has shown an incredibly engineered hybrid sportscar at the Geneva auto show, both of these cars priced far above what anyone who had to worry about fuel consumption can pay. The added security of low fuel consumption and low greenhouse gas emissions are becoming status items (the rich are deeply concerned that they will be the first targets of any "carbon" tax or regulation, and they may very well be)

All this to say that one can make a case that reduced income does not equal reduced conspicuous consumption, and in fact just the opposite may be in many (not all, but many cases) true.

All this to answer your last point, oldchuck, "Your questions are too tough for me. I don't have any idea how to "come up with a creative, not-too-disruptive plan where energy descent is paired with aspiration descent?" I will handle that in a later post, but if you read what I have written above, you will probably be able to guess...hint: You don't sell on the basis of "reducing" aspirations, you sell on the point of ADDING security and a new definition of "status". (First rule of sales...you never try to sell less for more...you promise and deliver more for less. :-) And that is great, because that is the very definition of "efficiency" and "elegant engineering".


The rich may avoid conspicuous consumption and shop at K-Mart but how often do they fly first class for weekends in Paris? That one flight more than offsets the fuel economy of that Prius. Buffet may drive an old Lincoln back in Omaha but he still rides in that luxury Gulfstream to inspect his investments all over the world.

thomas deplume,

Agreed, but so do the middle class fly all over the world...and if you fly first class vs. coach, it still consumes fuel...the worldwide vacation spots and resorts could not survive on the scale they do on the "Buffett" class traveler alone, and I know middle class folks who seem to travel as much as our local wealthy seem to, and there are so many more of them! As far as the Prius vs. air travel argument, does it not consume less to drive efficiently (which one does everyday)? Then if the same person flies, at least the consumption is coming down in some segment of their transport (the driving)...because I am willing to bet that folks who own SUV's do not cut back on their air travel to make up for the additional fuel their SUV is consuming.


Who you are is who you think you are. Time is our personal accounting, our narrative of our experience. Try to figure out when you hear your footfall in the dry grass. Always past tense. So, ego, our personal accounting, gives us the notion of sequential events and that is what we call time, only a construct that comes from our head. Without a personal log, the notion of passing time becomes more difficult, when we die, the clock quits ticking. But, because we are biological, time is marked for us, by at least the beating of our hearts, a past tense sequence (we do after all call the heart "the ticker"). Because I am biological I can't step out of time.

So, the really rich guy who dropped dead last week no longer has a beating heart and is now just rotting biological matter. The nice car, nice house, big bank account means nothing to him, because he's gone, although his heirs appreciate his industry while among the living. Make a list of what and who you are. Take your time, write down everything, your whole life's history, all the detail you can recall. You'll fill up a dozen legal pads. When you've got all you can, put it on the shelf for six months and forget it. When you reread your history, your accounting of your life, you will likely be struck by the fact that you are nothing but a past tense description. You're just words, and they mean nothing for the right now, no reality, just past tense description. All that you are is "right now" and that little bit of you is instantly past tense. You will never again be intimidated, awed, or flummoxed by an over achiever. Set your pads on fire and watch them burn. Now, you'll be free to dance how ever you like, whatever the tune.

If making money is what rings your bell, go for it. If you'd rather garden, be a gardener, or a writer, or a farmer, or a shoemaker, or a seamstress.

Lots of folks aren't happy because they never figure out what it is that they want to be (the source of status conflict). Once you've got it figured, it's easy, but, you've got to get it first. And, you have to understand the trap that ego can be. To waste one's life with meaningless pursuit for the cause of status, or ego, is tragedy. Best from the Fremont where last fall's manure is thawing in the pastures.

Lovely points, Fremont, but how do you propose to change the present course of society? Wait for everybody to wake up and drop out? Good luck with that.

For somebody opposed to ego, you seem to have a pretty radically small and self-oriented view of this topic.

I can't change society, I wouldn't try to change a single soul; finding the way isn't something one human can do for another. I believe "us human beings" are doomed and I'm never surprised by our collective arrogance or our hubris. Ego is the culprit, the monster with 10,000 heads. More fundamentally, I really don't care. I'm happy, leave a small footprint, status doesn't count. I have friends who have much, and friends who have very little; I have enough. I take everyone at face value; no judgment, no envy. I have no stake, maybe that's the reason my life has been a good one. Best from the Fremont Land of the Sleeping Rainbow

Read the disclaimer: Sorry folks, but the Ego is a pre-existing condition and may not be covered by your current insurance policies...it was there from the moment you were concieved, you began kicking in the womb...the greatest "we" begins with the smallest "me". Plato knew it, Freud knew it, and everyone since knows it, right up to and beyond Ayn Rand. It is easy to say that we can allow the individual "me" to suffer, as long as that individual "me" isn't really me. No theory is worth a life, no work of art worth a life, because one life is the greatest work of art, far exceeding the paper and bronze and steel crap. The unnecessary loss of one life is to be avoided in so far as it is possible...but of course we know that it is not always possible.

The willing and purposeful disregard and disrespect of even one life leads to Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen no matter what kind of high idea of "sacrifice" we try to tie to it. Note the wording "the willing and purposeful disregard and disrespect". We may know that people given a certain set of conditions (dieoff as it's called often here) may die...but to willingly hope for such an occasion or to disregard or disrespect human lfe in not trying to avoid it...that is to me simply not an acceptable option...of course like all humans there is the element of greed and self preservation in the noble cause stated above...because if we can sacrifice the "me" so easily, how can I be sure you don't really mean me? If I willingly choose to sacrifice my life, that is my choice, that is my "Ego" deciding, but who among us has the right to make that choice for someone else, who has the wisdom?


I am not "..opposed to ego". The ego has a proper role, and that role is self definition, or drawing the boundaries around what is self and what is not. Without ego, I'm afraid we'd float off into never-never land, and not return. Ego is always present, simply because we can not step out of time and the narrative is always ongoing. Ego, especially in western culture, and to our detriment, often is all that defines the person, as in "I have a pretty wife", or "My children are very bright", or "I have such a nice home", and so the fuse is lit for status conflict, jealousy, and dissatisfaction. Ego should not be allowed the leadership role in the conduct of one's life, because, in my opinion, ego is, and can only be self serving. A good action done at the direction of the ego lacks authenticity. I can have a pretty wife, my children can be bright, and I can live in a nice home, but, my good fortune with regard to my wife, my children, and my home, ought not be allowed to become a part of my self definition, i.e., my ego. Ego should not be allowed to define the person, rather, the person should define the ego. How to control the ego?.... Forget who you are, erase the time narrative. We are much more than what ego says we are, but most don't know that. Best from the Fremont.

Fremont, I do not dispute your goal...it has been attempted with varying degrees of success by mystics for centuries. Good luck on enlightenment. :-) (I wouldn't mind achieving it myself, but fear I am too intellectually or spiritually lazy..great, all I need is another unmet goal!)


We need a "Society of Sloth."

The term comes from the guy who started "Die Off" (Jay Hansen?) and denotes a society that is fairly slow, oriented to local foods and culture. We need less material stuff and we do not have the resources to consume as much energy and stuff as we once did -- we have brought ourselves to the brink of extinction with overconsumption.

We need to remember another thing: we are all freeloaders. Mother earth does not owe any of us another breathe of air, another sip of water, or another bite to eat.

Again, we are all free-loaders.

Our stories of status are lies -- false plumage. The real deal is that we have quite proudly destroyed most of the planet as though we declared war on it.

I think that life would be better if we recognise that we are all freeloaders, and that we need to take it easy.

Begger, you said, (and I am glad you did)

"We need to remember another thing: we are all freeloaders. Mother earth does not owe any of us another breathe of air, another sip of water, or another bite to eat."

I said something somewhat similiar here on TOD several weeks ago and was not well recieved, but what I said was slightly different: The Earth owes us nothing. Everything we get we must extract in some way from the earth or the sun. Humans, like every living creature, consume, there is simply no way out of that except to die.

