Friday, December 13, 2013

Complacency! We Become Too Comfortable With What Is

 “All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”
Noam Chomsky"

“Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.”
Mae West

“Why do I do anything?' she says. 'I'm educated enough to talk myself out of any plan. To deconstruct any fantasy. Explain away any goal. I'm so smart I can negate any dream.”
Chuck Palahniuk,

Once conform, once do what others do, and a kind of lethargy steals over all other senses of the soul
- Michel de Montaigne
Once conform, once do what others do because they do it, and a kind of lethargy steals over all the finer senses of the soul.


Once conform, once do what others do because they do it, and a kind of lethargy steals over all the finer senses of the soul.

Once conform, once do what others do because they do it, and a kind of lethargy steals over all the finer senses of the soul.

Once conform, once do what others do because they do it, and a kind of lethargy steals over all the finer senses of the soul.

When you are in a steady job or securely retired you are likely to become too comfortable with what is. You might whine a bit about local problems in your community but you just adjust. It is an easy lethargy. The common comment of friends and neighbours is, "Why waste your time trying to rock the boat because you are powerless to do anything. Just get on with enjoying your life". It reflects a conservative philosophy of the financially secure avoiding unpleasant issues, respecting authority and self preservation by accepting what is.

  • It explains why the so many are complacent less likely to vote in local elections. "Rob Ford (mayor of Toronto) is a liar and a incompetent drunk lacking any vision for the city, but he keeps the taxes low, is a political conservative like our Prime Minister and shares many of the conservative beliefs of my family and neighbours. Why change anything?"

  • It explains why conservatives dislike demonstrations in the streets, no matter what the cause. "It's because they are noisy and disruptive, hold up rude signs, block traffic, are disrespectful of law and order and our flag, and set a bad example for kids. They always want to change something but I like everything the way it is" 
  •  It confirms why conservatives support a grossly overpriced and  unworkable euro that benefits a productive Germany and the wealthy few throughout Europe but assigns many of the citizens of southern European nations to a life of unemployment and poverty. But the few wealthy can say "I can still afford my Mercedes so  we need to manage this unrest by accepting   some German generosity to ease the pain. And don't revalue the currency because it will diminish my wealth!" Live with what is! For ten years we have tinkered with it while Southern Europeans suffer from staggering levels of unemployment and a bleak future. We live with what is to no effect when it is obvious that Germany should break off from the euro and return to the Deutschmark (as George Soros suggests) thus letting the rest of Europe take control of their destiny by settling on their own banking system with one or more competitive currencies that would encourage entrepreneurship and put people back to work.

I live in Narbonne, a city too small to hide its human problems. I meet daily on the street with normal citizens, the passing tourists, the shopkeepers, the unemployed, the beggars, and the physically and mentally impaired.   In large cities in Europe and North America with populations of several million you can live in secure sections of the city and only learn about the city's underbelly from the local newspapers and the TV. Complacency sets in as problems are hidden and we learn to accept as normal the economic conditions whatever they might be. We  live with what is. For example, what the employed public complacently accept as normal in parts of Southern Europe is a 25 to 50% youth unemployment rate whereas in Denmark normal is closer to maybe 5%. It  is just what is, and wherever we live we see what is as normal. 

With this prevailing attitude politicians whether, on the left or right, respond by tweaking the system and changes, if any, are minor, usually ineffectual and painless. We learn to live with what is

This attitude in part explains why we put off addressing universally threatening issues such as global climate change, the steadily widening  wealth gap in a once predominately middle class society that was the foundation of democracy, the acceptance of tax avoidance schemes, and the thievery of bankers gambling with the nations wealth.

The wake-up call happens when a disaster occurs that threatens the very survival of the financially secure as well as the destitute. Then a conservative tinkering with what is hits a brick wall. A strong leader is then needed who realizes tweaking will accomplish little and undertakes fundamental changes. Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle and Nelson Mandela are examples of brilliant and powerful leaders who understood this and realized that fundamental changes in direction and not simply tweaking 'what is'  had to happen.

