Now that the conventions are over it might be a good time to take stock of what is going on. But to be honest I have been wracking my brain trying to think of something clever or insightful to say about what we are watching unfold. And the fact is I can't think of anything because I am too saturated with pity for our species. What else can you say? What is taking place in the US political arena is really just a magnified (and amplified) microcosm of what is going on world wide, no matter what the political system might be called.
Both political parties and their candidates believe in the same basic economic philosophy that is the root of what is killing civilization. They both call for a return to a growth economy (because it creates jobs). They both believe that the pursuit of greater profits is akin to the quest for the holy grail. They both believe it is OK for there to be wealthy individuals and the not-so-wealthy. The only difference here is that the republicans believe that only a few deserving individuals should be fabulously wealthy while the rest muddle through as best they can. The democrats believe that wealth should be moderated and some of it shared with those less fortunate. Otherwise they are both committed to the idea that wealth, as measured by one's bank account, can be generated endlessly in greater quantities. They even both agree that it can be done by financial speculations of various kinds (just maybe not so blatantly speculation). They are both committed to modern western capitalism, now seemingly spread around the world. Neither party has the capacity to see that the notion of endless exponential growth is physically impossible.
There are plenty of people raging at Ryan's blatant lies and Romney's incapability of getting anything straight, especially when it comes to actual policies. There are just as many decrying the failures of Obama to follow through on his more meaningful promises or raging (as I have done) for his complete sellout to financial interests (big banks and Wall Street). There are those like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert who get good laughs from the debacle that is politics in America. And then there are those like me who simply hang our heads and weep. Most of those folk pine for the political process they imagine used to exist. In many ways politics in prior decades was a cleaner, healthier version of group decision making. But it has never been truly about finding the best people to make governance decisions with the electorate's support, and putting them in the driver's seat.
My weeping is more about the inevitable destiny our current path is accelerating us toward. What we are seeing in the increasing stupidity of the political process in this country is the rapid degradation of social institutions that comes with increasing complexity of culture and population numbers that cheapen every aspect of human life. We're beginning to see, in real time, the falling apart of any semblance of functional structures as our politicians battle it out trying to frame the other guys as stupid and dishonest (or at least full of baloney ideas). The cultural garment made of social fabric is coming undone at the seams. The fabric itself is tattered and worn. And we human beings are unable to do anything about it.
I've written often about our species lack of true sapience. We do not posses, on average, the capability to build wisdom and thus exercise sound judgments. We have, through technology and social innovations, created a culture that is simply too complex and cognitively demanding for our own capacity to think critically and make good choices. The vast majority of people cannot even discern the real problem, though I think many more sense that something is wrong. The lack of sapience in the population is the core cause of what we find ourselves facing today. Our political figures are far from sapient (Bill Clinton is hailed as a superiorly clever person, but his capacity for good judgment is easily brought into question). The electorate is far from sapient. Even our judicial operatives are incapable of good judgment (witness Citizens United).
I feel sorry for us for what we are soon facing in greater measure than we have witnessed to date. But I also recognize that it is a natural consequence of what we lack biologically and cognitively and it probably had to be this way. We are driven by the biological mandate to garner resources to ourselves and generate new biomass (procreate). That is our deepest drives. The prefrontal cortex, especially the frontopolar patch, Brodmann area 10, evolved very recently in primate terms and expanded to its current status only an eye blink ago. That region is richly connected with the limbic regions and can moderate, through it, our baser drives. It just wasn't quite as evolved as it needed to be to prevent capitalism from fulfilling that biological mandate without really understanding the consequences. Capitalism, as currently understood, is the biological mandate completely unfettered by natural negative feedbacks. In fact a cognitive positive feedback loop now drives the notion that greed is good. Indeed the era of fossil fuels has unleashed it beyond anything resembling the kinds of natural constraints that keep other top predator in check over the long run. Mankind is run amuck, it is true, but not for long.
Physical resources will always check exponential growth — ALWAYS. Polluting one's nest will always lead to sickness and death — ALWAYS. There is no escaping physical reality. The fossil energy is rapidly depleting. Indeed I have good reasons to believe we have already passed the peak of net free energy per capita and are rapidly approaching the peak of net free energy total. It is absolutely no wonder to me that the economy is in the doldrums or even trending downward (if you ignore government jiggered statistics). It is no surprise that our government-abetted banks have been frantically inventing ways to make it look like the economy was still growing (going back at least three decades or further) by insisting first on deregulation and then by inventing pure smoke and mirror wealth. The debt load experienced by both private and public sectors is completely understandable. I don't find it remarkable that companies have off-shored their labor in an attempt to get out from under the high wages and entitlement programs based on a population of spoiled people who are such high energy consumers. And I don't think it is mysterious why so many people today are cheating and lying like hell as they feel the previously wealth-providing culture is failing to keep the party going and they need to compensate. Corporate heads as well as those lower in the ranks are more and more turning to nefarious ways to make their stocks look good in the eyes of shareholders. The latter can only grasp their need (desire) for profits to be maximized in order to protect their lower-rate taxed incomes and portfolio values.
And finally there are the average working (middle) class folk who had it cushy back in the day (1950s) and got used to the idea that that kind of progressive hedonism would go on forever. They too are driven by the biological mandate without anything to really check their desires. With advertising to fuel their wants and previously increasing free energy to fuel their frivolous lifestyles (think NFL and NASCAR but also strip clubs, fast food restaurants, McMansions, etc.) they have now become “consumers” and indeed the whole modern economy hinges on them continuing to consume junk so that there is a need to hire people to make junk so that those people can themselves consume junk, ad infinitum. Economists call this the “virtuous cycle” if you can believe it. As far as the dishonesty goes for corporate chiefs and bankers, etc. so it goes for the little guys as well. There they sat in a mortgage lenders office being told they could get a house that was priced at twice what the old rules about income and credit worthiness suggested they could afford. And not one of them stopped to think about the feasibility. Not because they were just stupid, but because they were falling victim to the same pressures that drove the upper echelon to rob and steal to enrich themselves. The biological mandate without checks and balances will drive not-so-sapient people to grab whatever they can get their hands on by whatever means they can.
Finally, it is not at all surprising that the “job market” around the globe is tanking. It will take a little more time before even the dumbest economist and politician will begin to get that unemployment under the old model is not only not going to come back it is going to get far worse. People will eventually get tired of waiting for those yahoos to create jobs and will revert to black market and local economies based on a mix of barter and local currencies (hopefully based on actual physical assets). The political and financial systems will crumble before our eyes. I would not be surprised to see some heads roll. I certainly do not advocate violence; I'm just thinking about human nature under those circumstances and what has happened historically under the same.
We are rapidly approaching the age of complete selfishness. There will still be a few individuals who think and act with moral convictions. There are now people with higher degrees of sapience who will not succumb to greed and selfish behaviors. But they are too few in number to have an impact on the majority. The zombie apocalypse is here. The zombies aren't the reanimated dead. They are the hoards of ordinary human beings who have been taken over by complete selfish sentiments. This is the “Tragedy of the Commons” writ large.