So in that way, I do not consider us all freeloaders...at least some of us (by which I mean some humans)must, through hard thought or hard effort (and thought is much more efficient) find some way to extract our living from the earth...or the sun (do not dismiss the power of looking up instead of down)

Now the other side of this equation is also true, and what I say may sound shocking: We owe "the earth" absolutely nothing. We must assume we have a right to be here...or we wouldn't be here! "Choose Life" is a silly inversion...we do not have to "Choose Life", life chose us (and again by us I mean humans). The reason we want to demonstrate good stewardship of the earth is because it is our source of life...there is a way in which environmentalism is a greed motivated science (or art as the case may be) because we don't want to destroy the provider of our own existence. The last thing an actor needs is for the theatre to be burned down while the play is still on...it just ruins the ending!

One of the first environmentalists I heard of and read was Barry Commoner (this is partially attributable to my age...I later came into contact with earlier voices such as Rachel Carson and other voices) and it was Commoner who helped form my view of ecology. I still consider him one of the great intellectual leaders of the science of ecology. Below are Commoners 4 laws of ecology:

1. Everything is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.

2. Everything Must Go Somewhere. There is no "waste" in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.

3. Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system.”

4. There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Everything comes from something. There's no such thing as spontaneous existence.

Commoner's first law is extremely important, because what he is saying (and he elaborated on this in later writings) is that "ecology" is essentially for the benefit of humans. If we lose a species by destructive behavior, the loss of the species is indeed a tragic event, an irreversable loss, but more importantly to humans it indicates that something is WRONG with the way we are doing things, and that something will sooner or later come back to haunt humans. It is why we concern ourselves even with species we may find personally distasteful (certain predators of humans in fact). If we make the assumption that the earth owes us nothing (and I do, and so did Commoner), and the further assumption that we "owe" the earth nothing (and I do, because we are at the end of the day another species sharing the planet, and have as much right to be here as they do) we would still engage in caution in how we treat the earth simply out of self preservation.

Commoner's third law is fascinating to me, and one that has always given me problems. If we assume that humans have a right to be here, and that we did not create our own brains (seems unlikely doesn't it) then the product of that brain is an extension of nature. If the product of the human (created by nature) brain (created by nature) is technology, how can we avoid the conclusion that technology is in fact created by nature?

Radical view, I know. But it has a long precedent in many ways: It was at the heart of "Humanistic" design and art going back to the Greeks, revived in the Renaissance, considered in the architecture of the American romantic 'Transcendentalist' architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, and now revived in "green" sustainable building and engineering. It may be that technology and art is as natural as trees and flowers and fish when well done, but to this point it has simply been so primitive it is hard to see this. (By the way, this would also include that other natural development of the natural human brain, an organic and natural economics...radical thought indeed)

I will leave off without a long discussion of Commoners 4th law, but it is very important and somewhat controversial in what it implies...
"4. There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Everything comes from something. There's no such thing as spontaneous existence."

Critics of Commoner instantly saw that this law has deep mystical and even religious overtones...if everything comes from somewhere, the old childhood question returns...where did all physical reality come from? I will leave the 4th law for discussion by the metaphysical philosophers, I have already asserted more than enough to deal with in asserting that art and technology are natural and organic at the deepest level as is economics, we simply have not gotten there yet.

(I hope you guys notice that your getting this stuff for free simply because I am on my weekend, it's cold and damp out and I am bored to tears!)


As a resident of Slonoma, I concur, slowly. The smartest minds are those who figured out how to do more with less effort. Unfortunately, we did not turn all that newfound efficiency into leisure, or as you put it, sloth. And so much of what we do with efficiency, should not be done at all. Adam Smith imagined that we would have to do less labor with more labor saving devices. Didn't happen, of course, as we just multiplied our wants.

Want more employment? Slow down. Wait a little longer for your food. If we slow down enough, we will all be walking.

tstreet said,
"If we slow down enough, we will all be walking."

No, if we slow down enough we all be dead. This is what Toffler explained so well in "Future Shock". Every species, every organization, even every molecule has its optimum speed. Toffler described the rate of change as more important in most cases than the nature of the change itself. The speed means everything.

Too high a rate of change and the system cannot hold together and comes apart much as a car engine will be destroyed by over-reving.

Too slow a rate of change and the system begins to atrophy into paralysis and cannot respond to even the smallest shocks from the outside (other cultures, natural events, changing climate, etc.)

There are sharks that can never stop moving forward unless they are for a brief time turned into a current where nature will push the water through their gills (there is such a lesson in this!), and of course there are slothes which can take up to a month simply to digest the content of leaves in their stomach so by design move very slowly and avoid wasteful energy loss.

What is the ideal pace of change for humans? Frankly, no one knows. There were conjectures made when steam trains were created that no human could take speeds of over 100 miles per hour without damage.

The pace of social change and the parameters of human adaptation to it are even harder to define. What is the slowest pace we can deal with and avoid atrophy, what is the highest pace we can deal with and avoid blowing apart? The problem is that we may not know we have "over-reved" our cultural system until after the fact...sort of like peak oil, but that is where we came in...:-)


We need a "Society of Sloth.

This fatuous meme keeps coming up, as it did above. But here in the USA we just piled on another gigantic limitless government mandate to add to the vast array of other entitlements. The plan to make the hideous expense bearable is to subsidize poor and even poor-ish people.

But if (nearly) everyone adopts the society-of-sloth approach and thereby becomes poor, then where does the subsidy come from? And where do all the other actual and implicit subsidies come from, to support everything from expensive finicky kneeling buses, to Byzantine "accessibility" and fire regs that make traditional two or three story town construction ridiculously costly by filling such buildings to bursting with elevators and stairwells (as Kunstler has pointed out), to elf'n'safety regs that make the cheapest car cost $12,000 instead of $2,500, to "zoning" regs that add to transport expense by rigidly separating businesses from residences in the interest of something-for-nothing "property values", to an infinite assortment of other stuff specified in millions of pages of persnickety, arbitrary bureaucratic rules?

Almost the entire lifestyle is mandated by government. So I ask you roughly the same as-yet-unanswered question I asked sunnata. Which mandates would you like to relax or lift in order to make "sloth" possible on a large scale? And when the affected special-interest groups howl bloody murder and go on TV to whine and snivel with their tear-jerking tales of woe, will you or anyone else really be willing to turn a deaf ear and say, "perhaps this inconveniences you more than someone else, we can't always guarantee absolute equality in every detail of life, but it is no more and no less than what is necessary, so suck it up"?

Well said. To answer your question, though (at least as I understand it): protected interest groups, of which we have many, never voluntarily give up their spoils - rather, the whole thing sort of devolves and/or collapses once the government can no longer afford interest payments on its debt. When this happens is anybody's guess and I'm only willing to suggest that the U.S. in it's present form won't last another 50 years. This is hardly going out on a limb, but it's a nice round figure and nor am I being unreasonably obvious, like saying that the U.S. won't be around in 10,000 years.

Well done MicroHydro, perpetuating the beneficiary bashing myths of New Zealand's National Party elite. Let's associate all beneficiaries with criminals. Let's assume that all of them are secretly living the good life at your expense. Let's paint the lot with the taint of the one bad apple/example that you can trot out.

There is no doubt that there are those who game the system. They will always be there. They are far fewer in number than your government cares to admit. Your implication that a more equal system is the root cause of New Zealand's ills is not supported by the facts. New Zealand is the fourth worst country in the OECD for inequality, and all the ills you complain of are linked to inequality, not any 'social engineering'.

I for one like Daly's suggestion that limiting the income multiplier to 100 would allow the natural social strata to occur without the ills brought about by huge income disparities. Communism is a distopia. So is Capitalism. We need to find the sensible middle ground.

I am a proud, hard working New Zealander, and intend remaining so.