Teddy Roosevelt
Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt as President broke up the large industrial and railroad monopolies , a defeat for JP Morgan and Wall Street. He was a man of many talents with no patience for living with what is; historian, naturist, Nobel Prize  winner, trust buster, adventurer, hunter and military leader (Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders). His face sits on Mt Rushmore along with Lincoln and Washington.

Franklin Roosevelt

 Franklin Delano Roosevelt assuming the Presidency at the height of the depression recognized that fundamental changes in the financial system had to be initiated. Nothing would be accomplished by tinkering with what is. He defied Wall Street and undertook a major change by passing the Banking Act of 1933 with it's Glass-Steagall component that separated commercial and investment banking, designed to wall off customer deposits from the risk-taking inherent in securities underwriting. This was followed by social legislation enacted between 1933 and 1938 known as the New Deal
He had no patience with the the foot dragging of Republicans determined to work within what is.

Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle recognized tweaking 'what is' following the 2nd World War would not resolve France's governing problems. He cleaned the slate with the 5th Republic thereby liberating the colonies and reforming an unworkable constitution. He also boldly announced that France would become a nuclear power with its own bomb. (interesting to note that Iran has currently made the same announcement but sacrificing the bomb)

Nelson Mandela was a young anti-apartheid revolutionary who (unprepared to live with what is) spent 27 years in jail for his beliefs. Pubic pressure gained his release and  joining negotiations with President F.W. de Klerk abolished apartheid, led the ANC to victory and became South Africa's first black president.
Nelson Mandela


To summarize, great leaders invariably recognize in times of crisis that they must take on the risk of battling for fundamental changes. Conservative opposition ( that always exists) by those protecting what is might be tolerated as a force but must not stand in the way of fundamental changes. 

The future,as in the present and past will build on what is, namely societies laws,cultural values and functioning institutions. It is vital however that leaders also recognize that many challenges will be facing the world in the future, both known and unknown, that cannot be handled by tweaking what is and new and fundamental solutions must be found. For example we know that the seas will rise and flood the coastal cities as the polar ice caps melt and massive amounts of methane will be released from the arctic seabeds. Building sea walls and dykes may help to slow the damage from what is but the solution may ultimately lie in reducing our dependency on carbon fuels and the wasteful energy consumption of a rapidly growing consumer society. 

At the time of Christ the world's population stood at about 250 million. In the next 20 years it will probably rise from the current 7.5 billion to about 10 billion, a 40 fold increase of  humans with 2 to 3 times the life span of their ancient ancestors. Our wasteful consumption is clearly negatively impacting on the climate and if current trends continue unabated it raises serious questions about human survival on many parts of this planet. Can the old governing systems with its short time cycle of four to five years to satiate immediate appetites successfully guide us through these challenges? I don't think so. We can tweak and build on what is but that won't be enough. We will need very different and more stable governing structures, new break through sciences and enlightened leadership with a vision of a distant future in order to address these more fundamental and critical long term survival issues. 

Globalization has created a grotesque integration of world banking systems, industrial enterprises and worst of all NATO that binds nations to interconnected commitments and limiting the freedom of individual nations to act. It is a system of sticking with what is and destroying those who don't. 

Can great leaders rise up from this or do we destroy them? Chavez and Castro failed, Dilma Rousseff Brazil's President is defiant and Vladimir Putin is attempting to lead Russia in a different direction, building alliances in the East and attempting to break the dollar monopoly, has stared no wars, does not spread his armies around the world , has intervened to stop America and Saudi Arabia from military interference in Syria and is understandingly opposed to the warlike NATO leaning against his borders.  For this the integrated forces of what is led by America declares Russia as an enemy that stands in the way of hegemonic power. 

Can great leaders to lead real change emerge in this globalized and highly integrated world or will the globalized forces to prevent it prevail? Will we remain accepting what is and avoid the critical decisions that will enable human life to survive on this planet? Wait and see.