A complete stranger came up to me in Perth and called me "Freak".
She was right.
I like it.

We convert 10 units of oil energy into 1 unit of food energy.
This has enabled us to grow the population from 1.1 billion to 6.7 billion.
And now supply cannot keep up with demand.
Guess what happens next.

Normal won't cut the mustard.

Myself I am some kind of atheist but I have a growing recognition for religion as a comfort and a tool for social engineering. Humans seems to need to believe in something and religion is efficinet for getting things done, good things or bad things.

I got a suspicion that the socialist movement in Sweden to a large degree filled the same needs as the lutherane church. That could explain some of their spectacular political success in the 1960:s. I dont know what faiths now influence large parts of the population, its probably tough to see the forest when all of the trees are hindering the view. We got the old socialists who still think its 1965 or 1975. We got oddly convinced greens, animal right activists and feminists that think within a very small box. We got people who love consumption and people who feel that society ove to support them with free money. But most people are not extreme.

We have some new christians and a fairly large number of newly arrived christians and muslims but classical religion is not a political force in Sweden. This is probably a large difference to the US.

I get the impression that these threads and a large part of the green movement wish for some kind of spiritual awakening where people suddenly start doing the right things. I dont think that will happen but a multitude of good gradual changes ought to be possible, I only have to observe the good things being done and imagine 5% more each year.

Perhaps one thing thats missing from your article is time.

I'm slowly realizing as I decouple from the main stream that simple time becomes my most precious resource. To do with as I will. Certainly I have less money to use as my time increases. However I really need to relearn how to enjoy time without money.

I'm starting to get the knack of it however I think that most people simply don't correctly value their precious time on this earth. I know I don't and I'm starting to increasingly realize my whole value stream was off.

And this is not about being a hard worker or being lazy etc I realize now that a lot of people are simply wrong about working hard. Its stupid. Perhaps people will find that offensive but honestly its really stupid in the end to work your ass off day in and day out.

Thats not to say working is wrong but it needs to be done in balance against other uses of your time. Do I work full time or grow a large garden and cut my "work" load ?

Perhaps instead of work its better to use the term labor. Yes you have to and should labor to take care of yourself however once you have labored enough to meet your basic needs food clothing shelter your not laboring your working and it must be balanced against time.

Hi memmel,

working and it must be balanced against time.

I once read an interview with a elderly gentleman (can't remember his name) who had achieved significant acclaim as an artist - a wood turner who created beautiful wooden bowls. He was passionate about his work and hardly ever missed a day in his shop. He said he only had one rule and that was to leave his shop promptly at 4:00pm and never work a minute longer. He said that he was most happy when he really did not want to quit at 4:00, because he knew he would wake up the next morning with a burning drive to get back to work.

He felt that other artists who work endless hours eventually burned out and lost their passion - he was well into his 80s when he gave the interview - and still working every day.

I do the exact same thing.. only my cutoff is 2am.

Otherwise, no difference. I need a nap.

Interesting that you brought up the subject. I've been doing the same thing (or similar thing) since I was more or less forced into retirement.

Valentines Day

I also garden a lot, but haven't gotten into hunting or fishing. I do find it interesting, in reference to the Wendell Berry notion of work that we love to do, that people tend to gravitate toward hunter-gatherer or pastoral type activities when they retire from working for the civilizational machine.

Hi ET,

Beautiful work!! I'm an amateur wood turner also, but I'm nowhere in your league. In this day of plastics and automation, there are probably only a few of us that can appreciate the craftsmanship that went into your project - just thinking about those inlays gives me goose bumps. I sincerely hope you have found an appropriate market for your fine work.

My uncle has a little shop where he does wood turning and cabinet work in southern Indiana. Great job you guys, and I agree with you on ET's wonderful artistic work.:-)


Good to see Nate is as irrelevant as ever. Anyone else find themselves wishing he would just start his own behavioral science blog and go do his pointless, rambling, academic monologues there instead?

I especially like the part at the end where he admonishes his readers not to think of anything as being "inevitable or frightening". Oh, gosh no, nothing the least bit inevitable OR frightening about the ongoing slow motion train wreck that is global ecological overshoot and the collapse of industrial civilization.

God forbid we should even speak of it!


everyone who is fluent in these conversations knows the Mad Max side of the story. It's assumed. On this blog we are discussing at the margin how to avoid the worst trajectories. For me that is first and foremost having the highest likelihood of avoiding nuclear exchange that wrecks ecosystems not just for our lifespans but into the future and not just for our species but for thousands/millions of others. Squatting on a nihilist viewpoint that mother nature will solve our nasty human overshoot -we should just drink lemonade in the meantime isn't good enough for me.

And I didn't say our overall situation wasn't frightening, just that the fear of financial collapse is overblown - debt overshoot and financial collapse are all about equity (who loses rank and money) and not so much about resources, at least in the near term. A 10-12:1 aggregate EROI is enough to keep civilization going for a generation without economic growth as a goal - in the meantime some other things might be thought up, who knows maybe by someone with a wonky behavioral science blog.

In any case, even if this is wrong I'm certainly not going to look at the world each morning and wish for faster massive ecological destruction as you seem to. Ive admitted many times I don't have the answers. I don't think you do either.


Jerry always gives me a hard time and I appreciate it (even though he may misinterpret that appreciation). I would just say that Nate being an economist, he should really look at the econophysics perspective. There may be nothing we can do about income disparity and that perhaps should go front and center (see my comment further down the thread). In other words, do want a cold, analytic view up front? And then perhaps riff on what it all means.

People aren't equal.
Often, though certainly not always, income differentials exist for a reason. Some people are better/smarter/ then others. And then there is the element of luck. If (most people on this blog) had been born to a 14 year old crackwhore outside of Parakou who was ostracized by her family, even if you had a crazy high IQ you'd be screwed socially and economically.
Life isn't fair and income disparity is all but one manifestation of that, combined with real, inate differences.
That isn't bad or good. It just is.


We make political choices about inequality all the time.

If you look at income distribution figures for Americans in the 20th Century, it is apparent that starting in the 1930s there was a conscious effort to narrow the gap. There was a large political movement that had been dedicated to that goal and had not been listened to until the catastrophe.

Similarly, US advisers had warned that old crook Chiang Kai-Shek in China that land had to be redistributed to reduce the appeal of Mao. He didn't listen to them until he had been chased to Taiwan, to create the most economically egalitarian society in non-Communist Asia. Similar programs were imposed in Japan and South Korea.

You can hardly claim that the resulting societies were crippled by their unnatural intervention in "natural" disparities.

But the great increase in inequality in the last 30 years was just as much a conscious political act. Reagan and his followers overtly believed the country was not unequal enough. One of his advisers admitted (proudly) in a biography that they specifically raised the military budget to force the country into a future financial crisis in which they knew social services to the non-white enemy would be slashed. Simultaneously the cost of that war machine was shifted from taxes on the rich to Treasury bill sales to the rich with, in 1981, double-digit interest. It is hardly a conspiracy theory to say that policies such as these, and deregulation and outsourcing and union-busting, were conscious efforts to increase economic inequality.

Which it did, in spades. It certainly didn't make us conserve oil.

Of course, having created such an artificial state, the beneficiaries now throw their hands in the air and say that it is natural and immutable. I've been suspecting for a long time that people at this site view Peak Oil as an excuse to go even further into a dark past of slavery and oppression, but the clinical and philosophical justification of it in this thread is not just sickening, but bullshit. Is Costa Rica with its universal health care more energy-intensive than Reagan's death squad-ruled Guatemala? Are the Amish or the Aboriginies gas hogs?

Without political intervention, the rich always get richer, fewer and stupider. You cannot ensure humanity's survival under people like that.

Good rant, Jerry. But if you found the post to be so irrelevant, what is the relevance of your challenge, now that some 90 or so posts have found it worthwhile to check in and comment?

It reminds me of the blind men who are all touching different parts of irrelevance, and describing it as completely different things.

All a matter of your point of view, eh?

Nate does get a bit esoteric, I don't disagree, but frankly this is exactly the right place to have a discussion, and let it be as ethereal or arcane as you like.. it's available to join and available to let alone.


Nate, thanks for adding your perspectives to this forum. I'm not usually very gracious, but I do really think you add a valuable set of colors to the gamut The Oil Drum presents.

.. and I'm still sorry for calling you 'overnumerate', way back when. It was a joke. Mostly.


It reminds me of the blind men who are all touching different parts of irrelevance, and describing it as completely different things.

nice "duck soup" homage, if intended!

Chicolini: Now I aska you one. What has a trunk, but no key, weighs 2,000 pounds and lives in a circus?
Prosecutor: That's irrelevant.
Chicolini: Hey, at'sa the answer!

".. and how he got into my pajamas, I'll never know!"

We owe Groucho&Co. a greater debt than we know.

I lean heavily on Marxist precepts.

I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.

Or as Woody Guthrie is supposed to have said, "I don't rightly consider myself a Communist, but I have spent most of my life in the red." :-)


"esoteric"...gee, I am so glad I never lapse into that in my replies....uh, oops...never mind :-) (blush)


Jerry, forgive me, but I don't think you are even sufficiently aware of the big picture to realize you should be ashamed of yourself.

Do you have even the FAINTEST IDEA just how important Nate is and has been in building this site into WHAT IT IS?

Before sticking his pig, a kind farmer might stun Porky with a blow to the head so that he is insensible to what happens next.

It seems that the same thing has happened to the majority of the population.

It is wrong to rouse them from their stupor.

Nate, good to see you back. Hope the thesis went well.

That's a nice pic of the Ohakune Carrot - ironic that MicroHydro didn't spot it.

You sure ask some curly ones -- this is my fourth attempt at a response. My first three were full of jargon like (social) cohesion and (social) mobility. In the end, though, I'll just go with some simple-minded answers.

1. How can we use our increasing understanding of status, resources, and the neuroscience of human behavior to influence/create a more benign future?

Science fiction has speculated on this - Bruce Sterling's Distraction, for example, describes a mechanism. The idea is making 'reputation points' an alternative currency.

2. Competition with con-specifics is part of our heritage. But so is cooperation and empathy. What level of wealth disparity would be healthy and/or tolerable for future of US society?

The short answer is "any level". Provided the people in the different groups can be persuaded that the world is as it should be. The problem is not wealth disparity per se, it's people's beliefs about it. Taking your idea about the 10% and 90% a bit further: if everyone accepts and ignores the fact that one social group has a life expectancy of 35 years, while another has 85 years -- that's just how life is -- then you don't have a problem. (It's just those pesky intellectuals you have to keep an eye on... )

3. How might the debt/financial crisis be an opportunity towards making headway on issues of social equity, both within the United States, and between the United States and other, less well off countries?

It won't be. No. No, I can't see any way. Hard times concentrate wealth, because the already-wealthy can weather hard times better than the poor (contrary to your idea that the USA's Gini coefficient will fall). Neither the Capitalist Party or the Other Capitalist Party (as Dmitri Orlov calls them) are at all interested in redistribution - giving everybody a stake in society.

4. Any good ideas on how to change our status/aspiration metric away from conspicuous consumption?

Ideas? Yes. Effective, probably. Morally repugnant, though. What kind of "good" were you thinking of? (Rhetorical question)

5. Can you think of creative ways to downsize your own aspirations by changing social groups?

Like you, I've been eating my capital for the last few years. Only income has been a few hundred dollars in interest. So, not really.

There you are. You asked; I answered. I don't the answers, though.

Nate, you said earlier:
It seems to me that the government continues to at least attempt to level the playing field ... Increasingly the government trough is making up a larger % ...

Isn't this exactly the process Joseph Tainter described? Every problem is met by an attempt to "manage" it. This inevitably consumes more of the civilization's resources. The problem of increasing resource scarcity is approached the same way, with the result being a downward spiral.

It will take a government of systems thinkers to break the pattern. And that's less likely than ... a very unlikely event indeed.

It will take a government of systems thinkers to break the pattern.

Dr. Russell Ackoff on Systems Thinking - Pt 1

A primer on systems thinking on U Tube

New to me.
Rated 5 stars.

And this lecture by Dr Russell Ackoff nails the problem.

The objectives of decision makers is to maximise their own outcomes.

The stated objectives such as save the planet, feed the people, greenhouse gasses...bla bla bla... are apple pie pontifications.

I think the aristocracy will have their "Oh Shit!" moment.
(I hear tell that Wee Georgie Bush has a fine hold out on his ranch)

I have a scheme I am working on currently. So far I call it the Localization Projects Fund.

The basic premise is that the percentage of the population that has benefited the most from our little consumer capitalism experiment, those who currently hold much of the wealth and equity that was attainable via cheap almost free energy, need to finance the re-localization of infrastructure for the next generations.

We will provide a venue for donations of money, equipment, materials, supplies, real estate, whatever, and put it all directly to work for the transition. It is definitely redistribution of wealth although we won't market as such.

Don't know how successful it will be but at this point ..... it's all I got left.

Hard to tell if you're serious here. If you are, do you have a link to this project?

It's real. We are in the structuring stage making sure we can accept donations legally.

I intend to post more when we are up and at 'em.

Great. Keep us posted.

"Equality" came into vogue only after human slaves were replaced by oil slaves, as that's reversed, fewer will have the luxury to fret over who has the newer jet ski.

Time magazine had an article on ten trends of the next decade, http://tinyurl.com/yeosbhk

"The cultural battle lines of our time, with red America pitted against blue, will be scrambled as Buddhist vegan militia members and evangelical anarchist squatters trade tips on how to build self-sufficient vertical farms from scrap-heap materials."

I like it because a) it is a description of family-level change I've seen growing in the many blogs about dropping out, b) although the Energy Fairy is prominent in this version, with a few tweaks she is less important, and c) it's all about a re-negotiated lifestyle with less emphasis on grabbing the ring and more on enjoying the ride.

"We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal..."

Those guys never heard of OIL.

"All men" to those guys meant white, male, landowners.

What they started was a big change from the Theocratic Monarchies of Europe.. it's way too easy to put them down today for not being as far down the road as we are now, a road that they put us on.

It was Jefferson (IIRC) who changed "Life, Liberty and Property" into "Life, Liberty and Happiness", wasn't it? Seems germane to this conversation about status and wealth.

To your earlier point, you might look at the policies of the People of the Long House, whose system made a strong impression on Jefferson and others who were creating the American Constitution.

"The Six Nations: Oldest Living Participatory Democracy on Earth "

May 16, 1914 (Written as these women observed the fight for Women's Suffrage in the US .. Susan B Anthony, Eliz Cady Stanton, etc.. that succeeded only by 1920)

"Savagery to Civilization"
We, the women of the Iroquois
Own the Land, the Lodge, the Children
Ours is the right to adoption, life or death;
Ours is the right to raise up and depose chiefs;
Ours is the right to representation in all councils;
Ours is the right to make and abrogate treaties;
Ours is the supervision over domestic and foreign policies;
Ours is the trusteeship of tribal property;
Our lives are valued again as high as man's.

The Constitution is an amazing document, so able to bend, but despite what Jefferson wrote (or may have been conflicted by), he owned slaves till he died.

As to the Iroquois:
" Slavery was not unknown to the indigenous peoples of the eastern woodlands, and they practiced a version of it at the time of contact with English traders. Once slaves became something to be bought and sold, however, a powerful new dynamic began shaping the lives of the Georgia Indians."

So, like I said, wealth rides on the backs of slaves, we just happen to not require so many of the human variety at present to create wealth so we can pretend we have progressed.

I keep wondering if the issue isn't so much "equality" as "trashed expectations".

One of the pervading myths of our society is that we can all get to the top, from log cabin to presidency, etc, or if not the top, at least a bit further up the pile, helped in part by the crumbs from the profligate rich man's table.

The realities of resource crunches, be they financial, material, or ecological, trash that myth completely.

But we still cling to it.

And therein lies the problem. Or one of the problems.

I agree, we had a good run there for a while.

We started with resources free for the taking, for the average pioneer joe that meant moving on to the next bit of free land, timber, mineral.

Then it meant getting a factory job,

Then it meant a better education and a white collar job.

Today there is no free land, factory and union jobs are slowly going you-know-where and so are more and more professional jobs and government jobs look like a huge Ponzi scheme.


Social and wealth equality is a dangerous dream. In such a scenario, the societal entropy is at a maximum. We know what is means in physics when one day the universe achieves this state. There is no energy or information flowing anymore. It is the ultimate death. Same with such a society. There is no potential between people, such as love, no desire, no interest in work, no innovation, no rewards. Why would one if all is equal.

Luckily, the masses, religious as they may be, do not follow the Jesus parables and sayings in the New Testament condemning the rich and elevating the poor: “A poor man will easier go through a needle’s oar than a rich man to heaven”. The fundamental in this text is to make all people equal and share the wealth.

We had a good try with communism but it failed for many reason, one being that there was no incentive for better work performance or innovation. In the DDR a widespread custom was to take 2 jackets to work. The spare one was hung over the chair to pretend one is at work and then one took off “shopping” to stand in line for a rare article such as oranges. This could be done because there were only 2 basic salary levels (1980): 1,100 Mark for teachers, police, government officials, etc and 800 Mark for workers such as factory workers, garbage collectors, etc., with some variations for hard or dangerous work. Hence, the equality in one salary level stifled personal involvement in work. Same with pensions. 800 Mark for those salary level 1 workers and 400 Mark for the others.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Gorbachev said that Communism is a good idea but not workable on this planet.

Anyone who thinks that status doesn't matter is living in a different universe. I have lived this from both perspectives and it has come back to bite me. I started with my first little dose of reality when I broke my left upper front tooth. For $35 you could get a gold crown or for $80 you could get porcelain over gold. Needless to say I got AU. Children at about nine years of age can be tremendously cruel to one another. There was a little girl named Cynthia Hicks that had a case of Polio. She was derided mercilessly because of this to the point that I truly would rather them pick on me so she could get respite from their constant goading that she was not the typical Texas beauty. I if course finally got the money to replace my tooth and lost eighty pounds which made all the difference in my perception and therefore my treatment by others. We now see our peers sliding down the scale of social perception and await our turn until we are swept away by the credit crunch or whatever fate will finally take away our way of life. My children think I am overzealous in my ways of preparation for this even though I have told them this is but another form of insurance for this inevitability or possibility, whatever your take on things. I personally don't see any way out for our society ultimately but am unsure of the timing of the implosion. Are there any others that feel that this will be a fast decline or will it be a slow but inevitable slide caused by cascading cross defaults caused by whatever impetus. This can make a big difference in allowing preparation for the events which lead time will make.
Jim Hall

Please view the following as a though experiment, as I am in no way advocating social and economic inequality by any means.

Premise: The greater the socioeconomic inequality, the less total resources a society will consume.

A society consisting of a small wealthy elite plus a large oppressed and impoverished proletariat will consume less total energy and other physical resources than a society in which all the goodies are distributed more or less equally.

Why? Consider for example that while an oligarch's top-of-the-line Bentley may cost as much as 20 mini-cars, he cannot reasonably do 20 times the amount of driving or consume 20 times the amount of fuel. This is particularly true if most of the proletariat don't even own cars, like in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the Cold War years. I suspect that Stalin's USSR had a very small per capita personal energy consumption.

Ditto for air travel. It is of course extremely wasteful to hop around the world on a personal jet. But if you are one of the privileged few doing air travel, then the total amount of fuel consumed as the result of your air travel will be less than that of thousands of college kid flying down to Cancun on spring break. They will of course no longer be in college but rather will be toiling at hard labor, such as harvesting crops on someone else's land.

While outrageously extravagant and expensive, Versailles + the peasant hovels in the surrounding countryside probably consumed far less resources than if single-family modern houses were built for the same amount of people.

I hope it is clear where this line of thinking is going. And that is, in terms of resource consumption there could be certain advantages to having more rather than less inequality. And I think the driving forces pushing things in that direction are already at play in the US, and this may just be the beginning. Of course the formerly comfortable middle class will not take kindly to becoming peasants, and therein lies the potential for some serious ugliness. Stability will likely only be restored through a brutal dictatorial police state. I see it sort of going like this: Equality => Inequality => Social Instability => Totalitarian Oppression.

A corollary is that a free and open society cannot exist in an environment of permanent resource shortages and fierce competition for same. Or said another way, if the pie gets smaller, the big guys will take the same size piece as before, the difference being that the little guys will be sharing the smaller amount of what remains. Daimler Benz and BMW still do a thriving business in many dirt-poor third-world countries.

This would be great grist for a keypost. It is good out-of-the-box thinking with some real points to make.

I agree
(and thanks for your comments upthread Greenish). Also grist for standalone discussion topic..

We could always just get into the habit of executing our "leaders" now and again. French style.

Perhaps there is some merit to this concept but I would need some time to think about it. However, assuming it makes sense, let us modify it a bit by designating a random group of people as the very rich and then periodically rotating a different group of random people into that niche. Everybody gets to be rich for a little while but then has to give it up.

I still tend to believe, though, that our fascination with growth and inequality just means that more people want to be on the treadmill of endless work and consumption Since most of the work is meaningless, people want to consume more to justify their meaningless work life.

The society you describe probably wouldn't be worth living in, depending upon how extreme the level of poverty you envision.

The same result could be achieved if the state appropriated most of the wealth and devoted that wealth to preserving, conserving, and renewing the earth.

And what makes you think this impoverished group of people would work hard enough to provide enough wealth for the very rich?

Take a good look at that map. Some how the fundamentalist christians of the deep South don't care much about the poor around them. The meaning of God's will on Earth means bashing gays and murdering doctors who perform abortions. Feeding the hungry and caring for the sick doesn't fit in with the few Bible verses that are repeatedly pounded into them.
The best GINI score is Mormon Utah which was founded on the radical idea that no one deserves to die simply because they are poor. The elimination of poverty is central to the doctrine of Zion by which they mean creating God's kingdom on Earth.
As for New York's darkness it could be explained by the financial shenanigans of Wall St by the irreligious brokers and bankers.

I was originally on the college track. Received a BA in Psychology. Went 'back to the land' in the early 70s. Got a job on home construction crew. Worked at that for 20 odd years including getting a contractor's license, electrical, plumbing, running heavy equipment, etc. with a bit of farming on the side to make some extra money. Then, as the old body began to wear out, got a degree in computer science and had a 16 year career in that.

I've lived with my foot in two worlds, in a manner of speaking, blue collar and white collar and have studied attitudes of these and various other 'classes'. When working in the 'blue collar' world, I was impressed with the general honesty and willingness to work hard that these folks have. I was also impressed by their conviction that people who work with their hands for a living are the real honest people of the world, deserving of the most respect. On the 'lower' side, deserving of less and less respect going down the continuum, are people who are gaming the system by basically being deadbeats and living off of the labor of others such as those misusing disability or other types of welfare. Likewise, going up the scale in the workplace continuum, there are the 'paper shufflers' of the insurance, finance, banking world and so on. These people also deserve less and less respect as their work takes them farther and farther away from being meaningful producers of real goods that benefit society. They also are gaming the system and growing fat living off the labor of others.

So I sympathize somewhat with a few posters here who have decried the 'welfare deadbeat' syndrome but I am strongly of the opinion that the 'paper shufflers' of the world have ripped off the honest working class person orders of magnitude more than the welfare deadbeats, and they have done this in a manner that is, as we speak, bringing society crashing down.

Full disclosure: I developed Parkinson's disease two years ago and am now on Social Security disability. I am grateful for this (meager) income and feel entitled to it, having contributed to the SS system for many years. I would also, if I possibly could, gladly give up the disability and go back to work at some skill that I have.

Thing are a bit hectic over here - last day of our fundraising drive..so I can't at the moment participate fully..but I think you would all be interesting in this talk on pro-social aspects of evolution - VERY interesting research..and talk that is I think critical to the discussions we have here..

Google Tech Talk December 9, 2009 ABSTRACT Presented by Dacher Keltner. Prof. Keltner will be presenting work related to his recent book "Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life": "In...


Hi ET,

I've lived with my foot in two worlds, in a manner of speaking, blue collar and white collar and have studied attitudes of these and various other 'classes'.

We have some things in common. It took me a long time to work my way through college - spent 6 years as a welder on an assembly line for American Motors (the Rambler) and then got drafted into the army. I also worked as a wedding photographer - mostly the weddings of very rich folks. Spent 30 some years in IT and software development. The last 10 yrs involved lots of global travel and negotiation of very expensive corporate contracts. Many international friends.

In my experience, some of the old guys working on the assembly line were some of the best "citizens". There were some immigrants from Hungry and countries around there. I was a smart ass kid who had lots of bright ideas (pretty self centered) about how to get ahead in life. The old guy from Hungry would always say: "so, what if everyone had that attitude; how would that help the whole country be a good place to live?"

I had a top executive from one of the largest global corporations "set me straight" about "company loyalty", he said: "I only care about one thing and that is to do what ever I have to do in order to keep making money - I have no loyalty to this company and they have none for me - if I deliver, they keep paying me, otherwise they will fire me".

I interacted with venture capitalists who would sell their sister into slavery to close a multi million dollar deal - these guys would laugh in your face if you mentioned "the common good" or anything close to that.

From my days as a photographer, I found that some "old money" folks were very kind and gracious towards a working guy like I was - the newly rich were often pretentious and obnoxious. But then, the old money folks would probably not want to discuss exactly how they accumulated all that money.

So, yes, interesting to muse about how different classes of people have different worldviews and attitudes about fellow humans.

hey bicycle dave.

my grandparent's had a white rambler with sea green interior.
i loved that car. they would take me and my brother to ocean beach (SF), in it, and also, yosemite, and the high sierras.
would love to find another rambler some day, even though, i know
that sounds idiotic.

more on topic. i've been reading the oildrum for about 4 years
now, and i really appreciate this post.

upthread i copied greenish's awesome comment and gmailed it to some
friends of mine, who i know will appreciate it. (one of them bought about 8 of his friends copies of goldman's princess bride a few years back for xmas.)

i would like to see more posts like this.
great discussion too.

san rafael, ca
(and sometimes, bismarck nd)

Hi Adam,

Good to know someone is reading a comment...

The Rambler was an interesting car for its time because it delivered a pretty good value for the money. But, that was before all the anti-rust technology of today. Here in the northland where we use lots of winter salt they did not have a very long life - maybe in the southwest there might be a few.

I'm more intrigued by the map than by all the envy-of-the-better-off whining and whingeing suffusing the page as a whole. The rather modest differences in GINI coefficient don't seem to correlate well with much of anything except the typical wintertime temperature map, which tends to show a broad cold bullseye in the upper Midwest with warmer temps as one goes towards both the coasts and the South. In particular, New York and California, both of which take pride in taxing and regulating almost anything that moves or thinks until it stops moving or thinking (à la Harrison Bergeron), do not seem to have particularly low GINI coefficients. In addition, the People's Republic of Vermont and Live Free or Die New Hampshire seem to fall neatly together into the same low-ish GINI bin, which may indicate a weak influence of public policy. I don't have a grand interpretation to propose at the moment but surely there's another Ph.D. thesis or two somewhere in all this.

As for the whining and whingeing, I cavalierly dismiss most of it as placing itself beneath serious consideration by carrying more than a whiff of the self-appointed philosophe with nothing better to do bellyaching on pretended behalf of the not-so-well-off. In that respect, I'm more interested in the behavior of the not-so-well-off than in any airy academic manifestos propounded on their behalf. In particular, when they show themselves to be sufficiently offended by great differences in wealth to, say, drop their costly premium ESPN subscriptions in large numbers and find something of their own to do on a spare Saturday afternoon or Monday night other than to give from their own pockets to make multimullionaires of big stupid steroidally remanufactured beast-men, then I'll reconsider.

The map of the USA that Nate shows is irrelevant apart from pointing out the strong effect of Wall Street.
Put Bill Gates in to a barroom with a bunch of working stiffs, and the average wealth jumps to the billions ... at least statistically speaking.
See my comment further down.

Put Bill Gates in to a barroom with a bunch of working stiffs, and the average wealth jumps to the billions ... at least statistically speaking.

Ummm... yeah sure, but put Bill into that barroom, and the Gini coefficient jumps to essentially 1. It's a map of Gini coefficient, not average wealth, so that barroom is way off the scale, which runs from 0.41 to 0.49. It remains that the correlation between loudly expressed political attitudes and Gini coefficient seems very problematical. New York and California, which send some of the loudest "blue-state" mouths to Congress, nonetheless show high coefficients though not as high as that barroom.

Maybe we should create a Hypocrisy Coefficient by multiplying the Gini coefficient by the percentage of "blue" (i.e. "red" in the European sense) votes, with the states having the most pronounced combination of high Gini and high Blue being tagged as the most hypocritical.

it would be interesting to see a national map broken down by county.

"5. Can you think of creative ways to downsize your own aspirations by changing social groups?"

The only one I can answer!

I not only thought about it - I did it. I went from being a (sort of) academic at one of the newer universities in the UK to being a peasant in an out of the way village in Hungary. I most certainly changed my social group.

In the UK my aspirations were to become a lecturer. Several of my colleagues had advanced the same way. I was well on track for doing that when there was a change of management. Ha! Management by living in a ivory tower. At the end of that little interlude I was left in no doubt whatsoever by TPTB that I had no chance whatsoever with my aspirations. So I cut and ran.

My researches into Peal Oil enormously affected my decision. I certainly downsized my aspirations. They are now "Will the crops grow this year?" and "How will I learn to manage goats at my time of life?".

My aspirations to social status here are nil. When I arrived, as a non-Hungarian speaker, I was regarded as an object of curiosity. By stages, and by simply going about what I am trying to do here (and going to the pub daily of an evening) I find that I am no longer an object of curiosity, people know the various problems I have and in the Hungarian way will help if they can. My expectations remain very low - to continue to be able to afford the Internet, to continue to be on good relations with the villagers and, my gods willing (small G and plural deliberate) have enough good health and strength to get on with what I am doing here.

May I ask you why did you choose Hungary? Because I (as a native hungarian) consider to leave the country regarding PO issues.
It's true, there is a lot of fertile soil and sweet water, but the population is a little bit high. aprox. 100 person / km2. Do you think this is a safe place surviving PO?

There exists a cold, analytical side to studying income disparity. Check out the work of Yakovenko, or a post I wrote up a few weeks ago. http://mobjectivist.blogspot.com/2010/03/econophysics-and-sunk-costs.html
Income disparity will always exist, as if it was following Boltzmann/Gibbs statistics like just about every other natural statistical phenomenon. Yet, another wild disparity starts diverging at high income levels. As Yakovenko has noted, and I spent some time substantiating, this has a strong dependence on the Wall Street market.
One can say this is also natural, but it is natural like mutations are natural. I say this because the relative abundance of species also follows this wide disparity Pareto law, where mutations are natural. Same thing with the size of companies or or sizes of oil fields. Like I said, the statistics really show the cold hard facts, and its wise to look at these numbers to see where and if changes to the system can be made.

p.s. I get the secondary joke in the title. All income distributions are plotted as rank histograms.

That's so bad that it rankles.


Etymology 1

From Old English ranc


1. Having a very strong and bad odor.
2. (informal) Gross, disgusting.
3. Complete, used as an intensifier (usually negative).

Example: I am a rank amateur as a wordsmith.

Nate obviously is no rank amateur as a wordsmith :-)

The responses to this post of Nate's have been pretty putrid. If anyone cares, the rank histograms of income distribution are very interesting, yet everyone seems to want to pontificate instead of deconstructing a real analysis.

Instead of viewing currency reform and a reshuffling of claims as either inevitable and/or frightening, perhaps we can come up with a creative, not-too-disruptive plan where financial descent is paired with aspiration descent so that energy descent is more manageable.

3. How might the debt/financial crisis be an opportunity towards making headway on issues of social equity, both within the United States, and between the United States and other, less well off countries?

There will always be inequities, but the American system is built to enshrine and emphasize the differences. Any change has to deal with the question of how the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. You have to figure out some sort of equitable way to bill the banks, bankers, and industrialists for the bailouts. So you have to tax the rich...mainly because they have all the money, and they seem to have gotten it from the government.

I suggest a Federal Property Tax.

I'm not suggesting a tax like a municipal property tax. I suggest that your entire net worth- stocks, bonds, real estate, annuities, vehicles, bank deposits- be taxed.

The reasoning behind this is that people with more wealth benefit disproportionately from government services- the police, the military, the courts, and international relations, for example. So you strip a little off the top each year for services used by the owner. After all, if your country is invaded, the rich have more to lose. They should pay for the stability of the country and the protection of the military and police.

This would be in addition to current taxes, though things like income tax might be tweaked and you might want a minimum net worth threshold (say $350,000) and a progressive rate. Maybe a reduced rate if you're retired.

I was reminded of this concept (I first read about it in a book by the economist Ravi Batra) by WHT's recent comments on compounding interest. I think that this kind of tax would also act as a curb on long-term massive wealth accumulation.

In the example of the 4,000 SF house vs the 3,000 SF house, do they have a second question asking why people might pick a smaller house rather than a larger house? I asked my dad the question, as it was stated, and he picked the smaller house, because he said the 4,000 foot house was to big, he choose for the reason of the realitive size of the house being smaller, but not because he wanted to lord it over the neighbors.

Know what the study is chosing for I would have picked the 4,000 over the 3,000 because it would send the signal that I don't care about being the underclass guy on the block.

Taking that a step further in relation to all the houses on my parent's block. All of them have been improved, making them bigger. But my parents have stayed with what they have had size wise. Under 850 sqFt.

Just pointing out that some people pick smaller, without thinking about the fact that the house they pick will be the biggest one on the block.

I live on under $9,000 dollars a year and am happy, I even give to others over 70% of that income currently. That will change when all of it will have to go to the tax man, but then I might just pack my bags and go native, and live a nomad lifestyle.

BioWebScape designs for a better future.

Hi guys I have been following theoildrum for about a year and a half now although I only recently registered. The best thing about the site is not the articles, but the discussions that follow them. Simply amazing. Coming to the point:
I only have a credible answer to this

4. Any good ideas on how to change our status/aspiration metric away from conspicuous consumption?(this has been asked before but is important enough to throw out to this lateral thinking crew, on occasion).

Abolishing inheritance should solve the above problem and most others. By doing this the person with most skills is rewarded in his life as well as creating same opportunities for the future generations that follow rather than getting shackled by the debt the society owes to that person(and hence his children/beneficiary) due to the accumulated wealth in his lifetime.

Logically since the world has to be a better place for his children to survive in such a setting, people will start working towards better society and the focus "should" shift towards respect/other non materialistic goals.

Different subcultures develop ways of measuring rank..burners are pretty much judges by

- the tirelessness of their work to make something awesome for others to enjoy

It had worked pretty well for a while...and still works in some ways.. but they have had trouble really scaling up the transmittal of those values.

I think that the four Keirsey termperament sorter personality types offer insight into how people veiw social status

Guardians (SJs) share the following core characteristics:

* Guardians pride themselves on being dependable, helpful, and hard-working.
* Guardians make loyal mates, responsible parents, and stabilizing leaders.
* Guardians tend to be dutiful, cautious, humble, and focused on credentials and traditions.
* Guardians are concerned citizens who trust authority, join groups, seek security, prize gratitude, and dream of meting out justice.

All Artisans (SPs) share the following core characteristics:

* Artisans tend to be fun-loving, optimistic, realistic, and focused on the here and now
* Artisans pride themselves on being unconventional, bold, and spontaneous.
* Artisans make playful mates, creative parents, and troubleshooting leaders.
* Artisans are excitable, trust their impulses, want to make a splash, seek stimulation, prize freedom, and dream of mastering action skills.

All Idealists (NFs) share the following core characteristics:

* Idealists are enthusiastic, they trust their intuition, yearn for romance, seek their true self, prize meaningful relationships, and dream of attaining wisdom.
* Idealists pride themselves on being loving, kindhearted, and authentic.
* Idealists tend to be giving, trusting, spiritual, and they are focused on personal journeys and human potentials.
* Idealists make intense mates, nurturing parents, and inspirational leaders.

All Rationals (NTs) share the following core characteristics:

* Rationals tend to be pragmatic, skeptical, self-contained, and focused on problem-solving and systems analysis.
* Rationals pride themselves on being ingenious, independent, and strong willed.
* Rationals make reasonable mates, individualizing parents, and strategic leaders.
* Rationals are even-tempered, they trust logic, yearn for achievement, seek knowledge, prize technology, and dream of understanding how the world works.

The Quest Is NOT About Status (yes, another important essay)

I know how much folks here like music, and the musical tastes here are pretty good, so I think you may appreciate this: Lately I have been on a quest for a song that would define the 1990’s. I don’t mean a political song. I mean a song that captured the feel of that priceless decade…the decade when so many of us still felt relatively young, there was talk about “the end of history”, and the discussion was how we would retain cohesion with no threats, no external enemies. Pope John Paul warned that post cold war liberty should mean more than just shopping malls.

I needed a song that depicted the “style”, the feel of the well off trendsetters, the artsy couples and social climbers who draped their lives in sophistication, travel, romances, enjoying what they knew (and this is so rare, to know that a time is a special time) was a rapidly fading era as the years piled up on the prosperous connoisseurs of all the boomer generation had created. And then I found it:

Please no more therapy
Mother take care of me
Piece me together with a
Needle and thread
Wrap me in eiderdown
Lace from your wedding gown
Fold me and lay me down
On your bed
Or liken me to a shoe
Blackened and spit-shined through
Kicking back home to you
Smiling back home
Singing back home to you
Laughing back home to you
Dragging back home to you

I was so wary then
The ugly American
Thinner than oxygen
Tough as a whore
I said you can lie to me
I own what's inside of me
And nothing surprises me anymore
But forests in Germany
Kids in the Tuileries
Broken-down fortresses
In old Italy
And claiming his victory
Shrouded in mystery
He went running away with me

Back in our home New York
Walking these streets forlorn
We all in our uniforms
Black and black
Doing that slouch and jive
The artist must survive
We've got all we need we cried
And we don't look back
Thinking we had it made
Poised for the hit parade
Knee deep in accolades
The conceptual pair
But ever the malcontent
He left without incident
Vanished into thin air

Now I am always amazed
Words can fill up a page
Pages fill up the days
Between him and me
But the vows that we never keep
From bedrooms to business-speak
Make me remember how cheap
Words can be
And the letters I wrote you of
Were those of the desperate stuff
Like begging for love in a suicide threat
But I am too young to die
Too old for a lullaby
Too tired for life on the ledge

But I had a dream last night
Of lovers who walked the plank
Out on the edge of time
Amidst ridicule
They laughed as they rocked and reeled
Over the mining fields
Coming to rest on this ship of fools
But he just took polaroids
Of her smile in the light
Of the dawn of the menacing sky
And before they went overboard
She turned and held up a card
And it said Valentine (Shawn Colvin, “Polariods” 1992

Polariod is gone, Microsoft spell check doesn’t even recognize the brand, and the ship of fools continued sailing on into the threatening sky, one last “Valentine” on the way to old age, before the magnificent songwriter wrote these lines in a recent song…
“I’m gonna die in these four walls…I’ve had enough and I’ve tried it all. I’ll watch the day break and I’ll see the night fall in these four walls.” (Shawn Colvin, “These Four Walls” 2006)

Amazing what fourteen years at just the right time in life can do to perceptions is it not?

You may be asking at this point, what does this have to do with the subject of rank and wealth and social status? Take another look at the lyrics above. You will notice that there are no discussions of possessions per se. When looking back, the artist does not talk about cars, clothes, household goods, money in the bank. The status is only a tool to gain something else, and this is the absolute important point to recall.

As radical as it may sound, most people (leaving aside a certain personality type) does not want status, power or even wealth for its own sake. They are all tools for what matters, for what the artist is singing about, for that thing that makes us human.

“Fremont” touches on it in his post up the string beginning with the wonderful line “Who you are is who you think you are. Time is our personal accounting, our narrative of our experience. Try to figure out when you hear your footfall in the dry grass. Always past tense.” So what is it that Fremont is talking about and Shawn Colvin is singing about, the ULTIMATE STATUS items?

All wealth, all status, is to gain that most precious, most transient and most esoteric of things: EXPERIENCES.
Most people do not want to own a Ferrari, but they may want to experience one. It would be too much responsibility to actually own it. Most people do not want to own Paris, they want to experience Paris. Most people do not want to own a luxury penthouse on Park Ave. in New York, but at least for a time they would like to experience it. The list could go on forever, but the point has been made: The goal for most humans is NOT ownership, not wealth, not status, it is the opportunity to experience these things. It is the fear that we may not experience more than we already have that can be called (as some have here on TOD have called it) a ‘collapse of aspirations”.

The recent economic “crisis”, the concern over depleting resources, the worry about climate issues are all tied together, seemingly telling us “you have done all you are going to do”. Most people do not mind being told “you own all your going to since we already have too much junk to look after anyway. But being told you have experience all your going to experience is truly frightening.
There is another issue at work here: Age. The 76 million baby boomers are beginning to really sense their age, and are becoming aware of their mortality. We are realizing that no amount of spa visits, vitamins and health club memberships will change the final outcome, and that outcome is fast approaching.

Just at the time many baby boomers are sensing the limited time left to take opportunity of experiencing all life has to offer, they are being told that life will soon begin to offer less. The boomers last chance for experiences may be taken from them. The sense of loss is palpable. Worse, they can look backward and see what they themselves once were, but to do so they must look to China, India and the developing nations, because it is the youth of other nations who still have the ability to dream and to hope. The American, Japanese and European youth, raised in the shadow of an aging generation are stilted in their power to believe fully in the power of dreaming and acting.

The fortunate ones are the ones who experienced much in their youth: The travel, the loves and affairs, the artistry of poetry and music and the joys of family memories and can retreat peacefully to the shelter of “these four walls” if they are fortunate enough to be able to defend ownership of a home. Even for them, the loss of the “status” of being relevant, of being out there enjoying the experiences of life will be a hard adjustment to make, and an adjustment these people had assumed was still a couple of decades away.

What we boomers must understand, and must be cautious of, is the risk of tangling our own sense of declining status brought on by the reduced opportunities caused by aging with the reduced opportunities brought on by resource depletion and economic issues. These are two separate causes, but are very easy to confuse.

The status we can have, and the only status that has ever really mattered is our collection of experiences. It is the story of humanity. Think of all the literature of all human history…the exploits of the sailors of the Odyssey, the accounts of a warrior king named David, The Epic quest stories of Gilgamesh, the short but daring spiritual quest of a carpenter named Jesus, the epic rise of Mohammed, the tales of a windmill tilter named Don Quixote, and on and on….all accounts of experiences.

What have you not done that you MUST do? Because now is the time, very likely it is your last chance. With or without the financial crisis, with or without resource depletion, for the boomers time is running out. Is the glass half full or half empty? If half the oil is gone, that means half is still there, and your last attempt to experience what you MUST experience will not matter in the great scheme of things, except to you, but it will mean EVERYTHING to you. If you must be relevant to the cause, then promote something…energy efficiency, solar, wind, geothermal, something, if that is an experience that is calling you. Who knows, you may even decide to build something. Not to own it, but to EXPERIENCE it.

The adjustment to declining opportunities must be made, at least for 76 million of us. We cannot abandon our hopes of experiences now, we cannot allow our remaining hopes to be stolen from us. This will be our last fight, the fight we will make for ourselves, for what we want to be before we die, what we know in our hearts we must experience. And the time is short.

Thinking of money, status or power as ends instead of means is a common mistake. The quest is not for wealth or power or status. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize. The quest is for experience.
At the close of one of the episodes of Ken Burns series “The National Parks, America’s Best Idea” is a bit of prose by a 65 year old traveler and amateur poet named Margaret Gerkhe:

“5:00PM, July 15th: Here I am on this mid-July afternoon going home, and glad to be going home. Surely I care little about home, and never have. Back to Nebraska, to the hateful heat of summer, to work day after day, to monotony most would say. But glad.

This long silver train makes swift passage. It is streaking across the flat Colorado country as I sit here, alone.

Why should I be so near to tears?

The whole trip to Colorado like a dream now: The whole thing drops from my shoulders now, like a jeweled coat, and I lay it aside, feeling I’ve never worn it at all.” (Margaret Gerkhe, 1948)

It will all be over soon enough, and the jeweled coat will drop away. Enjoy the trip while you can take it and while you can remember it.

Roger Conner Jr.

Damn, Roger;
Who has time to read books when there's the Oil Drum! Great Post.. maybe I'll finish it later, if I don't mind getting no work done today. Thanks for the song. Reading it, I was guessing it was Leonard Cohen.. well, not quite. (Polariod or Polaroid?)

But in amidst that you also wrote:
"All wealth, all status, is to gain that most precious, most transient and most esoteric of things: EXPERIENCES." - which takes me back to part of Joe Campbell's 'Find your Bliss' theme in The Power of Myth, where he says "People don't want to know the meaning of life, what they want to know is that they've had the experience of being alive" Which is what is relayed to us through myth and story, our experience reflected within the Hero's Journey ..

and referenced Fremont's observation;

"You are who you think you are.." .. which brought back to me a variation on this from James Carse's Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism course in College, which said "You're not who YOU think you are, and you're not who THEY think you are, but you might be closer to being who you think they think you are.." (Which is naturally highly debatable.. but useful to chew on, for me)


(Isn't the "Polariod" that Dogsled race from Murdo Station to Baffin Island?)

.. AND! ... I just read the poetic prose at the end. Charts may be Fact, but Poetry is Reality! Thanks, once more.

"who you think they think you are..", oh that's good!

And yes, sorry my post went a bit long, but in my own defense, it looks longer than it is due to the song...(and Shawn Colvin often recognizes the influence of Leonard Cohen on her work, but what well informed songwriter does not?)

As you can tell, I am working on some issues of my own, and I played some of them out in my post...and purposely held out to what I knew would be the end of the string so as not to get in the way of others...the writing is as much for me in working through my own thinking and feelings as for anyone else, but in conversations with friends I am becoming more aware that I am not alone in these concerns, feelings etc. (us aging boomers are often much more alike one to the other than we care to admit, even as we were in our youth)